June 27, 2012

10 Books That Inspired (First Half of) My Life

Victor Hugo, by Alphonse Legros.
Victor Hugo, by Alphonse Legros. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Reading, has been one of my biggest joy of life. However, books in this world are countless and no one seems to be able to read all books in just one life time. I believe, what books to read is decided both by influence of others, and one's own taste. As soon as one found his/her taste, he/she is able to find "gold" through book mountains by his/herself.
I read a lot when I was young. Since I came to this country (USA), immigration life did have tones of challenge, which made me had little time and mood for reading. Now, at middle age of my life, looking back, I found it's necessary to write down some books that influenced me the most. This also can be a brief summary of my thoughts of life. Below are 10 books I could think of, roughly chronological, with brief description of how they affected my thoughts (not a brief book - review):

1. John Christopher (Roman Rolland) - to appreciate the richness of one's inner universe. I was in my teenage time when I read this book. The inner waves of youth echoed with every page of this epic life story.

2. The Man Who Laughs (Victor Hugo) - love is blind. As a master of passion, Hugo's depiction of human desire is both powerful and exquisite. Had the female character (Dea) not been blind, would she still love Gwynplaine - a man whose face was disfigured? We don't know. However, Hugo's careful design, the love story between a girl with blind eyes and a man with hideous face really "explains" the blindness of human love.

3. Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky) - "God"'s mightiest love is his unconditional forgiveness toward human sin. I wouldn't understand this as lots of Christians believe, that the only way to get into "heaven" is to believe in Jesus Christ, instead, I understand this as such: we must forgive ourselves and others, do not let the mistakes (or sin) of our past to block the light of today and future.

4. Dear Theo (Van Gogh) - a solo narrative of a lonely soul. Within his long term correspondence with his brother, Van Gogh recorded his thoughts of daily life, which shows his intimacy with nature, and estranged relationship to human world. Again, this type of solitary lifestyle seemed to echo with something inside me, when I was in my late teenage time.

5. Beethoven (Roman Rolland) - the loneliness of a genius. Like Victor Hugo, Roman Rolland was also a master of passion. In this short biography of Beethoven, Rolland focused on the loneliness and valor of the music prodigy. This book, maybe together with John Christopher, made me realized (in a relatively early age of my life), that the loneliness of a few geniuses - contrary to the comfort of majority - seemed to be a natural phenomenon in human world.

6. Siddhartha (Hermann Hesse) - the ultimate enlightenment of humans is in the process of, and eventually accomplished by "conversation" between humans and the nature. I was once highly interested in Buddhism, however, none of Buddhism teaching books taught me the spirit of Buddha as much as this short story by Hesse. I also realized, that the communication between humans and the nature existed in all humans cultures, not only in oriental philosophy, such as Buddhism or Taoism.

7.  Escape from Freedom (Eric Fromm) - lost of humans crimes are stemmed from the weakness of human nature - not the physical weakness but the (mental) fear of being alone, or the isolation (of individuals) from groups. In terms of understanding human nature, I found none of other books influenced me as deep as this book. It seems, that after reading this book, all my life experience and observation became evidence to his theory (I hope this doesn't prove that my thought distorted my observation. No, I don't think so).

8. The Art of Love (Eric Fromm): true love is not an unconditional possess of another person, but an unconditional acceptance of another person. If Hugo displayed what is love in literature (art) form, Fromm analysed "love" by reason (sounds impossible!).

9. Les Miserable (Hugo) - forgiveness is the highest form of love. I loved Hugo's works since I was a teenager, however, this epic story came to me decades later, and still, it shocked my heart like his other works did to me when I was young. Regarding what is "forgiveness", I simply think Hugo did the best humans could.

10. Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier) - life, is the ultimate mystery. The reason I put this book at the end is not because I read this book most recently (I read this book over 20 years ago), but simply because it truly is my favorite of favorites. By a simple story of love and death, the book takes readers into the psychological journey of protagonist, who from a "Cinderella" becomes a confident mistress of a grand estate. The beautiful & smooth writing style, wit and sense of humor, both natural developed story-line and "casual" swaying between present and past, all these "perfections" made this book becoming to my favorite literature work that I could read again and again, even thought it is not one of the best known works among English classical literature.

Reading is a way to gain knowledge, also a great pleasure to communicate vicariously with a broader world. Listing these books is not to say that I would not reach to the same understanding without reading them, because I believe, anyone can reaches his/her own wisdom with or without reading lots of books, because (needless to mention) the #1 best book for us to gain "knowledge" and enjoy life, is indeed life itself.

But still, I  am glad that I read these books, and many others, and will read more when life permits me to. 
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  1. Wow! Those are some powerful books. I can see why they made such a lasting impression. I'm not sure if I can name ten books, but I'd have to put Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" at the top of the list. It changed the way I look at my purpose in life.

  2. All great books. We share an appreciation of “Siddhartha”. I love that you can read it in an afternoon and completely banish any dark thoughts that are troubling you.

  3. @Janene, I read Ayn Rand's "Anthem", and enjoyed the reading.
    @braddock, thanks! I understand what you mean:-)