Books that Make an Impact Questionnaire


As requested:
Choosing 15 books that have had a lasting impact on me.
(Note: I don't return much to books. And I don't read enough, as I said in the past. These are just ones I loved or didn't.)

1. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain  

 I know Huck Finn is more "canonical", but Twain's avuncular third-person narration is fantastic. I've loved this for years and years. And years.


2. 1984 - George Orwell      

Has a lot to say about the world today. Any 9-11 conspiracy theory featuring the media is testament to that.

3. Star of the Sea - Joseph O'Connor   

This is a great Irish Famine novel. Probably O'Connor's masterpiece, although I've read little else from him. Some of the imagery and use of metaphor blows the mind. I've grown fonder of it as I've come to realise that it is matchless in my recent memory.

4. The Keepers of Truth - Michael Collins    

A bleakly funny literary thriller set in (I think) America's rust belt in the 80s, published in the mid 90s. His best work IMHO, although he has returned to top form quite recently.

5. The Night In Question - Tobias Wolff  

Wolff was on Irish radio a few years back. He said a piece of advice he'd give for the short story form is "Leave out anything that the reader doesn't need to know." Any short story collection by him is undoubtedly great, although I've only read a couple. One quibble I have is with a recent anthology - apparently Mr. Wolff is still editing his stories since their original publications. I haven't made any comparisons, but isn't this akin to cutting the last chorus out of a song from a Greatest Hits package, or trimming an intro or something? Sure, Paul Simon says that he regrets the third verse of Bridge Over Troubled Water, but should an artist exercise their prerogative to make a cut like that?

6. The Mermaids Singing - Val McDermid 

A police thriller thing with a fantastic twist that McDermid has never topped in the rest of the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series as far as twists go - perhaps because we now know the characters so well.


7. The Master - Colm Toibin  

Fictionalised bio of Henry James. Some of the passages made me want to applaud when I'd finished them.


8. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini  The characterisation of the two boys is mindblowing. Narrator is all too gratingly human. The fact that the novel descends into an action adventure story is to this fantastic work's credit - in any other book, it wouldn't be a failing.


9. Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall-Spike Milligan  

I've read a couple of his autobiographies. Good stuff. Spike Milligan is a very funny man, although I would've been loath to admit it due to the daftness of some of his comedy. But it was groundbreaking surrealism.

10. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien   

It bored me to tears, and it took about two years to read the bloody thing. Not even one of Legolas's amazing set pieces from the movies made it into the novelisation. (That's my little joke. You don't have to laugh. It's just for me.)

11. Brian Keenan - An Evil Cradling  

Account of time spent by hostage in Beirut. Beautiful. I've read a couple of these guys' accounts and this is by far the very best. Keenan is a very skilled stylist, and he depicts his predicament with amazing clarity and beauty. Recommended by Paul C Snr, and suggested as a form of therapy. He wasn't wrong.

12. The Sea - John Banville  

His other stuff is good too. And there's actually nothing wrong with it really taking off in the last 15 pages.


13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller  

Wasn't caught up in this immediately - the opening pages were a bit confusing for me, as I was younger. But it's good, alright.

14. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger   

Methinks this is a great example of a writer finding a voice and running with it.


15. Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt  

Brilliant, deserved all the plaudits it got. It became part of the "Ireland pulling back the curtains, tearing down the walls, letting out the skeletons, coming clean about all the secrets" social change. And a beautiful enhancement it is to all that stuff.