These days, on social media (the federated kind at least, I don’t know about the more mainstream ones), there are two “challenges” making the rounds. Post a still frame from a movie or a single page of a book that had an “impact” on you. Twenty in total.
First came the movie challenge, and I thought, no way I’ll find twenty movies that had an “impact” on me. I thought, well, if they made it about books…
Somebody clearly had the same thought, since it didn’t take very long until the book challenge started.
I kept thinking about which books I would choose, but I finally decided against taking part and instead wrote this post. (I could have written it on my Hubzilla account, but I thought, well, this is a good opportunity to finally get this blog going.)
One (slightly trivial) reason is that among all the books I could use, there isn’t one that has a single page in it that wouldn’t give it away immediately. At least that’s how it seems to me 😉
The more important one, however, is that even with books, twenty seemed an awful lot. I read a lot, and there are quite a few books I’ve read more than once, but sometimes it’s hard to tell whether it’s the books that influenced me or whether I like the books because they support my existing views.
So I think I would like to limit a list of the ones that truly influenced me to three. There might be a few more, but off the top of my head, these three are the ones with the biggest “impact.”
The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
No list of books in my life that wouldn’t start with this one. I must have read it about fifty times, and no, this is not exaggerating it. I stopped counting after the 27th time, and that was around 15 years ago. Since then I’ve read it at least once a year, sometimes more. As a matter of fact, I’m currently reading it again. There’s something about the story that makes me keep going back to it, and after all this time (first time I read it, I was 14, in 1991) I still couldn’t tell you what that is. There are, however, a few scenes in there that had an impact on my real-life views. Just to name two:
Gandalf on Gollum
[Frodo] ‘[…] Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.’
[Gandalf] ‘Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. […]’
Two years after the first time I read the book, my German teacher entered the classroom and didn’t say a word. Instead he picked up a piece of chalk and wrote on the board “Sollte in Deutschland die Todesstrafe wieder eingeführt werden?” (“Should Germany put the death penalty back in?“) Then he said he didn’t want to open an immediate discussion, but we were supposed to take a week and do some research and write a paper (? Essay? Opinion piece? In German it was “Aufsatz”, not sure what you would call that kind of homework in US or UK schools) which would lead to us forming our own opinion. I don’t want to go too far off-topic by going into detail about either the topic or my work back then, but one thing I know for sure: This quote from Gandalf had a huge impact on me, and I never forgot it. It was a truly amazing revelation even before I had to write that paper. Before I read the book I hadn’t spent too much time thinking about the death penalty, whether in fiction or in real life (I was 14, for cryin’ out loud), but this set me on the path to form my opinion about it, which I can tell you hasn’t changed a single bit over the past 25 years.
Boromir was another revelation. Here’s somebody who is supposed to be a good guy but he does a single evil deed which changes the course of the story. Yet it doesn’t suddenly turn him into a bad guy. As a matter of fact, he immediately regretted what he did and tried to make amends. That was another thing which for a teenager was a fairly new concept. I don’t think it was something I understood from the start. I honestly can’t remember how I reacted to this the very first time I read this book, but I’m sure it took me a little time to figure out.
The Lord Of The Rings remains the single most important book in my life.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
There are no books that I’ve read anywhere near as often as The Lord Of The Rings, but that’s tough competition 😉 This one I’ve also read way more than once (although I never counted). I think I can safely say it was this book that set me on the path of questioning religion. Yes, the Celts had their own religion, and it was set against the Christian zealots, and there weren’t any atheists in there. And yet it was the first time I got a somewhat critical view of Christianity. At the time (also as a teenager) I was a fairly active Catholic. My parents were not overly religious, but my grandparents on my dad’s side were – not extremely, but criticism of the church was not part of my childhood, not from that side of the family at any rate. (Now, my other grandfather, he couldn’t stand the church, but he also didn’t want to influence me too much, I think. Still, because of him I got at least little balance.) I remember feeling a little guilty on enjoying the celtic point of view, but the older I got the more I got over that guilt until I simply enjoyed the story. For a while I was torn between my slightly Catholic roots and the more spiritual ideas and women-focused beliefs this book (and others by Zimmer Bradley) promoted, but I ended up outgrowing both. And it was this book that started it.
Momo by Michael Ende
A German one, this time. I don’t think I was even ten years old when I read this one for the first time.
I remember lying in bed after I’d read a little and pondering the nature of time. I’ve read it several times by now, and if there’s one thing it taught me it’s how precious our time is. Although maybe this one took a little longer to sink in. Only in recent years have I gotten to a point in my life where I refuse to get stressed out by time pressure. I’ve gotten to the point where I think, ok, either I’ll get it done or I won’t. And if I don’t leave my job at 6:01 p.m. but at 6:15 or even 6:30, it’s not going to change my life. There are other factors that helped me get there, but Momo was one of them.
There. Those are my top three. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but those are the ones I’m the most sure of.