Nila identified her top ten influence. (http://nilaewhite.wordpress.com/) That got me thinking about my influences. The following, in alphabetical order for no particularly good reason, are the books I remember affecting my judgment.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown, 1971
Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen, 1995
The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice. Mark Twain
History is written by the winners. – Alex Haley
Dee Brown was my first crack for me at reading history from the First Americans viewpoint. I keep looking for the other side so I was not surprised by Loewen. I’ve taken much enjoyment comparing history book accounts of the same event, e.g., the Vietnam War and written more than a few commentaries. The only fiction I remember attempting to capture the spirit of the thing is Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story and Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet.
Casino Royale, Ian Fleming, 1952
Yes, I was taken by the 007 character and I have always fondly recalled his passion for martinis, a passion I admit to. What I remember most was the cruelty and novelty of the villain’s inquisition of Bond. What influenced me is the clarity of the writing, how I was drawn in and held from beginning to end. And, that, since bad people exist, eradication can be the best option. Balancing this notion with Thou Shalt Not Kill has never been so clear cut as Bond made it seem. Still, I wish it was.
Catch-22, Joseph Heller, 1961
The funniest book I’ve read not excluding M*A*S*H and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker books, which are classics in their own right. Serving in the U.S. Army at the time I read it, all I needed to do was look around me to find the veracity of his tale. His later books did not move me as this one did. War is ridiculous; the participants are mad or will be, but it just keeps happening. It’s what happens when old men are in charge and not balanced by old women and young people. See Afghanistan, the U.S.A., Syria, et al.
Hawaii, James Michener, 1959
Over and over I read critiques that describe the opening chapter as superfluous. I disagree. Beside constituting the most beautiful description of geologic force I’ve ever read, the chapter sets a powerful ambiance for the struggles of the characters in the book. Telling history through the eyes of the immigrants, the good and the bad, struck me as the most useful tool available to understand what happened, how it could happen, and what it means that it did happen. The closest competitor to this achievement is James Clavell’s Tai Pan although Clavell didn’t bother with the geology.
Hyperion, Dan Simmons, 1989
Until the last few years, I never read reviews of books before I read the book so that discovering the riff on the Canterbury Tales contained herein was a genuine pleasure. I read Chaucer during my basic training at Fort Ord. The book was hard cover, translucent vellum pages, the type maybe Palatino Linotype, and seem perfectly apt for medieval literature. The presentation sticks with me a half century later. Anyway, Simmons became the first I encountered who used this trope and used it well. His execution fits snugly in my mind with a short story I encountered in one of my high school English books whose title I remember as Fourteen Men From Company K. The story is told as the narrator tours their barracks, after the war, and each bunk/soldier contributes and advances the story. I have been unable to find that tale under the title I remember or any other search pattern. The trope, though, I’ve used in my own writing.
Rudyard Kipling, Complete Verse, Rudyard Kipling, 1940
Recognizing that Kipling is out of favor due to his view of empire and manifest destiny, this personality flaw seems to me be depriving folk a heroic poet. At least of a dozen of his poems lay behind the same number of my short stories. My favorites of his poetry include:
The “Mary Gloster”
The Truce of the Bear
and on and on.
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein, 1961
Begin with the title of his first chapter, His Maculate Conception, and go from there. Here was a man who understood the nature of religion. Most significant, he reminded me that sex is neither dirty nor sinful. As a bonus, I got my all time favorite idol, Jubal Harshaw. Oh, how I long to have three amanuenses, preferably female, at my beck and call to transcribe the momentous philosophy, sociology, triviality and the great American novel churning in my mind!
Tea With the Black Dragon, R.A. MacAvoy, 1983
Modern fantasy so well written that I became a fan of the author and the genre.
The Faded Sun, C.J. Cherrryh, 1978-1979
The best human-introduced-to-alien culture I’ve read. The world building excels. The notion of a matriarchal society that works continued my continuing education of what it means to be a woman.
The Human Comedy, William Saroyan
All humor is based on pain. This was my introduction to the pain of staying home. I have seen it again, too many times again, prompting me to introduce the John Conlee song: They Also Serve every chance I get. The story also includes the lines that perfectly describe my feelings. Two very young boys, memory says about 6 and 4, enter a library. The older of the two explains the what and the how of the books to be found there. They walk the stacks and the older points out to the younger in so many words: “all these books, these here and these here and these over here. All these books. And all of them say something.” I get that feeling every time I enter a library or a book store.
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Leguin, 1969
Continuing where Heinlein left off, a compassionate examination of sex, gender, and its consequences. Don’t know how many times I have tried to imagine our own history if we were like the androgynes of Gethen. Am certain the elections of the past 20 years would have been drastically different.
The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien (I read the Ballentine 1965 edition)
I missed a week of language school in 1966 as I read the trilogy. I attended class; I just didn’t learn anything. I won’t attempt to compete with the fine words already compiled. I’ll just note that it was my introduction to fantasy. I’ve been scrambling ever since to find something that could so grip me. It is my personal standard against which all else – so far -suffers. Not wanting to compete, my novels attack the genre through a side door.
The Republic, Plato, sometime after 347 BC
First time through, in high school, I was sold. Second time, in the 60s, not so much. Subsequent readings leave me feeling he had so much right that what I consider wrong is merely grist for my own speculation on how I would go about building a society. Where I differ mostly is that I would never put old men in charge.
View From a Height, Isaac Asimov, 1963
In the Introduction, the Good Doctor likens science to an orchard. It used to be small, but now it’s grown so huge – this was in 1963; it hasn’t gotten any smaller – that no one person can tend it all. But the Good Doctor believes we can look down on it ‘from a height’ and perhaps see patterns. This resonated for me then and even more now. My library is 80% non-fiction. Looking for patterns.
Then, in 1963, there was a man in my unit, a draftee, with a Masters in some kind of Math from MIT. He was working on 201 files, the Army’s individual biography for each soldier. The man had no friends; no one spoke his language. He spent his time reading, eating, sleeping, and updating 201 files. Fortunately, for his sanity, he could use his weekends to visit the MIT campus.
I know a man who learned COBOL earning a Masters degree in the subject. Seven years ago he lost employment because all he knows and all he wants to know is COBOL. Too much specialization. These days, no programmer knows just one language. If he does, he faces this man’s dilemma/situation.
Another side of the conundrum, with so much specialization, with each person learning more and more about less an less, how do we get a decent peer review of the work?