April 15, 2009 10:08 AM   Subscribe

Have any of these books changed your life?

I am preparing to take part again in that most loathesome of tasks, moving. In preparation for this horror, I am culling my collection of “stuff”. My subjectively useless English degree has caused an incursion on my physical space which I intend to reclaim. My collection of unread books is much larger than the list I have provided. This abbreviated list will help me make better decisions about the whole of the crush of books I find myself under. (Note to English majors: always give plenty of non-book related ideas to friends and relatives for the purposes of gift-giving. You will thank me.)

I am not at all interested in the relative intellectual value of these books. Surely, all books have some value. I want to know if any of these books have altered your perception in that way that we all have experienced, but is at the same time, so very rare. (The Sorrows of Young Werther and Snow Crash both changed my life.) Please do not direct me to tepid reviews and bibliocentric social networking websites.

I process my emotions through art. Movies, music, books, museums, and video games are how I deal. I do not want to miss out on some valuable emotional experiences, but also want to know the possibility for value exists. In short, if you have read one of the books listed below, what was the emotional value of the read?

If I receive little to no response on this question these books will be filtered back into the thrift stores from whence most of them came.

Thanks in advance.

These are books I have never read. Books I might not ever read. They appear in the order they are piled on my bed:

The Golden Bough – Sir James Frazer
Empire – Gore Vidal
Hollywood - Gore Vidal
Visions – Michio Kaku
The Tin Drum – Gunter Grass
Black Ajax – George Mcdonald Fraser
On The Road – Jack Kerouac
Choke - Chuck Palahniuk
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
Maximum Bob – Elmore Leonard
City of Illusions – Ursula K. Leguin
The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Leguin
The October Country - Ray Bradbury
Dandelion Wine – Ray Bradbury
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
The Man Who Loved Mars – Lin Carter
Merlin – Robert Nye
Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger
Red Planet Run – Dana Stabenow
The Supreme Identity – Alan Watts
Orlando Furioso – Ariosto
Sword Of The Demon – Richard A. Lupoff
Gravity's Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon
posted by SinisterPurpose to Media & Arts (55 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
On The Road – Jack Kerouac

Despite the fact that it's just damn bloody trite, I did like this book. I don't know how much it altered my perception of the world or anything -- save for inspiring me to head out on a grand cross-country road trip ten years ago -- but it is definitely worth hanging on to.

Runner-up status to Dandelion Wine and Lord Of the Flies, but only runner-up status at that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:20 AM on April 15, 2009

I loved "The Left Hand of Darkness" and might even say it "changed my life".
It at least helped me change the way I view gender.

But I can imagine that my (equally literate) wife would hate it.

There are other good ones in the list.

Books are fungible. Convert all of these into moving money or gifts to friends. Keep a list of them and people comments and then read them from the library or buy them again when you have time or the inclination to read them.
posted by Seamus at 10:22 AM on April 15, 2009

Choke had almost nil emotional value to me. It was pretty much shock value snark. It was funny sometimes and that's about the most I can say for it.

The October Country and Dandelion Wine were unmemorable for me, and I generally like Bradbury.
posted by Nattie at 10:22 AM on April 15, 2009

"Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger" is one of my favorite books, as I find the characters easy to identify with. (It's also quite small!)

"Lord of the Flies – William Golding" is on my list of one of those books that should be read for getting an insight into human nature, and it's quite upsetting, so I suppose it marginally changed my life. I read this over ten years ago though, and the writing style could be off-putting (british school-boy stuff).
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 10:26 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Golden Bough is pretty tedious, and in its abridged version (one book instead of 12 or 15) omits the real sticking point of the book, which generally regards Christianity, although that point is fairly easy to discern if you read between the lines a bit. If you're really into anthropological studies of religion it might be interesting, and it provides quite a bit of background into why today's religions are the way they are, but that might also be a bit unsettling if you happen to be a devout believer. I got 200-something pages into it and then put it aside, but I do plan on returning to it someday. I don't think I'd miss out on much if I didn't, but it does make a nice Apocalypse Now reference on your bookshelf if you pair it with some T. S. Eliot and From Ritual to Romance by Jessie Weston (as well as Heart of Darkness, of course).
posted by LionIndex at 10:27 AM on April 15, 2009

Empire – Gore Vida is the only one of these books (I've read most of them) that still resonates with me. What a great book!

That said, I've gotten rid of more than half of my books over the past two years or so. Most of the books I've discarded were mostly canon. In fact, I traded in all of these books for credit and started collecting books about a specific interest I have. As a rule, I don't purchase or buy contemporary fiction or literary canon, or if I do I return to the bookstore after reading for credit.

So, get rid of them! You'll only be leaving more room for newer and better books.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:31 AM on April 15, 2009

Hold onto Nine Stories. "A Perfect Day for Bannanafish" comes up first and after that you'll end up reading the rest of them.

Others will disagree (that's sort of the beauty of books, no?), but I don't mind if you give the rest away. You already know what Lord of the Flies and On the Road are about anyway. For the record, there are better Kerouac books out there, like Dharma Bums and The Subterraneans.
posted by thebergfather at 10:31 AM on April 15, 2009

Of those listed, only On The Road. It's been so long since I read it, I don't remember too many specifics, nor precisely how it changed my life—just that somehow the memory of reading it stands out like a flare on the road of my life.
posted by bricoleur at 10:32 AM on April 15, 2009

Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger

This book absolutely changed my life.
posted by RajahKing at 10:36 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Nine Stories"

A friend gave it to me as a xmas gift in highschool. Completely changed my head and made me a committed reader ever since. "Bananafish", especially, was a seminal "WTF????" moment.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:38 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

I personally loved The Tin Drum. I don't know if it changed my life, per se, but it helped me understand the civilian German mentality during the Nazi regime. It's weirdly funny, if Teuton irony can be funny to American ears, and a surreal deformity-as-allegory-for-nationhood in the same vein as Middlesex and The Satanic Verses. It's also probably the greatest German literary feat published since Goethe's Faustus. Read it alongside On Hitler's Mountain by Irmgard A. Hunt to understand the seemingly inexplicable complacency among German citizens during the years of the Holocaust.

And try not to go deaf amid Metafilter's roaring tide of adoration for Gravity's Rainbow.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:39 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Every book on your list is easily replaced. Of them, only Gravity's Rainbow and Nine Stories have appreciably affected my life, and unless the editions of those are special somehow, I'd advise you to get rid of the lot. (The Lord of the Flies is a good book—many of these are pretty good books—but you can find them if you need them.) (On another parenthetical hand, I rarely can bring myself to get rid of books, having purged one several-thousand-volume collection in 2005 to my continuing regret.)
posted by cgc373 at 10:39 AM on April 15, 2009

Although I agree that other Kerouac book are better than "On the Road", I think it's worth hanging onto/reading at some point.

I was glad that I had read it prior to seeing the scroll on display. (Although I'm not really sure where you can do that now that all the dates on that site have gone by.)

Alternatively if you are into audio books, I thought that this was pretty good. I found myself listening to it pretty much on repeat for a while. No idea how it compares to the newer version.
posted by o0dano0o at 10:41 AM on April 15, 2009

If you've never read them, and might never read them, make a list of what they are, keep the list somewhere, and give the books to people that you think would enjoy them (or sell them to a used bookstore if you need cash for the move). At some point, you'll look at the list and go "wow, I should read this book!" and go buy it.

Toting stuff you have never and may never use around, just for the sake of having it "just in case" is kind of silly. Especially with something like books which are, as pointed out, fungible.
posted by pdb at 10:47 AM on April 15, 2009

Books on your list I have read and have "emotional value" grades above a C:
B+ Empire
A+ The Tin Drum
A The Big Sleep
A Nine Stories
A+ Gravity's Rainbow (eat it raw, zoomorphic)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:48 AM on April 15, 2009

The Left Hand of Darkness is far and away one of the best science fiction novels written, and is one I go back to every few years. Has it changed my life? Not really, but, then, my life tends to be changed by books with titles like "How To Yodel" and "63 Really Interesting Things You Can Do With Household Chemicals."

However, I tend to keep books that I reread, so that's why I would suggest keeping that one.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:50 AM on April 15, 2009

The Golden Bough is online
The Big Sleep is a classic and also very rereadable.
Gravity's Rainbow is ....oh so much fun (others disagree)
posted by adamvasco at 10:51 AM on April 15, 2009

Dandelion Wine – Ray Bradbury

This one, yes. But I have to add the caveat that I was about the same age as the main character (12-ish) when I read it, so YMMV. For me, the take away from this book was the realization of being a living thing that would one day cease to live. At 12-ish, you can imagine that is pretty life changing. I still remember the feeling in that moment years later.
posted by geeky at 10:53 AM on April 15, 2009

Kerouac, Salinger and Golding for sure. I'd consider the Golden Bough a keeper, but I'm into that stuff.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:54 AM on April 15, 2009

Choke - Chuck Palahniuk - I enjoyed this creepster book and CPs view on the world and his somewhat unique voice. That said, it's at the library.
The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Leguin - LeGuin is one of the best SF writers out there and this sideways look at "be careful what you wish for" is terrific and I think about it often. That said, it's at the library.
The October Country & Dandelion Wine – Ray Bradbury - RB is an amazing writer and his soft tone of voice in these stories some of which are very spooky really touched a nerve for me which has not been untouched since. That said, it's at the library.
Gravity's Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon - This book changed my life in that it made me realize that my husband at the time (who said "omg you have to read this book it changed my life") had a totally different view of what "great literature" was. We fought about this book and other things and he is now, for many reasons, no longer my husband. That said, it's at the library.
posted by jessamyn at 10:54 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

I dunno about "life-changing" but here's a few comments:

The Golden Bough - Only interesting if you're into mythology or anthropology. If so, it's necessary.
On The Road - a must-read
Anything by Bradbury - I'm a huge fan, so I say keep it, but it won't change your life, just great wordsmithing.
Left Hand of Darkness - See Bradbury comment above.
posted by elendil71 at 10:55 AM on April 15, 2009

I really liked The Big Sleep. It led me to read all of Chandler's Marlowe books, his short stories and Dashiell Hammett's 5 books. And then to seek out more noir stories. So you might want to chuck that to keep from making things worse.
posted by yerfatma at 10:57 AM on April 15, 2009

Strangely, I've never read Gravity's Rainbow, but I've read everything else Pynchon has written (yeah, Mason and Dixon, Against the Day, Slow Learner). I think it's some perversion. But V and The Crying of Lot 49 did in fact change how I look at literature, and you bet it made me feel some shit. V especially. I've heard people say similar things about GR, but I can't espouse to know for sure.

Man, The Big Sleep is just fun. It was important for me to get back to understanding Noir and its effects on culture and literature to this day, and I had a fucking blast reading it. Made me wish I'd picked it up before.

As for both Dandelion Wine and Lord of the Flies, well, both are great books and were presciently nostalgic and horrifying reads for me, respectively. That said, I don't think they'll have the same impact if you're not in your late teens, so they might not be worth your time. But then again, they're both very readable and short.

But, yeah, dude. Toss 'em. If you miss 'em, you can buy them again - none of these are super rare - and if you don't miss 'em, you won't even know it. And believe me, I know the horror of culling your books - I moved across country with seven bookcases. I don't think I'd do it again.
posted by OrangeDrink at 10:58 AM on April 15, 2009

There are a few on your list that I've read and keep around, and maybe consider to be really great books, but I'd be hard pressed to say that they're life changing. Get rid of the lot, you can always decide to get em from the library or buy em back later if you change your mind.

I do find it odd that as an English major, you've not read Lord of the Flies. I think I'd been through it twice over the course of elementary/high school.

omg jessamyn doesn't like GR.
posted by juv3nal at 11:00 AM on April 15, 2009

I really hated The Left Hand of Darkness. Really, really hated it. I wish I could get those hours of my life back.

On a grander scale, though: since--as you correctly note--it's quite rare to find a book that changes your life, why don't you set up an Amazon wishlist or other list of books you'd like to read someday, check them out of the library to give them a whirl, and repurchase if any of them make the cut? You bought them from thrift stores, so presumably won't be out a lot of money, and you'll be free of clutter.

I do this myself--my private Amazon wishlist is about twelve pages long, and I keep my requests maxed out at two libraries. I work in publishing and have three bookcases worth of unread books which I will get around to someday (I can keep them at work so I don't feel cluttered--I have only two small bookscases at home). Once I read books, I immediately list them on Paperbackswap or give them away, unless they were really, really good. That's quite rare. I agree that all books have value, but they don't need to value up my living space.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:02 AM on April 15, 2009

I don't think Lord of the Flies changed my life, but it did change how I viewed other works. I'm not sure if that's because it was influential itself, or simply because it told a universal story very powerfully.

(Not useful to the poster, but the audiobook version read by the author is terrific.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:04 AM on April 15, 2009

Another vote for keeping Salinger. At least read "Bananafish" before you get rid of the book. It's a perfect, beautiful, haunting story that I suppose did change my life, although it's not quantifiable.
posted by katie at 11:05 AM on April 15, 2009

I have The Left Hand of Darkness in my lap, and it was quite good. It's about an alien world whose inhabitants are androgynous. A foreigner (who is just male) comes to the androgynous world.
It did not change my life much.
It changed my views on gender, and Ursula K. Le Guin is a great science fiction writer (i just yesterday finished reading another of hers called "The Dispossessed", and liked it even more than left hand of darkness.
posted by gavtaylor at 11:20 AM on April 15, 2009

The Big Sleep is the only one on your list I've read more than once, and actually the only book at all I've read more than a couple times. For better or worse, it's the starting point for a great chunk of American pop culture of the last 70 years, which is surprising considering that the plot makes no sense and the main character is a detached curmudgeon. It's probably most similar in tone to Camus' Stranger. I don't know what it is about Chandler's writing, but it always puts me into this certain mode that I enjoy revisiting. I can't imagine it would change your life, though.
posted by hamsterdam at 11:23 AM on April 15, 2009

After reading the foreword (preface?) to Dandelion Wine, I was so moved that I wrote a several-page ecstatic essay. That said, I was probably 14 years old, solitary by nature, and it was the middle of the night.

However, I still have the essay and I love it.

If you read this book, read the preface.
posted by amtho at 11:25 AM on April 15, 2009

well I havent read all the comments, but the only one on the list that I could personally call 'life changing' is Gravity's Rainbow.

that said, I have gotten rid of books before to move, a coupla times, but I have ALWAYS come to regret it, so choose carefully!!!
posted by supermedusa at 11:28 AM on April 15, 2009

Nine Stories.
Dandelion Wine.
That is all.
posted by DarkForest at 11:38 AM on April 15, 2009

Also I just realized that I read The Big Sleep when I was thirteen and haven't re-read it since, so the grade may be heavily influenced by summer late-nights-reading-outside nostalgia; YMMV.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:50 AM on April 15, 2009

We should start a metafilter book swap. Haven't had a chane to read many of those yet, but they seem interesting. Personally, I really did love On the road. My life was running pretty stale at the time I started to read it, and it interjected some vitality into my view of life and living. Try as I might, Gravity's Rainbow has been a challenge. It really is the Mount Everest of books; so many try, but very few make it through the whole thing...and even the ones that do, aren't always in the best of shape at the end of it all. Not a fan of Lord of the Flies, but perhaps this was because I read it in high school and didn't really appreciate it at the time.
posted by scarello at 11:51 AM on April 15, 2009

We should start a metafilter book swap. posted by scarello at 1:51 PM on April 15

I have often thought the same thing! If anyone is interested in any of these books, let me know via the email in my profile and we'll see what we can work out. I'm obviously not interested in swapping right away, but it would be nice to know that these were going to a good home. Thanks to everyone for your helpful answers so far.
posted by SinisterPurpose at 12:04 PM on April 15, 2009

I LOVE Nine Stories. It keeps getting lost, ruined. stolen, and I keep buying more copies. Also, you could read it in about an hour.
posted by artychoke at 12:09 PM on April 15, 2009

I read the following books from your list, or at least these are the ones I remembered reading.

On The Road – Jack Kerouac - I found this book overrated.
Choke - Chuck Palahniuk - I enjoyed this book but I am a Palahniuk fan.
The October Country - Ray Bradbury - I liked it but it did not change my life.
Lord of the Flies – William Golding - I had to read this book in high school and after the requisite dissection of plots, themes and characters I did with the book what you do with many post-dissection specimens. I discarded the remains.
Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger - After I read Catcher in the Rye in grade 8 or 9 I went on a J.D. Salinger binge. I did enjoy this book very much.
Gravity's Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon - I liked this book more the second time I read it.
posted by KevCed at 12:10 PM on April 15, 2009

We should start a metafilter book swap.

Or perhaps we all could join/link to each other on Paperbackswap? I'm signed up over there, and have gotten some great things -- including books I've been looking for for years.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:17 PM on April 15, 2009

I always pick up second hand copies of Nine Stories to give to people who haven't read it. The band I was in in high school had a song called Bannanafish. It really is a great book.
posted by Sailormom at 12:36 PM on April 15, 2009

On the Road, Choke and Nine Stories.

Actually, of those that I would keep, On the Road is only one that I feel better, feel good, even, just seeing it on my book shelf.
posted by thewestinggame at 12:47 PM on April 15, 2009

I thought Choke was a waste of my time. Overly reliant on obscenity to the exclusion of substance.

Nine Stories is cute, moving, and shouldn't take you more than a couple of hours to read, so you may as well.

The Tin Drum changed my life. It is the most amazing and engrossing book I have ever read. Years later, I still think of it frequently. Salman Rushdie says it is what inspired him to begin writing.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 1:18 PM on April 15, 2009

I don't know if it was really life-changing, but I read Nine Stories as a teenager and it is one of the few books that has truly stuck with me. And I have a terrible memory, so that is saying something.
posted by easy_being_green at 1:31 PM on April 15, 2009

In case you're still collecting data points, of these I have read (with asterisks indicating importance for me from * = little to ***** = will keep a copy forever):

**** On The Road – Jack Kerouac - generally overrated but still a cultural touch-stone, making it a must read. As I recall, it goes fast if that's any consolation
*** The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler - classic of the old-time mystery genre
** Maximum Bob – Elmore Leonard - fun "vacation read" but disposable afterward
**** The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Leguin - one of her best books and she is one of the best science fiction writers alive
** Dandelion Wine – Ray Bradbury - not one of his best books but probably still readable; I think I read it about 30 years ago
**** Lord of the Flies – William Golding - another cultural touch-stone, a little dated, but worth reading even if just so you can laugh knowingly at the oddballs on the web who tell you that The Eagles' song "Hotel California" is a coded retelling of the novel (that's not actually why one should read it of course)
**** Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger - bearing in mind it's been 20 years since I read it, I certainly found the stories profound and deeply moving at the time, as a young adult.
***** Gravity's Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon - confusing and sometimes infuriating masterpiece that, if you can get through it (most can't) will likely change how you view Euro-American 20th-C. history
posted by aught at 1:34 PM on April 15, 2009

gravity's rainbow, definitely. And while youre at it, read the crying of lot 49 by pynchon!
posted by freddymetz at 1:49 PM on April 15, 2009

The Tin Drum is a book I feel lucky to have read. The chapters "The Siege of the Polish Post Office" and "House of Cards" are especially good--suspenseful and absorbing. I remember getting absolutely lost in it. However, if you're short of space and time (it is kind of a tome), and can't otherwise keep it in your life, then it is probably at the library.
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 1:53 PM on April 15, 2009

I loved "The Left Hand of Darkness" and might even say it "changed my life".

posted by voltairemodern at 1:58 PM on April 15, 2009

The need to cull these tomes out of my collection is not presently pressing. I'd like to keep getting thoughts on this question for as long as metafilter allows. So don't hold back.
posted by SinisterPurpose at 3:26 PM on April 15, 2009

Oh my God, yes, keep Nine Stories, both Bradburys, and On the Road. (I'll put in a vote for Lord of the Flies, just because it's good, but my life wasn't changed immensely.)
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 4:01 PM on April 15, 2009

The Tin Drum – even more interesting now in light of revelation of his stint in the SS
On The Road – "fabulous yellow roman candles"
posted by canoehead at 4:02 PM on April 15, 2009

On The Road – Jack Kerouac

This book fired. me. up. I was in college, itching to travel but had never really done so, single and unattached. Made me want to go hitchhiking across America and other places and made me utterly sad that you can't really do that anymore.

The Left Hand of Darkness

This is a very interesting book. It's not an emotional book, more an intellectual exercise, so I don't know how it affected me emotionally, but that it forces you to rethink gender roles is brain food enough.
posted by zardoz at 5:38 PM on April 15, 2009

Of these I've only read Dandelion Wine, and I don't know about life-changing, but it ranks as one of my very favorites. As in, it is one of perhaps two non-life-changing books I listed among my favorites on my Facebook profile. It's definitely less intense than Bradbury usually is, and less freaky, which you may or may not like.

If you're not moving overseas, and perhaps even if you are, you probably have room to bring some books even if you might not keep them forever. All I am saying is, Give books a chance.
posted by eritain at 6:04 PM on April 15, 2009

The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Leguin: my favourite. definitely a keeper!
posted by tamarack at 6:10 PM on April 15, 2009

Don't open up The Big Sleep now, because you won't be able to put it down. Even though, as mentioned above, it doesn't actually make a lot of just sucks you in, and then you're going to want to read some more Chandler, and then you'll be in real trouble.

I don't have strong feelings about any of the others. I picked up Nine Stories with big expectations and was totally disappointed, because all my friends had told me how lifechanging it was and all. Now that you've had all of MeFi tell you about how much it changed their lives...well, don't think it's literally going to change your life. Yeah, they're good stories. I won't deny it. But after all the buildup I had been expecting a real revelation and I just didn't get it.
posted by crinklebat at 8:53 PM on April 15, 2009

Lord of the Flies. Well, it didn't exactly change my life, but it definitely added a darker tint to my whole view of life.

The Left Hand of Darkness. Like a few have said, it's more intellectual than emotional nourishment.
posted by elisynn at 9:28 AM on April 16, 2009

Lord of the Flies changed my life, but not in the expected way. When we protested that it was too mature for my son's seventh grade English class, and protested loudly, they threw my three kids out of the (private) school. Threw us for a bit of a loop at the time, but they all did fine in their new schools.

Other than that, it's a fine book.

But it's not like you couldn't get it at the library as suggested. Donate it and the others.
posted by genefinder at 9:34 AM on April 16, 2009

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