Sunday, 16 January 2011

Novels Which Influenced You

I wanted to post about something reading related, seeing as I’m currently tackling my stack of to-be-reads and as it was something I hadn’t touched on in a while.

Some books you can’t help but be influenced by. We all have our favourites – the ones we re-read over and over again which we can’t forget. When a book makes an impact on me like this, it always makes me realise how much I still have to learn about writing. Whether it’s the way in which the characters have grabbed me, the finesse of the plot or even just the way the novel has been written, I always take something away from reading books like these.

This is a rundown of my top five influential books, starting from the earliest to the latest I’ve read.

1. The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. I cannot say enough about this YA series. It was incredible when I first read it, and it’s still incredible so many years later. This was one of the first novels I read which had dystopian elements, along with the extreme focus on beauty. I loved the way Westerfeld built up his dystopian society around Tally, and how her own life revolved around it. The characters were amazing and the pacing was perfect on all three books. Though I didn’t favour the fourth spin-off, Extras, as much as the original trilogy, it was still another great read from Scott Westerfeld. After this I collected most of his novels, and I’ve loved pretty much all of them. The Uglies series is the embodiment of dystopian YA done right. It’s what I myself aspire to achieve.

2. The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer. Wait. Before you call me every name under the sun and swear never to read my blog again, let me explain. I read this when it first came out in 2005, when I was in my teens. Hardly anybody had heard of it, though by the time I’d finished it, I had convinced most of my friends to read it too. The reason why this was influential to me was that it showed me how one novel could completely capture my thoughts. I fell in love with the characters and plot, and although I don’t share that insane enthusiasm for it now, I can’t completely hate the series. When I was younger, it honestly reached me and made me think. I even started writing fan-fiction about it, which was one of my first ventures into more than a few pages of creative writing. It was the beginning of a long road. I can’t help but be grateful for that.

3. 1984 by George Orwell. This blew my mind. It was sophisticated, developed, dystopian and political – it was the book I had been searching for without knowing it was everything I wanted. Similar to Uglies, I was fascinated with the way Orwell’s world had been built around Winston, how he fought against his totalitarian society and his overall struggle to change. The post-modernist end was amazing. I didn’t expect it at all, and I think Orwell gave us a truthful ending. I loved this book, and for a long while after, I shaped my own writing around it.

4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. When I’d begun to move away from my obsession with 1984 and dystopia, this came along and made me even more devoted to the genre. The violence and brutality of the novel was strangely beautiful. The way Collins made you feel for the characters and drew you into the world – and arena itself – was a fantastic experience. I devoured this book; I couldn’t help but sing its praises. Once again, this was YA dystopia done utterly right. My one disappointment, as I couldn’t help blogging about when it released last summer, was Mockingjay. The plot wasn’t up to the standards I had expected after the brilliance of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. People had mixed reactions on this final novel, so while I’m glad some people loved it, the novel just didn’t sit well with me.

5. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I read this last year, and it officially replaced 1984 as one of my favourite novels. Recently, I finished reading one of her earlier works, The Fountainhead, and wasn’t disappointed. Again, I blogged about this soon after I finished it. The first thing which I loved about this book was the prose. It was a style of writing which I had come only to expect in poetry. To me, it seemed beautiful, intricate, delicate, and despite the overuse of punctuation in some places, I fell in love with it. Then I fell in love with the characters. Rand had me completely under her spell; I loved every part of her plot and the way the novel unfolded. I was amazed at how interwoven it was. Her scenes always found a way to link in later, something which wasn’t quite developed with The Fountainhead. There is a reason Atlas Shrugged is said to be her greatest work. Rand has writing down to an art form in this, and it changed my entire perspective for a time. It made me realise what qualities I should strive for in myself and what standards I should set. This novel honestly inspired me. It’s the closest book I’ve ever read to being perfect.

The reason these novels influenced me and my writing so much is how they drew me into the novel itself. They gave me characters I loved, they made me feel, they took me along the plot as if I myself were experiencing it. No matter how varied they might be, each one of these novels taught me something about writing and what I wanted to achieve in a novel as a writer. Though I may have grown apart from some of the novels now, I’ll always hold a small affinity for them. You never forget your favourites.

What novels or series have influenced you over the years?


  1. The Giver by Lois Lowry. It was one of the first science fiction novels I ever read and it remains a favorite today.

    Series . . . The Belgariad by David Eddings is one I reread almost every year and damned if I can figure out why.

    The Anita Blake series - I started in the middle of it, but it blew my mind. It's gone downhill since then.

    The Miles Vor series by Lois Bujold is also really, really amazing.

  2. Love 1984!

    Ender's Game and the Ender's Shadow series by Orson Scott Card have been a major influence on me. I devoured them and still devour them. I just love how complex Ender and Bean are!

    Harry Potter is my ultimate favorite series of all time. (I'm not gonna say how many I've read of them, but it's a big number.) JK Rowling is a writing goddess.

    Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer is another major influence. It's dystopian with a cyber punk feel. It's just crazy good and I can't even say why. Now I feel like reading it!

  3. Pretty much everything I've read lately has done this to me: "WOW, WHY are you so GOOD?!" There's a lot of series I really enjoyed, but I wouldn't say any one has really influenced what I like and what I want to write like!

  4. A Brave New World was my eye opener to how powerful, devastating, and yes, even beautiful dystopian worlds can be. I just love the emotional journey of that story.

    Cliche, but Lord of the Rings had a huge impact on me as a kid. Reading it made me want to write. It showed me exactly how large a fantasy world can be and how beloved a collection of characters can become.

    Hunger Games was inspiring for showing exactly how much can be done within the young adult genre. It made me want to write with momentum and vitality.

    The Bell Jar, because it so thoroughly placed me in the mind of the character. The Awakening for the same reason.

    The Haunting for being terrifying, beautiful and smart. Anything by Shirley Jackson, really.

    Never Let Me Go and Atonement for their magnificent prose and horrifying nostalgia.

    I guess I'll stop here. But there's so many more. Ah, books are amazing. Love them.

  5. All commenters: A great range of novels and genres here. I love how so many different books and series can make an impact, even if it's completely unexpected. I think the best thing about favourites is remembering all the ways they reach you, and how they make you feel. I may have to add a few more books to my reading list!