Friday Coffee Chat (5) - Books That Rocked Your World

What Books Have Influenced or Changed Your World View?

Last week we talked about books that are so overexposed they left us feeling fatigued, or "Pottered Out". I successfully dodged any attacks of the readers' pitchforks and we all decided that at the very least, vampires whether full of sparkles or just sharp teeth were overdone. No one called me crazy for being tired of Harry Potter or chased me out of the blogosphere for expressing such blasphemy for which I am grateful! 

This week I wanted to focus on books that have fundamentally changed us as people. You know, those books that you can endlessly recommend to people until you are blue in the face? I'm not talking about books that you just thought were a nice beach read that you dive into for escape, I'm talking about the books that challenge you; the ones that make you think for years on end and make you want to learn everything you can about the subject. Usually these books tend to be non-fiction, but they can be contained in works of fiction.

There are few books that come to mind when I think about people being fundamentally changed. The first is The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. For over a year now, I have had friends on Facebook constantly posting things about how to eat, how evil corn is, how evil the industrial food industry is, etc. after reading this book. I'm not saying this is a bad thing other than I get a little tired of feeling like the only way to avoid all these terrible cancer and obesity causing foods is to become an anorexic and never eat again. To touch a chicken nugget or a can of soda seems to now be akin to wanting to throw myself in front of a train because for goodness sake, I am just killing myself with the food I put in my body. I have had more than a few friends that have been profoundly changed by this book, and they now seem to be much more focused on health than before. Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not! We should probably all be concerned about our health and the way our food is planted, harvested, and processed. Without the watchful eyes of those healthy eating people, we might possibly end up eating Soylent Green (well, maybe not Soylent Green, but you get what I mean)! I read the book and think it's an important piece of non-fiction that should at least be read (note that I still indulge in the chicken nugget and soda--just not on a daily basis). 

One book that absolutely had a profound impact on my own life was Bad News by Tom Fenton. I continue to recommend this book to pretty much everyone I come in contact with whether they are interested in it or not. For many years, Tom Fenton was a correspondent for CBS News, and his book his about the decline of the news organization in America. What could possibly be more important to read about than how we obtain our news? I turn on the television now or even read my news on the internet and am appalled at how much I have to look for articles that I feel have journalistic integrity. How did this happen? Why do I have to listen to people like Bill O'Reilly, Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, and a slew of others that admit they are not journalists but are pretty much marketed as such. People listen to these pundits to get their news! What happened to journalism? You know...the actual story that is supposed to be unbiased? This book explores how we ended up where we are today and it is quite frankly, disheartening. I still think it should be read--it changed the way I perceive the news and makes me much more diligent about actually trying to find out if the story that is printed or told on television is true.

There are also many books that may change the way we look at the world philosophically. I remember reading an excerpt of The Brothers Karamazov in my Introduction to Philosophy class that explored the problem of evil by using the suffering of children as an example. Dostoevsky uses a conversation between Ivan and Aloysha to illustrate his point:
[Ivan] "'Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature--that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance--and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, you would consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.' 'No, I wouldn't consent,' said Aloysha softly."  ~Part II, Book 4, Chapter 4, The Rebellion
At the very least, this passage (this was a very short excerpt from the problem of evil passage) gives one pause and forces them to think about suffering and the idea of a loving God. It may not be a life changing moment, but I think requires a person to examine the problem on a greater scale.

So, my questions to Friday Coffee Chat readers is:

  • What books do you think have had the most profound impact on humans throughout history?
  • What books have personally challenged or changed you, and tell us all why they had this impact on you (this doesn't have to be a philosophical read either)?
  • Do you think that fiction has just as large an impact on people as non-fiction does?

Once you finish commenting, make sure you visit Jennifer at Girls Gone Reading for her (more fun) post on Trashy Reads that we love but keep hidden by newspapers or book covers so that people won't know we're actually reading them.


Reese M. said...

There are several books that have changed my life over the years. I'll try to cite only a few of them so my comment doesn't become epically long. :)

First, and foremost, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery changed my life in a profound way. The whole series did, honestly. I identified strongly with Anne mostly because of her love of books and poetry. These books were a sweeping experience for me, and I still love them as much today as I did when I first read them.

Other notable influences on me as a child: James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (for sheer imagination), the Peter Rabbit series by Beatrix Potter (such sweet stories), Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, and the entirety of the Ramona Quimby series of books.

As an adult, my discovery of Margaret George's incredible historical fiction novels was like a religious awakening for me. My very favorite: The Autobiography of Henry VIII. I lugged that 900+ page monster with me everywhere. :) I love the incredible detail in her novels. Totally immersing.

Most recently: Julie & Julia by Julie Powell. This was one of the rare occasions that I saw the movie before I read the book (or in this case, books). At the time of the movie's release last year, I was in a similar head-space that Julie Powell was in. I was feeling lost in my job, and generally uneasy with my life. The day after I saw that movie, I went out and bought Julie Powell's book. That was also the day that I cleaned out my long-dormant invitation-only book blog and went public. :)

So you see, if it wasn't for Julie Powell, I would not have had the good fortune to meet you or anyone else in the book blogging community. And for that reason, I will always hold a special place in my heart for Julie & Julia. :)

Fiona said...

Carin, I started writing a blog post that was going to touch on this yesterday! Great minds think alike huh? I'll reply here (and post that) later when I can get a clearer view of some books.

Leeswammes said...

Carin, given that most people could not read or write for most of history, I don't think any books particularly were of great influence on humanity. Unless we count religious books, such as the Bible, Koran, etc., that people were told about in church.

I've got one book that was important for me in a small way, and that is a Dutch book, Nooit meer slapen (Beyond Sleep) in which a scientist (geologist) goes to Northern Norway to try and find meteorites. From this book, I got a love of Scandinavia and beautiful nature. I read it when I was 14, and I still love the book now.

I think fiction can be very important for people as it may give them new ideas (just like non-fiction can do). A main character may be having the same problems in life as you do, and the way they solve them, may be right for you, too. Or they may do something that you think is interesting and want to try too.

Jennifer-Girls Gone Reading said...

As I started reading your post, I think that the most recent book that has changed me was The Help. I am not really sure "how" this novel changed me yet, but I just know that the characters are staying with me and that I can't let them go-even months later.

Longer term, I would have to say that fiction actually has changed me more. Non-fiction teaches you (and by the way Bad News sounds fantastic), but fiction teaches in a round about way that speaks to me more.

Okay...I gotta get back to my crappy reads now :)

agirlreads said...

What a great topic.

For me its Dune by Frank Herbert. I know that I don't look like a scifi geek, but I am deep to the core. Dune started me reading again. It got me wrapped up in world building and it is the best of the scifi genre, and I always give at least one copy to someone at christmas in the hope they will love it as much as I do.

Carin B. said...

@Reese - You know, I just read the 55 Questions on Scrabblequeen's blog and she said Julie and Julia was her least favorite read this year. I've seen a few other people say the same thing. I think I'm going to have to watch the movie and see if I will want to read the book after! I am intrigued at how polarized people are about that!

I also like the Autobiography of Henry VIII. Sounds very interesting! I might have to pick it up! Oh, and don't worry about long comments. I like them!

@Fiona - When you post it, let me know and I'll put a link in my Friday Coffee Chat post! That's awesome that you and I thought of it at the same time!

@leeswammes - I get what you're saying, but I guess I think that people who were able to read had power and ultimately were among those that had the most influence on society. I definitely agree the religious texts have had profound impact on our history.

I think you blogged about Nooit meer slapen because I think I remember you telling me about it. I think I might actually have that on my Mount TBR if there's an English translation of it.

I completely agree about fiction being influential. I know a lot of people that refuse to read fiction because they think it's frivolous and has no utility. :-/ I can't even put my head around that!

@Jennifer - I have The Help on my TBR list. I may have to read it sooner than later based on your comment. You should try to put it into words for me how it was so life changing. I'm really curious now!

@agirlreads - I haven't read Dune, but Anne McCaffrey's Pern series did that for me. It was what got me interested in Fantasy early on and I've since been trying to branch out into science fiction. I think that was life changing for me as well. I guess I really need to read Dune (and Asimov's Foundation series--those two seem to be staples of all sci-fi readers).

Reese M. said...

@Carin B.: I'm glad you like long comments, because I can be quite verbose. :)

I am not surprised about the polarization of opinion you are seeing regarding Julie & Julia. It really isn't for everyone. Julie can come off as a bit whiny, she has very strong opinions and uses strong language. Not everyone's cup of tea. Honestly, I responded the way I did because of my own dissatisfaction with my life. It was more about the book's sentiment rather than Julie's particular story if that makes any sense.

Carin B. said...

@Reese - OK...then I absolutely have to read that book. I'm kind of at a crossroads in my life now which is why I'm blogging. I live in a tech city so there is a glut of tech jobs, but not a glut of jobs other degrees. I really want to go to grad school, but I can't because there isn't a program here that I'm interested in and moving isn't an option right now. So I have a little dissatisfaction going on with my life right now, but I'm also trying to work on focusing on the positive things in life so that I don't let it get me down. Blogging has been a great release for that! Thanks for letting me know why--I am definitely going to go have to pick your brain someday with a more than 140 character conversation! :)

Novroz said...

It's a nice chat you got here :)

Have you read Ringu by Koji Suzuki ... the book was turned into the greatest horror movie I've ever seen. Ringu is the book that changes my world. It said something about testicular feminization syndrom. after reading it, I did my internet research to find out more about it and even wrote my finding on my blog. I become more interested with sexual genetic disorder.

Carin B. said...

@Novroz - I haven't heard of Ringu. I will definitely look it up. I haven't heard of testicular feminization syndrome. I'll go check out your blog now. It sounds like an interesting subject matter. Middlesex talked about intersex people, but I was a little disappointed in it because I didn't think it talked enough about it.

Fiona said...

Ugh, I've been writing my blog post I started yesterday for hours and have gotten no where so I'll leave it to tomorrow.

I just want to say for now though... that I think imagination is so important. It didn't start with books, it started with cave paintings, oral folklore told from mother to child, music. Books are just the physical kinda... vessels for what's inside - which is the part that is important and that part has been around before the printing press was invented.

I wonder... you know - King Arthur and medieval stories from long ago - their ideas of chivalry - knights in shining armour saving damsels - without such stories what would we be like today? Have these stories influenced what kind of society we are?

Have these stories of old influenced our identity now - and in the future when we look back, what stories I wonder will we remember?

Books that have changed my life personally - well that's a strong word. I don't think any one has really changed my life or who I am but there are some which have made me think and feel maybe a bit differentlt. I'll save some of those ideas for my elusive blog post though.

Kemendraugh said...

Ooh. Nice topic. And a HARD topic. Let's see...
My primary jurisdiction in the literary world is Children's Lit. SO I guess most of my books would be in that category. Emily of New Moon by L.M Montgomery is definitely up there. Alongside Anne, of course, but I felt like Emily was more attainable. Anne was too...perfect? I first learned that anyone can write, and everyone should read, and fairies could be real, from Emily.
I will always, and always have, loved the old myths and fairytales. King Arthur, Robin Hood, and Greek Mythology were my favourites, but Hans Christian Anderson and the Grimms are up there too. I won't go too far into that, because Fiona just said all I wanted to say about imagination, and the old stories, better than I could have hoped to :)
Watership Down, anything by Tolkien, and the Narnia Chronicles were my comfort books. They still are. When I need something comfortable, or comforting, I turn to them.
I've had a lot of deaths in my family. So when I found C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed, I was so, so relieved that someone knew how to say what I felt. It's a good feeling, to know you're not alone.
Um...Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry is when I understood prejudice, Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe taught me about brokenness, Machiavelli's The Prince showed me what leadership can do.
Oh, one book stands out as challenging me. Theories of Relativity, a YA book by Barbara Haworth-Attard. it's about a street kid, and the characters he encounters. This book changed what I see when I walk down any street. It changed the way I deal with "trouble" people, and it will forever influence the way I think of the people on the wrong side of the tracks.
I feel like nine tenths of what I have ever learned about the world, I learned from a book. I can't pick one or two books out that have impacted me in huge ways.
Hah. Looking over my list, I can see two? Non-Fiction books. So yes. I do think that fiction has a large impact on people! For me, it had more.

Kemendraugh said...
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Kemendraugh said...
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Carin B. said...

@Fiona - For shame!!! Where is your post?!! I went to look for it today and you haven't posted it yet! I definitely think the old stories have stayed with us and influenced culture quite a bit. The whole idea of things like Camelot and knight in shining armor I think are so utopian, but we still hang on to them when we crave justice and integrity.

@Kemendraugh - I will have to pick up A Grief Observed. I definitely think I need to read that. Have lost a few people in my life that I still struggle with missing.

Theories of Relativity sounds really interesting too. I do like how books can really impact the way we see the world. I love how you and Fi put it (and everyone else too). Everyone is moved by what people have to say and books can really change a person.

Carin S. said...

ever since I read The Omnivore's Dilemna, I have only eaten meat once a day, and I really don't miss it. It also reduced my fast-food eating in a way that Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me couldn't even touch (although I still love it and eat it occasionally.)

I also liked Julie & Julia. Sure, she's a bit whiny, but I can be too and so can my friends sometimes. Plus, you're not making a friend here - she's a character in a book (sure, it's NF so she's real, but you're still not ever going to hang out with her.) I thought the book was really entertaining and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The Julia Child book that the movie was also based on, is excellent too.

Carin B. said...

@Carin - I didn't really like Super Size Me because it was SO extreme. There is no way I could eat like Spurlock did without getting sick and I have been known to eat quite a bit of fast food. I just think it seemed like a caricature of bad eating. The Omnivore's Dilemma was much more meaningful to me. I don't know how much I've changed my dietary habits because of it, but I did really think it was food for thought. How do you feel about corn after reading it? Someone I know is so preachy about it (if he reads this, I'm sorry, but you really are! LOL...still love you though), but I just got the feeling that eating the bad stuff as treats is not the worst thing in the world, but we should make more of an effort to make our food rather than eat ready made food so we know what is going into our body. What do you think?

Julie and Julia and Eat, Pray, Love are going on my TBR list. They seem to really polarize people so I want to see what the fuss is about! said...

The first book that I can think of that brought about mass change was The Jungle by Sinclair. The I thought of How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York by Jacob Riis. Both brought on sweeping changes were before the people that lived those lives were sort of swept under the rug prior to the books.

Personally, The Great Gatsby continues to touch me in different ways as I grow older. When I was younger, I wanted to be Gatsby, the mysterious man standing aloof before his seedy past and upbringing. As I got a bit older, I realized that I most resembled Daisy. I was busy doing what I was supposed to do, not what I actually wanted to do or with the person that I loved. (I hated that period of my life)

Now I am more the observer like Nick Carraway. I just try to narrate and stay out of the coming fireball.

Fiction can have a much larger impact on people and change because more people read it. Being more mainstream, and if written well, we can see it every day.

Carin S. said...

I love watching people (or reading about them) do absolutely insane things. Like a car wreck. I don't plan to COPY them, but it was super-amusing to watch Mr. Spurlock (and I loved his short-lived TV show too, 30 Days.) I eat way too much fast food and anything that curtails me a bit is good. But of all those kinds of books, OD is the only one that really did impact my habits. I love corn, but I honestly now eat less of it since I know how much is already in my diet. And I like to tell people that a McD's meal is "corn, corn, and corn, with a side of corn." But they often look at me askance when I do. I am certainly no ascestic and I had both ice cream and Oreos!

Carin B. said...

@Gwen - You know, I have heard from several people how good The Great Gatsby is. I read it in high school and really didn't like it. I think I may have to give it another try since it's a book that I have seen continually coming up in conversation. I think oftentimes books are good to reread when older because you've actually lived more life and can identify with the characters better.

I love your statement about fiction (especially since you read non-fiction as well). I wish I had told that guy that told me fiction was not important in society because non-fiction was what was actually informative what you said! I will have to keep that jewel in my pocket from now on.

@Other Carin - You're right. I do make a small effort (and I do mean small) to buy meat that is grass fed now that I've read that book, but I have to admit that I never ate at McDonald's a whole lot. :)

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