10 – Part 1
With a nod to Matthew MacNish’s Facebook post on his most influential books from at least 10 years ago. Piece of cake for the first five but not so easy from there-after. They’re in order of how they came to me. First five today – the rest later in the week.
1. The Gods of Mars/The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. These are the second and third books of the John Carter of Mars series. I found a beat up hard cover copy of these in a two-book special issue on a dusty, lonely shelf in my seventh period study hall in 8th grade. It was the only study hall I ever took. I loved these books so much I took the hardcover with the Frazetta art on the front home with me. When my friend Joe died at the end of that year in a terrible train accident a small part of me thought he died because I took the book. I could come up with no other reason for losing my best friend. It has haunted me. Over the years I collected each of the Frazetta covered hardbacks in the series combing through used bookstores everywhere I went for those special editions with the line drawings illustrating the text. Frazetta did the covers for all Burroughs’ books in the 70s so I read everything he wrote, even if he wrote them all during the early 1900s.
2. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. They are all one to me emotionally. The year before Joe died we read these one after the other. I still remember reading the Bridge at Khazadoom chapter in the car with Joe and my brother on the way to the community pool. We didn’t want to leave the car until we finished that first book.
3. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Nobody has ever captured the thrill of getting a new pair of sneakers on the first day of summer the way he did. I love lots of Bradbury books but this one was just about growing up, nothing more and nothing less and it was magnificent. His voice is so distinctive and poetic. I don’t write like him but I aspire to have a voice as singularly unique and an imagination as full of wonder. I got a lot tied up in him.
4. His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman. This was the most powerful fantasy novel (and it is one long epic novel told in three parts) I’d read in a long, long time and I read it just before my son was born and before Harry Potter turned up. And it’s YA. And I cried at the end and stared at the ceiling afterwards examining the cracks and wondering about the world. Damn.
5. A Deadly Shade of Gold by John D. MacDonald. I started reading the Travis McGee series when I was in Honduras as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The PC library was four shelves of worn paperbacks sitting in the shade by the nurses office in Tegucigalpa. I don’t remember which number book this was for me but it’s the fifth in the series and I’d read a few before this one came along. As a writer this book blew me away because the mystery was cleared up half-way into the book. I was young and naively thought genre books like mysteries always followed a pattern. I had at that moment a blinding realization – that I didn’t care that the book had stopped following the pattern and that was because I enjoyed the main character Travis McGee so much I was willing to go anywhere plot-wise with him. He tore the genre formulae apart. Genre didn’t have to follow formulae. With a good character in hand you could do just about anything in any genre. I always tell writers to read Macdonald’s Travis McGee series. He was a master of genre fiction. You also watch him grow as a writer as the books were written over a twenty-year spread. Check out McGee, the dames who come to him looking for help and his houseboat The Busted Flush somewhere down the coast of Florida. Don’t forget the rum.
Man. I need to comment in another window so I can review these items one by one.
1) I haven’t read Burroughs. I’m a little ashamed of this, but not that much, because I’m younger than you, and they weren’t in vogue when I was a kid the way they were for you. For me, the Robert Howard Conan Hyperborea comics I read in the early 80s as a little boy carried this same aesthetic, but that said, I WILL be reading Burroughs books someday. Mainly because of you.
2) Tolkien is the author who convinced me that the written word is the highest form of art man will ever accomplish. I love your point that all his tales are one to you, and I feel the same. Middle Earth is the single greatest monomyth I have ever encountered, and it will always mean more to me than any other story I have ever come across. It encompasses so many things for me. My relationship with my father. The suffering of my childhood. The inherent goodness and charm of the natural world. God. Good. Evil. Meaning. Just … I could sum up my entire system of beliefs and relate it to Tolkien’s works.
3) Ray Bradbury is the most literary genre author I know of. He made my list as well. I haven’t read Dandelion Wine in decades, but like Fahrenheit and The Martian Chronicles, I loved it very much when I did, and it also has one of the greatest titles ever penned.
4) I also love Philip Pullman. Or, the His Dark Materials series I should say, because I’m not familiar with his other work. These books are brilliant, and philosophical, and ask some excellent existential questions about faith and religion. First time I heard of Trepanation, too. I’m really pissed the movie flopped, because I thought it was excellent, and was hopeful it would help market the genre.
5) Sadly, I have not read or even heard of this book.
December 17, 2013 at 7:56 pm
Burroughs is pulp. Wonderful, inventive, adventurous pulp. It’s Robert E. Howard’s Conan, only forty years earlier. The scenes that start both book one and book two are my favorites because they allowed me to dream of disappearing.
It’s funny but when I read about Trepanation in His Dark Materials I had just read about it in a Patrick O’Brian novel. Weird how that works.
You must read at least one Travis McGee book. Try The Green Ripper if your curious. It’s powerful stuff and McGee is in rare form (not Macdonald – he’s just channeling)
December 17, 2013 at 8:06 pm
I don’t care if it’s pulp. Pulp tastes good.
And I will definitely check out McGee AND MacDonald, even if they’re connected.
December 17, 2013 at 8:14 pm
I think I’ll pick up Dandelion Wine. I love a well written simple bit of “I remember”. Thanks for the nudge!
December 18, 2013 at 7:38 pm