Monday, December 08, 2014

My 10 Books (Part 2)

Continuing from where I left off from my last posting, here are the other five books that have had the greatest impact on me in my life thus far.
6) Slaughter House 5 by Kurt Vonnegut.
When I write about something in my journal that can't be changed, something I just have to deal with like death or taxes, I follow it with, "And so it goes."  When something tragic or unforeseen happens, I end up thinking about how the Universe is a very busy place and accidents like this are bound to happen.  These are concepts that I picked up from reading the works of Kurt Vonnegut.  
Slaughter House 5 isn't my favorite book of his I've read.  If I were to pick, here and now, my favorite Vonnegut book I would probably say it was the last one I remember reading, Slapstick.  But Slaughter House 5 was the first book that I read of his and it's the one that made me want to read more of him.  So many of the concepts I've encountered in his work, about life and time, love and death, are ones that I've adopted outright or stirred in with my own to flavor them.  Even my own adage on the nature of things, "The universe is like a mafia hit-man.  It IS out to get you, but it's nothing personal," has such a Vonnegut-esque ring to it that I wouldn't be surprised to discover that it's a line from one of his books that I've forgotten reading and think of as mine. 
7) The 300 by Frank Miller.  
My first professional fiction sale came in 1990.  For years, I struggled to figure out how I had done it and duplicate the achievement.  I didn't figure things out until 2008 when I wrote the story, Shadow Angel, which appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction September 2009 issue.  
I can give Frank Miller's The 300 credit for sticking to it for those eighteen years between my first fiction sale and my second.  In between I wrote comic book scripts that I was getting published with a couple of different artists.  Those publications gave me the encouragement to keep writing.  It was reading Frank Miller's, The 300, his take on the story of the Spartans and their stand at Thermopylae, that taught me how to write comic book scripts.  I could go on about Frank's ability to give a page movement through a sequence of static images, without gaudy speed-lines, or how he is almost unsurpassed at telling a story visually, making him, in my opinion, one of the few artist/writers that can draw AND tell a story extremely well.  It would be better if you read his work and see for yourself.  
I will say that learning how to write comic book scripts taught me the structure I needed to write stories that could sell.  Thanks, Frank, for helping me with that.  
8) A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.  
This book is here for a single passage in the first half of the book.  
The story is about an American ex-patriate, Frederic Henry, that is fighting with the Italian army during World War One.  There is a scene where, after Henry is wounded, he is transported by ambulance to a military hospital south of the front.  
While being transported, Henry becomes aware that the soldier in the stretcher above him is bleeding.  The blood is seeping through the fabric of the stretcher.  Henry, strapped down in his stretcher, is unable to get up to check the soldier's bandage and can't make himself heard over the rumble of the engine to attract someone's attention to help.  He can only watch as the blood's dripping slows and finally stops.  
The passage is masterful.  The comparison of the bleeding coming to a stop and to the cold of winter outside the ambulance is brilliant.  I read the passage while sitting in my car at the office on my lunch break.  I was late getting back after reading it again and again and again.  I read it a few more times after I got home to be sure it really was as marvelous a piece of writing as I had thought.  It is the prime example of elegance in writing, so simple and yet so powerful.  
9) The Transparent Society by David Brin.
David Brin is one of my favorite science fiction writers.  I could probably describe him as my favorite science fiction writer still living and publishing great work.  But it's his non-fiction book, The Transparent Society, in which he proposes the institutions and practices we should adopt in order to maintain the core right of privacy we all want in light of the growing degree to which we are surveilled and the details of our lives are included in increasingly numerous databases.  
The idea from Brin's book that has impacted my post of view the most is the concept of "sousveillance," the opposite of "surveillance."  Surveillance is those in power watching the people.  Sousveillance are the people watching those in power.  It is not fact that an organization like the NSA can scan our email that's the problem.  It's the fact that we don't know they're doing it and can't tell what it was they are scanning that IS the problem.  
10) 世界から猫が消えたなら (If Cats Disappeared from the World) by Genki Kawamura.  
This is the book I'm reading now.  It is written in Japanese.  As far as I know at this time there is no English translation.  
I had wanted to read a book written entirely in Japanese as a means of language practice.  A member of my Japanese group had suggested I find a book that interested, because if I was interested in the story itself it would be a motivator to keep plugging away even when it got difficult.  
So far, his advise has proven to be true.  I found out about the book from an English language TV show produced by the Japanese broadcasting company, NHK, called Booked on Japan.  In the show various creative people, artists, dancers, designers, directors, are interviewed about their work and are asked to talk about a book they've read that has had the most influence on their work.  One of the episodes featured an interior designer that gave this book as his example.  
The story is about an as yet unnamed postal delivery man who has discovered that his headaches are caused by a cancerous brain tumor.  The prognosis is that he has at most six months to live, but could die at any moment.  
When he arrives home, where he lives with his beloved pet cat, Cabbage, he is greeted by the Devil, who looks exactly like him.  He ends up calling the Devil, "Aloha," because he is wearing a bright yellow Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts, even though outside is the middle of winter ("He must have just arrived from someplace warmer," the postal worker thinks to himself).  Aloha tells offers the postal worker a deal.  For everything the postal worker choose to make vanish from the world, Aloha will grant him an extra day of life.  
The concept of the book intrigued me, so I bought a copy at the Japanese bookstore I know of in Little Tokyo.  I love the cover, with the kitten peeking timidly over what looks like the edge of a roof.  I don't know if it's coincidence or if the book is shaping my perception (the latter, I suspect), but reading this book comes at a time when I am encountering events that are having me consider what is important to me and my life, which is the central theme of the book.  I'm expecting that by the time I finish reading the book I'll not only improve my Japanese reading skills, but I will also discover something very important about the priorities of my life.  
These are my 10 books.  What are yours?


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