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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Books that have changed my life

I have read many books in many genres. I loved most of them, but these select few are more than that. These are the ones that really inspired me and changed my outlook on life and literature.

  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman - This sweeping American epic populated with characterful Norse gods was so much fun to read. Gave me a deep appreciation for the art of roadside attractions, which I then had a chance to put to good use during our 2008 Roadtrip across the Western USA.
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie - She writes fantastically cunning plots; I read many of her books and they were always extremely intriguing and satisfying. This is just one that stuck in my head. I think it used to be called 'Ten Little Niggers' or something, but it was changed to be PC.
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan - A haunting tale of growing up with guilt, punctuated by a heart-rending account of the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II. I was devastated by the throwaway twist at the end; it made me bawl my eyes out. I read it while living in Brixton, London.
  • The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler - So this is where all of the glamorous, gritty noir clichés come from. What a cool, dark, endlessly witty, velvet kick-ass of a book. Read it as part of my MA Creative Writing in 2009.
  • Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison - This irreverent sci-fi comedy is the only book I've read more than twice. There were lots of sequels, but the quality drops off after the first sequel (the author got syndicated or something so he had to write them in a hurry). His 'Stainless Steel Rat' series is of a more consistently high quality; I enjoyed all of them very much when I was younger. My uncle Chris gave me a whole batch of them when I was maybe about 14.
  • Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan - This short novel, recommended to me by my first girlfriend Néféli, shows profound psychological insight considering the author was very young when she wrote it.
  • Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger - A bit of American literary history, so my teachers in America tried to make me read it. I ignored them, read it much later, and enjoyed it very much. The main character reminded me of an old tearaway school friend of mine, Jonathan Bowles.
  • Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians by Pierre Clastres (translated by Paul Auster) - A very matter-of-factly written book, to the point where it sometimes feels stilted, but the subject matter is fascinating; and it's all the more poignant because both the author and the savage tribe of Guayaki Indians were dead by the time it was published. Influenced me greatly when I was writing 'Bleeding Jungle'.
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown - The author takes the best conspiracy theory in existence and weaves a breathless, action packed story around it. A masterpiece of pace and detail that you will hate having to put down until you reach the truly satisfying ending. And I reckon 'Angels and Demons' is even better.
  • The Dice Man by Luke Rhineheart - Many books have claims like "This will change your life" or "The most dangerous novel you'll ever read" on the cover. Only this one lives up to those claims.
  • Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman - A wonderfully perceptive book about the fact that there are different kinds of intelligence. This book will make you a better person.
  • Fast Food Nation - Manages somehow to blame all the problems of the world on the fast food industry. Deeply shocking, but totally made me want a McDonald's.
  • From Thessaloniki to Auschwitz and Back by Erika Kounio-Amariglio - I found this book very emotional, especially because the author is my grandmother. The translation seems odd at times, but that's because it's translated to sound like she is telling it herself, with her particular way of speaking English, so I can really hear her voice in it. The story is written with such innocence and simplicity that the horror of the Holocaust is brought home with surprising force. Buy it.
  • Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels - Every line in this book is as carefully crafted as if it were a poem. I think the author is a Canadian poet. Very impressive. I read my ex-housemate Katherine's copy.
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling - Definitely inspiring! Especially after watching Jeremy Paxman interview her on TV and seeing the level of background detail she had committed to paper to help create her massive world. I thought the third and sixth in the series were the best.
  • Interstellar Pig by William Sleator - This book gave me terrible recurring nightmares when I was young - I don't remember how young, but pre-teen certainly. I read it again recently and it is quite creepy, but fun and very imaginative.
  • Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams - A departure from his typical off-the-wall sci-fi, such as the wonderful 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy', this is a travel book based on finding endangered species. Funny and affecting. According to the posthumously published collection of his works, 'Salmon of Doubt', Douglas Adams considers this to be the best book he ever wrote, yet perplexingly it is the least well known.
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela - Despite being heavily political, this autobiography is consistently gripping and emotive. And educational! I left it on a plane flying over Asia somewhere.
  • Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson - I cannot recommend this book enough. An incredibly inspirational autobiography, which will make you believe that anything is possible. I read it during my year as a sabbatical officer of my University's student union, and found it utterly compelling.
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold - This made me cry at almost every chapter. It is full of the most beautiful sadness; the grisly tragedy at the centre of this novel is captured with such a convincing childlike perspective that you know the author has been through it herself. I read it while I was working for the Learning and Skills Council.
  • Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen - This is a hilarious book, with great characters and atmosphere. I read my girlfriend's copy while we were on holiday in Greece after finishing University. It's such a gloriously simple idea, but the surroundings and the situations the characters get themselves in are something else. I since read a few more books by the same author, and they are all very much in a similar vein, but this is the best.
  • The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata - I discovered the game of Go after moving to London in 2006, so this inevitably made it onto my reading list. This true story revolves around a particular Go game that symbolised the struggle between old Japan and new, punctuated by the atomic blast at Hiroshima. Earned its author a Nobel Prize in Literature. I was especially impressed that the book contained full diagrams of in-game positions.
  • Mila 18 by Leon Uris - An intricately factually detailed WWII story and a great yarn, which I think is typical of the author, but I don't think I've read anything else by him. I'd like to, though. My grandmother bought this for me when we went to Jerusalem together.
  • Mort by Terry Pratchett - The first Pratchett book I read, and it made me laugh out loud. All his books are hilarious, loaded with cutting social commentary, insightful and moralistic. My Dad loves them. I'm still reading them.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four - The thing I found incredible about reading this book at the beginning of the twenty-first century is just how many parts of this book have worked their way into our language and our cultural awareness, let alone the prescient relevance of the book to our modern surveillance society.
  • Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman - The entire 'His Dark Materials' trilogy reads like the author listed all of the great unanswerable questions in life and wove them all together with the most powerful and sustained display of imagination I have ever been witness to, resulting in an incredibly rich and compelling story. I read it while working for Procter & Gamble.
  • Pattern Recognition by William Gibson - Apparently this book is atypical for William Gibson, in that it's set in the present; yet it's so cutting-edge it feels like the future. Memorable.
  • Pet Sematary by Stephen King - The only book, apart from maybe one or two of Dean Koontz's short stories, that has actually, physically scared me. As with any horror, though, it's your imagination and anticipation that frightens you, so the ending wasn't so scary.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster - An excellent children's book. I bought it for my fifteen year old brother and he reminded me how great it was. Helped me develop my fascination with words.
  • PopCo by Scarlett Thomas - A rich and confident book full of thoroughly well-researched intrigue. I love the hidden codes and treasure legends weaved into the book - and I love that the characters play Go all the time, which appealed to me as a reasonably recent addict of the game. I read it while living in Brixton.
  • Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke - A spectacular and realistic sci-fi. It's only short, and I highly recommend it. If you like this, there are three sequels. The second book of the four is the weakest, but if you can plough through it, the third and fourth are well worth reading. He's written many other great books too.
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson - His sardonic travel books are thoroughly entertaining, but the amount of research that must have gone into reinventing himself as a popularizer of science is impressive. Makes the driest science entertaining and easy to understand.
  • Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut - Kurt Vonnegut kicks butt. This heartfelt and bizarre exploration of the inhumanity of the Dresden firebombing in WWII breaks all the rules. Science fiction like you've never seen it.
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein - in 2011 I did a kind of survey of classic science fiction and read a lot of books. This one stood out above all the others. Charismatic, hugely witty and deeply profound. It feels like Heinlein predicted the entire Sixties counterculture, using a cast of characters that I just loved spending time with. "Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own." Other highlights of my survey were Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss, The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem, Foundation by Isaac Asimov, and oh... the list goes on...
  • Take Me With You by Brad Newsham - The most heartwarming travel book I have ever read. Restores your faith in the human race, and as any good travel book should, makes you long for a few months abroad. I want a sequel!
  • Thinks... by David Lodge - This book impressed me with its sheer intellect. Written by an ex-University of Birmingham lecturer, it's a very clever dialogue between a literate and a scientist about consciousness, but primarily a sophisticated romance, with a twist. I read it after graduating from the University.
  • The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer - I read this as part of my Masters degree in Creative Writing. It's a gleefully subversive and unconventional book laced with some hilarious anecdotes about the world of philosophy.
  • The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks - The debut novel of a sophisticated and twisted author. I enjoyed the dark & disturbing quality of this book; maybe it was the age I was at when I read it. If you like this, I also enjoyed 'Canal Dreams', 'A Song of Stone' and 'The Business'. He also writes science fiction as Iain M. Banks.
  • We by Yevgeny Zamyatin - Forget 'Brave New World'. Forget 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'. Yevgeny Zamyatin did it a decade earlier, and with so much more flair. Written in 1921, yet it still feels futuristic. My friend Keith gave me a copy in 2010.
  • Wild Swans by Jung Chang - Just incredible. Shows how crazy our world (and especially China over the last century) can be. I read it during my Gap Year between school and University.
  • The World According to Garp by John Irving - This book impressed me with it's strange way of storytelling, and I loved the book-within-a-book idea.

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