I really hesitated to come up with a top ten list involving books. I have read thousands of books in my lifetime. Coming up with a list of 10 is not realistic so, I did what I always do when I have a difficult task. I used the ‘rip off the band-aid’ method. I just listed the first 10 books that came to mind that have had an influence on me. Some influenced me as a writer. Others influenced me as a person.
10) Duma Key (2008) – Stephen King
This book is a bit off the beaten path. It’s no secret that I’m a huge Stephen King fan and you will see more of his books on this list. It’s one of the first Stephen King wrote after his accident when he was nearly killed while walking on a road in Maine. The story centers on a rich self-made construction company owner who is injured by a falling crane. He leaves his company, divides his wealth to provide for his ex-wife and daughters, and moves to a secluded house on one of the Florida Keys. While there he resumes the hobby of painting from his earlier life and discovers that he has some strange and powerful abilities. What really struck me about this book is the relationships. More than some of his pre-accident books, King writes thoughtfully about the relationships between the characters. One of the most touching is his relationship with the caretaker of Elizabeth Eastlake, the only other resident on the key. The man has an inoperable brain tumor. The main character, Edgar, is able to repaint the man’s CAT scan minus the brain tumor, and cures his condition. There are some elements of horror in the book, but what impressed me was King’s character development and inventiveness.
9) A Study in Scarlet (1887) – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I consider the Sherlock Holmes books, written by Sir Arthur Conan, to be the penultimate among private detective fiction. Doyle was not only a masterful writer in this genre, but his formula whereby Holmes solves the crime and then the criminal describes how the crime was carried out in great detail is highly effective. This book is interchangeable on the list with other Holmes novels, but it is the first and feature the introduction of Watson and Holmes.
8) It (1987)- Stephen King
If anyone doubts the versatility of Stephen King, this is the book to read to remove all doubt. In this book, King writes in the voice of his main character’s childhood and adulthood seamlessly. He is able to effectively describe the bond among the friends in this book while managing to scare the crap out of his readers. This is one of the scariest books I have ever read. The relationship is similar to that which he writes about in Dreamcatcher, but It does it more effectively and with much more impact.
7) The Stand (1978) – Stephen King
The Stand is Stephen King’s epic novel. I know he wrote The Dark Tower series, of which I am not a huge fan, but The Stand surpasses TDT on many levels. It is the classic good vs. evil saga. What is magnificent about this book is the character development. King has a laundry list of diverse characters and nearly all of them are fully developed over the course of the book. In addition, he grabs the reader from the very beginning and makes you both rush to the end of the book, but wish that it will continue.
6) Tell No One (2001) – Harlan Coben
This early book by Harlan Coben is easily his best. The book opens with a man who is grieving over the loss of his wife eight years earlier. He is then sent a mysterious email with a link and when he clicks on it, he sees a woman who looks just like his wife on a web cam and she holds up a note that says ‘Tell No One’. The rest of the book revolves around the danger he faces and the mystery of why his wife is missing. I’ve waited for Coben to achieve the level of quality of this book and, although he has come close, some of his books since this one have really missed the mark.
5) When the Bough Breaks (1985) – Jonathan Kellerman
This is the first book by Jonathan Kellerman to feature his Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis characters. Like Kellerman himself, Delaware is a child psychologist and musician. Delaware, however, is called in as a consultant with the Los Angeles Police Department. This is where he first encounters Milo Sturgis, the rough, poorly dressed police detective who also happens to be gay. Sturgis is closeted in the early books, but later, due to his prodigious ability to solve cases, he is accepted and promoted. This book deals with Delaware being called in to work with a young child who is the only witness to a murder. It is the first of many Delaware novels over the past 30 years. I have read them all and they are a huge influence on my own writing style. His development of Alex and Milo as friends and colleagues over the years has been masterful.
4) 11.22.63 (2011) – Stephen King
Yes, another Stephen King book, but this is not in the typical genre for him. In his later life, King has branched out into detective stories, with his Bill Hobbs trilogy, and with this book, a mix of historical fiction and time travel. The premise is that the main character is reluctantly on a mission to travel back in time, through a portal in a diner, to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Preventing the assassination, however, is only part of the allure of this novel. King did his homework with the historical part of it as we get great detail into Lee Harvey Oswald’s origins and background. King also writes very well in contrasting the time periods. The ending of this book is also very interesting. King has proven that he can move from genre to genre very well, especially this late in his career.
3) The Godfather (1969) – Mario Puzo
This book is special to me for a couple of reasons. It was the first adult novel that I ever read. My parents went to see the movie and couldn’t stop talking about it. I found the book in our bookcase and started reading it to see what all of the buzz was about. I was hooked. Puzo did a great job of capturing the spirit of the Italian family within the backdrop of criminal activity and murder. When I had the chance to see the movie when I was older, along with Godfather Part II, I was impressed with how closely they followed the book. I’ve gone back and read the book a couple more times and have watched the movies (with the exception of Part III) many times. This book made a strong impression on me.
2) Of Mice and Men (1937) – John Steinbeck
I read this book as a senior in high school and it was the first piece of classic literature that I enjoyed thoroughly. Steinbeck’s tale of George and Lennie is captivating. The love between the two characters is inspiring. This is especially true through George’s caretaking of Lennie and the ultimate gesture he has to make in dealing with him.
1) To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) – Harper Lee
I have read this novel three times. First, as a senior in high school, again in my 30’s and then again just before the unpublished and unofficial sequel, Go Set a Watchmen, was released. The mark of a good book is that you get something new out of it every time you read it. As the US is potentially taking a big step backward in terms of racism, this book resonates more than ever.
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, could easily have made this list. There are countless others as well. I thought about doing a list by genre, but that would be too difficult. It might be something I tackle in the future.
Do you have life-changing books that you’ve read? How about books that have influenced your writing? Tell me about them. I’m always looking for a new direction to send my reading tastes.