How do we define what defines us? With these five books, I am going to try.
There’s a book challenge going around various social media sites right now that requires you to list the 10 books that have affected you the most. Here at Hypable, we’re kicking off our own version of the challenge. While we may be doing only five books, we’re also going to tell you why they affected us — and maybe we can convince you to read them, too.
All of the books on my list are those I encountered for the first time many years ago, and have never stopped loving. There are many recent books that I hold very dear, but do they define me? Maybe one day they will. But for now, the books that have most deeply impacted me are those that I have loved for most of my life.
‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit was my first book crush. This soon blossomed into a complete love affair with Tolkien’s work, and although his later books offer a greater degree of complexity, I continue to have a soft spot for the innocence of The Hobbit. As Tolkien’s first book, The Hobbit is filled with a sense of delight and wonder, not undercut by the broader, darker themes that he chooses to incorporate. The real value of The Hobbit is in the beautifully written world that Tolkien creates in such detail that, just like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, you would not be all too surprised if you happened upon a hairy-footed Hobbit one day in your travels. The Hobbit taught me what it was to really, truly love a book; a lesson I remain grateful for today.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Like many others my age, Harry Potter shaped my childhood. I grew up with Harry; I was seven when I discovered Philosopher’s Stone and when Deathly Hallows was published, I had just turned 16. The impact of such a series on the formative years of my youth shouldn’t be underestimated, even if I was not actively involved in the Harry Potter fandom during this time. Would I have learned to value intelligence, courage, and sacrifice without reading Harry Potter? I’m sure I would have. But for two thirds of my life, Potter has been a cornerstone that I can always come back to. These books have made me laugh and cry, and although they may not have not shaped my life in any specific way, I also can’t imagine my life without them.
‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Shadow of the Wind is one of the most breathtaking books I have ever read, which is all the more interesting because I have only ever read the translated English. Although I dream of reading Zafon’s text in the original Spanish, it is unlikely that I will ever be able to do so. I often wonder how much my love of his books can be attributed to himself, and how much should belong to translator Lucia Graves. Regardless, Zafon’s haunting, gothic tale of post-war Barcelona had stayed with me long after I closed the final page. After reading this book, I felt for the first time that someone else truly understood my own relationship with certain books; devoted, often all-consuming, and life altering. This is a book about the power of books – how could I not include it?
‘Saving Francesca’ by Melina Marchetta
There was a familiarity that came the first time I read Saving Francesca that I did not feel with any other book on this list. It was the first time I read a teenage character who I felt I could realistically meet, a theme that would pervade my experience with Marchetta’s work. You may be sensing a theme here; as with all of the authors on this list, Marchetta would go on to become one of my favourites. The honesty of her characters continues to astound me, though I have reread this book countless times. As a teenager who felt, as I imagine all teens do, that the things I was experiencing were unique to me alone, being able to recognise myself in the literature I was devouring made Saving Francesca into something special for me.
His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
His Dark Materials is not your typical fantasy series. Pullman is not satisfied with explaining away his parallel worlds using magic. Instead the exploration, and explanation of the worlds provides the very crux of his series. His Dark Materials is so immensely layered that it is impossible to convey here the magnitude of what Pullman has achieved. Religion, science, questions of human nature and destiny, and of sexuality are just some of the ideas Pullman weaves together in ways that are both wonderful and, at times, heartbreaking. After all, Pullman was inspired by Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost – it isn’t surprising that this series is no shallow children’s fantasy. All of the books on this list have influenced me, but this series comprises three of the best books I have ever read. The only advice I can give is: do yourself a favour and read it.