I’ve been tagged by a dozen people to list the 10 books that have stayed with me and had a great influence. I have to expand it to 15, and I’m still not done. I did a list on my Facebook fan page, but I think I’ll do a more detailed one here (because reasons). There are many books that I had to leave out, including the many comic books that have influenced me. Maybe I’ll do another post on those…
(In chronological order)
1. Chicken Soup With Rice–Maurice Sendak
Maurice Sendak was my favorite author as a small child, even more than Doctor Seuss. This is my favorite book from the nutshell collection (A Alligators All Around, Pierre, etc). I almost put The Monster at the End of This Book (which is not Sendak) instead.
2. The Pushcart War–Jean Merrill
A fantastic book about the little guy standing up against unstoppable forces. This gave me the idea, foolish that it may be, that equality is worth fighting for, even if it’s blowing tacks into a truck’s tires.
3. The Great Brain Series–John D. Fitzgerald
I love these books so very much. Not only did Fitzgerald create a vivid setting (his own childhood), he painted his family with a deft hand. Someone, he’s able to make a swindler like his brother Tom into a roguish hero. Every child should read these books.
4. The Call of the Wild–Jack London
I read this book in 7th grade. While I enjoyed White Fang more, The Call of the Wild really stuck with me. The setting was fantastic, and seeing the savage world from a domestic (though physically superior) dog’s point of view entranced me. Buck, Sol-leks, Francois and Perrault, they were all incredible characters that I still hold in my heart.
5. The Crystal Shard–R.A.Salvatore
I read this at age 14, just as I was getting back into D&D. It has everything you would want in pulp fantasy: Evil wizards, A demon, a powerful artifact, noble warriors, and the renegade dark elf that would soon have over 30 books about him, Drizzt Do’Urden. Although Wulfgar was the main protagonist in TCS, Drizzt stole the show. After all these years, I’m still a mark for Drizzt and Salvatore’s work.
6. The D&D Players Handbook–Various Authors
My love for D&D is well documented in this blog (and in various interviews). The Players Handbook (2nd edition) was the door. I could also include The Fighter’s Handbook, The DM Guide, and Creative Campaigning (my first exposure to world building and story structure).
7. Catcher in the Rye–JD Salinger
It’s become trendy to disparage Holden Caulfield as some whiny kid with entitlement problems. I say that if you read it this way, you’re completely missing the point. Holden is a deeply scarred boy: devastated by his brother’s death, ostracized by his family, sexually abused by his teachers (you have to pay attention, but it’s there). He’s a walking contradiction, a cynic, an idealist, a person willing to stand up for his beliefs and to bury them under the skin. That makes him as true to a real person as you can get.
8. Animal Farm–George Orwell
A shocking and apt political allegory. What this book did was open my eyes to a common theme in my writing: “all actions have unforeseen repercussions.” It’s the corruption of the pigs that destroys a noble endeavor. We all know that power corrupts, but how many pay attention to the people that suffer from such corruption?
9. Bastard out of Carolina–Dorothy Allison
A dramatic and tragic coming of age story with a vivid backdrop. The South is pretty foreign to me, and Allison paints a striking and disturbing picture. She fearlessly tackles physical and sexual abuse. Despite all of her flaws, she turns her mother into a character you empathize with, all the while reviling her choices.
10. Rule of the Bone–Russell Banks
Another coming of age novel that deals with abuse. Bone is a modern day Huck Finn (another book I should’ve included), running away from home, bouncing from crazy experiences to crazier ones.
11.The DemonWars Series–R.A.Salvatore
DemonWars (I hate the series title, but it stuck) is more complex than the Drizzt books. They certainly carry more emotional heft. Salvatore builds his own world, filled with rich history and religion. Several storylines echo modern ethical questions. I especially recommend the novel Mortalis, one of the most emotionally charged books in the genre that I’ve ever read.
12. The Harry Potter Series–JK Rowling
A classic example of The Hero’s Journey, good vs evil, and the redemptive power of love. What I love most about this series is that you can see Rowling improve as a writer with every book.
13. The Writer’s Journey–Christopher Vogler
A non-fiction book that spelled out the Hero’s Journey better than Campbell ever could. It offers a lot of practical advice for writers. If you haven’t heard of Vogler, it’s because he’s a Hollywood script consultant. He’s worked on some of the most popular movies in history, especially for Disney.
14. A Song of Ice and Fire–George RR Martin
Dark, complex (I seem to say that a lot on this list), and a complete perversion of the fantasy genre. ASOIAF is a masterpiece, and if it continues at this level, it will be the greatest fantasy series ever written. The HBO version, Game of Thrones, holds up well, but it lacks the complexity of the books. Yes, the books are even more complex than the tv show.
15. American Gods–Neil Gaiman
My all time favorite book. Read this book! Read it!!
I mean it, READ AMERICAN GODS!!
And this list is still not complete! I’m not going to include any honorable mentions, because they’re just too many. This list could conceivably go on for another dozen entries. I’ve hardly scratched the surface.
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