George Kelley started it. Patti Abbott did it. Now, it's my turn.
This isn’t a list of favorite books, although some of my all-time favorites are here. Here is a list of books I read that changed me or taught me something new.
The Bible - Read it piecemeal up until 2005 or so. Then, read the entire book straight through. Read the epistles multiple times. It's lessons and message form the foundation of who I am. I’ll specifically call attention to The Message translation as a new way of reading and understanding the ancient scriptures.
Mystic River - The one, single book that changed the trajectory of my reading and writing. Before Lehane’s book, I rarely read any mysteries or crime fiction (and didn’t realize there was a difference). After reading it in 2001, I knew what I want to write. Only now realizing that crime fiction of this nature may not be the kinds of books I write well.
The Shadow of the Wind - This is the way I will judge literary mysteries from now on. When I get around to writing one, I’ll have to write one like this.
Truman - As a degreed historian, I pull my hair out at everyone who hates history because they had a bad teacher in school (or a coach who didn’t care). History is about people who make decisions and do things and deal with the consequences. McCullough’s biography is as good as a novel but it’s all true. I wrote my first novel with Harry Truman as the main character as a result of this book.
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye - As a youngster, Star Wars was my big introduction to SF. Alan Dean Foster wrote this first literary sequel to George Lucas’s universe. This was before The Empire Strikes Back and all the stuff we learned then. This was my first fictional world that opened up my mind. Because of Star Wars, I read Splinter, then other Foster novels, and then other SF/F.
The Dark Knight Returns - I’m a lifelong comic book reader and a lifelong Batman fan. This series, in 1986, let me know that comics was something that could change the way you look at something familiar. It also told me, as a middle teenager, that I no longer had to justify my love of comics.
Legacy (James Michener) - Not my first Michener novel but the one that, arguably, led me in the direction of early American history as a focus of my Master’s degree. Oh, also, a darn good history lesson in the form of a novel.
“The Best Stuff Which the State Afford: A Socio-economic history of the 14th Texas Infantry in the Civil War, 1862-1865” - My Masters thesis. I read it over and over and over (x 100!) again until my professor told me I got it right. I learned the power of proofreading, thoughtful analysis, and what it takes to write something long, something I remembered when I wrote my first book.
Mascarada Pass - William Colt MacDonald’s book was the first western I ever read. It led to the creation of my character, Calvin Carter. I’m looking forward to seeing where we go together.
Perdido Street Station - Just finished reading this magnificent, engrossing, utterly unique fantasy/steampunk tome. I’ve told my reading group that I think this is one of those books where you draw a line in the sand. On one side, you haven’t read. On the other, you have. I’ve now crossed over. To describe it would require an essay. A review will be forthcoming. I’ve complained a lot about how world-building bloats SF/F books. China Mieville nails it. His world is believable, fantastic, and without peer. If Dickens wrote fantasy, he’d have written this book. It is the incredibly high bar that I’ll strive to touch in my fantasy/SF writing.
Honorable Mention: the classics and pulps I read last year: Treasure Island; Tarzan of the Apes; The Return of Tarzan; Gabriel Hunt at the Well of Eternity; Doc Savage #1 - They reminded me of just how friggin' fun reading can be.
Honorable Mention: Hard Case Crime - for reminding me that old school, hard-boiled stories resonate in any era. For the flat-out fun of Top of the Heap and Branded Woman to the gut-wrenching realities of Money Shot and Song of Innocence, this imprint is my favorite. If they publish it, I read it.