Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Brief Reading History

Recently I was asked to give an account of books/authors that have influenced me and my writing. It is an impossible task, really. Too many books crowd my head and it is impossible to list them all. But here goes in roughly chronological order:

I loved the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and stories about Ramona by Beverly Clearly.

Growing up I was a huge Stephen King fan, until I got too creeped out reading Gerald's Game. We used to sneak his novels beneath our desks during English class. You have got to admire his craft. I adored Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Now that I look back, reading was kind of what the boys did and my reading selections mirror that. The other book that stands out as an influence was A Girl of the The Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter, which was given to me by my Grandmother. It is a coming-of-age tale set in Indiana. I reread that one many times. These were books in which I got lost.

In college I really discovered literature (I was a science/sports geek in high school). One of my majors was essentially a Great Books program, which means we read works from the Western canon. I love the classics. But here is the stuff that moved me from college: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, A Passage to India by E.M. Forester, Arcardia by Tom Stoppard, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera, Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, Pope's Essay on Man, The Collected Stories of Flannery O'Connor and, of course, Shakespeare. There are others, but I'll spare you.

It has only been since I started to teach high school English that I began to seriously read like a writer. When I had to teach reading/writing/story concepts to 9th graders, I had to be able to analyze a story so that its mechanics were visible to my students (without destroying the magic, which gets dicey). Books/Authors that have moved me in this era include: Blindness by Saramago (really, a favorite), anything by Margaret Atwood or Louse Erdrich, Toni Morrison, Ian McEwan and Alice Munro among others. Most recently I finished Gaddis's Carpenter's Gothic and I am slightly obsessed. Oh, I can't leave out The Vagina Monologues, which I produced/directed for three years. I swear I can quote that text like a good Christian can quote the bible.

So the few authors I have mentioned thus far have shaped and informed my literary tastes and views. I suppose the most interesting thing I can contribute is what has come as a great surprise to me: One of the most significant influences on my creative writing is. . . . nonfiction. I never had the time for it, until the past few years. Now I realize that it greatly contributes to my understanding of the world: society and history etc. and thus informs my fictional worlds. Books I would say are must reads for this purpose: The Tipping Point and the many New Yorker articles of Malcom Gladwell; Fast Food Nation by Schlosser; Savage Inequalities by Kozol; and of course The New York Times. Read the paper.

This is far from complete, but it is a little glimpse into my reading history and writing future.

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