Fiction That Changed Our Lives

Sixteen transforming tales.

One of the fun things about being a librarian is getting juicy readers advisory questions, so when Rockridge librarian Emily Weak was asked by a young woman, "What fiction have you read that changed your life?” she instantly sprang into action, sending the query around the library system.  We nerded out about it for a while, giving it all the weight deserved by a question regarding the transformation of one’s very life. Emily compiled a list of nearly 100 titles. That ought to prepare our young friend for the rest of her life, no? Here is a mere sampling, with a focus on less current titles:

 

Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund

 A rich epic, drawn from the classic Moby Dick, chronicles the life of Una Spenser, wife of the immortal Captain Ahab, from her Kentucky childhood, through her adventures disguised as a whaling ship cabin boy, to her various marriages.           

 

 

The amazing adventures of Kavelier and Clay by Michael Chabon

 In 1939 New York City, Joe Kavalier, a refugee from Hitler's Prague, joins forces with his Brooklyn-born cousin, Sammy Clay, to create comic-book superheroes inspired by their own fantasies, fears, and dreams.

 

 

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Tired of being labeled white trash, Ruth Anne Boatwright--a South Carolina bastard who is attached to the indomitable women in her mother's family--longs to escape from her hometown, and especially from Daddy Glen and his meanspirited jealousy.

 

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Somewhere in South America terrorists seize hostages at an embassy party, and an unlikely assortment of people is thrown together, including American opera star Roxanne Coss, and Mr. Hosokawa, a Japanese CEO and her biggest fan.

 

Blindness by Jose Saramago

In a provocative parable of loss, disorientation, and weakness, a city is hit by an epidemic of "white blindness" whose victims are confined to a vacant mental hospital, while a single eyewitness to the nightmare guides seven oddly assorted strangers through the barren urban landscape.

                                                                                                                                               

The good earth by Pearl S. Buck

A graphic view of China during the reign of the last emperor as it tells the story of an honest Chinese peasant and his wife as they struggle with the sweeping changes of the twentieth century.

 

 

The house on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

For Esperanza, a young girl growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago, life is an endless landscape of concrete and run-down tenements, and she tries to rise above the hopelessness. Told in a series of vignettes.

 

 

I know this much is true by Wally Lamb

Dominick Birdsey, a forty-year-old housepainter living in Three Rivers, Connecticut, finds his subdued life greatly disturbed when his identical twin brother Thomas, a paranoid schizophrenic, commits a shocking act of self-mutilation.

 

 

If Beale Street could talk by James Baldwin

A love story in the face of injustice set in Harlem in the early 1970s. Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. 

 

 

Interpreter of maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

A collection of short fiction that blends elements of Indian traditions with the complexities of American culture in such tales as "A Temporary Matter," in which a young Indian-American couple confronts their grief over the loss of a child, while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout.

                                                                                                                                       

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

In nineteenth-century England, all is going well for rich, reclusive Mr Norell, who has regained some of the power of England's magicians from the past, until a rival magician, Jonathan Strange, appears and becomes Mr Norrell's pupil.

                                                                                                                                               

                                                                                                                                            The name of the rose by Umberto Eco

In 1327, finding his sensitive mission at an Italian abbey further complicated by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William of Baskerville turns detective.

 

 

                                                                                                                                          The once and future king by T.H. White

Describes King Arthur's life from his childhood to the coronation, creation of the Round Table, and search for the Holy Grail.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                       Prodigal summer by Barbara Kingsolver

Wildlife biologist Deanna is caught off guard by an intrusive young hunter, while bookish city wife Lusa finds herself facing a difficult identity choice, and elderly neighbors find attraction at the height of a long-standing feud.

 

 

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Macon Dead, Jr., called "Milkman," the son of the wealthiest African American in town, moves from childhood into early manhood, searching, among the disparate, mysterious members of his family, for his life and reality.

 

 

Wild sheep chase by Haruki Murakami 

Blending elements of myth and mystery, this literary thriller features a cast of bizarre characters, including a sheep with a mysterious star on its back, caught up in a Nietzschean quest for power. 

                                                                                                                                             

Now your turn: Share some fiction that changed your life.                                                                                               

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