it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

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Ten Books? *TEN* books?

oursin comments on the impossibility of completing the ten-influential-books meme.

I started this as a comment in oursin's journal, but it got long.

Bingo. And thank you oursin for delineating exactly why I haven't participated in this meme. Because when I try to think about it, I begin to feel somewhat disingenuous. Frankly, how do I know what's influential on me? I mean, I can identify the works whose influence I've spotted--

John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar literally changed my life--I read it far younger than most people would have thought their kids ready for, but my mother was never one to be concerned by such things--but it was Walter Farley's Black Stallion books that first made me realize that stories had authors, that those stories were told by somebody to somebody, and what about the books I read and reread and reread again as a child? My mother had a library of thousands upon thousands of books--classics of literature and science fiction and mythology and popular psychology, mostly, with a leavening of feminist theory and popular science. And that doesn't consider my own books (every payday, she took me to the bookstore at the Charter Oak Mall, and bought me one or two books) or the library at which I spent two or three hours every school day. The only limit on what I was permitted to read out of this bounty was what I could understand well enough for it to hold my interest.

I read Isaac Asimov's The Universe until the cover fell off. Oz, Piers Anthony's Xanth series, the Pern books, 101 Dalmatians, Jim Kjelgaard, My Side of the Mountain, Roger Zelazny's Amber novels, Dune way before I begin to comprehend the politics behind it, Heinlein galore--and not the juveniles--</i>series mysteries such as the Nancy Drew books, brilliant and beloved books like The Fledgeling and The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler and Judy Blume and Harriet the Spy--oh God, I loved that book--and at the top of the heap, over and over and over again, Watership Down.

Watership Down

I haven't read it since high school, but I read it (if my memory does not fail me) 25 times between first or second grade and whenever I realized I'm memorized almost the entire book. But I saw a copy on Lisa-and-Joe's coffee table when I was in Michigan, and it was the old beige cover (not the animated movie cover with the rabbit silhouetted before the sunset) and the most amazing feeling of nostalgia took me down like a wave. I destroyed three paperback copies of that book, literally read them until they fell apart. I can still quote it extensively, and its first line--The primroses were over--is still my ideal. That's a sentence that does everything, in four short, bitter words.

So there: I can give you two influential books. Stand on Zanzibar and Watership Down. Is two enough? Can I claim the entire Zelazny ouvre as one book? They're short, and I draw so very much of my style and concerns from early exposure to his work--his fascination with myth, his fascination with character, the way there are never good guys or bad guys (just guys on different sides), his willingness to leave some of the work to the reader and content himself with what they get--

But what about the feminist and not-quite-feminist-but-certainly-angry science fiction? Surely, all that Jo Clayton and Suzee McKee Charnas and Joanna Russ and MZB must have had some kind of effect? What about the Andre Norton?

And then there's the poetry--Edna St. Vincent Millay and Dylan Thomas and Richard Brautigan and Yegveny Yevtushenko--

And the music--folk music has certainly influenced my writing, Steeleye Span and the McGarricle sisters and Leonard Cohen and Richard Thompson--

And television. Gods. I have to list The Man From UNCLE (which, some of you will recall, I realized RIGHT HERE in the VERY PAGES of THIS BLOG) and Mission:Impossible and, god help me, first season Airwolf (when the war-in-heaven symbology and its bizarre war-is-of-the-Devil-and-God-is-not-to-be-trusted-in-these-things-either-but-sometimes-we-make-bargains underpinning were strongest), and while we're in the visual media, let's talk about Casablanca and Unforgiven and--

And in high school I got to know Dostoevsky and Bradbury (my mom wasn't a Bradbury fan) and Mark Twain and Chekov and Cole Porter and Maya Angelou and Samuel Delany and H.G. Wells--

And then I got into college, and I met Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler and Fay Weldon and Seamus Heaney and John Milton and Geoffrey Chaucer, and I developed a more than nodding acquaintance with Will and Kit and Ben and Tom and their drinking buddies, and I met Li Po and Tu Fu, and Chinua Achebe, and Yukio Mishima, and Keri Hulme (The Bone People also changed my way of percieving things, and so did The Life And Loves of a She-Devil)--

So you see my quandry. I can't do it. I can pick out those one or two really obvious ones--there would be no Hammered without Stand on Zanzibar--but other than that? It would be disingenuous of me to claim that Things Fall Apart was somehow more formative to me than Ellis Peters, or that Dune made a bigger impact on my future creativity than Napoleon and Illya did. (Notice who's on the icon set. Wink wink, nudge nudge.)

Recently, I'm proud to have been influenced by Family by Pa Chin and M. John Harrison's Light and probably also some Ang Lee movies, because those do seem to have a bewildering effect on me. So, screw it. I claim the whole world as my literary tradition, plant my flag nowhere in particular, and I hope to keep adding influences for a long, long time.

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