“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.”– Charles W. Eliot
Well, after the week I’ve had I thought I might do something a little more light-hearted. I’ve already discussed the power of music and the artists and albums that shaped a great part of who I am. So, I thought I might talk about some of the books that have also molded me into the person I am today.
I’m pretty eclectic, enjoying Steinbeck as much as Stephen King. I could go on and on about authors and pick them apart, so I’m going to stick with specific books (I’m still trying to conquer Infinite Jest, so…yeah).
The first book that had a profound effect on me was Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky in the 7th grade. I was, in a way, shunned by the school librarian, almost looked down upon as if I were some sort of creep or sicko (the school only went up to the 8th grade so who could check out that book without facing some sort of scrutiny?). It’s a great book and laid out and told in a unique fashion, of course, but I’m pretty sure it was the being looked at as “weird” or, most likely, feeling out of my depth that affected me the most.
Then I discovered Stephen King, and after reading Pet Sematary I knew Dean Koontz was nothing but a footnote in the world of modern fiction, an author that my father for some reason professed as being one of the best. I respectfully disagree.
When I was 13, Pet Sematary was the first book I bought with my first mowing money (that and Dreamcatcher which was not one of my better decisions). Even as a young kid I was a horror fanatic, but Pet Sematary really scared me. The movie, as well. It’s a hard story not be affected by.
I was then on a Stephen King kick and got lucky in that the next two of his books I read was The Stand and It, both of which are amazing stories as King knows how to develop a slew of memorable characters in a way that their personal development is more entertaining than the plot. My King kick continued, and although there are many duds, I own every single one of them.
When one speaks of Kerouac, On the Road is the first three words you will always hear. And although it is a great book and a perfect introduction to the work that was to come, it was Big Sur, Desolation Angels, and The Dharma Bums (“When you get to the top, just keep climbing!”) that cemented my belief as a writer that “first thought-best thought” was the way to go…that is until I re-read some of my writing and soon realized I was no Kerouac.
Howl by Allen Ginsberg, actually a long-form poem, opened up my eyes just as much as any book. The first time I read the poem, I became instantly aware of a new style of writing that changed the landscape of 20th century poetry and beyond. The raw, yet technical beauty of the words is jaw-dropping. I decided immediately that Frost nor Dickinson had nothing on this guy.
The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham will always be on the list (it was the first book I read “under the influence”). I just love the story, even when I’m sober. I highly recommend it.
I, of course, grew up with the Harry Potter series so sue me, they’re great books, Plus, they got millions of kids who would otherwise not even touch a book excited about reading. And who can deny that power? But it didn’t take long for Tolkien to make his entrance into my life, easily knocking Rowling down a few rungs. It’s a toss-up at times; ask me today and I’ll say Tolkien, ask me tomorrow and who knows what I might say.
But back to Infinite Jest…my first question: is David Foster Wallace crazy? Such a mammoth of a novel, and with 300 pages of footnotes to boot! To answer the question, though, no, he’s not crazy. His brain just worked in amazing ways. If you’re interested in checking out Wallace’s work, I would recommend starting out with A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again or Consider the Lobster. One day I will finish Infinte Jest, and then I just may retire from reading altogether. Go out with a bang (kidding, kidding)! Ol’ Stephen King said that if you do not have the time to read you will never have the tools to be able to write. Pretty astute, yet common sense, if you think about it.
I could go on, and I know I’m missing many books that I could include, some even in my “Top 10”. But I don’t review books for a living, nor are any of these recommendations. These are books (and different styles of writing) that have shaped me and have a place in my heart, almost like little literary milestones. These aren’t just favorites, they’re the books that triggered growth in me as a person and a writer (no, I’ll never attempt to sit down and rewrite On the Road, but the impact it had on my life is there).
Books, just like music or whatever else it may be, are an escape for me, as they are for many. They are eye-opening in the sense that it’s clear that creativity and dedication really do pay off. You may not write the next Infinite Jest, but dedication and a little magic can go a long way.
MY TOP 5 LIFE CHANGING BOOKS (in no particular order)
- East of Eden – Steinbeck
- It – King
- Big Sur – Kerouac
- Madness (memoir) – Hornbacher
- Brave New World – Huxley
What are some of the books that have shaped who you are and how you approach your writing?