This is one of those things that people tag other people to do on Facebook: “Name 15 books That Influenced You.” I got tagged, but I’m not really a chain-lettery person, so this gives me a great excuse for a blog post. I’m not going to take to long to think about it, and I am not going to tag anyone else. But hey–someone asked.
So here are fifteen books, in absolutely no particular order, that had some effect on me. They may or may not be major influences, but I need to go practice, so this gets done just as fast as I can type. Enjoy.
1 Stand on Zanzibar and 2 The Sheep Look Up – John Brunner
I read both of these for the first time way back in my early teens, when I used to read a lot of sci-fi. I come back and revisit them every few years, because it’s interesting to see how my response to them changes. These were two of the four or so books Brunner wrote back when he used to really put the time and work into ’em. SOZ was the first non-linear book I read, and it just throws you into the middle of the world he created, without all the clumsy exposition you’d normally find in sci-fi. I like that. Also, there are some bits that are clever as hell.
The upside of both books is that they are prescient as all get out, and Brunner did a good job of thinking through the social trends he was extending into the future–whether he was right about their importance or not.
The downside of both books is that they sometimes get bogged down in the attitudes of the times Brunner was writing in, so the misogyny and racism occasionally make you want to poke him in the eye.
Brunner later went on to write lots and lots and lots of not-very-good sci fi. That’s because you make about the same money publishing a sci-fi book whether it’s good or not. Finding that out was an influence as well.
Influential because: Sometimes things influence you because you think they are right, and sometimes because they force you to explain to yourself why you think they are wrong. And sometimes they force you to admit that you like them despite the wrong bits.
3 The Wump World – Bill Peet
Prescient, succinct, succinct, taut, and fantastically illustrated. Also, for reasons I can not fully explain, I felt compelled to keep this book hidden in a drawer of a filing cabinet in my home room for all of grade 9 WITHOUT checking it out of the library. The librarian would sometimes ask for it back, and I would return it immediately, then figure out how to take it again and put it back in the drawer.
Influential because: One of the earliest cases of my insisting on doing things for reasons I do not fully understand, and don’t need to. The first ” ’cause. ”
4 Shame – Salman Rushdie.
He’s a great writer, and this is his best book. Non-wuss magic realism. Fight me.
Influential because: Rushdie was the first intellectually aggressive writer I read who was actually good at it.
5 Trout Fishing in America and 6) Revenge of the Lawn – Richard Brautigan
I read these books and thought “Damn! The world has no need for me if writing like this already exists.”
Influential because: Once the burden of saving the world was removed from my shoulders, I was free to concentrate on being a better parasite.
6 The Alligator Report – W P Kinsella
The closest thing to Brautigan, and the best thing Kinsella did. I used to love his Hobbema stories, but later found I couldn’t get over the whole issue of him being a bit of an ass about them. I liked his baseball stuff, but then he did it more than once, which made it impossible to like any of it any more. I stopped reading Kinsella after I got The Alligator Report, in order to deny him the opportunity to screw it up for me.
Influential because: It’s the cover-band book that made me realize that you don’t have to hide your influences.
7 In the Skin of a Lion – Michael Ondaatje
Utterly transporting writing–like the words aren’t even there. I would read this book on the bus, and be five minutes walking before I remembered how I got to where I was. It was as if I had been dreaming, which is about the cheesiest thing that you can say about a book.
Influential because: It taught me that sometimes you can be a cliché fanboy and not really mind at all.
8 Jitterbug Perfume – Tom Robbins
More of that magic realism crap! Dammit! I am SO easy! Great fun, and Robbins can suck you into his silly, romantic bullshit to a point at which you realize that you might, in fact, be a silly, romantic bullshitter.
Influential because: Robbins repeatedly proves that something with a goofy high concept does not have to be cheesy.
9 Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – Tom Stoppard
Yeah, it’s a play. Shut up.
I was told by an excellent high school English teacher that I should read this. I thought it would be boring, so I didn’t read it until I was at university. Now I deeply regret those two years of my life not spent thinking about this play. I can not put into words how perfect this thing is. I have remained a shameless Stoppard fanboy.
Influential because: I’m a friggin’ absurdist.
10 A Slight Ache – Harold Pinter
As above. Brilliant. I think this is Pinter’s first perfect play. I’m happy to be wrong. Tell me why I am.
Influential because: If I had gone through life thinking that theatre was what I had been shown up to this point, I probably would have avoided theatre on purpose for the rest of my life. Now I can just trap it in the jam pot and pour in some tea.
11 Uses of Lateral Thinking – Edward de Bono
I read this when I was way too young to really understand it. I don’t know if it’s any good, and I don’t want to re-read it again to find out, because that would spoil it. But this book got me started thinking about thinking, and then learning about thinking, and that is a good thing.
Influential because: We all need a fire started in our brains.
12 Complete Works of William Shakespeare
I checked this book out of the Edmonton Public Library and kept it, overdue, for all of grade 6. I had just moved to Edmonton, had no friends and was extremely unhappy that year. I got the book out to be pretentious and punish the world by being super-smart and secretly interesting. Completely accidentally, I found myself, from time to time, reading random chunks of it and not hating it.
If secondary education accomplishes nothing else, it at least strives to make literature unpalatable and threatening. When we reached the points in my education at which well-meaning English teachers tried to destroy any hope of enjoying Shakespeare, I found myself immune. Also, due to my sticky brain, I was able to remember some of the chunks I had read, and fake my way through a lot of exams and discussion. Nobody thought this was cool at all.
Influential because: You should know why Shakespeare is influential.
13 Technical Foundations of Client/Server Systems – Carl L. Hall
The first technical nerd book that I ever bought, read and learned from.
Influential because: It was the last technical nerd book I ever bought, read, and learned from.
14 The Unconscious Civilization – John Ralston Saul
This is the text of the Massey lectures Saul gave in 1995. It’s a very readable boiling down of the ideas in his larger and better known book “Voltaire’s Bastards.” Whether you agree with everything or anything Saul says, this is another book that will force you to explain what you think, if only to yourself.
Influential because: Do not bring that weak shit into my house.
15 Blueline A 796 Record or Apica CD16 Notebook
Excellent from start to finish. Paper is perfect for fountain pens.
Influential because: Remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Spam sez “You may qualify for a government grant“