Tuesday, March 30, 2010

10 Most Influential Books

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.

6 comments:

David Cranmer said...

Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was THE Star Wars novel of the time.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I added the link. Hope it's okay. I thought it would be useful to have them together for future reference.

Doug Warren said...

Hmm, this is a toughy.

#10 Lord Valentines Castle - Robert Silverberg. The writing still enchants me. My first 'magical' experience with prose. This is the first book to make me notice the actual words.

#9 The Right Stuff - Tom Wolfe. This book was my first illustration that stories are about the people, not the events.

#8 The Elements of Style - Strunk & White. This is the first book that made grammar palatable to me. Too bad I didn't discover it until college.

#7 Winters Tale - Mark Helprin. The first coming of age novel I read as a mature person. My first real taste of nostalgia.

#6 Star Man's Son - Andre Norton. This is the book that got the ball rolling for me on scifi.

#5 Steel Beach - John Varley. No author I have ever read deals with adult themes in scifi like Varley.

#4 A Spell for Chameleon - One of my first Fantasy novels and taught me that humor can be a valid part of the form.

#3 Deathworld Trilogy - Harry Harrison. My first gritty science fiction. I've had the taste ever since.

#2 The Hero with a Thousand Faces - Joseph Campbell. This book made me stop questioning my writing and gave me permission to write from the gut without worrying that my work was derivative.

#1 The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien. Blew my mind because of the scale contrasted with the personal nature of Frodo's story.

George said...

Super list, Scott! After your comments about China Mieville's work, I'll have to dig out the novels and read them.

Doug: I love Tom Wolfe! THE RIGHT STUFF might be his best book. Andre Norton introduced me to SF. Harrison's STAINLESS STEEL RAT novels had a big effect on me.

Buck said...

SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE is a seriously underrated novel.

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