Jumpboarding off of a recent article by Justin Landon of Staffer’s Book Review, also titled ‘The 5 Most Influential Books in My Life,’ I’ve compiled a list of the five books, novel or otherwise, that I feel most influenced me, my reading habits, and my life. As with lists of this nature, I’m sure it would be different if I compiled the list tomorrow, and different again if I compiled it a week from now, but, in this bubble of my life, the (unordered) list looks like:
by Michael Crichton
I discovered Michael Crichton at a young age. I was nine, and a dinosaur nut. With the impending release of the film adaptation of Jurassic Park, excitement filled me in a way that can only happen to little boys and little girls. Jurassic Park was my life. My parents bought me the book, and I still remember sitting in the theatre, lights dimming, trying desperately to finish it before the movie began. I didn’t, the theatre grew too dark before I was able to turn the final pages, but then I became lost in Spieberg’s vision of the iconic novel. Nine might seem young to get into Crichton’s work (most of my friends were reading the books assigned in school, more inline with our grade level, if reading at all), but, to this day, I don’t think I’ve ever been so enveloped by a novel as I was with Jurassic Park. I went on to re-read the novel several times over the next handful of years. It was the first book that I was absolutely obsessed with and helped introduce me to the world of speculative fiction.
Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak
Forget the beautiful, yet ultimately nihilstic and heartless film, Where the Wild Things Are is responsible for introducing me to the magic living in the forest that my childhood home backed onto. If a bedroom could transform into the magical land explored by Max in Where the Wild Things Are, then surely a wide forest could only be filled with more danger, excitement and adventure. My brothers and I spent endless summers exploring those strange worlds.
Where the Wild Things Are is a story about growing up, holding onto that childhood curiousity and innocence while adapting to the responsibilities that wait for everyone as time slips by and they mature and age. It’s a beautiful story.
Tom Swift Jr.
by Victor Appleton
For the past 75 or so years, young boys and girls have grown up along Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and their mis-adventures and crime solving shenanigans. For me, though, it was all about Tom Swift, who predates the Hardy Boys by about 15 years, particularly the Fourth Series. These books had it all: adventure, science, dinosaurs, time travel, submarines, and a hero with a mighty fine hair-do. I mean, just get a load of this synopsis from the back of The Negative Zone:
Young inventor Tom Swift is determined to recreate in miniature one of the most powerful forces in nature: a black hole. But Tom loses control of the experiment. He’s sucked through the hole into a parallel universe, exchanging places with his perfect double—a criminal mastermind targeted for revenge by a powerful government agent. On the lam from the law, Tom must find a way back home, Otherwise he’ll remain a hunted man for the rest of his life. And his own world will fall prey to his alter ego–a twisted genius at the helm of Swift Enterprises, steering a course toward unlimited wealth, unlimited power, and unlimited evil!
Black holes? Parallel universes? An Evil-Abed version of Tom Swift, and a criminal to boot? Unlimited evil? Holy guacamole, what was a kid to do but ravenously devour the book, and all those that followed. Tom Swift taught me that books can be fun, could whisk the reader away, holding secrets and adventure between their pages. And for that, I owe the blond hair boy scientist a hell of a lot.
When I decided to include the Tom Swift books in this list, I did some quick research (ie. Wikipedia) and discovered that Victor Appleton, author of both the Tom Swift novels, and the original series, was actually a pseudonym used by Stratmeyer Syndicate, who is also responsible for The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and several other childhood favourites. So, a little weird to find out that one of my childhood idols and favourite authors was actually a syndicate, basically an algorithm. Childhood dreams shattered. Taking down a syndicate and rescuing the real Victor Appleton? That sounds like a job for Tom Swift.
by J.R.R. Tolkien
I imagine that this novel, or its big brother, Lord of the Rings, will end up on the list of many of A Dribble of Ink’s readers, and for good reason. For many years, I was an avid reader of Science Fiction, dismissive towards Fantasy because I was under the impression that it was full of princesses, unicorns and other ‘girly’ things, not suitable for boys. My mother read both genres liberally, but I was only interested in the stuff with laser guns, time portals, hoverboards and mad scientists. Hence the addiction to Tom Swift novels. I blame it on Michael Crichton.
I don’t remember the exact circumstances around eventually picking up The Hobbit, but, well, just like modern Fantasy wouldn’t exist without it, neither would A Dribble of Ink. The Hobbit changed my reading habits and introduced me to the imaginations of so many of my favourite writers. It can’t get much more influential than that, hey?
The Sword of Shannara
by Terry Brooks
Piggy-backing off of my love affair with Tolkien, Hobbits and Middle-Earth was my discovery of Terry Brooks’ Shannara series. I was infatuated with the idea of Fantasy at that point, of these other worlds and these magical people that populated them. Head-over-heels smitten. A friend of mine, his name was Chad, was reading this series. It had a weird cover, but it was Fantasy. Funny enough, my mom, being a huge Fantasy fan, also owned a copy, and it was summarily devoured. Reading through the rest of the available Shannara novels is one of my fondest memories as a reader.
This adoration for the Four Lands and Brooks’ work was rewarded when, as an 18 year old, I met Terry Brooks at a writing conference and, through some act of God (or endless juvenile pestering), I convinced him and his wife to sit down and have breakfast with me. Incredibly encouraging, eminently likeable and funny, Brooks introduced me to the idea that SFF fandom wasn’t a scary place afterall. In fact, it was pretty damn inclusive and awesome.
Reflecting on this list, I’m surprised to notice that they’re all books I first read as a child/young teenager. Of those listed, the most recently read is likely The Sword of Shannara, which I discovered almost immediately after reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I was 13 or 14 at the time. More than half my life has passed since. Of course, that’s not to say that I haven’t been influenced by books as an adult, quite the opposite, really. The works of Terry Goodkind, as much as I might turn my nose at them now, had a large impact on me as a teenager; they didn’t turn me into a Rand-loving objectivist, though I teetered on the edge, but they did encourage me to ask questions and search out my own answers, which is an incredibly important and vital step in growing to adulthood. Equally, authors like Daniel Abraham, Rachel Swirsky, J.K. Rowling, Saladin Ahmed and Carlos Ruiz Zafon have all impacted me in various ways, most notably being large influences on my own fiction. But there’s something about the hooks that sink into you when you’re reading during your most impressionable years that just can’t be recaptured as an adult. Those novels listed above where real to me, informed the world I was growing up into, seeded my deep fascination with science and adventure, magic, challenge and exploration. Who would I be without them?