Here I shall focus on fiction novels having inspired me most. Since this genre constitutes an overwhelming majority of my offline reading, I simply cannot recall other works to have made a similar impact.
I prefer to reflect on inspirational works, and not simply the favorite or the powerful. The distinction may be subtle, but in considering inspirational novels, I exclude those of possibly even epic literary proportion and yet not having changed me in any way perceivable. To the contrary, this list would number a frightening amount of titles, as I would tend to consider a favorite every other work surpassing 400 pages that I deemed worthy of completing.
Brothers Karamazov, for example, recently finished, as well as arguably any other novel by Dostoevsky I had read, I found to be some of the best quality reading. (I speak only for the original Russian version.) The same applies to The Count of Monte Cristo, as well as for some works by Dickens, Nabokov, or Kafka. And yet, none of these titles or authors have impacted me in the same way over the long term.
Some titles might require a number of rereads to fully appreciate. Each time I read one of these I’m submerged to a psychedelic experience that leaves me in an almost euphoric state. Such novels include Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, Frank Herbert’s Dune, or the surreal Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle had also left me somewhat dazzled and really demands a reread.
However, I digress, and proceed to the list of those novels that I place clearly in the aforementioned inspirational category:
Ayn Rand, Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged
I am as moved by these novels today as in my early 20’s when I had initially read them. They unquestionably impacted my conception of morality, virtue, and mankind. The shaping of my personality owes significantly to these novels, and not strictly due to the subject matter but also due to the language employed. The latter also serves as an inspirational account of entrepreneurship.
Bulgakov, Master and Margarita (Мастер и Маргарита)
I can only speak for the Russian original. However, when diabolical fantasy is interpolated into reality and presented in language as enchanting as any I’ve experienced, the result profoundly alters my consciousness and spawns an escape to a new dimension where I continuously tend to linger. This work altered my expectations in literature.
Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Cien años de soledad
I initially read a Russian translation, and then the original a couple of years after. While I cannot register the full extent of the Spanish language subtleties employed in a work of this depth, I perceived enough to have been transformed in a way similar to M&M. In fact, the commentary I wrote above is as applicable to this magic realism novel. Cien Años created an alternate world to which I eagerly escape. Interestingly, Isabel Allende’s La Casa de los Espíritos impacted me to a comparable extent, and I find her works two notches simpler to read than Márquez.
Sergei Lukyanenko, Night Watch (Ночной Дозор) series.
This Moscow-based cityscape fantasy 6-book series describes a world of supernatural beings in a language nothing overly remarkable. Yet the author paints the world in an all too realistic manner. The settings seem notably familiar. The novels present not only a captivating plot, but a multi-dimensional character study with human elements of compassion and empathy, and full of gray areas representative of reality. I find this to be one of those examples of different unremarkable components synthesized in just the right manner.
How does this mainstream series inspire me more than arguably richer works, including the many from which it respectively draws inspiration (ex: Strugatsky brothers)?
That’s a difficult question. I cannot easily rationalize inspiration. It caters to a particular taste and reaches no two individuals equally. The Night Watch series, in my case, became a template for an anti-fantasy setting. The supernatural element plays a supporting role, but otherwise remains transparent in favor of character development in a recognizable urban environment described in a familiar language.
A bulk of my inspiration draws from magic realism type settings. I have come to prefer fantasy storytelling to conform to this recipe: well-written literary prose describing a seemingly mundane world, but with a sudden supernatural twist.
I had been introduced to these four authors sometime in the past, and their influence had prevailed over most works I explored more recently, irrespective of literary value. Timing plays a significant role. However, I remain curious and optimistic to discover another literary piece of such a caliber.