It’s Blog Chain time again. Kate started this round and her question was:
What books have influenced you? This can be books that influenced you as a writer, or simply books that touched you as a human being. If you want to talk about one book, a top three, ten, or even twenty go right ahead.
Before I list the books that influenced my life I feel I need to explain a little about the role books have played in my life.
Saying I grew up with books is almost a cliché statement for most writers. Every writer I have met is an avid reader. That being said, I really did grow up with books. My grandmother was an avid reader, as was my mother. I grew up with shelves and shelves of books. Once I learned that the scribbles on the page were actually words that had meaning and made stories, I read everything I could get my hands on – which included the classic literature in my mom’s library.
Initially, I picked books in our library based on the cover, reading Grapes of Wrath and To the Lighthouse at a very young age (too young as I really had no idea what I was reading). Titles were the other thing that got me into a book initially.
Finally, like most readers, it was the story that hooked me and kept me reading.
Books influenced every aspect of my development, shaping and molding the person I became. Being a very shy introvert as a child, I relied on books as both an escape and as a way to connect socially (even if it was in a very “geeky” kind of way…). I allowed myself to get lost in the Chronicles of Narnia, reenacted scenes from Where the Red Fern Grows with friends at recess, and tried to put on a “little rascals” version of Macbeth for my third grade teachers. Books were everything to me.
When I was about twelve, I met Mark Victor Hansen (the Chicken Soup of the Soul guy) and heard him speak. He said something (well many things) that profoundly changed my life…He said that who we become in a year depends on both the people we meet and the books we read. He went on to say that doing none of those things would lead to stagnancy.
That’s all I needed to know…I proceeded to make sure I read everything I could get my hands on – from nonfiction self-help type books, to fictional stories. Even now, I read books from all genres and they continue to influence many aspects of my life.
Enough about the role books have played in my life. Let’s get to my book lists. I had so many books that have influenced me that this task was more than a little daunting. Not wanting to create a long list that had little meaning to anyone but me, I decided to focus on a couple of books in each category and indicate how the specifically influenced me.
Books that shaped how I think:
I have read several books throughout my later K-12 education and college that shaped my views of the world and my place within it. These have included the works of Emerson, Thoreau, and Thomas Jefferson. Probably one of the most influential was the collective works of Paul Tillich and Rollo May. Both authors write nonfiction books that looked at philosophy and religion. I became acquainted with them as authors in a philosophy class during my Freshman Year at Wells College. One particular book, Paul Tillich’s My Search for Absolutes became a springboard for the way in which I chose to life my life and think about the world (and yes, I tend to be a very deep thinker).
In the fiction domain, the list of books that influenced how I think of things is outrageously long. I read everything from the classics, including Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost, the collective works of Shakespeare, and short stories from Edgar Allen Poe. My favorite short story of all time is The Yellow Wallpaperby Charlotte Perkins Gillman. This story challenged and shaped how I viewed a person’s reactions to expectations and mental illness.
Books that continue to influenced who I am:
Books continue to play a significant role in my life. Most recently, I have several fiction and nonfiction works that continue to shape who I am currently. In the nonfiction domain, the collective works of Eckhart Tolle have played a similar role to that of Paul Tillich in solidifying some of my internal beliefs. But, it was Big Heart, Big Mindby Dennis Genpo Mertzel that influenced not only my professional life as a psychologist, but my life as a writer. In this book, Genpo presented a technique of getting into touch with other voices of the psyche as a way of dealing with and releasing both psychological dysfunction, and deepening one’s own spiritual path. I have used that technique when shaping and reaching the “Voice” of my characters.
In fiction land, the list is longer (I had to do a lot of editing here). Probably two of the most influential books I’ve read over the last couple of years were Richard North Patterson’s Exile and A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldierby Ishmael Beah (Okay, so technically it’s narrative nonfiction, but you get the idea). Exile is a legal thriller that tackles one of the most difficult and misunderstood problems in the world today – the relationship between the Arab and Jewish worlds, and Americas place in that. Exile fundamentally changed my opinion of the entire Jewish-Arab conflict in a wonderful way, not presenting any ONE particular view but presenting each side of the problem – and doing so within the context of a brilliant story. Patterson did exhaustive research for this story and the result was nothing short of amazing in my mind. The book stayed with me long after I finished the last words.
A Long Way Gone is an engaging tale of a young boy caught in the grips of war as he journeys into the depths of human depravity and back out. Ultimately the story is one of hope and redemption.
Books that influenced my decision to become a writer:
It’s hard to say exactly which books influenced my decision to write. I know I thought about writing at a young age, influenced by stories like Through the Looking Glass, and the Chronicles of Narnia. But, I didn’t start writing until I finished a long reading binge that consisted of the Twilight series, The Host, Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange, the two books mentioned above, Road to Cana by Anne Rice and Buddhaby Deepak Chopra. Somehow, by the time I read all the books, I had a story written in my mind that compelled me to write. I have been on this crazy road towards becoming a published author ever sense.
Books that influence how I write now:
This was an easier section for me to write. Since I have only been actively writing for a short time (about a year), the list is considerably shorter! I’ll start with Lisa McMann’s books, Wake and Fade. I read her books because an agent saw a similarity within the story line of her books with mine. My initial reaction when I started reading her wasn’t strong. I struggled with her writing style – it’s short and concise style being SO DIFFERENT from anything else I had read. But, after I got past the first thirty or so pages, I was so sucked into the story that I didn’t care. I came to see her concise style as a huge asset to her story – a necessary part. And I wanted to try my hand and playing around with tight and staccato language for certain elements of my stories – play around with my author’s voice, if you will. More important than this aspect of her books, was the feelings I felt when I finished her second book, Fade. I was so satisfied with the end, even though I knew more tragedy was looming in the future of the characters (book 3). I decided right then to write endings that would hopefully leave my readers with a similar feeling – emotionally connected, satisfied (even when the ending is dark) and hungry for more.
Despite my growing appreciation for Lisa McMann, it was Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins that lead me to my voice. Really lead me to my voice. Something about the book not only pulled me in, but kept me hooked. She is a very tight writer, managing to present a layered story without making me feel like a single word was wasted. She employed several literary techniques, like having the reader come to a conclusion absent the MC coming to the same conclusion (despite the novel being written in first person, present tense). She accomplished it through character dialogue, action and emotional reactions to things, making the story rich in a way that first person doesn’t always allow. And yet she never lost her first person perspective – not even for a moment. Brilliant. Again, something I want to accomplish.
Overall, books are an amazing part of my life (like they are for every writer I know). When I can’t figure out exactly how to shape a scene, or how to describe something, I turn to books. When I am frustrated with this crazy world of writing and I am ready to pack it in – I read (then I email my friends). And when I just want to travel to someplace else for a few moments…I read.
What about you…what books have influenced your life?