Which novel most changed your life?

15357__kill_lFor men and women, the answers appear to be quite different, according to British researchers, who recently asked that very question to 500 men (many of whom worked in literature-related fields). The guys’ top three? Albert Camus’s The Outsider, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. In a 2004 poll, the same team asked 14,000 women the same question (thanks, Metafilter, for the link) with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre topping the list.

So let’s try our own PopWatch survey in the comments section below: What novel most changed your life? (Be sure to let us know your gender, too.) I’d have to say that as a kid, Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion fueled what became a lifelong obsession with horse racing, but as an adult, nothing quite moved me like Carl Sagan’s Contact. Which, yes, probably means I’m a complete dork, but doesn’t that make you less self-conscious about revealing your own favorite?


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  • Ep Sato

    1984,which changed my perceptions of the political left I had always followed so blindly. Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood changed my life, as it showed me a new way for writers to express themselves. Of course, Hemingway’s “the Old Man and the Sea”, because he’s able to tell the whole yarn with such few words. A verbose overtalker like me can appreciate that sort of thing…

  • David

    I’m a male.
    Catcher in the Rye, because angst is hormonal and biological and Salinger knew that. The bastard.
    Charlotte’s Web, because even young savages have soft spots for personified animals.
    Fight Club (before the film adaptation), because it opened my eyes to things I already knew and just wanted someone to say.

  • Kelly

    I’m female. I would say either “To Kill a Mockingbird,” –because how can you not love that?–or “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. While probably not technically life-changing, it is the book I loan people when they wonder why I read so much. It’s a book for people who love books, and it’s my favorite book ever.

  • Katy

    I’m a 30 year old female. “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, read as a 15 yr. old, was the first booked that ever really moved me and remains my favorite.

  • Katy

    Oops, I meant book not booked. Sorry.

  • Marcus

    Perhaps it’s because I’m still 19, but I’ve picked stereotypically teen angst books.
    –Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger… because it is the quintessential “I hate the world” teenage book.
    –Franny and Zooey, JD Salinger… it follows the dysfunctional but glorious Glass Family. It’s spiritual undertones had me questioning everything I thought I knew, it’s familial dysfunction made me realize I wasn’t alone, and it’s craftsmanship with words made me want to be a writer.
    –Twelve, Nick McDonnell… a very simply written book about rich Upper East Side kids gone wrong. I don’t know why, but it moved me.
    –Perks of being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky… a modern “Catcher,” it captures perfectly what it’s like to be a wallflower in a teen-beautiful world.

  • Brad

    I’m a 23 year-old male. At the risk of sounding unoriginal, I’d also have to say Catcher in the Rye. I identified with the angst and general malaise of being an adolescent on the fringes. My favorite novel as of late is Love in the Time of Cholera – it’s beautiful and epic – it shows all that love should be.

  • Karla

    Female.
    I call books lifechanging if they become so important that I will read them over and over again, and all of these qualify.
    I read Vonnegut when I was 11, and it completely changed my life. Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse 5 were my favorites. Even today, I see all religion in relation to Bokononism, karasses, and granfalloons.
    I found Shogun at about 20, and I reread it every few years because the characterizations and pacing are so brilliant. Never read another Clavell, though. I don’t want to ruin the experience.
    The Dead Zone by our backpage pal, Stephen King. The Eyes of Horus by Joan Grant. Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino.
    Pride and Prejudice, sure – but I read that later on (after age 25). Also Jane Eyre.
    Vonnegut and Austen – does this mean I’m a literary hermaphrodite? Hope so!

  • Ariella

    I’m a 25 year old female and the Tamora Pierce Lioness Rampant series I read when I was 12 have been my favorite books for 13 years. They began my life long love of fantasy novels, which I think are far more inventive, interesting, and worth the time away from ordinary life to read than the self-important, boring, and self-congragulatory “Literature with a capital L” that it seems adults are expected to read and apparently be moved by. Thanks but no thanks, life is depressing enough, I’d rather an author with a good imagination than a martyr complex!

  • Paul U.

    Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews…man, back in junior high, that was the bomb. always checked out of the school library!

  • JJ

    “Less Than Zero” by Bret Easton Ellis. I read it when I was 18 and it just struck a chord with me. It’s the rawness and honesty and simplicity of the story, the multiple characters and motivations and how the main character just gets affected by everything throughout it. The writing style was different and unique and it made me realize that there was so many ways to write and tell a story. It changed how I viewed my own writing and influenced me tremendously.

  • R.B.

    I’m a 26-year-old female. Out of the Shelter by David Lodge really moved me when I had to read it for my freshman lit class. It became one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it hundreds of times since then. It’s about a teenaged British boy’s coming-of-age around WWII, but it still applies to females as well, I think. Amy Tan’s first three novels really influenced the way I see the world. And, I’m not afraid to admit, Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. I still have the same tattered copy that I read all through middle school and high school.

  • Tosy and Cosh

    I’m a guy. Man. Dude. Male. “Changed my life” is a tad dramatic, but the novel that I return to most is Stephen King’s massive mission statement of a novel, It. It’s 1,100+ pages, and I think I’ve read it five or six times–and certainly will again. Wonderful treatment of childhood and an ingenious structure that gives the big story the space it needs to be told.

  • Cathy

    “Little Women” made a lasting impression for me. It was probably my first “novel,” once I had branched out beyond the Nancy Drew series. I can’t wait to read it with my daughter.

  • brandonk

    I’ve read literally thousands of books, but I wouldn’t say any changed my life. I guess reading a Teen Titans comic when I was in elementary school started me on comics, and I’ve got some favorite series that I read, but it’s hard to see how any of them profoundly changed my life.

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