8 Books That Changed My View of The World

8 Books That Shaped Me:

1) She’s Come Undone, Wally Lamb

  • Best quote: “Accept what people offer. Drink their milkshakes. Take their love.” -Delores Price (narrator)
  • Plot: ”She’s Come Undone is a deeply affecting novel that centers around one of the most extraordinary characters in recent American fiction: wisecracking, ever-vulnerable Dolores Price, whose life we follow through her fortieth year. When we first meet Dolores in 1956, she is four years old, innocently unaware that the delivery of a television set will launch her tumultuous personal odyssey.  What follows — obesity, sexual ambiguity, self-delusion, and madness — is the precursor to a radiant rebirth. It is not without labor pains, this new awakening. A surrogate family that includes an ancient Polka Queen disc jockey suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the 6’ 10” proprietor of Existential Drywall  and her former high school guidance counselor Mr. Pucci, helps Dolores find happiness in small moments. As endearingly familiar as Chiquita Banana jingles, Hula-Hoops and I Love Lucy, as mysterious and haunting as the cries of whales, She’s Come Undone makes us laugh and wince with recognition and reminds us that despite the pain we endure and cause, we must find the courage to love again.” ( Oprah’s Book Club)
  • Awards: She’s Come Undone was chosen as a finalist for the 1992 Los Angeles Times Book Awards’ Art Seidenbaum Prize for first fiction. It was named a notable book of the year by numerous publications, including The New York Times Book Review and People.
  • Movie/television adaptation: none.

2) White Oleander, Janet Fitch

  • Best quote: “Don’t attach yourself to anyone who shows you the least bit of attention because you’re lonely. Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way. (movie & novel combination)”
  • Plot: Everywhere hailed as a novel of rare beauty and power, White Oleander  tells the unforgettable story of Ingrid, a brilliant poet imprisoned for murder, and her daughter, Astrid, whose odyssey through a series of Los Angeles foster homes–each its own universe, with its own laws, its own dangers, its own hard lessons to be learned–becomes a redeeming and surprising journey of self-discovery. White Oleander is an unforgettable story of mothers and daughters, burgeoning sexuality, the redemptive powers of art, and the unstoppable force of the emergent self. Written with exquisite beauty and grace, this is a compelling debut by an author poised to join the ranks of today’s most gifted novelists. 
  • Awards: Oprah’s Book Club.
  • Movie/television adaption: White Oleander starring Alison Lohman, Michelle Pfieffer, Renee Zellwegger, Robin Wright-Penn.

3.) Geek Love, Katherine Dunn

  • Best Quote:“There are those whose own vulgar normality is so apparent and stultifying that they strive to escape it. They affect flamboyant behavior and claim originality according to the fashionable eccentricities of their time. They claim brains or talent or indifference to mores in desperate attempts to deny their own mediocrity. These are frequently artists and performers, adventurers and wide-life devotees.Then there are those who feel their own strangeness and are terrified by it. They struggle toward normalcy. They suffer to exactly that degree that they are unable to appear normal to others, or to convince themselves that their aberration does not exist. These are true freaks, who appear, almost always, conventional and dull.”
  • Plot: About a family freak show told through the eyes of family member Olympia, who is an albino dwarf.  Her brother Arturo (who has flippers instead of hands and feet),  Electra and Iphigenia ( a pair of conjoined twins) and Fortunato, or Chick, (who is capable of telekinesis) are her siblings. Dunn describes the carnival’s progress across rural America, describing the responses it stimulates in audiences, responses ranging from murderous hostility to obsessive infatuation. She then goes on to describe how “Arti,” the oldest of the siblings comes to assume a leading role in the show as the children grow, seeking more and more to assert control over the lives of his siblings, to their great discomfort. He starts a cult called “Arturism,” a movement that encourages its members to amputate their limbs and so free themselves from normality, which is for the Binewski family an undesirable state. 


4.) Self-Reliance & Other Essays, Henry David Thoreau

  • Best quote: “Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him.”
  • Plot:  This is a series of essays about being human.  About being a good human, a self-reliant one that can battle his or her way through society at any cost, come hell or high water.  Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism.
  • Awards: There are few people quoted and touted as much as Thoreau, and for good reason.  This book is required reading in many high schools and college courses.  I first read it in 11th grade English at STAB , and the book was full of highlights and notes in the margin.
  • Movie/television adaptation: none.

5.) Motherless Daughters: the Legacy of Loss, Hope Edelmen

  • Best quote: “There is an emptiness inside of me – a void that will never be filled. No one in your life will ever love you as your mother does. There is no love as pure, unconditional and strong as a mother’s love. And I will never be loved that way again.”
  • Plot:  In her book, published in 1994, American writer Hope Edelman discusses the effect on a girl’s life of losing her mother early. Not only is the daughter stripped of her main emotional support, and forever, but she also loses a role model, a way of being a woman. She is condemned to a lifetime of periodic mourning, as the milestones of a female life – jobs, marriages, children – slip by without a mother to watch over them. Unsurprisingly, motherless daughters suffer from higher incidences of depression, self-harm, addiction, even suicide. (The Independent)
  • Awards: None, and it’s a shame.  This isn’t necessarily a self-help book, so much as a book to understand grief and it’s lasting effects on a child, even an adult child.  This was given to me by a friend (who had just lost her mother in her forties) at the age of 15, shortly after I lost my own mother, and helped me to make sense of a lot of my own behavior and rampant emotions. Edelman interviewed clinical psychologists, surveyed 154 motherless daughters by mail and interviewed 92 women in person. The result is a collection of anecdotal renderings that tell a story of denial, anger and yearning. I felt the sense that I was understood after reading this, heard and validated. It studies and cites many women who lost their mothers in one way or another in childhood, like Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell.
  • Movie/television adaptation: none.

6.) Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

  • Best quote:  “I am what you designed me to be. I am your blade. You cannot now complain if you also feel the hurt.” -Pip 
  • Plot:  This book kind of has it all.  True love, master manipulation, scandal, coming-of-age, class wars, secret fairy godparents, crime, unrequited love, jealousy, regret, lust, greed.  
  • Awards: it’s been named a classic and has been turned into many films, essays, songs, poems, and paintings.  It’s a fucking classic.  That’s why. Need I say more?
  • Movie/television adaptations: many. See trailer for 1998 film adaptation above starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert DeNiro, Ethan Hawke, Hank Azaria and Anne Bancroft. 

7.) Conversations With God: an Uncommon Dialouge, Neale Donald Walsch

  • Best quote: “Do not waste the precious moments of this, your present reality, seeking to unveil all of life’s secrets. Those secrets are a secret for a reason. Grant your God the benefit of the doubt. Use your NOW moment for the Highest Purpose- the creation and the expression of WHO YOU REALLY ARE. Decide who you are- who you want to be-and then do everything in your power to be that.” (this book is so quotable I just picked one that resonated with me as I write this.  I mean, he’s talking to God, soooo…. yeah, it’s quotable)
  • Plot:  This book is not complete fiction.  Nor is it non-fiction.  It would probably be considered sacrilege to anyone who goes to worship in any building of any kind, or anyone with a closed mind to the possibility of more than one divine being.  It doesn’t really mesh with the Judeo-Christian view of the world, nor does it try to.  Walsch wrote this book out of sheer frustration, a happy accident of sorts.  He was at his rock bottom in life, feeling lower than low…he decided to ask a Higher Power a question, writing it down on a piece of paper.  Then he found himself answering it in a voice that he didn’t recognize, one far wiser and more in -tune than he.  The book reads like a dialogue basically…Walsch asks questions to the God “character” and God answers, often with humor, poignancy and crazy candor that makes your heart go “ahhhh…I never thought of it that way, but that makes sense.”  It speaks to your spirit, your conscience, your internal moral compass.  Or at least it did to mine.  I read this book for the first time at age 19, when I felt I’d hit my lowest low and was seeking guidance in some spiritual form or other.  It is a series and there are workbooks as well for those who benefit from that kind of thing.
  • Awards: it’s referenced in many classes, documentaries and newer books about spirituality and religion.
  • Movie/television adaptations:  there was a movie made in 2006, but I can’t bring myself to watch it.  This book is too pure.  If you don’t want to read it listen to the audiobook…it’s brilliantly done…God’s voice changes from male to female, 100 years old to 20 years old, high-pitched to low and back again throughout the entire audio file.  

8.) Anagrams, Lorrie Moore

  • Best quote: “Life is sad, I thought. Here is someone.”
  • Plot: Firstly, let me begin by saying I wish I could write like Lorrie Moore. I’ve read most of her novels/collections and short stories and the woman is witty as fuck.  She’s probably genius level smart, Mensa even.  Anagrams is so cleverly devised in it’s structure and character richness, that you will want to read it twice.  Three fourths of the way through you’ll say “Oh my God, I get it!”  I won’t spoil what you’ll get or why or how, but suffice it to say, you wont regret reading any of Moore’s work.  Her short stories are quite simply put, some of the best I’ve ever read…if you’re short on time and like fiction try her collection of stories entitled Self-Help.  This book was recommended by a high school friend, Clare, who was raised in a family of authors and artists alike (the Casey name is on many a cover at your local bookstore).  Her father, John , an award winning novelist himself, actually wrote one of the blurbs you’ll see on the pages.  If Mr Casey is a fan, it’s got to be decent. I don’t think he casually hands out praise to other authors, unless it’s well-deserved.  They’re a well-versed brood, those Caseys.
  • Awards: Moore has received countless honors for her work, among them the Irish Times International Prize for Literature and a Lannan Foundation fellowship, as well as the PEN/Malamud Award and the Rea Award  for her achievement in the short story. Her novel A Gate at the Stairs was shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction and for the PEN/Faulkner Award.    
  • Movie/television adaptations: none that I know of, but someone needs to get on it.

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