10 Books that Have Never Left You – What are Your Ten?

IMG_20140906_140406A while back a friend–I think it was Kathleen–pinged me on FB to list ten books that have stayed with me over the years.   I know the challenge is to just list them without really thinking about it, but that’s not who I am. I over think everything. No, really. I know I do.

I’m challenging you to do the same. Whether it’s here as a comment or on FB.  I ended up with a dozen, because I can never follow the rules, well, not exactly.

But you only have to do ten.  Unless you want to do more.

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This challenge provided me the perfect opportunity to think about two of my favorite things: books and me.

So the real question is what does it mean that a book, its story has stayed with me. I can remember many–I’ll even go as far as to say most–of the books I’ve read. That doesn’t imply that I can remember the title, because I have been known to buy books that are either already sitting on my shelf or that I’ve already read. [I love that Amazon tells me, umm, yeah, we see that you already own that book. With an implied: dumbass.]

Anyway, instead of pondering why books stay with me, I’m just going to list the books that have most influenced me, in my life and my writing.  And a short bit about why. Most of these I have read multiple times. That I’d go back and re-read a book, several of them many times, when there are so many good books available, says more than any theory I can provide as to why they stayed with me.

(1) Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

000download (2)I read this in high school and was enthralled with Mr. Vonnegut’s writing. But it was the idea behind the book that kept evolving in my head that made me love this book. The story is funny and sad at the same time. It gave me perspective, if that is possible in a sixteen year old, on man’s stupidity, man’s willingness to destroy everything around him in the eternal search for more/better/happiness. And it helped developed my style of handling authority. I will never forget the ending, the image of Man’s final act of giving the finger to You Know Who.

(2) Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

This is another one I read in high school, only this time I was scrunched down under the covers in a spooky, supposedly haunted house. Haunted, interestingly enough, by Mr. King, or so said Nettie, our housekeeper. But back to the novel… I had always loved scary movies, so this was a natural progression. Back then kids didn’t have TVs in their bedrooms. And in the living room, we only had three channels. We read books. But what impressed me about this book was how well, how easily Stephen King could get into my head. And scare the crap out of me. If you’ve read his better books (and there are some I sincerely do not like), you’ll understand what I mean. Since reading Salem’s Lot I have been an ardent fan of Stephen King.

(3) Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

You’ll see references to Practical Magic in my own novel, An Untold Want.  My story is nothing like the one told in Practical Magic, but it is the story that nudged me to write my novel. I love Alice Hoffman’s way of telling stories.

(4) The Odyssey by Homer

You’re thinking, finally something classical and meaningful. Yes, this book was so meaningful to me, so powerful that I ended up with a degree [one of three] in Classical Culture and the ability [sadly, a skill that has faded into oblivion] to read ancient Greek. How amazing is it that someone living 2500 years ago, without the use of a laptop, without even writing it down, created something so brilliant, so beautiful as the story of Odysseus and his efforts to return home? This book has everything. Action, intrigue, romance, betrayal, murder, magic. Everything.

(5) The Mystery of the Gingerbread House by Wylly Folk St. John

000downloadThis book would be considered pre-teen now; back then it was just a kid’s book.  I read it when I was nine, maybe ten. And it started my love of mysteries. The book blurb: “An abandoned baby. A locked trunk. A man called Finch. A stolen car ring. And a missing grandmother. Ronny and Greg Jameson didn’t realize that one girl could be so full of mystery. But that was before they met Evie Hollis.”  What inquisitive kid wouldn’t want to read it?

This book is so old, when in a nostalgic moment I looked for it on-line, it was out of print, but I did find a copy recently on eBay or some such site. Amazon now has some re-prints, though third-party vendors.

Wylly Folk St. John wrote the Southern version of Nancy Drew. And when I go back and read these books, it makes me realize that there is some of Ms. St. John’s style in my writing.  She even wrote one called The Secret of the Seven Crows.  If you’d like to read more about her, there’s a nice post here on WordPress:  Wylly Folk St. John -A Life In Words

(6) Shingebiss — unknown

This is not a novel, not even a full book, but I remember it so well from my childhood, from my mother reading it to me from a big book of fairy tales, that I went and found it in print.

Shingebiss is the story of perseverance and self-confidence, or at least that’s how I remember it. If you know anything of my history, you’ll know that it’s an interesting concept that my mother often read this to me.

The book blurb [a re-print]: “… this ancient Ojibwe story captures all the power of winter and all the courage of a small being who refuses to see winter as his enemy. This sacred story shows that those who follow the ways of Shingebiss will always have plenty to eat, no matter how hard the great wind of Winter Maker blows.”

(7) Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

How can you not love social statements encapsulated in humor? The main character is Brother Brutha.  If you haven’t read this book, you should. ‘Nuff said.

(8) The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

To be honest, I don’t even remember what the story is about, but I loved that it is a story within a story within a story. I loved the writing. I need to go back and read it again, for the third time.

(9) Light in August by William Faulkner

061281b0c8a0fdff169c9110.LAnother perseverance book, by one of my all time favorite authors. I love long complex sentences. Faulkner gives me something to chew on and has affected my writing style significantly.

“Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.”

— William Faulkner, Light in August,”Chapter Six

(10) Throat by Peter Straub

A dark, intellectual thriller, it is the last in the Blue Rose trilogy. I read this one first, and then read the other two books, then re-read this one, several times. Like Stephen King, Peter Straub understands and expertly uses the mechanics of writing a dark story that gets in your head and burrows into the soft brain matter, taking root. That’s what makes it disturbing. Not that it’s a dark story. It’s disturbing because it makes you wonder, long after you’ve put it down.

(11) American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is one of the books that I’ve read many times. I will say that if you aren’t versed in mythology it may not make any sense, or at best be difficult to understand. I love this book because of the layers and layers of complexity. I read it the first time because of the mythology. Read it again for depth of the story. It’s like one of those movies where every time you watch it you see something different.

(12) Imagica by Clive Barker

000567704Last listed, but certainly not least, is Imagica. Take the complexity and depth of Straub’s and Gaiman’s books, the in your head style of Stephen King, and add a lot of grizzly, disturbing horror to it, and you’ve got Clive Barker. Imagica is 900 pages of earth-based, dark, violent fantasy which questions everything we know about the universe. About “themes such as God, sex, love, gender and death.”

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I could go on for days talking about books that have stayed with me, but this has become a long post, and I’m tired after a long week at my soul-sucking job. If you want more info on books I’ve read, you can check my Goodreads author page.

Or you can pick your own.

ReBlog: Influenced by Kurt

I posted this on my old blog back in early 2012, for the anniversary of his death, I think. Anyway, I thought it was worth reblogging. Kurt Vonnegut is still one of my favorites.

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I’m also reading Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut.  I had forgotten how much I love his prose, his wit (the dark humor), and the way he constructs sentences.  I read Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five way back in high school (and yes, they did have printed books back then — on paper, not stone).

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., photo dated April 8, 1992. Doug Elbinger, Elbinger Studios.

I suppose that Kurt V has been somewhere in the back of my head, all these years, setting an example, pushing the gallows humor that sort of pops up in my work, but the thing that really got me thinking about it was, while reading Sirens, I kept thinking I would write that sentence exactly like that. Now that I’m reading him again, I realize–and I’m going to test this theory, by re-reading Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five just to make sure that the prose is similar–that he, not Bill (Faulkner) influenced my style of writing.  I write very much like Kurt Vonnegut. Well, my style is like his. I won’t say I’m as good a writer, because that would be stupid.

Needless to say, I’ll be studying his books to see how to improve my own writing.

I’ll leave you with a few quotes.

From Cat’s Cradle:

–  Anyone who cannot understand how useful a religion based on lies can be will not understand this book either.

–  Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before… He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.

–  Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are ‘It might have been.’

From Slaughterhouse-Five:

–  All this responsibility at such an early age made her a bitchy flibbertigibbet.

–  The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. It looked like a Sunday school picture of Heaven to Billy Pilgrim.

–  And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.

–  Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.

And from Sirens of Titan:

–  The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death.

With that said, how can you not enjoy an author who can invent the chronosynclastic infundibulum. I’d urge you to read Sirens of Titan, but just in case you don’t, this is from A Child’s Cyclopedia of Wonders and Things to Do:

“Just imagine that your Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on Earth, and he knows everything there is to find out, and he is exactly right about everything, and he can prove he is right about everything. Now imagine another little child on some nice world a million light years away, and that little child’s Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on that nice world so far away. And he is just as smart and just as right as your Daddy is. Both Daddies are smart, and both Daddies are right.

Only if they ever met each other they would get into a terrible argument, because they wouldn’t agree on anything. Now, you can say that your Daddy is right and the other little child’s Daddy is wrong, but the Universe is an awfully big place. There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree.

The reason both Daddies can be right and still get into terrible fights is because there are so many different ways of being right. There are places in the Universe, though, where each Daddy could finally catch on to what the other Daddy was talking about. These places are where all the different kinds of truths fit together as nicely as the parts in your Daddy’s solar watch. We call these places chronosynclastic infundibula.

The Solar System seems to be full of chronosynclastic infundibula. There is one great big one we are sure of that likes to stay between Earth and Mars. We know about that one only because an Earth man and his Earth dog ran right into it.

You might think it would be nice to go to a chronosynclastic infundibulum and see all the different ways to be absolutely right, but it is a very dangerous thing to do. The poor man and his poor dog are scattered far and wide, not just through space, but through time, too.

Chrono (kroh-no) means time. Synclastic (sin-classtick) means curved towards the same side in all directions, like the skin of an orange. Infundibulum (in-fun-dib-u-lum) is what the ancient Romans like Julius Caesar and Nero called a funnel. If you don’t know what a funnel is, get Mommy to show you one.”