Getting to the Heart of Darkness, or the Heart of You


We all have different influences in our lives from the time we are children right on through our adult years. Whether it is your parents, that best friend, a special person in your life, some other family member, a co-worker or even a perfect stranger that comes along at just the right moment, that person can change who you are, how you view things and what you do in your life. The same can be said about certain books that you read in your lifetime. Everyone seems to have that one special book that has made a significant impact on your life one way or another. Even if you may not think that it is the case for you, if you think back on it, you will recall a book that you read that had a profound impact on you at some point in your life, whether as a youngster, a teenager, a parent, a spouse, an adult or really any time. So that leads me into today’s question:

Which book has dramatically influenced your life?

When I think about it, I think there are several different books that have had that dramatic influence on me. When I first went to college and was trying to decide what I was going to study, I didn’t really have much direction. It wasn’t until I started taking one of the introductory English classes that I really found that I was interested in literature and writing. I was always reading when I was younger and I come from a family of big readers so there were plenty of books around. In fact I had a real love for the John MacDonald Travis McGee novels when I was a teenager. While the books may not have had any kind of direct influence on my life, it was one of the first real series of books that I had ever read and I really enjoyed them. I think that kept my interest for reading going along all of the time.

While most introductory courses in English start using something like the Norton Anthology books for reading (which mostly have short stories, poems, essays and perhaps a novella or two), I found that the short stories I read in there really sparked me. Reading stories from authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and the like made me want to read more and more short stories. Still, to this day, I enjoy reading short story collections. T. Coraghessan Boyle has always been one of my favorite short story writers (though I have enjoyed some of his novels as well) and lately I have been reading some horror collections by Stephen King and some other horror authors.

AS I focused more of my attention on English and writing through college, I read many of the typical books you would expect to read as you studied literature. Of course there are always going to be some that you love and some that you don’t. I was never really a big fan of Henry James or Jane Austen but I did enjoy reading some more authors that I had never really delved deeply into before, like Chaucer, Borges, Gogol, Kafka and others. Even getting the chance to read all of Shakespeare’s works instead of just knowing about Romeo and Juliet or Julius Caesar was a nice change to open up the world to me.

I think it was when I started working on my Master’s that books began to have an even greater influence on me. It was then I began reading more things I had never considered before, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude. There was something about that book that I think completely changed the way I thought about writing, literature and what I was interested in. The beauty of the language that he uses, the ideas that he comes up with and the visuals and characters he was able to create while telling his story were captivating to me. I started reading more and more and learning more about literature, writing and the world around me, both past and present.

Sometimes there are books that just come along in your life at the right time for you and have a bigger influence on you. For me, the one book that has done this was The Shack by William Paul Young. Is it a great piece of literature? Probably not, but it still had a deep effect on me. I am not really a religious person at all and was even less so when this book came around in my life. When I read this book, my father had just passed away and I think I was feeling a little lost. The book seemedto give me something that I was missing – maybe it was just perspective on life, how you treat others in your life and how you feel about God and religion in general. The book came along at just the right time for me and helped me profoundly. After I was hospitalized myself for months in 2009 and spent months in a coma, when I came out of the coma and was doing rehabilitation at a rehab hospital I began to start reading again. This was one of the first books that I re-read and seemed to mean even more to me after going what I had gone through. It has changed the way I think about relationships not just with family and friends but with everyone, and with religion as well. While you won’t find me sitting in the front row at any church, I think it did open me up to more possibilities and ways of thinking and living.

There are other books that I have had that type of impact on me as well, such as Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I think that book has made me realize the importance of everyone in your life – not just those close to you but even people who you may have just had chance interactions with or were in your life for just a short amount of time. Those people can have large impacts on the way you think, feel and act for the rest of your life.

A book doesn’t have to be a great work of art or literature to have a big influence on your life. It just has to be something that has moved you in some way, affected the way that you think and made you do things a little differently.

Anyway, that’s my take on it. So what book has had a dramatic influence on your life? Feel free to leave a comment here and let me know. I’ll ask around to others and see what type of replies I get. Until next time, the office door is open…

2 Responses to “Getting to the Heart of Darkness, or the Heart of You”

  1. 1 Kim Lyman

    It was not high literature, but the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie books, and the Anne of Green Gable books had a huge impact on me as a younger reader. They had strong young female main characters. One had a family I yearned to have, with a ‘Pa’ who taught her so much, and the other was an orphan, and had to be strong for the lack of support and security in her life. I identified with both. There have been so many books that made an impact, I couldn’t even begin to list them all. Thanks for the walk down memory lane…

    • 2 MikeG

      Thanks for your comment Kim. I actually think for most people the book that has influenced them the most isn’t necessarily something you would right away consider a literary masterpiece. It’s very often that book you stumbled upon or read when you were young that has had that effect on you.

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