Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Books that influenced me

An online friend, Chris De Boe, sent an e-mail to a couple of us yesterday. He asked for a list of books that "most influenced you". It's not a list of influential books that you've read, but books that had the most personal influence on you.

This was a good question! On thinking about it, I found that most of my personal beliefs and philosophy came from people, not books. I guess that's a positive thing, though it means that most of the books on my list look like they had only a "shallow" effect on me.

Regardless, I thought I'd share my list, in no particular order:
  • A book on early humans. I remember this book, it was hardbound with a glossy cover, the type of book you give "tweens". It had the picture of an early hominid on the cover. I received two books at the same time, though I can't remember what the other one was about (genetics, maybe). I can't remember who gave it to me (probably my parents) and I can't remember the title, but the images in that book have stuck with me for more than three decades. It was the first time I read about early hominids (proto-humans), and it helped cement in my head the time line for human evolution. I remember it really hit me that, yep, humans came way later than dinosaurs!

  • Modern Physics. This was my 3rd year university text book. It's chock full of stuff that absolutely fascinated me, even if I didn't understand all of it, particularly the math. It's where I first saw an explanation for relativity. It set me up for...

  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. This bestseller is infamous for having sold a lot of copies that weren't read. I did read the whole book, which gave me an incredible understanding of cosmology, though I admit I followed along until he started talking about evaporating black holes. I bought A Briefer History of Time earlier this year; that's on my "must read soon" list.

  • The Face of Battle by John Keegan. This is an important book in the modern study of military history. Keegan looked at three battles — Agincourt, Waterloo, and The Somme — with a focus on what it was like for men to fight in the battle. His preface is incredibly dry and almost lost me, but when he got into the battle details his prose came alive. This book influenced the way I looked at military history, and pushed me toward a deeper understanding of the subject.

  • They Met At Gettysburg by Edward Stackpole. This book came out in the 1950s. I came across a copy in the early 1990s. Until then I knew a tiny bit about the Battle of Gettysburg, but not much else about the Civil War. This book set me on a path that has turned out to be my most enduring interest. It's not the best book on the battle, by far. It has a number of biases and some small inaccuracies, but it's clear prose, interesting drawings, and numerous maps make it an excellent "primer" on the battle.

  • Samurai Warriors by Stephen Turnbull. I don't talk about it much, but
    my interest in samurai is second only to my interest in the American
    Civil War. This is the book that started me down that particular road.

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I studied this famous novel in grade 12. My teacher did his masters (or was it PhD) thesis on it, and he taught it very well. It was the first time I realized a book could have hidden subtexts and imagery, that novels weren't just about plot and/or flowery language.

  • The War Game by Charles Grant. Miniature wargaming will always be my favourite hobby — even if I do precious little of it these days — because of this book. This book, plus several other by Grant and by Donald Featherstone, were available in the Oshawa Public Library. I would pour over them for hours while in junior high school and high school.

  • A paperback collection of H.P. Lovecraft's fiction from the late 1970s. I can't
    remember the publisher or the actual title mdash; the book is in our storage locker — but it got me interested in Lovecraft's fiction. This, in turn, started me playing Call of Cthulhu, a roleplaying game I have played on-and-off (mostly on) for more than 2 decades. Although my first love was, and always will be, miniature wargames, I've played Call of Cthulhu, and its offshoot games, more than anything else in my life.


Michael said...

Ditto, and kudos, for Keegan's The Face of Battle. I was just praising it to my boss the other day; it completely changed my view of military history -- and all forms of military writing, in fact. Keegan has gone on to build himself a decent career as an historian, but in my opinion he never topped that first book.

I have no idea, at the moment, of what other books influenced me. Not directly, anyway. I'll have to think about it.

I do have fond memories, though, of a collection of short stories by Orson Scott Card. It was called With Friends Like These, and I read bits of it one night while working the late-late shift at the radio station. That was the moment when I realized, "Hey, I can write this stuff too."

Allan Goodall said...

I do have fond memories, though, of a collection of short stories by Orson Scott Card. It was called With Friends Like These, and I read bits of it one night while working the late-late shift at the radio station. That was the moment when I realized, "Hey, I can write this stuff too."

Orson Scott Card may have released a short story collection with that name, but I believe the one you are thinking of is by Alan Dean Foster.

I had it, and I may still have it. I was quite taken by the collection. It was an easy read with some interesting stories. The cover was, I think, yellow with a couple of farmer types in a farm house with a bunch aliens around them. I think everyone was eating ice cream. The collection had a story, "Why Johnny Doesn't Speed Anymore". It was one of the stories that inspired Steve Jackson Games' Car Wars.

Michael said...

You are absolutely right, of course. I didn't realize you had that book when I wrote the comment; as should be obvious, I only partially remembered reading the thing at all. (Hey, Card and Foster both have triple-barrel names; at least I got that part right.)