2013: Books That Changed My Life

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There are books that, once in a while, come along and change one’s life in a significant way. 2013 was a largely transformative year of reading for me, as I discovered new interests or have expanded my already existing interests into new avenues, and reawakened old ones. Some of these have influenced my current projects.

In the following list below, these are the books that had the most profound effect on me and why. (While writing this post, I listed a couple of books that I thought I’d read last year but in actuality had read – now – two years ago and that have been a slow burn. I’ll probably write more about those books in the future.)

From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón: I shared some of my thoughts about this novel in a post on Z’s Cup of Tea, and I’ll elaborate a little more here. Set in fifteenth century Iceland, this was a slightly challenging read, though I found that once one found the rhythm that it became easier as one read. I became fascinated by the character of Jónas “the Learned” Palmason and the real life person he was based on,  Jon Gudmundsson and I think that my fascination was intensified as fiction and fact became blurred. (Harder still to distinguish fact from fiction since there is very little information to be found about Jon Gudmundsson, or at least online.) Part of my fascination involved Internet research of the period of history that the novel was set in (which resulted in a folder being created with the Icelandic title, Rökkursbýsnir) and making a mind map as I was reading the novel. (I would include a scan of my mind map, but seem to have misplaced it at the current moment.) Translated by Victoria Cribb.

The Black Count by Tom Reiss: When I think of The Black Count, it still captures my imagination and I rank it highly as one of the best books I’ve read. This is a book for anyone who has read Alexandre Dumas’ classics such as The Three Muskateers and The Count of Monte Cristo and wants to know more about the inspirations behind M. Dumas’ stories. The Black Count is a biography of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, M. Dumas’ father, who was an impressive general and served under Napoleon, although through circumstance of history, has largely been forgotten (he even had a statue, until the Nazis melted it down during World War II and it has not been replaced yet to this day – although there was a petition to amend this) but I think that Tom Reiss’ biography might change that and especially with the recent exposure of winning the Pulitzer Prize and PEN Award earlier last year. Although I still haven’t read The Last Cavalier (here I stated that I felt compelled to try reading it again), I became inspired to read The Count of Monte Cristo again and am currently reading that. (I’m reading the Penguin Classics edition, translated by Robin Buss. It is my desire to one day read it in the original French, so if you know a good, unabridged edition let me know in the comments below.)

The Sunne In Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman: If I were to pinpoint a book that singlehandedly began my interest in medieval history and making sense of English royal dynasties, it would be Sharon Kay Penman’s book about the maligned Richard III. Soon after reading The Sunne In Splendour, I read the rest of her books about the Plantagenets in quick succession (finished Lionheart today, and eagerly awaiting the sequel The King’s Ransom that will be published in March 2014). I wrote a review earlier this year on trend & chic, which you can read here. As well as making me interested in medieval history, it also inspired me to research Shakespeare’s English history plays further (and in light of the BBC production The Hollow Crown), which I wrote about in some detail here.

When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman: (Reviewed here) If The Sunne In Splendour kickstarted my interest in medieval history, then When Christ and His Saints Slept was the gateway to my understanding of – and tracing back – the Plantagenets and their ancestral origins. (Also reviewed: Time and Chance, and Devil’s Brood.)

Joan of Arc or Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by The Sieur Louis de Conte (Her Page and Secretary) by Mark Twain: I, like everyone else, knows who Joan of Arc is; we recognize her name and know, generally, what she did. While a fictional biography, it was through reading Mark Twain’s book that I found a new appreciation for Joan of Arc and her story and realized the sheer injustice that she was subjected to, leading to researching more about her (I have a list of books to read). Learning about her story also opened my eyes to the French side of that time in history, whereas before I’d mostly understood it from the English point of view (Agincourt) and, looking back now, would begin my current attempt to cultivate an informed, worldly viewpoint and perspective of that time of conflict in the Hundred Years War as I’m voluntarily studying it.

Rework and Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemer Hansson: A little different from my usual reading material, I read these two books with the rest of the Pressgram team and I was blown away. I bought Remote and borrowed Rework from the library, and ended up buying the latter, too! Written for small businesses and remote work environments (not in the office), both books offer sound advice that, when combined, build upon each other inspires and makes one think differently.

The Element and Finding Your Element by Sir Ken Robinson: The Element is an astounding book and one that made me think differently about one’s passion, or their Element, as it’s called by Sir Ken. The Element is filled with stories from people, famous and everyday folks, who realized their passion (or more than one) and not always, rarely in fact, in a conventional manner, such as the choreographer Gillian Lynne who couldn’t sit still in class and learned that she needed to move in order to think, when she danced to the radio as a little girl. The stories are so inspiring and moved so many people upon The Element‘s publication, many wrote to Sir Ken asking how they could find their Element and he wrote a sequel called Finding Your Element which includes exercises, chapter by chapter, about how one may find their Element and interspersed throughout are more stories about people who found theirs and how.

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What transformative books did you read in 2013? Fiction or non-fiction, I’d love to hear them!

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