Monday, 9 December 2013

My top five most inspirational books

I decided to do this for a bit of fun, but it turned out to actually be quite tough! I think it's great  when you find something that really strikes a chord deep inside, whether it's a book, movie, song, whatever. I can't list even half the books which I've read and fallen in love with, but among my absolute favourites, there are some which really left a lasting impression on me. They have influenced not just the way I approach writing, but also became a kind of marker for the times in my life when I first read them.
So, here are a handful of them: five of my most inspirational books. Here we go!
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
Joanne Greenberg
The hidden strength is too deep a secret. But in the end... in the end it is our only ally
This isn't one that jumped to mind straightaway, but as I thought about it, I realised just how much it has impacted me. I ended up reading it almost by accident, but it hooked me in a way I never thought it would.

One of the things which makes this so inspirational in general, I think, is the fact that it's based very closely on a true story. It captures the whirlwind of mental illness in a beautifully brutal narrative - the words flow in a way that doesn't happen in many books. I was so impressed with the way in which Deborah uses her vivid imagination to find solace from and make sense of reality. It formed one of those weird connections which you never see coming, but which really speaks to some part of you. Reading this story, which is non-fiction in many ways, turned out to be one of the most rewarding literary whims I've ever ended up taking. It was so inspiring to follow a journey through one of the darkest places of the mind, and come out the other side.
Northern Lights
Philip Pullman
You cannot change what you are, only what you do.
I have honestly lost count of the amount of times I've read His Dark Materials. Out of all the books I've put together here, it's the one that's been with me the longest, and it still fascinates me today.
I think it's one of those stories where the more you read it, the more you notice. Despite the world and imagery being very impressive, I love the way this book addresses some pretty heavy and  harrowing issues, through the eyes of a kid. And she is a very realistic kid. Lyra is one of my favourite child characters ever. She can be difficult, rude, lazy and deceitful; but also very mature, selfless, intelligent and loyal. I first read the books when I was around Lyra's age, and it was refreshing to find a young protagonist who wasn't always an angelic big-eyed little girl. But besides her, this is the story which sowed in me a love of the Arctic. After I read this, visiting the far north went straight on my bucket list and it's never gone away. So Northern Lights very easily makes my top five!
Jane Eyre
Charlotte Bronte
I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.
This is my favourite piece of Victorian literature. I can shower it with compliments about how its structure and characterisation is near-perfect; the way the gothic elements blend with the romance. But the main draw to this book for me is Jane Eyre herself.
I recently found an article listing how the story can still apply to modern readers over 150 years after it was first published, and it sums up my feelings pretty well. Jane is a strong, independent character, who respects herself without being proud, to the point where she is willing to make huge personal sacrifices for the sake of her own honour. But despite all that, she isn't without flaws, and one thing I really love: she didn't start off so controlled. One of my favourite parts of the book is near the beginning, when Jane tells her Aunt Reed just how much she dislikes her. And while I loved her spunk and thought she had good reason to speak her mind, I really admired the way she still found the strength to move on as she grew up. She's one of those characters who is brave in a subtle way, taking life as it comes. Every time I read this story, she appears so real and human, I can imagine glancing up and seeing her standing there. I've come to really look up to her, and I think she's a brilliant literary role model - and not just for girls.
Lirael
Garth Nix
Choosers will be beggars if the begging's not their choosing.
I first read Sabriel, the first book in The Old Kingdom series, when I was in my mid-teens, and didn't actually get around to the other two for a while afterwards. I really enjoyed Sabriel, but when I moved onto Lirael, I felt myself connect with it in a very personal way.
I think what put this one in my top five inspirational books is the time at which I read it. If I'd read the rest of the series directly after Sabriel, it might not have had the same effect. But as it stands, I devoured this story in just a few sittings, because it was shortly after a very difficult period of family deaths. One of the main themes of the series is death, but it's done in a fascinating way which never struck me as morbid or oppressive. Lirael herself goes through a brilliant transformation in both this book and the next one, Abhorsen, battling not just outside forces, but also depression, personal identity, nightmares and loneliness. It's beautiful to witness, and was a real help to me. I'm so glad I fell into this series when I did.
The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness
Michelle Paver
Evil exists in all of us, Torak. Some fight it. Some feed it. That's how it's always been.
Growing up, there were three series which I got obsessed with, and bought every single instalment as soon as it came out. They were Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness.
That last one is the story I always tell everyone to read, and I'm always a bit surprised that more people haven't heard of it. I honestly can't pick one book out of the lot which I can place above the others, so I've cheated a bit here and just put the series itself. There are not enough adjectives to describe how much I adore these six books. But besides being my absolute favourites, the entire series has impacted me in a huge way. It's actually the only one which has influenced me not just in writing, but also in university work. When I first read Wolf Brother in high school, I was blown away by the chapters written from the POV of a wolf. I'd never seen anything like it before and it worked perfectly. When I went to uni, I studied Animal Behaviour, and the wolf chapters are still ingrained in my head. I honestly think it is the most realistic and accurate animal POV I have ever come across in a work of fiction.

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