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Unique reading experiences

Note: This post was originally written in Swedish, so if you prefer to read the original text, you can take  a look here. This is a translation I made because I realised I quite liked the post and wanted to have it on my personal website as well.

Some people read books in order to relax for a while, to lose themselves in another word or to experience suspense their ordinary lives rarely offers. I don’t. Instead, I read mostly to find new, creative and stimulating ideas and concepts, which is why I have derived so much pleasure from reading science fiction in the past. Occasionally, I come across books that contain something I have never ever experienced before, which is what I want to discuss in this post about unique reading experiences.

In the above introduction, “unique” means that no reading, before or after, can be sorted into the same category. Thus, it isn’t a question of varying degrees of a given quality (“This author’s language is ten times as good as any other I’ve read!”), but rather a question of a fundamentally different experience (“This author uses a language that affects me in a completely different way than any other I’ve read!”). The reason why I say “experience” and not “book” is that sometimes an author is unique in a special way, but that his or her books are quite similar. For instance, it would be sad to disqualify Thomas Pynchon from the list below simply because one of his other books is similar to Gravity’s Rainbow.

In creating this list, I went through all the books I’ve read the last ten years or so, and I only came up with three experiences I consider completely unique.

Daniel KeyesFlowers For Algernon is the only book I’ve read that has moved me emotionally as an adult (I cried when finishing the last chapter and had to take a really long walk afterwards). I’m usually too distanced from books to really feel with the characters, but in this book I did so wholeheartedly. It might be because the themes and questions raised in this novel lie very close to my heart and have done so for at least ten years (for those of you not familiar with the book, the main theme is that of ignorance is bliss or Plato’s allegory of the cave).

Thomas Pynchon‘s Gravity’s Rainbow I can’t really find a suitable way to use “is the only book I’ve read that” with, but it’s still unique in so many ways that it merits a place on the list. The feeling of following the authors wildly bizarre language and hopelessly confusing narrative is wholly unique and no other author I’ve read (not even other post modernists) comes close.

Mark LynasSix Degrees is not only the best non-fiction book I’ve read, it’s also the only book that has radically changed my way of viewing the world in which we live in. Sure, I was intellectually aware of the fact that the Earth’s climate was not in good shape, but this book highlighted the issue to such an extent that it has stays with me every day. No other book has ever accomplished such a thing.

In concluding this article, I’d like to ask you what unique reading experience you have to share with us? What made the experience unique? Do you think you are alone in thinking the experience unique, or is the book unique in a more objective way? Remember that unique isn’t the same thing as good; if you can put “This book is the only one that…” at the beginning of the sentence, you’re on the right track!

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  1. Nebula51’s avatar

    I agree with you about Flowers for Algernon–that is an unforgettable book. The film was not terrible, but certainly not it’s remote equal. Have you seen it? It’s pretty old so you may have missed it–it was called Charly (with an inverted Y) and came out in the late 60s or early 70s? The actor who played Charley wasn’t bad, and his relationship with Algernon was portrayed very well.


    1. Olle Linge’s avatar

      No, I haven’t seen it, but I’m planning to do so at some point, I guess. Actually, there are a number of adaptations (check Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flowers_for_algernon#Film.2C_TV_or_theatrical_adaptations), one of them allegedly being in production now (starring Will Smith?).