Some of these books had an impact on me because of what they said and what they meant to me, and those are probably more in keeping with the idea of
this thread, but, since I've written since I was 9 or so, and that's always been a part of my life, some of the books that I view as the most
important are so not so much because of the effect they had on my life as because of the effect they had on my writing. Of both types, in as near to
chronological order as I can recall:
When I was about 7, I read a juvenile biography of John Paul Jones that really struck a chord with me. It's the thing I most remember reading from
that period of my life.
When I was 9, I moved to a new school, and discovered my first school library, and discovered the Hardy Boys. That's what really got me reading for
pleasure. From there I expanded in a fairly unremarkable range-- Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Agatha Christie mysteries, lots of science fiction
(initially the so-called "juvenile" Heinleins, then the more adult ones, and Bradbury and Asimov and so on...), Alistair MacLean adventures...
When I was probably 11 or so, I stumbled on Giovanni Guareschi's Father Camillo books. I remember them vividly, and they certainly had an impact on
my way of looking at, and living in, the world.
At about that same time, I read a copy of Animal Farm. My mom actually suggested it. I thought it was going to be some kind of children's story,
and wasn't terribly interested at first. I still remember the impact it had on me. That's what first led me to see that those who seek to wield
power over others are, or at the very least will become, evil.
When I was about 13, I was put in a "challenge" English class. One of the books that was assigned to us was Animal Farm, but since I had already
read it, the teacher had me read 1984 instead. That possibly had a greater impact on me than anything else I read in my childhood. It's not just
the tragedy of the story, but the inexorable quality of it. A rational, thinking, questioning person is doomed in a society such as that of 1984.
That same teacher suggested that I read Frank Herbert's Dune, which was, to that point, the most complex and satisfying book I'd ever read, and gave
me the confidence and interest to try other huge novels.
When I was probably 15, I took a science fiction as literature class, and it was there that I discovered both Harlan Ellison and Kurt Vonnegut.
Ellison impressed me then, and still does, with the ease with which he creates wonderfully complex phrases, but his viewpoint and preoccupations
didn't really outlive my adolescence. Vonnegut still pleases me with his sort of world-weary diffidence.
Somewhere along the way there I read Joseph Heller's Catch-22, and I make it a point to reread it every couple of years. It's still one of the
finest examples of literary craftsmanship ever. It's a great book, but even more it's a perfectly constructed book. Nobody before or since has
told a story in quite that way and had it work that perfectly.
Another novel that had a strong impact on me from my late adolescence was Stephen King's The Stand. I still marvel at the fact that he could tell so
many different stories happening in so many different parts of the country without either losing the reader or over-explaining things. Reading King
is effortless, and that's a testament to his skill.
Throughout adulthood I read voraciously, and still do. Some of the later high points:
Demian by Herman Hesse. My introduction to Hesse's recognition of the intellectual as outcast.
Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse. The closest character to myself I've ever encountered.
The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The depths to which man will stoop to oppress man.
The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. I shouldn't have to tell anyone here about that one.
The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake. It's astoundingly well-written-- conveying not only the look, but the feel, of an entirely fictional place,
time and people. It's so vivid and so well-realized.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy by Douglas Adams. Funny as they are (and they are hysterically so), they're mostly philosophical, and
The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. It's told by an untrustworthy narrator, creating a story that can only be truly understood by looking beyond
what he says. An intriguing experiment in the composition of a novel.
The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass. The world at war, seen through the wide open eyes of a child.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The strength, and weakness, of family, and of love.
Little, Big by John Crowley. The further in you go, the larger it gets.
A Study of History by Arnold Toynbee. Finally I understood what was happening around me-- why "the most powerful nation on earth" was and is
steadily growing weaker and more corrupt with each passing day.
The Boomer Bible by R. F. Laird. The first part of this satirical bible-- the "Past Testament" is an unapologetic and no-holds-barred history of
mankind. Biting, eye opening and all too honest.
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. I only recently discovered this one. It's far better (if "better" is the right word) than 1984.
[edit on 4-2-2006 by Bob LaoTse]