There are a lot of books that have strongly influenced the way that I think, the way that I write, and the way that I approach other books when I read them. Not all of them are Timeless Classics that are beloved worldwide – a lot of them have come out quite recently and aren’t in genres that are constantly lauded on the internet. I was thinking more about that today because one of those books is just having its fifth publishing anniversary and the author is revisiting it for a couple of online events.
The book that got me back into reading critically back in high school was a YA book called A Thousand Nights by EK Johnston. What I love about it is it took an ancient story and managed to turn it into something completely fresh and new that told a very different message than the original myth did. Johnston did especially well in that she doesn’t name any of the normal characters. While that sounds like it could be confusing, in this case, it lent itself to the idea that any small insignificant person could completely change the course of history. It was excellently done and when coupled with the rich, poetic language in the book it felt like a journey. It’s one of my all-time favorite books, and I always highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good read.
Another one that I always gush about and am SO thankful an internet fandom exists for is, basically, the entirety of Brandon Sanderon’s Cosmere universe but especially The Stormlight Archive. That series is a lot to summarize spoiler-free, but what I love about it si that Sanderson doesn’t shy away from deeply flawed characters. Jasnah Kholin is also so intriguing for me, as an atheist character who sticks to her beliefs and logic despite being in the middle of basically a war between the gods she scorned. The world-building is astounding, the characters are all wonderful, and Sanderson far surpasses the (sadly low) bar for white, male fantasy authors depicting women, people of color, etc. in thoughtful and realistic ways. Nothing in the book is overly gratuitous – it all serves a purpose and lends itself to a branching but tightly interwoven narrative.
On a much more gratuitous and violent note, The Power by Naomi Alderman still haunts my thoughts sometimes even though I read it several years ago. It’s a modern Handmaid’s Tale. This book explores what happens when the standard gender roles in the world flip exactly 180 and goes on to highlight the danger of ideals that maintain the same power structure with new people at its head as opposed to creating a newer, more balanced structure. Alderman does not pull her punches. This book is not for the faint of heart, but I also wholeheartedly believe this is a book anyone who feels strongly about gender politics should read.
On another light note, I recently read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman for a creative writing course and completely devoured it. It’s quick and light and could easily be read to children. Something in its simplicity makes it all the more enchanting. Gaiman doesn’t feel a need to explain how any of the magic truly works, nor do you feel much of a need to ask – while reading, you’re simply too swept up into the story. It feels nostalgic and fun and somehow incredibly haunting at the same time. Neil Gaiman obviously has a multitude of excellent books, but this one has claimed a special place in my heart.
What books first made you fall in love with reading? And what books have kept you in love with it to this day?