The book Night by Elie Wiesel is extremely powerful. This book which recounts his experience in a Nazi concentration camp is written in novel format. It is however, a chronicle of a young boy of faith who sees the atrocities that God "allows" to be perpetrated on the Jewish people an decides that faith is something he cannot continue to embrace.
The book that won me back to the world of literature, after turning away from it after reading Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm as an impressionable school girl, was Doctor Zhivago by Pasternak. Had I not stumbled upon this great work of literature one summer in high school, I may have continued to stay true to my vow that if those two books represented "literature," I would never read another book all my life!
I would have to say Lord of the Flies -- not because of the subject matter so much, but because as a sophomore in high school I finally understood (to some small degree) how an author crafts a novel. I always loved reading, but never actually gave the author/writer much thought -- I was engaged in the plot. This novel, taught by a great English teacher, made me think about why an author creates certain characters; why symbols are used in a novel; why and how and author uses irony. For the first time, what my English teachers had been trying to teach me finally clicked! Author's make all of their choices to createmeaning. It seems second nature and indivisible to my reading now, but that novel put me on the road to being the English teacher I am today.
I actually really enjoyed Light In August as well.
One of the most influential books in my life has been The Brothers K by David James Duncan. It isn't influential in the sense that it has changed the way I act or brought me to some different point than I thought I would end up at but I find the way that it portrays a family and the way they interact to be very powerful and I appreciate the way it seems more real than many more idealized presentations of the way people treat each other even if they love each other.
I lived all over the Southeastern part of the United States, so when I picked up Faulkner's Light in August, I found a novel that seemed capture the paradoxes of Southern life in a way that gave me a better perspective on the people I knew, the society I lived in, and issues of racism, religion, and sexism that prevailed in these regions. The outsider/insider theme, the search for identify, and the attempt to act morally in ambiguous situations were issues that I could connect with. Having moved quite a bit, I could relate to a protagonist who seemed a misfit, and I came to understand the need for the individual to become part of a community. It is a book that I have read many times over the years, and I still am impressed with the beauty of its lines and Faulkner's courageous handling of issues that still plague the South.
When I was young, the book that made the biggest impression on me was The Samurai by Shusaku Endo. It was very influential for me because it dealt with issues that were going on in my life. Most specifically, the book was (to me) about issues of culture shock. It dealt with a Japanese man struggling to adapt as to life outside of Japan and also to deal with his Christian faith (which was not Japanese).
At that time in my life I was dealing with major issues of having to adapt to a new culture (here in the US) and the book really spoke to me.
My favorite novel is Catch-22 by the late Joseph Heller. I first read it during my high school AP English class as a senior in 1972. The Vietnam war was still raging (though in the end stages), and the anti-war theme of the book was perfectably suitable for the time. Heller's characters were alive and creatively drawn, especially the desperate protagonist Yossarian, who seemed to be the only sane person of the large cast. Perhaps what I appreciate most was my wonderful teacher, who was courageous enough to tackle such a controversial novel (especially much of the X-rated language, which most high school administrators would not consider appropriate). I have reread the novel several times over the years, and it is still as entertaining and socially relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1961.
It will be Hard Times by Charles Dickens. The whole theme of Industrial Revolution is so interesting to analyze. Another point of view from the book is the philosophycal idea of Utilitarianism, which is not so appealing to many people but I find it very interesting to discuss further. The way of the characters interacts in this novel leaves a very strong impact to the reader. A deeper look can determine the characteristic of the people back then, and the strong historical traits behind it. A wonderful novel indeed..
The most influential book to me is Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. I first read this book as a senior in high school and have read it several times since. What first impressed me was Hurston's accurate depiction of Florida, from her hometown of Eatonville (the first incorporated African-American city in the U.S.) to the muddy Everglades. I am a native Floridian who grew up not far from Eatonville, and I very much enjoyed reading about places with which I was very familiar. I was also impressed with Hurston's ability to create memorable and relatable characters. The main character in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie, is beautifully written. It is nearly impossible not to feel for Janie as she experiences triumphs and tragedies that are deeply personal and heartbreaking. I love this book and feel it should be a standard in any American Literature class.
In terms of fiction, I absolutely adore Ray Bradbury. I think the man was a true genius. He saw the direction in which the world was heading far before it was even on anyone else's radar. His short stories are my favorite (especially The Veldt - brilliant!) but Farenheiht 451 has a very special place in my heart.
George Gissing is also one of my favorite authors, who in my opinion, doesn't get the credit he deserves. The Odd Women was the first Victorian-era book I read, and it was responsible for feeding the flame of my obsession with the period's literature.