Saturday, July 30, 2011

Books That Changed Your Life

It's funny how sometimes different parts of your life come together to create perfect moments, especially valuable when you're trying to avoid writer's block (both on your blog and with your own writing).  

I'm a slapdash writer--a talented writer (as Stephen King once noted, "Talent is cheaper than table salt.  What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work")--but a lazy, disorganized, fits-and-spurts kind of writer, the kind of writer that will go weeks without writing a thing and then crank out thirty or forty amazing pages in twenty-four hours.

I'm working hard to develop better writing habits.  Really hard.   

And sometimes that leads to a perfect storm of keeping you from being at a complete loss for what to write about.

Writing for Zelda Lily has led to me staying on top of current events --> I created a Twitter account to follow news outlets (and interesting people with odd political ideas) --> I realized that one of my biggest problems as a writer is that I'm ... overly verbose --> I've added Tweeting every day to one of my writing goals since it forces me to be concise --> I found a cool piece on The Huffington Post via Twitter that gave me the idea for a blog post.

I've read a lot of books over the years, but the books that actually changed my life are in a category of their own.  I've put my top five down here, and I would encourage you to consider doing a post on this (it's actually a very telling and philosophical journey).

I've left a linky thing at the bottom of this post, so please link up if you go for this so I can check out the books that shaped and molded each of you.  Oh, and please feel free to leave comments ... I sort of thrive on comments (another motivation to keep on blogging, right ;-)?).

So, five books that have changed my life ...

1.  The Dark Tower (series of seven books) by Stephen King
The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower, Book 7)Honestly, this series changed my outlook on the entire world.  It's what started my fascination with philosophy, with thinking about things on a higher level, of exploring the possibilities of parallel universes, of seeing how Shakespeare does not hold the patent on the concept of universal themes, of ....

Well, I'll stop rambling now.  

These books are not easy reads (they're very well-written and interesting and such, but you have to be willing to twist your brain in unusual and sometimes difficult ways to wrap your head around them); even Stephen King fans have struggled with these books.

All I have to say is, they blew my mind.  Totally blew my mind.

2.  The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
The Thorn Birds: A NovelI first read this book when I was at my family's beach house one summer.  I'd read all the books I'd brought with me, and this was before we had cable television at the beach house, which contains an interesting collection of literature (basically, stuff that my mother and uncles read in high school, my grandfather's golf books, my grandmother's needlepoint books, and so on).  For some reason, The Thorn Birds had made it into this mishmash of books, and I figured one rainy summer day that I'd give it a shot.

It was the first time a book made me cry adult tears.  

As a fifth grader, I obviously had no concept of romantic love, but the story of a man and woman unable to be together, yet clearly destined for each other ... well, it planted a seed.

I think the book also made me appreciate my siblings more, to be completely honest.  There is a lot of death and loss related to the love between a girl and her brothers, and that pain was torturous to experience vicariously.  

For me to have taken on The Thorn Birds under the circumstances I did, it's evident that I wasn't getting along with Adam and Mary one rainy summer day when the beach was off limits and the card games had gotten boring (or I'd lost a lot and pouted away with my book).  Ironic that said book reminded me of how important they are to me ...  

3.  How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
How the Grinch Stole ChristmasThis book taught me how to read.  Well, this book and my father.  Before he went to law school, my father was a teacher, and he got really into reading with me.  This book was one of my absolute favorites, and I can still remember as my father's fingers moved over each word until I understood them.

I can still recite this entire book, by the way, and the words contained therein probably played some sort of role in developing my hard-core visual memory.  The brain is an amazing thing ...

4.  Centennial by James Michener
Centennial: A NovelWhen I was in Honors English 11, my teacher had us choose an author to do a yearlong study on.  We had to read one of the author's books each quarter, write analysis papers, and the final paper required us to identify a common theme that ran through each book.

I was kind of a laissez-faire student (I did well enough, at least in English class, but I neither tried very hard nor cared very much), so I gave the list to my mother and asked her to pick an author for me.  She recommended Michener, and I figured I'd go with it.  I should have known better when my teacher asked if I was absolutely sure about committing to Michener ...

Yeah, many of Michener's books, Centennial included, weigh almost as much as my seven-year-old does ...

I pulled my usual procrastination act and left both reading the book and writing the paper until the night before, but ... wow.  I got it done, did well on it, and then proceeded to eat up Michener's entire canon.

The idea of a certain geographical location serving as almost a character, the cultures that mix together as years go by, and the connections that exist between geography, characters, history, and pretty much everything ... 

James Michener taught me that vitally important lesson. 

5.  My completed novel (currently titled Unbreakable, but that's of course subject to change) by Katie Loud

I've written a lot about the history of this novel (which you can read about here ... it's actually kind of an interesting story as I went from a middle schooler to an adult with the same work in progress), and I think it's a pretty good read (you can read excerpts here and here, and check out a list of 25 unusual and/or interesting things about it here (this was actually a really cool exercise, by the way, and I'd recommend any writer to do this).

Bottom line, this book taught me two extremely valuable lessons that no other book could.

1.  All fiction is, to one degree or another, a form of author autobiography.  It's all in the details.


2.  I can actually finish something that I've started ... even if it takes me over fifteen years ;-)

So, what five books changed your life?  Link up here :-)

Are Minorities Discouraged from Taking Upper-Level Classes?: The Elephant in the Room

As a public school teacher for sixteen years, I sometimes feel like I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen Standards come and go (and despite the brou...