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The Most Influential Books

This’s week Ray asked the Friday Fivers:

Knowing the folks on the list, something similar to this has probably already been asked. Still, it’s what I came up with after letting it simmer for the week so, here goes: My wife sits and reads all the time, and I used to as well. I’ve wondered why I don’t anymore, and I think it’s that since High School G/T classes, I haven’t been forced to. I miss it. My question is, which books would you miss in my situation? More accurately, which 5 books have made the biggest impression on who you are, and why?

Well, now, that really depends on context. As a writer, or as a person? Since I’m still in the midst of an enormous writing project, I’m gonna answer it given the former context.

  1. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. This was the first book I read of my father’s old collection, and one of the last, to be honest. He was always into Wilbur Smith and that sort of African-colonial lit, and I never got into much of that. But he had a beat-up old copy of The Hobbit on the shelf, and I looked at this book with a dragon on the front (it was Tolkien’s sketch of Smaug) and immediately pounced on it. This led me to RPG gaming, and thus to through the vale of fantasy fiction straight horror fiction and, when I gave up on that, SF. It was crucial as a starting point for me, and for years I wrote little stories about warriors and orc and centaurs and dragons.
  2. Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Däniken. When I was a kid, I asked my father whether he thought there really was, in fact, a God out there. He smiled and offered me this book. Now, a crazed German whose theory is that all ancient religions are based on the half-remembered time when humans were the vassals of the aliens wh had colonized earth and reated humans from monkeys to be their slaves… I couldn’t say I really believed it, not quite, but was a fascinating, bizarre vision of the world for a ten-year-old. It led me to all kinds of writers with “lost-history” theories of that kind, the most interesting actually being Thor Heyerdal. But Chariots of the Gods was also useful for me over the years as I looked at all religions as evidence of something—not necessarily aliens colonizing the earth in prehistory, but of something besides the “truth” that those the religions themselves claimed to reveal. Däniken’s scientific method was crap, but it did reveal to me that things like religin could be looked at systematically. That helped me later in life when I was leaving the church, and it’s also something that, whether I like it or not, comes up time and time again in my writing, for in my stories religion appears over and over. And not always negatively; sometimes it’s quite valuable to the characters, but almost never in a simple or “literally true” way.
  3. Earth by David Brin. This was the first SF novel I read as an adult, and when I read it, I said to myself, my God, I think I could do that! All the weird media clips, the cuts from place to place, the world-building. (Of course, I’d not yet read John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar; if I had, the book would have been slightly less world-shaking for me, as a lot of the “new techniques” I saw in Brin’s work were pioneered by Brunner some few decades before.) Despite my ambvalence towards the author himself, the book remains one of my favorites.
  4. A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking. This isn’t my favorite science popularization, but it was my first. My mom got it in a book club and gave it to me sometime when I was in high school, when my brain was all full of jazz and art and I was flirting with New Age ideas… which Hawking put a stop to, thank goodness. It was like with von Däniken, really, except the science was not total crap… I got this vision of the universe I’d never seen before, and it began a significant change in the way I looked at the world.
  5. Bruce Sterling’s Holy Fire. I read this book when I was still living in Montreal, and it made me cry; it was beautiful. It made me sit in shock. It hit me in the face with the world, and whatever Sterling achieved in that book was something I wanted to achieve someday. And you know, I’m still working on it. Maybe the next book…

This list could be quite long, and actually these days I’m casting about for one more to add; I like the rance of Womack, the weirdness of Mieville (I just picked up one of his books here in Dharamsala), the hilarity of Cervantes. But none of them resonate for me in the way I want, which is a tonal resonance. Perhaps I’ll just have to become my own biggest influence.

You can find out what other Friday Fivers had to say: check under the Friday Five dropdown list to the right.

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