(Post from 2014)
When I saw author Rob White‘s list of books that have influenced his writing most (in no particular order), I knew I had to make my own list. And I encourage you to do the same.
Whether you’re a painter, writer, musician, etc, the way you create today probably owes a lot to something you read or saw or heard along the way.
Now, this isn’t a favorites list, that would be a little different, but these are the books that are influencing how & what I write right now —
- The Lord of the Rings — Frodo the hobbit joins a fellowship of heroes to destroy a powerful ring. One book to rule them all (sorry). I’ve only been able to read it once, but for me, LOTR is a lot of what I want to create: magic, great characters who interact in interesting ways, probably the deepest fantasy world ever created (or at least one of the best) and most of all, a world that extends far beyond the main story and makes you think there’s always another tale to be told. And beautiful descriptions.
- Pride & Prejudice — Lizzy spars with the wealthy Mr. Darcy as she and her sisters try to find good husbands. Not only am I writing a novel very much inspired by Jane Austen right now, Society & Civility, but I have become more and more in awe of P&P’s plotting over time. It’s such a wonderful escalation. And Lizzy Bennet is still one of the best heroes in English fiction.
- Remains of the Day — A butler finds himself on his first vacation in years — a road trip to a special destination. There is something about the way the lead character, and his world, is so tightly wound and constructed (no surprise how other covers show a pocket watch). I think the idea that, in the end, we may be jailers of our own lives and that our personalities may be our final prison is an intriguing one.
- Fruits Basket — Orphan Tohru Honda comes to live with boys cursed to transform into the animals of the Chinese zodiac — whenever they are hugged by members of the opposite sex! This manga is 23 books long (the story is rather like a multi-year TV series) and has a cast of over 20 main characters. I reread it this spring and it was one of the highlights of my year. More characters means more of a balancing act, but the payoff is wonderful and you watch the characters interact and grow. Great ending.
- Misery — A writer is saved after a car accident by his ‘biggest fan’. Too bad she’s crazy. This was always one of my favorite Stephen Kings books (and I read a lot of them as a teenager) but it was only rereading it after becoming a grown writer that I really was taken in. Perfect plotting, intense drama, and one of the greatest villains of all time.
- About a Boy — Will is an adult with lots of money, no job, and no responsibilities. But everything changes when he meets serious, 12 year old Marcus, and they begin to become friends. Love Nick Hornby, and High Fidelity or Slam could be here instead but AAB captures funny dialogue, great details, and real life problems and solutions (and not-so-solutions) in an easy-to-read, winning way. Love the way the leads trade viewpoint chapters.
- Mystic River — Three childhood friends are reunited when one’s daughter goes missing; the other two are a cop and a suspect. The story’s great but it all comes down to the lines; I’ve often thought Dennis Lehane could do more in six words than other people could do in a paragraph.
“Dave watched him standing up at the bar, chatting with one of the old dockworkers as he waited for his drinks, Dave thinking the guys in here knew what it was to be men. Men without doubts, men who never questioned the rightness of their own actions, men who weren’t confused by the world or what was expected of them in it.”
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — Poor Arthur Dent awakens just in time to see Earth destroyed; luckily, his wacky space adventures are only beginning. There was a time in my youth when Hitchhiker’s and Dave Barry books were the thing when it came to humor. I even stopped reading Dave for a while because I thought he was influencing me too much. That influence is lessened now, but Hitchhiker’s still casts a long shadow. Even though most of my writing isn’t pure comedy, this novel still speaks very strongly to me.
- Maurice — Maurice is a proper early 20th century English gentleman, perfectly made for society in all ways, except one –he is gay. I recently told my sister that I feel like there’s somewhere where I’m always reading this book (or watching its movie) even while the main me is talking, working, and living my life. It’s had that big of an impact on me. To me, it is just about the perfect love story, but it’s also about figuring out who you are and what you stand for. A lot of my characters have a Maurice-like journey.
- The Secret Garden — Orphaned Mary is brought to live on an English estate and discovers the titular wonderland. I kind of get chills just looking at this cover — this is why the book is here, even though I read it so long ago (and really, Alice in Wonderland should be here too). This book is about place, and growth, and discovering friends in the most unlikely of places. But in the end, I always just really wanted to be in that wild, forgotten, beautiful garden, and even now my writing continues the search for the mysterious and the extraordinary.
- The Great Gatsby — Nick comes from the Midwest to New York and soon meets the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, a man of many friends — and secrets. This is a bonus entry because I forgot it the first time I did the list. Still just about my favorite kind of writing on a sentence level. “Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away.” WTF! That’s just sensational writing.
And in the end, that’s what resonates with me most — fantastic stories, characters, and lines that make me a little jealous — and a lot inspired. So who’s inspiring you?