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  • Writer's pictureNathan Nicolau

My Life in Books

Reading has been a big part of my life, even before I realized that I wanted to be a writer. I had my nose in a book for most of my life, especially from middle school onward. Below is a list, in no particular order, of books that have made an impact on me up until today. This list always changes, as I find my tastes changing quite a bit over the years. These are not my all-time favorites per se, though some of them are. These will be short descriptions, as I encourage everyone to pick up these books soon if you have not read them.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

I cite this as the first book I ever loved. This book taught me how powerful reading novels can be. The phrase "swept away" gets used too often for adventure books, but I have to indulge in some cliches. It's thrilling, it's romantic, it's everything you want in an adventure and on and so forth. It was required reading in middle school, and up until that point, I wasn't reading much fiction. I was only interested in scientific/informational books at that time. This book changed everything for me. This book taught me that, yes, you can escape into another world through words. In middle school, I checked this book out from the school's library on a regular basis for that reason. Middle school sucked, but this book made it easier.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

It's no secret that Murakami is one of my favorite modern authors. Norwegian Wood stands, in my eyes, as his masterwork. This opinion is so controversial that Murakami fans believe they reserve the right to pummel me with copies of Kafka on the Shore. Kafka is a brilliant novel, I agree. In fact, it was the first Murakami I read (a hell of a start, I know). Norwegian Wood was my second outing into the surreal mind of this Japanese author. I expected something akin to the metaphysical adventure of Kafka. It was anything but. Norwegian Wood is a love story about hate. All the characters have a strong resentment toward the world around them, all set in the backdrop of a turbulent time in Japanese history. That is what makes Norwegian Wood such a realistic novel to me. Despite all this realism, Murakami still adds his eccentric flair. Situations, characters, and locations are all touched with a haze of cloudy, fanciful mist. This is what makes Norwegian Wood unlike any romance novel I've read. Turn your mind off and read it as I did.

One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryokan by Ryokan, John Stevens (Translator)

Before reading this, I was not focused on poetry at all. My knowledge of poetry was the stuff they taught in school like "The Road Not Taken," or Homer's epics. Up until reading this beautiful collection, I did not understand poetry. I felt it was all aesthetics with little meaning. I would read words and not understand in the slightest what they meant. I found One Robe, One Bowl on accident at a college book sale. The title looked attractive, as did the author. I didn't care at that moment it was a collection of poems. It was cheap anyway. I read it the first thing I got home and became invested in Ryokan's story as a zen monk who wrote some of Japan's most beautiful poetry. His poems were personal, unpretentious, yet eccentric. I found deeper meaning in even his most simple passages describing everyday occurrences in his life. This collection made me realize that all poetry means something, we just have to open our hearts to understand it. I thank Ryokan for this epiphany. To understand "the Great Fool" known as Ryokan, one must read him and his life. This collection is the best way to go about it.

Selected Poems by Langston Hughes

This collection is special because Hughes himself chose the poems before his death. There is an intimacy in knowing this as if he is standing next to you as you read. Some will make you sing praise, some will make you deeply uncomfortable, some will make you want to throw out the computer and never write again. I and felt all of these at once reading this. Hughes, to me, is more of a musician than a writer. That's not to say he wasn't a good writer. Read "The Weary Blues" and tell me he wasn't gifted with word choice. But read it again out loud and look for the rhythm of it. Reading Hughes out loud brings new meaning to his work. You quickly begin to realize that these poems are to be sung from the soul, not read. Each poem in this collection, whether Hughes intended this or not while compiling it, is musical. It goes beyond typical songwriting rhyme and meter. There are accents, melodies, and even percussion happening as you read. On top of that, there's the improvisational style of Jazz-speak unfolding with each word. I've never seen a poet dance the way Hughes does, and what a mighty dancer he was. He danced the blues but with words.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I don't like this book much anymore. When I first read it, I sang its praises and argued with people who hated it (being the hipster I was in high school). I see too many problems with this book the more I read it. It's outdated, the symbolism is as subtle as a punch in the face, and the themes aren't relatable anymore (this is all my opinion, of course). I read this book during that weird period in high school where you try to act all adult while your parents still do your laundry. I thought I related to its themes of the death of the American dream all when I was at the ever-so adult age of 14 years old... I hope you can feel how bad I'm cringing thinking back on this. Still, this book had an impact on me. It's well-written prose and the ending still gets me at times. But mainly, this novel taught me that there is a time and a place for the right book. I had a college professor who lamented, "Why in the hell do they teach you this book in high school? Read it as an adult. You'll cry over it more..."

Thank you for taking this short literary journey with me. There are still many books I need to read, and they might be added to this list in the future. Now if you excuse me, I need to finish what will probably my next favorite book, Anne of Green Gables...

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