Books that changed me
This is a cool meme that I got from Spo. Five books that had a profound effect on me. Not necessarily favorites, or great books. I was somehow different after I read each of these books than I had been before.
1. Beautiful Butterflies by J. Moucha (Author) and F. Prochazka (Illustrator). Amazingly, still available used from Amazon. It’s a coffee table book with stunning illustrations of amazing butterflies from around the world. I got it as an eighth birthday present from my great aunt shortly after it came out in 1965. The book contributed to my developing love of butterflies, but had two other profound effects on my life. The most spectacular species were all from far away places, and I immediately began a lifelong romance with travel. I dreamed of seeing several favorites someday, a dream that was recently realized for Morpho cypris in Costa Rica. The book also had numerous species with very strange names. Rather than an easily understood name like Cabbage White, these butterflies had two names, written in italcs in what appeared to be a foreign language. A person’s name appeared after them. This was my first exposure to the names of the some of the great lepidopterists from the age of exploration: Hübner, Bates, Staudinger. But it was more than that- these names had the ring of magic words to them. They haunted me. They were my first introduction to scientific nomenclature.
2. A Fairly Honourable Defeat by Iris Murdoch. I discovered Iris Murdoch’s writing at the recommendation of a friend while I was in graduate school. She remains a favorite author, and this is my favorite of her works. It was the first Murdoch novel that I read, and contained a very positive depiction of a gay couple, Simon and Axel. I read it when I was just coming out, and carried the images of a reasonably functional gay couple with me for a long time.
3. The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov. This book was also a recommendation from a friend, this time while I was in college. Not the greatest science fiction novel that I have read by any stretch of the imagination, it was none the less a good read. I had tried and rejected science fiction previously, probably due to an unfortunate first pick (one of Heinlein’s more military works). I had come away from that experience with the impression that scifi stories were just macho paeans to militarism and weapons technology. This book had a real story to it, however, and got me started on a lifelong love of the genre.
4. The Chronicles of Narnia. My introduction to C.S. Lewis. When I was in high school, I went through a 5 year period as a born-again Christian, largely as a result of reading Lewis’ work and discussing it avidly with a group of students from a local theological seminary (Gordon-Conwell) at a nearby Christian coffeehouse. Althouigh I would later reject Biblical literalism (later still Christianity, and later even still theism), my time as a born-again Christian taught me many things, and provided a very safe haven for a deeply closeted and frightened young man.
5. The Borrowers by Mary Norton. I read this book when I was in the second grade. I resonated with the themes of trying to survive as a very small person in a world made for much larger folk and of being somehow different from others. More importantly than that, this was my first experience of a true love of fiction. It's now over 40 years since I read it, and I can still recall vividly the feeling of not wanting the book to end.