10 Books That Have Influenced Me

There’s a Facebook meme going around that is, roughly, “List 10 books that have been influential on you or your views of literature.”  I did my list this morning and decided it would be useful to write a little further about them. Caveat: they would not all be on my list of Favorite Books or Best Books, and there are books on those lists which don’t make this one.  So here we go:


The Grey King – Susan Cooper

This book was one of the first that showed me how epic stories of good and evil had to have a human dimension, and that you couldn’t win without pain. Also, it made me fall in love with Wales.


Heart of Darkness – Conrad

I still reread this book frequently for its gorgeous language and imagery, its vision of evil, and the way the story being told by Marlowe intersects with the story being told by the narrator.


Virgin in the Garden – A.S. Byatt

I was entranced with this book by its omniscient narrator, its details, and its ability to make me care about events that I would normally dub “realism” and be bored by. I wound up writing my dissertation on Byatt, so obviously this book had a fundamental life-altering impact on me.


Absalom, Absalom! – Faulkner

This was my first real experience with stream of consciousness or modernist writing.  It was probably one of the first books that I really struggled through to comprehend, which is always a good exercise. It also really made me think about the sense of “place” in a writer’s life, how the South was its own character in everything Faulkner wrote, and that’s a theme that has stayed with me.


Beloved – Morrison

What can you say about this book except that it is astonishing and beautiful and painful and everyone should read it?


A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin

SPOILERS!!!  Martin is a decent writer, but this book is not astounding the way the others in this list are. What got me about it, however, is what he is famous for – his brutality, his willingness to kill off protagonists. I’m so used to writers putting sympathetic characters in danger and then rescuing them that it blew me away when he didn’t do this.


Blood Meridian – McCarthy

This is another violent one. It was a tough read. But McCarthy’s prose is so outstanding that it’s worth it. This is also a great kick in the pants to ideas about what a historical novel is.  And McCarthy is another writer for whom place – the southwest – matters.  A good companion to Heart of Darkness.


Tehanu – Le Guin

This is a wonderful reframing of fantasy from epic and violent to domestic but just as charged with significance.  Her use of details in world-making is splendid. The first time I read it I was disappointed because it didn’t have swordfights and lots of magic and stuff, and later I’ve realized that it’s the quietness of the book that makes it so remarkable.


Salem’s Lot – King

King really excels here in his world-building and sense of place and use of details.  Reminds me of Faulkner in some ways. It’s also terrifying. The first time I read it was the first time I had been left alone for a week in the house when parents went away, and I was scared to go into the basement to clean the cat box. It’s a great model for creating fear.


and of course A Room of One’s Own – Woolf

All writers should read this, for what it says about language, about writing, how it uses language, and, unfortunately, for its continuing relevance about women writers.  One wishes what she has to say about women writers was now obsolete, but it isn’t.


Honorable Mentions:

“A Good Man is Hard to Find,” short story by Flannery O’Connor, which is hilarious, until it isn’t.  Another “I can’t believe that happened” one.


The Sunne in Splendour, by Sharon Kay Penman. Terrific historical novel about Richard III that is gut-wrenching as the end approaches.


1 comment

  1. David Crowley

    Thanks for sharing your list! I just posted mine…no overlap, but a few of yours are on my “to read” list. Including Heart of Darkness, not sure how I’ve made it this far without reading that one!

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