Books that Changed My Life – Part Two: Young Adulthood and University

Aged 19

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Owen Meany, a unique and insightful little boy who is terribly bad at baseball and accidentally kills his best friend’s mother. Narrated by that best friend john we see their relationship grow from child to adulthood, the funny, dark and perceptive effect Owen has on the lives of the people around him.

This was my first introduction to John Irving and a bit of a curse as I still consider it his best work.  It took me more than a few years to be able to finish any of his other novels. Irving once said that he fills the lives of his characters with so much tragedy in an attempt to stop any of his own loved ones from suffering.  Owen Meany is a unique character who at such a young age is filled with a philosophy of one older than his years. But as the novel continues Irving somehow makes his insights fit exactly with his character and all you want to hear are more of Owen’s views and less of any other of the characters. We become greedy for Owen and his ‘wrecked voice’. My sister gave me her copy, it sits on my bookshelf to this day, I often read random passages, he is never far from mu side. I made up for it by giving my sister a signed copy of one of Irvings’s later novels when I had the good fortune to meet him.

Warning spoiler for A Prayer For Own Meany in the blog comments below.

Age 21

Frankenstein by Mary Wollenscroft Shelley

Victor Frankenstein relates his life and how his insane passion for the reanimation of the dead ruined his life.

By the time I began reading Mary Shelley’s first novel I had seen quite a few of the screen adaptation and was not quite prepared for the differences between those narratives and her own. Instead of mad scientists, humpbacked assistant, lightning and lynch mobs we get a story of blind ambition, an intelligent and sympathetic outcast trying to understand his place in the world and ultimately revenge. It was an inspiring read from a woman who thought up the idea at the age of eighteen and was published at the age I was reading. She imprisoned my imagination and carved a new genre in Gothic fiction which continues to inspire imaginations across the globe. I read it again in 2012 and have since created a twitter account for Victor’s Creation called @Thy_Creature so that he can stomp around that social network instead of just inside my imagination.

Age 22

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

Lemuel Gulliver tells the story of his sea voyages and the four fantastic worlds he encountered, each world serves as satirical basis for different parts of real society.


Published in 1726 was an immediate hit, “It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery”, and no less a hit with me. It was one of the very first fantasy novels which in which society was shown itself a mirror enjoyed the comparisons. Again I had watched the animation which dealt with Lemuel Gulliver’s first voyage to Lilliput but when I read the novel I realised that he traveled to four separate worlds where Swift satirised different parts of society. Lilliput (The land of minutes peoples) was at war with Blefuscu and belittled the on-going wars between Britain and France. Brobdignag (the land of the giants) points out that perfection is relative, when you get close to people there will always be imperfections. The Floating Island of Laputa poked fun at the ridiculous nature of some of the work in the scientific community and The Land of The Houynhnhms shows us that any form of deceit makes a mockery of a society that calls itself cultured. Being neither musical nor mathematical in my skill this book gave me the connection between these two spheres and it mocked the idea of immortality. But most profoundly me a new appreciation for horses to the point that since then I have always stopped to take in their beauty and grace, my heart sinks if I have ever seen a badly tended horse, I have an appreciation of their speed strength and power and whenever I see one I remember how happy Gulliver was in their company.

What are yours?

Books That Changed My Life – Part Three: Adulthood to Now

Books that Changed My Life – Part One: Childhood and School


2 responses to “Books that Changed My Life – Part Two: Young Adulthood and University

  1. A Prayer for Owen Meany was my father’s favourite book so I read it young. I read the last paragraph off that book at his funeral.
    ‘O God – please give him back. I shall keep asking you.’

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