So this weekend, my other half and I watched the Life of Pi movie for the first time. (I know, I know, I’m so behind the times.) Final verdict: LOVED it. Life of Pi affected me so, so much when I read it for the first time, that I almost couldn’t watch the movie for fear of hating it. My main disappointment? The CGI. It was awful! You could tell it was clearly made during that boom of “EVERYTHING MUST BE 3D.” But otherwise, it was everything I could have hoped for in an adaptation of a book that genuinely changed my life.
So, in honor of that book, today I’m going to talk about Faith. I don’t necessarily mean religiously, but just… what books truly altered the way I thought and profoundly impacted me when I read them for the first time. Doesn’t matter what for. Here’s 4 books that gave (give) me faith:
1. Life of Pi, Yann Martel
This book completely changed the idea of religion and belief for me. It was the very first book I was assigned in my AP English class my senior year of high school, and my teacher – the most awesome Mrs. B – told us we ONLY HAD A WEEKEND to read it. I’m a fast reader, but I’d never read a book for school in that short amount of time! I was terrified. But I sat down Friday night to read it, and was completely enthralled. It made me question literally everything. A Catholic Muslim Hindu? Absurd! I grew up vaguely Catholic, and had always been taught the idea of “one religion” in the way Pi’s father said he should be. But Pi, as a child, realized that you could believe in a million different ways and that they didn’t need to necessarily be at odds with one another. It was just something I’d never really seen before. And then, obviously, the story of survival after Pi is the only survivor of a ship wreck. Is there anything more brilliant? I’m not sure – and I’ve read a lot of books. Yann Martel’s sheer genius in crafting a story that was in one so completely believable but also completely unrealistic shows his mastery. The ending, where Pi reveals a second, more “realistic” story for the Japanese ship company, is a twist I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined. Never once did I think Pi’s recollection of his time with Bengal tiger Richard Parker was a fabrication, or unreal. That people questioned its authenticity was beyond me. But Pi was certainly right – it made me believe in God in a way I hadn’t before I read it.
2. The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom
I think I’ve mentioned this book on FifteenThousandPages before. A gift from my best friend a few Christmases ago, I read this short book in 2 hours on Christmas morning. And it changed everything. I read this about 3 years after I read Life of Pi, and it built on the understanding that faith, belief, heaven, and God are open-faced, in a way. Everyone sees something different. Eddie’s journey to meet his 5 people in heaven is an amazing one. He’s able to see his past through the eyes of people he’d never expected to see again as well as people he’d never actually met in his life. But all of them were lives that greatly impacted Eddie and also lives that Eddie greatly impacted. To see the duality of how situations differently affect people was something I’d never really read in a book before. Obviously everyone reacts differently to things, but it was so much fun to see the way that minuscule details could immensely shape lives. Albom’s decision to add the impact of Eddie’s death in the real world, not just in Eddie’s journey through his five lessons in heaven, is an incredible one, because it shows a sixth lesson the lesson of those left behind and how a lonely man can actually matter to others. Eddie meeting his war buddies, father, and wife again in his own Heaven is a magical experience everyone deserves to have.
3. The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
So this may seem like an odd book to include in a post about Faith. But if you can read this book and say it doesn’t impact your belief and faith that love matters, well, then I’d say you’re heartless (and would probably feel bad about it after). I think I’ve read this book four times. Each time I have spent the last 50 pages or so reading through tears. I know what’s coming, and it gets me every time. But the first time? Wow. I wasn’t prepared for what this book would do to my insides (destroy them completely). Time Travel is something that always seems wonky in books that aren’t science fiction. It’s a completely absurd concept. But Niffenegger does it right here. She showed me time travel in a way that I hadn’t seen before (hm, are we noticing a pattern?) and it was one that was, surprisingly, completely believable to me. Henry DeTamble is a time traveler, but he has no control of it. At one moment, he’s getting ready to go out, the next he’s naked in a meadow behind a giant house. There’s a DNA connection to it, which makes it infinitely more believable that he could have this issue. I get migraines, Henry travels through time. No big deal. That his time travel happens usually during periods of emotional stress (good or bad) makes even more sense. But what’s magical and incredible about this book is the way he’s drawn to Clare and the way she grounds him. He meets Clare when she is 20; but she first met him when she was six. It’s a love that, for her, was her entire life. For him, he’d had others before. But as he travels, he travels back to her – to meet her when she’s young and to see her as she grows. Hm, I feel like that sounds creepy when I say it. But it’s not – there’s nothing inappropriate about their meetings (except for his unfortunate nakedness – but it’s not his fault clothes don’t travel well through time). What’s truly remarkable about TTW is the alternating viewpoints. We get to see how both Henry and Clare feel during his episodes, as well as their experiences when he’s not traveling (which, luck would have it, happens less when he’s around Clare). Their love literally carries them through years – through hardships, pain, and happiness. Their love, despite the obvious complication, keeps them together always, even if they don’t realize it at the time. It’s a book for the ages that taught me about love, sacrifice, and determination. It also totally stuck the landing.
4. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
Also a bit out a left field to be included in a post about faith, I think. But, again, this book is one that stuck with me so close after my initial reading as a freshman in high school. The framing of the story – which has 3 layers – is an element that makes it more mystical and more exciting, but also more unreliable. The unreliability of the narrators, however, is what makes me a believer. The viewpoints of these characters – particularly, of course, Victor Frankenstein and his Creation – perfectly highlight the struggles and trials and tribulations humanity struggles with every day. They also show the happiness that’s possible. The concept of this book is where the talk of faith begins; should humans recreate life? Is that our place? Do we have that right? All of those questions are valid. But I think it goes deeper: How do we treat others that are different from us? Why do we reject those closest to us? Is anything innately, inherently bad or good? This is where the question of faith comes in. Faith in humanity, in ourselves, in what we are capable of. Victor’s desire to recreate life – is it a pure one? Is that even possible? Mourning the loss of his mother, he begins on this journey. But when it’s complete, he callously rejects what he has created. As a father he rejects his son. No one likes rejection, and his creation (or monster, depending on your view) was made to mimic our own reactions, so naturally he doesn’t take it well. But is it his fault that he’s destructive? He was never taught anything. When he wants a companion, as so many of us do, Victor balks. He refuses, and the monster takes revenge. The question lingers, “who is really in the wrong?” Are either one not culpable for the destruction that occurs? This book gives me faith in us, as beings, because it shows we CAN ask the tough questions. It certainly doesn’t paint us in a great light, but that’s important. Sometimes, we’re in the wrong. Also, the fact that Mary Shelley wrote this book at only 19 is incredible. She’s totally on my list of “5 dead people to have lunch with.”
So there it is. Faith of all kinds, reassured within these books. What books have you been profoundly impacted by, lovely readers?