Jump to content
The Education Forum
  • Announcements

    • Evan Burton

      OPEN REGISTRATION BY EMAIL ONLY !!! PLEASE CLICK ON THIS TITLE FOR INFORMATION REQUIRED FOR REGISTRATION!:   06/03/2017

      We have 5 requirements for registration: 1.Sign up with your real name. (This will be your Username) 2.A valid email address 3.Your agreement to the Terms of Use, seen here: http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=21403. 4. Your photo for use as an avatar  5.. A brief biography. We will post these for you, and send you your password. We cannot approve membership until we receive these. If you are interested, please send an email to: edforumbusiness@outlook.com We look forward to having you as a part of the Forum! Sincerely, The Education Forum Team
John Simkin

The novel that changed your life.

Recommended Posts

Guest Raynah Thomas

Oh crikey, there are so many! I suppose if it's the novel I keep returning to, it's The Color Purple. I read it first as an A level English student, and was moved almost to tears by it. At 17 it comes as a shock that other people might have experiences such as these. I don't really think being 'Spielberged' did it any favours in a literary sense thogh.

One of my all time favourites, which really made me think about the nature of the human race, is Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, dear. I'm about to sound horribly old, reactionary and "unerudite" compared with everyone else who's posted in this thread... Well, here goes...

When I was very young, my dad used to haunt house sales and auctions in search of "bargains" which he would buy for a few shillings (yes, I am that old) and which would then clutter up the house until they were thrown out a couple of years later having proved more or less totally useless...

I remember a box full of bound copies of the Gentleman's Magazine from the 1850s which he decided he simply couldn't resist, and an encyclopedia set published in 1896...

One day, he came home with a box full of novels by GA Henty. Now, for the benefit of you young chaps (and chapesses), Henty was the author of adventure stories in which daring young Englishmen went forth into foreign or colonial parts and triumphed due entirely to their sterling English virtues. In the process, they invariably killed numerous foreigners, traitors, ungrateful natives, jews, mohammedans, hindus, etc, etc. At the age of 8 or 9, I thought these were wonderful! I think I read the whole boxful in a couple of months and then demanded more...

Looking back on it, I can see that the books were terribly propagandistic, racist, imperialistic, etc, etc, but, at the time, they swept me up. The stories were so good that I absorbed all the history without noticing. And, despite their obvious bias, the books were well-researched... I learned, for example, in Through Russian Snows the exact number of soldiers who accompanied Napoleon on his Moscow Campaign (did you know that more than half the army wasn't French at all but contributed by various allied nations?). I learned from With Lee in Virginia what the weather was like during the Battle of Bull Run, and so on...

I think it was reading this sort of stuff which first awakened a deep interest in history which eventually led to my studying it at college, and then teaching it...

I'm sure the novels -- if you could even dignify them with the name -- don't stand comparison with all the literature that appeared earlier in the thread, but there it goes...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Maybe we should also list the novels we hated most when we were at school! I sat A-level English twice. The first time round, at my 1960s boys' grammar school, we had to study Jane Austen's Emma and Henry James' Portrait of a Lady. I loathed both novels, because of what I saw then as the effete, privileged characters they portrayed. Not surprisingly, I earned a "D", which wasn't enough to get me a place at university to study French and German. The second time round, we had D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers to read. What a wonderful, refreshing change! I adored the book, its down to earth characters, its working-class setting, its symbolism, everything. I am sure this contributed to my getting a "B" in English Lit. It certainly restored my faith in the English novel.

As for foreign novels, I think my favourite book then and now is Thomas Mann's "Tonio Kröger". Strictly speaking, it's a "novella", a genre somewhere in between a novel and a short story. The book has many levels and I'm sure that I didn't understand all its nuances when I was a sixth former. It's the story of a man whose father is a pillar of the civic community and whose mother is a fiery exotic artistic type. He grows up to become a great writer, troubled that he is accepted neither by his fellow artists nor by his fellow bourgeois. He ultimately learns how to accept his own uniqueness and indeed to value it as a gift. I think this message that human diversity is a matter for celebration has a lot to teach us in modern times. It certainly inspires my work as a special educational needs teacher, where I observe daily how "learning difficulties" are really just "learning differences".

David Wilson

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was intersted in John's comment "I have this theory that it is the novels that we read as teenagers that really influence our personality." I recall as an early teenager - keep in mind this was yonks ago as I am well into my fifties now - I read with eagerness each and every one of the 58 novels in the Elinor Brent-dyer Chalet School Series. These were set firstly in the Tiensee then Guernsey, later Wales and also back to Switzerland. A very multi-cultured school where English was spoken one day, French the next, German the 3rd, Saturday any one of these of one's choice, the students all coming from different countries to school there. The changes of location followed world events, the move from Austria co-inciding with the outbreak of war.

Another special feature were the half-term holidays to different places in Europe all carefully described in delightful historical detail. I lapped up the difference in this school series, learned all sorts of snippets of geography, history and languages so that when I later travelled to Austria for example I felt I already knew some small parts of it. As a fairly insular teenager these books broadened my world both in terms of knowledge of places, cultures etc but also in terms of people.

Maybe a much lower key contribution here but the series was significant enough to find me now still owner of all 58 books and taking quiet inotice of the current collecters' interest being shown both here in Australia and in the UK in the author and her work. I seem to have not been alone in enjoying these books.

Back to John's comment though - here I am a teacher who takes a real interest in different students and enjoys the interaction with them as people, perhaps I am just delving in a real world now not my past imaginary one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree, this is a great idea.

Mine is not exactly a “what novel changed your life” story, but maybe it is a close enough variation.

At around 11 years of age I discovered James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer in my school’s library. Well, it took me by storm and I grabbed up all the rest of Cooper’s works that I could get my hands on.

Many years later, I was surprised when I discovered a book by Fenimore Cooper that I had missed and had never heard of, entitled The Bravo, which I now consider one of the three most important novels that can help us understand the facts of life in power and politics. The other two are The Ghost-Seer by Friedrich Schiller and Coningsby by Benjamin Disraeli.

In Coningsby the author at different points—in this story of 19th century British politics—is warning the reader about something he calls the “Venetian Party.” It wasn’t apparent to me what he was getting at and it might not be apparent to other readers either, but I believe if one makes the attempt to figure it out, some invaluable discoveries will be the result.

The unfinished Ghost-Seer by Friedrich Schiller is the story of how a German prince (much like George I?) is set up and corrupted on a grand visit to Venice.

The Bravo is James Fenimore Cooper’s tale of a Venetian assassin. What was this American frontier author doing writing a novel set in Venice? Well, I believe figuring out the answer to that question too will lead to some more surprising and valuable discoveries.

Ron Williams

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Although it might be considered a 'slight' novel, little more than a hundred pages, J. L. Carr's 'A Month in the Country' is probably the novel which has had the most profound effect on me. Part of this, I think, is the resonance with your own personality and character. It seems a faily ordinary if well told tale until the last page, and then it assumes a much greater power and makes you think hard about what you are doing with your life, and whether you take your chances when they come.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

WOW!

What a great topic - who would have thought...(John, thank you!) This forced me to go way back in the dim dark recesses of my mind and to remember just where the literary influences upon myself and others, where our ability to question and learn comes from. There are a number of novels which influenced me - and my subsequent literary selections...

One of the most influential pieces of literature in my life was the New Testament - when I was 8, I read the parables - and understood them; these have been an important guiding light in my life; opposition to greed, kindness toward others, the ability to know goodness, and to be able to distinguish it from the seeming evil-ness on the face of this planet.

When I was 11, I read "Johnny Tremaine" by Esther Forbes and it was required reading for my 6th grade (upper elementary) English Class, otherwise, I might never have come across the book. It was highly influential in that the hero, Johnny Tremaine had burned his hand in a silver-smithing accident (molten silver) and I identified with this aspect, since I had burned both of my hands when I was 10 months of age, when learning to walk - holding myself up by grabbing on to various objects for balance - I grabbed onto a pot-bellied stove.

This book was about the American Revolution, (Paul Revere was the silversmith to whom Johnny was apprenticed), the Boston Tea Party, the famous (or IN-famous, depending upon which side of "the pond" you were on!) "Midnight Ride" of Paul Revere, and the battle at Lexington-Concord - it ultimately led to my reading of Irving Stone's book: "Those Who Love" - about John and Abigail Adams and their roles in the American Revolution, John Adams subsequent Presidency, at around the age of 15.

Thus having read one of Irving Stone's novels - and discovering that he exhaustively researches his subjects, I subsequently read "The Agony and The Ecstasy" - his excellent novel about Michelangelo - which I now read about once a year - and would highly recommend for Art Students. It places Michelangelo in perspective, his "place" in the Renaissance occuring in Italy, as the "ward" of, and apprentice to, Lorenzo De Medici's sculpture garden; his battles to be left alone to WORK, to "sculpt," while the political machinations of the various and 'warring' popes, claimed his time, successively, and each one seemed to do their utmost to thwart Michaelangelo's gifts.

When in high school - I took an elective (alternate selection) in my English Class and read D.H. Lawrence's "Sons and Lovers" - and became fascinated with the "working class" and societal compartmentalization in Great Britain - the differences in the classes and their ways of life. I subsequently read Catherine Cookson's "The Fifteen Streets" and Lady Antonia Frazier's "Mary, Queen of Scots."

Widely differing histories and points of view, to be sure - but then, reconciling the diametric opposites in societies seems to require that someone read from a wide variety of sources...any additional suggestions, folks?

In 1974 - we were in the 10 year countdown (so to speak) toward "1984" (Orwell) and I read that book - back to back with Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World' - talk about apocalyptic and bleak visions! I have since read these two books every 10 years (1974, 1984, 1994 and 2004) - the more I see - with more and more life experience under my belt each time, leads me to the inescapable conclusion that we're there....

(All this...as I sit at my "confuser" with the "telescreen" and stereo on - awaiting the "election" here in the States, listening to the "Ministry of Truth", and its adverts for the elections...fortunately, no one is barking orders to exercise harder: "SMITH! Put some life into it...!" LOL) :unsure: (I think I need a "soma"...)

For an escape from this and to remind myself that my life isn't nearly as "hard" as I sometimes believe it is, I read Colleen McCollough's "The Thorn Birds" about once a year, usually in the spring. This ultimately lead to my reading of her Roman series about Gaius, Julius Caesar, et al, satisfying a long-standing curiosity about the Roman Empire, and its ongoing influences to date...

So, now having cleared out the cobwebs...I'm going back to my series about Merlin, King Arthur and Mordred - by Mary Stewart..."The Crystal Cave," "The Hollow Hills," "The Last Enchantment" and "The Wicked Day."

Thanks again John, for the great topic suggestion...and to all of you for sharing YOUR "books" - you've given me some new avenues to explore!

Cheers, mates!

:beer

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are two books which I have found had a profound effect on me. One of them I read while I was about eleven or twelve, when my mother suggested I opened my horizons and escape from the little world of Star Trek novels. She put a bunch of books down by my bed one night, one of which was John Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men'. I didn't think much of it at first, but once I had really gotten into it, I found it to be a fascinating book, with surprising consequences, which really got me thinking. And to be honest, I find myself going over in my head what happened, and what would have happened if things had been different.

The second book that may have changed my life was 'The Alchemist', a novel by Paul Coelho, which my father introduced to me about two months ago. Another short story, it really made me think about my life, and which directions to go in. Whether I should follow my dreams, as outrageous as they might be, instead of just going to university, finding a job, and settling down, as the main character, the shepherd boy, could have easily done. I'm now finding myself wanting to go on adventures, and have amazing experiences in the world. Whether this is likely to happen, I'm not sure of.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The second time round, we had D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers to read. What a wonderful, refreshing change! I adored the book, its down to earth characters, its working-class setting, its symbolism, everything. I am sure this contributed to my getting a "B" in English Lit. It certainly restored my faith in the English novel.

David Wilson

I remember Sons and Lovers because it was one of the books we had to read in our second year at university and I loved it because of the setting, the social issues, the psychological study of the characters, etc. Some years ago I happened to visit Lawrence's birthplace and I saw the school he went to and other places which appear in his novels. I also read The White Peacock, Women in Love, Lady Chatterley's Lover, The Rainbow, etc. but I think Sons and Lovers is my favourite one. We had to read so many novels at university, including David Copperfield (950 pages in a pocket Penguin edition!), Vanity Fair (really amusing and historically interesting, they have just made a film out of it), Tom Jones, Pride and Prejudice, The Mill on the Floss, Adam Bede, Crome Yellow, The Dubliners, and so many others. I didn't like all of them, but reading so much in the original language had two effects: first of all it made me understand and appreciate the development of the English novel, which has been so important for the other national literatures. Second, it developed my love for reading in general.

It sounds funny, but I must have read more novels by English, American or Australian writers than by Italian ones: has my job influenced my reading so far or are English-writing novelists simply better?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I suppose the first book that really turned me on to reading was 'The Hobbit'. My 3rd Year Junior School teacher (Y5 now), Mr Quick, used to take us out into the school field and sit us under a tree and read the story to us. It gripped my imagination so that I made my mother take me to the central library in Gloucester so I could join the children's library and take the book out.

By the time the class finished the Hobbit I was half way through 'The Lord of the Rings'! By the age of 15 reading had become a little bit of a chore, reading the Silver Sword for the third time at school. A student teacher, whose name I never remembered, introduced us to 'Hobson's Choice' as an 'O' level set book. That was a wonderful experience.

These days most books take weeks to read as I tend to fall asleep reading them in bed after a long day at school, so the summer holidays are eagerly anticipated as my opportunity to catch up and read all the books I've bought during the year.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What an interesting topic. I was a bit of a misfit in my birth family and as a result spent most of my childhoold being 'sent to my room' (this was before grounding). As a result, I was reading Frank Baum's series on Oz when I was quite young, and then later about a book a day. I loved a series of biographies that they had at the Fairfield Children's Library (Connecticut) and learned about so many great and diverse lives that way. I loved learning about astronomy too, and animals, especially horses. I desperately wanted a horse, but instead was given "Pamela and the Blue Mare", a good book, instead. :beer

The first book that I recall changing my perceptions of life was Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" which I read at about age 13. I learned from that book what I had long suspected -- that very little was as it appeared to be, and that there are great forces at work against those who strive to individual achievement, even though that achievement can only serve to benefit the human family. I then read "Atlas Shrugged" and was alternately distressed at its heaviness of style and enthralled by its concepts. I began to separate myself from my birth family as a result of Ayn Rand's writing, and never went back. I felt that I understood somehow why it was I didn't 'fit'. And I began looking at America as a place where mediocrity might be more acceptable than genius, even though, pre-Amtrak, our trains seemed to run pretty well and the country seemed in many ways full of amazing opportunities.

Pamela :unsure:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The very first book that I bought when I was seven years old (because the cover art by Roy G. Krenkel Jr. was so cool) is a rather obscure science-fiction novel called Planet of Peril by Otis Adelbert Kline (if you do a google search on that name, you'll find he is indeed obscure, but respected nonetheless by science-fiction enthusiasts). I finally got around to giving it a good, thorough read when I was about 12 years old: a fantastic tale of a scientist named Robert Grandon and his adventures on Venus and time travel. There were several teen books that I was interested enough to check out of the library and read thoroughly, including Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and several of the Jerry West series called The Happy Hollisters.

I wasn't bit that hard by the science fiction bug, but did manage in those early years (12 to 13) to feverishly read and re-read several times both Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain and Pierre Boulle's Planet of the Apes. The first real piece of adult literature that knocked my socks off was James Dickey's Deliverance, which I read about age 14, although admittedly, the haunting images from the John Boorman movie were also a big part of the obsession. Another earth-shattering movie-book combo at that time, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, occurred after seeing Peter Brook's 1963 black-and-white movie on television. Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey was also a hot item.

Believe it or not, I took on the task of reading all of Shakespeare's plays while still in high school, and even acted in a student production of "Midsummer Night's Dream", which is really the only one of the 37 that I ever memorized. I finished them all by college.

I read many books in college but, honestly, the ones that really changed me (in order of influence) were: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World; James Joyce Ulysses; Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. After college, I re-read Mario Puzo's The Godfather with interest (and many other Mafia books) and recently discovered Thomas Pynchon, Gabriel García Márquez and Henry Green.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What a wonderful idea for a topic!

As a person who may have been born a little "down in the dumps" I like books that have a touch of wild hilarity about them, for they are the best pick-me-up for me.

My three favorite in this genre are Gogol's Dead Souls, Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Gilbert Keith Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday. Each has some very zany and charming moments, and I think the wild chase scene in Thursday may be the best of all.

The novel that most affected my life, however, was not a novel, but Freud's Interpretation of Dreams. Completely changed everything for me. But the most human of writers in this field is for me Harry Guntrip.

But for a down in the dumps person like me, when the mood comes on, it's Charles Dickens' David Copperfield.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It is interesting that so many people have mentioned how the books they read as teenagers helped them understand the lives of others. I think it was Shelley who said: “morality is imagination”. Can we really start to be moral beings until we have an understanding of what it is like to be someone else? I believe novels have an important role to play in reducing racial and sexual prejudice. They do this by helping the individual to understand what it is like to suffer racial and sexual discrimination. If this is the case, should teachers of English Literature take this into consideration when selecting books for students to read?

I have started a thread on this at:

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=1808

Interestingly, a report in today’s paper says that 62 novels are currently banned from schools in Texas. This includes Alice Walker’s Colour Purple, Richard Wright’s Black Boy (about race relations in the Deep South), George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Johanna Reiss’s The Upstairs Room (about the Nazi holocaust). Apparently, Texas has a system where any book objected to by a parent or teacher is automatically banned. This enables any racist to get books like Colour Purple and Black Boy banned from the school library.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I remember reading 'One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch' and it having a profound impact on me. It taught me more about the Russian Revolution than any amount of history texts. The part where Ivan Denisovitch asks if Comrade Stalin can even control the sun fittingly emphasises totalitarian ideas and aims yet pokes fun at it. A short book with a big impact.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now

×