The Books That Shaped Me
A book is a gift you can open again and again – Garrison Keillor
Today I read the sad news that screenwriter Syd Field died over the weekend. I learned the techniques of writing for the screen from some of Field’s books while in college and have carried the skills into future projects, including novel writing. It got me thinking about the various books throughout my life that have taught me and inspired me. The books that encouraged my love of reading…that fed my dream of someday being a writer…that taught me how to be a novelist…and that continue to encourage me to be a better writer to this day.
I could keep at this for hours, but for the sake of a reasonable blog length, here are 10 books that fall into these categories, in random order. Some are classics; some are obscure; some might have you asking, “uh, why?” (And if so, feel free to ask that question in the comments below!)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I first read this book in high school, although not for an assignment as a lot of teens begrudgingly do. It was simply a pleasure read for me, and one that I have returned to several times since then. It’s been my favorite book ever since.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. My love of all things Oz began as a young kid when I first watched the film during its then-annual broadcast on TV, and I would read every version of the book I could get my little hands on once I was able to read. One of my earliest memories is my dad reading me the Little Golden Books version of it. It’s a love affair that continues to this day. I still haven’t read all the books in Baum’s original series, but I do own them, so someday…
The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. I loved this series as an elementary school kid. They were my bridge from the innocence of Sweet Pickles to the classics like Stevenson’s Kidnapped and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that I moved into afterwards. They made a film of the first book in the mid-nineties, but I barely remember it. It probably wasn’t as good as the novel.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Another one that I read for pleasure during my high school years. (Wait, what did my teachers assign me to read?) Its coming of age themes are timeless. It made me want to try my own hand at writing.
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field. I had to take a screenwriting course in college and dreaded it so much I put it off until my last semester. But I ended up loving it and even won an award for my first screenplay. I continued dabbling in screenwriting after college and have found that some of its elements can work in novel writing as well.
On Writing by Stephen King. Other than reading Carrie in high school, this is the only one of King’s vast collection of works that I’ve tackled, and it’s a favorite about the craft of writing.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I was late to the Potter game. I was a bit of a Lord of the Rings snob when the films were popular, so I didn’t bother to pay them any attention until after the entire series was done. What an idiot was I? They’re as good as the acclaim suggests…well, the books are. The films are more like the novels on fast forward.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. This is certainly the longest book on my list. I loved mystical, magical stuff in high school, which was when I tackled this lengthy retelling of the Authurian legends from the women’s point of view. This was pre-Potter and before I tackled Tolkien (whose LOTR series almost made this list). It opened my eyes to the vastness of what an imagination can create.
Bodies of Water by Rosanne Cash. This was Rosanne’s first foray into fiction and is a rather brief collection of short stories that came out back in 1996. I’ve been a big Rosanne Cash fan for 20 years so I scooped this up and devoured it rather quickly. I was better at poetry writing at the time, and leery about trying anything larger, but I thought if Rosanne could venture into the realm of short fiction, then so could I. And I did.
Geography Club by Brent Hartinger. While this book wasn’t my first foray into reading young adult fiction with a gay lead, it’s the one that propelled me to attempt writing it. And in one of life’s little “how about that?” instances, Brent is a fellow JDLA client; my agent edited this book. Oh, and now it’s been made into a movie.
Wow, are we at 10 already? Like I said, this is a short list! For more about my adventures in reading, come follow me on Goodreads.