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tups's avatar

Any recommendations for "life-changing" literature?

Asked by tups (6697 points ) January 14th, 2013

I’m looking for amazing literature (poetry, novels, short stories, novellas etc) that has made a big impression on you or even changed your life a little?
If you’ve got one of these recommendations, I’d also like to know why this piece made an impression on you.

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17 Answers

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, which won the National Book Award in 1974, I believe. (Wikipedia article) I read his book The Crying of Lot 49 before that, but Gravity’s Rainbow really struck home with me. The post-modern miasma of the book and the wide range of deep subject knowledge were inspiring. I related to the writing in a way that many books don’t reach me. In a weird way, it’s beautiful.

Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson is probably as different from Gravity’s Rainbow as you can get. It is nonfiction, and it is about the meaning of language in classical Greek literature up to the present. It is about love. This is a book I believe every writer and reader of great literature should read.

I buy anything written by these two authors as soon as it comes out. Their writing inspires me.

Michael_Huntington's avatar

Fight Club
You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world

The Stranger
As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Ich sage euch: man muß noch Chaos in sich haben, um einen tanzenden Stern gebären zu können.

Seek's avatar

Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt.

It’s a memoir of life in Depression-era Irish slums. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time. There are two followups: ”‘Tis” and “Teacher Man”, that follow Frank through his young adulthood and then through his career as a teacher at a vocational high school.

It has some personal connotation for me as well, as my father’s family hails from the same area as the McCourts – Limerick. He was orphaned shortly after coming to America at age 5, and doesn’t remember much.

fremen_warrior's avatar

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller – puts life in perspective, and gives you a solid laugh right off the bat xD

Frank Herbert’s Dune – this book is my bible, though I am not a very fervent follower if you catch my drift.

Pachy's avatar

Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews. These books comprise a series of many interviews conducted over the years by the Paris Review magazine with the world’s greatest writers. It makes fascinating reading, and taught me that every writer has his/her own style, his own writing process, his own views on writing, etc. and that all of them are right. Reading these books freed me of the self-defeating notion that I was somehow writing wrong.

muppetish's avatar

Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It’s a children’s book and the most touching, poignant pieces of literature that I have ever read. The brevity of the piece also lends to swift rereadings on a regular basis. Whenever I meet someone who read, and enjoyed this piece, they usually cried by the end.

It had an extremely profound impact on my life because it’s the literature that bound my significant other and I together. I’d say that’s a pretty life-changing experience.

Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman’s poetry (especially Drum Taps and Leaves of Grass) also mean a good deal to me. Emily’s poetry, in particular, had a huge impact on both my prose and poetic writing.

Seek's avatar

I also want to mention that I read The Phantom Tollbooth at least once a year. That book can instill a lifetime appreciation for good grammar and common sense in a person, and no mistake.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Picture of Dorian Grey. This book has been in my head since the first time I read it. It’s about vanity, ego and the human soul and how goodlooking people sometimes feel entitled to more because they’re so pretty to look at. It’s fabulous!

Of course I love just about anything by Emily Dickinson, the Bronte’s, Walt Whitman- all the hermits I love. Just recently finished the newly released Mark Twain books, amazing.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. Anathem by Neil Stephenson. Veronica Decides to Die by Paolo Coehlo.

flutherother's avatar

Touching the Void didn’t change my life but it gave me a new perspective on it for a while. A well written description of a life and death struggle against the odds.

zenvelo's avatar

I’ll second @Simone_De_Beauvoir and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I’d add Camus’ The Stranger and Myth of Sisyphus.

And, I’d add The Road Less Traveled.

wildpotato's avatar

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. I maintain that not ever reading this – or at least the first volume, Swann’s Way – is comparable to not ever having sex. Proust makes everything multidimensional – reading one of his sentences is like holding a piece of clear quartz up to the light and seeing all the layers of the metaphorical prism at once. It’s a marvelous thing to hold it together in your head. And it is the truest love story (very painful) I have ever come across.

CWOTUS's avatar

I recently read Drinking the Rain, by Alix Kates Shulman. I highly recommend it.

Ms. Shulman learned to live life “fearlessly” and simply, and generously.

I also read Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand last year.

That was an amazing story of survival, courage and honor at a time and place where it was desperately needed. And as I read what I’ve just written I’m thinking, “When are they not desperately needed?

Pachy's avatar

@KNOWITALL, yes—Picture of Dorian Grey. Definitely.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Pachyderm_In_The_Room I HAVE got to see the movie, I bet it’s great!!

Haleth's avatar

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. His empathy for all different kinds of people, and intimate observation of everyday life, are wonderful. Out of the Cradle Noiseless Patient Spider

Also, DH Lawrence’s death poems (Shadows, Ship of Death, Medlars and Sorb Apples, Bavarian Gentians). Some literary works have a strong message, like hope or existential despair. I like these because there’s a balance between both feelings, and no final decision. You get the feeling that the poet was wrestling with these thoughts, and facing his own mortality, and never came down on one side or the other.

Hart Crane- Voyages Just for pure beauty and craftsmanship. Every word is carefully, intentionally chosen and placed, but the effect is flowing and mesmerizing. It just stands on its own as one of the most beautiful things ever created.

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