Sunday, November 30, 2014

My 10 Books (Part 1)

My friend and fellow writer, Sara L. Card, posed what she called the "10 Book Question" to me.  What 10 Books impacted me the most, in my life, my writing, whatever.  
I've already tweeted my answers but decided to write about them here with a little more explanation about my choices.  I’ll post the second half of the list next week.  
1) Tunnels in the Sky, by Robert Heinlein.  
This book is number one because it completely altered my plans for my life.  I had always been a big reader as a kid.  Prior to my thirteenth birthday, most of what I read was non-fiction.  History books, science books.  Books about soldiers and their weapons.  One of my favorite books at the time was a medical encyclopedia that my Dad saved from the paper shredder and pulping machine where he worked.  It has a section on the human anatomy with these clear plastic sheets that illustrations of the organs that would show you the interiors of them as you peeled them away one at a time.  It was because of the medical encyclopedia that I would tell my grown-up relatives that I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. 
Then came this day when I was talking to a classmate of mine at Junior High School and I noticed he had this book with a very odd cover on it.  I asked him what it was about and he started telling me about spaceships and aliens and a bunch of other stuff I knew wasn't true.  
"It's science fiction," he said after noticing my perplexed look.  The school library had a whole section devoted to this "science fiction" stuff.  He gave me the name of the author of the book he was reading.  
I went to the library and found the section.  It was pretty big.  It stretched down one wall to the back of the library and then turned a corner and headed down a second wall, ending by the back door.  I found a book by the same author, Robert Heinlein, and checked it out.  
My practice at the time was to do my homework before going to bed, where I'd sit up and read for a bit before going to sleep.  I opened the book I'd checked out, Tunnels in the Sky, and started reading.  
I think it was around 4 AM when I finished it.  I put it down, turned out my light and lay in bed imagining that I had been on that planet with all those other kids, kids more or less my own age!  The next day, when I went to school, I returned Tunnels and headed back to A's in the science fiction section.  Nightfall and Other Stories by Issac Asimov was my next book.  By the end of the school year I worked my way through Bradbury, Clarke and the rest to reach Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley.  They wouldn't let me check it out, though, because there was less than a week to the school year by then, and they didn't lend books at that point.  
The next time a relative asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I didn't have much of an answer for them.  What occupation allowed you to go to other planets and meet aliens?
2) Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien.
A shorter entry for this one, which I read during the summer after the school year in which I read Tunnels in the Sky.  It was actually a gift from a cousin of mine for Christmas the year before.  I had looked at the title of the first book, wondered what a "hobbit" was and set it aside.  
I dug it out to take with me on a summer trip to a mountain cabin with some other cousins of mine.  I still didn't know what a hobbit was, but science fiction reading had made me more willing to find out.  I enjoyed The Hobbit.  I thought it was a good story.  I figured I'd give the other three books a try.  
To get the point, the Lord of the Rings finished what Tunnels in the Sky started.  It made worlds of imagination seem more real to me than the real world I lived in.  It made me want to learn languages that other creatures spoke and to go on some great adventure where I would fight orcs.  
It was shortly after reading these books that my relatives stopped asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  
3) Shogun by James Clavell.
This impact of this book, read when I was 14 years old, grew slowly and steadily over time.  It was the book that put historical novels on my reading list.  More importantly, it was the book that made me realize that there were people and cultures in the world that did not think the way I did.  To verify that the culture and history of the Japanese people were portrayed accurately, I began to study their history and culture.  Watching Japanese movies, especially samurai movies, and more especially those directed by Akira Kurosawa, followed.  Manga and anime came next.  Finally, in 2006, I began studying the language.  
By now, my relatives might still not know what I want to do when I grow up.  At least they know that I'd like to do it in Japan.  
4) The Complete Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle.
A gift from my dad one Christmas.  It was the collection of the stories that had first appeared in The Strand magazine.  This book made me want to read people the same way I read books.  And I still remember the first line the great detective spoke when he first meets John Watson: "You look like you recently returned fro Afghanistan."  
If you want to see a beautiful, and ironic, rewriting of that line watch the opening episode of "Sherlock."  
5) Voyage Through the Universe - Life Search from Time-Life Books.
Time-Life books used to put out some of the most gorgeously illustrated encyclopedias ever produced.  There were often focused on a single general topic.  Voyage Through the Universe was a series about astronomy and space exploration.  It was my favorite collection from Time-Life, which I've managed to keep on my shelf all these years.  
Life Search was the book that focused on the possibility of life on other worlds and the conditions necessary to sustain life.  As part of that examination it had one of the clearest explanation of evolution that I've ever encountered.  
I remember the day when I read the section describing the theory on how the first strands of DNA were formed in clay crystals in the early days of the planet's existence.  When I got up from the sofa and closed the book, I remember feeling light-headed.  I looked around the living room as if expecting the walls to fall away and reveal that all I had believe up until that moment was only a play staged for my imagination.  A feeling like, “I guess that explains it,” went through me, one that was scary and profound.  
I’ve not gotten over that feeling since.  
Next week, the other five.  


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