I thought it would be fun to write about the books that influenced me when I was younger (and I’m bound to miss a few or organize them incorrectly, but oh well!) Anyway, the following shortlist is a collection of the books that I responded to the most growing up. Feel free to share some of your favorites in the comments, too!
“The Necronomicon” by H. P. Lovecraft
My first one is a cheat because it’s a short story collection, but it’s the first book my mom bought me when I was really getting into reading (she owned so many books that I never really had to ask her to buy me one of my own), and this one really spoke to me because I was a depressed teenager who hated life, and Lovecraft is really great for that. It contains pretty much a “best of” of Lovecraft from At the Mountains of Madness to Cool Air to Call of Cthulhu. For me, who was also a budding writer, it was great to see the heights of Gothic fiction from the turn of the century and it was important to identify language that I liked and styles that I didn’t (Lovecraft actually crosses a few genres from horror, to weird fiction, to science fiction, to comedy).
“Something Wicked this Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury
An instant classic and popped up when I was reading Lovecraft. It’s a dark, brooding tale of losing one’s youth while also remembering what it’s like to be young (or forgetting that you ever were). The carnival that rolls into town and scares the bejesus out of our heroes is frightening as all heck, and all the characters in the book are wonderful. It also smacks of fall. I’m serious. I can smell the damn aging leaves of fall every time I pick it up off the shelf. And, I’m not going to lie, that’s a great feeling.
“Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut
One of my first “difficult” reads in that it challenged my notions of structure and development (I came to learn that I truly love post-modern literature). But, above all, I really just love the story and I love Vonnegut’s style and voice. I can hear him in my head as he reads, and both his dry humor and sardonic nature really push the plot forward for me (if that can be done in a book about time travel). I would go on to read a ton of Vonnegut books and I really enjoy most, if not all, of them. Slaughterhouse Five, too, is just a great tell that was relevant when it was written and it’s relevant now.
“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy
Another challenging read, and it also made me cry (the second book to do so). It’s a dark story about a man and his son traveling the wasteland and we as an audience have no idea what’s happening in the aftermath or why it happened. Something T. S. Eliot couldn’t have prepped us for even in poem form (see: The Wasteland). I am a fan of moody books because I can be a moody guy (ask my wife), but there is something cathartic about interpreting loss and conviction in characters and plot that I am always attracted to, which I think is probably important in most people’s reading lives and I think it’s also important to face those traumas—even if they are fictitious.
So, anyway, those are my immediate picks. Ask me again in a few months and they will probably be different (all of my tastes have a habit of changing with the season, but, what can you do?) Thanks for reading, and, really, don’t be afraid to comment your favorite books. I’d love to hear which ones you think are great!