Saturday, April 13, 2013

Books That Changed Me

Scott D. Parker
(You know, it’s getting rather difficult to follow Russell on Saturdays. Did you read his piece? )
One of my go-to places every day is SF Signal, the science fiction/fantasy/horror site run by fellow Houstonian John DeNardo. If you want the daily rundown of all things SF/F/H, the “Tidbits” feature is a must. Earlier this week, one of the links was to the blog of Helen Lowe. I am not aware of her work, but I was intrigued by her post, “Five Books That Changed Me (Warning: Not An Exclusive List!).”
I was intrigued enough to start me thinking about my list. Now, when I think of “changing me,” my definition of that goes something like this: I was a particular type of reader before I read SAID BOOK and I was different afterwards. As odd as that sounds, that narrows down the list considerably. Excluded are books that are personal favorites, ones that I may have re-read, ones that I have recommended, but, in the end, didn’t change me. Among these are the following: Hyperion by Dan Simmons; Perdido Street Station by China Mieville; Redshirts by John Scalzi; Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon; The Firm by John Grisham; Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos; much of what Hard Case Crime publishes, and the good old-fashioned pulp adventures of folks like Doc Savage, Tarzan, and Gabriel Hunt.
Here, then, are books that changed me in some form or fashion, chronologically from the earliest to the most recent:
SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE/A PRINCESS OF MARS—I’ll freely admit that my intense love of science fiction came from watching Star Wars. Granted, I read all things Star Wars related (articles, newspaper pieces, etc.) in the years 1977 to 1980 (and beyond) including the novelization (multiple times). I was tempted to list the novelization, but that’s cheating, really. No, it was a twofer that truly turned me on to SF. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster wrote this first literary sequel to George Lucas’s universe. This was before The Empire Strikes Back and all that came afterward. This fictional world opened up my mind because even though Luke and Leia and the droids are in the story, the environment was new. I had to create space in my imagination. Because of Star Wars and Splinter, I read other SF/F and have never stopped. If Star Wars was the thing that caused me to swallow the hook of SF, A Princess of Mars was the thing that set the hook. Reading Splinter, while with new scenes, still started with a basic template: Star Wars. It was A Princess of Mars that forced my imagination to create whole images and worlds in my mind. The sense of wonder I experienced as a ten-year-old reading this novel for the first time was truly a magical time in my reading life. I’ve never looked back.
THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES—If you can believe this, the third Sherlock Holmes novel was actually required reading during my ninth grade year. Up until then, I had never read any of the Holmes stories or novels. In reading this novel, my adoration of all things British, including the great detective, started. Ironically, this novel didn’t really turn the screw on mystery fiction.
THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS—I’m a lifelong comic book reader and a lifelong Batman fan. This series, in 1986, let me know that comics could change the way you look at something familiar. It also told me, as a middle teenager, that I no longer had to justify my love of comics. It also, more pointedly, came at the exact right time in my life where a transition (from youth to adulthood) started and this story told me that a familiar character that I knew and appreciated was changing, too.
TRUMAN—As a degreed historian, I pull my hair out at everyone who hates history because they had a bad teacher in school (or a coach who didn’t care). History is about people who make decisions and do things and deal with the consequences. McCullough’s biography is as good as a novel but it’s all true. I wrote my first novel with Harry Truman as the main character as a result of this book. Moreover, McCullough’s Truman showed me that, to a certain degree, the audience for history should be the general public, and the best way to do that is to write a book that they’ll enjoy reading.
MYSTIC RIVER—The one, single book that changed the trajectory of my reading and writing. Before Lehane’s book, I rarely read any mysteries or crime fiction (and didn’t realize there was a difference). After reading it in 2001, I knew what I want to write and a whole new world of reading opened up for me. Only now realizing that crime fiction of this nature may not be the kinds of books I write well.
THE BIBLE—Ironically, this is one that I read, cover to cover, most recently, but it’s influence has been with me my whole life. But it wasn’t until I actually read it from front to back that a new understanding of the ancient scriptures dawned on me. I’ll never know it all, but reading the book has certainly helped my journey.
That’s my short list. What about y’all?

1 comment:

David Y.B. Kaufmann said...

Houston? Science Fiction? Comics? Next time I'm there (in New Orleans - kids in Houston)...

Books that changed me? Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine are two that come to mind.

Thanks for the post.