Thursday, May 28, 2009

Books That Have Stayed With You

My second year of college I was reading A Prayer for Owen Meany on the couch of an apartment I was sharing with three other friends. It was the first book I read through the night, and I felt completely absorbed by the world in it. Of course it didn’t hurt that, if I had stopped, I would have had to confront the awful reality of finishing a 10 page paper on Shakespeare’s King Henry IV. But regardless, I read 300 pages that night, and it changed me. I’d been writing screenplays mostly at that point, still hoping at that time to someday move to Hollywood (shakes head), but there was something about that book that caused a switch in me, from screenplays to novels. I loved the idea of one lonely writer fitting an entire world into a book, and leave it, if they are fortunate, on the bookshelves, for people who make this wild decision to spend a week or two (or months, depending on your pace) getting into it.

Of course that first novel would later become my personal stink bomb of crappiness, but I grew from it, got a short story out of it, got published in a nice looking magazine, and moved on to #2 (My Master’s Thesis), #3 (Amazon Quarterfinalist), #4 (Stink Bomb sequel, but short story again…) and now #5, which is in the process of being partially considered by agents.

And yet I look back at that time, reading Irving’s book, then next reading Slaughterhouse Five, and I remember why I’m doing all this in the first place.

So I ask…was there a book that changed you, or a book that you have on your shelf that keeps you going? I’d love to hear them.


  1. It's a more recent one that comes to mind -- The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. That novel is moving beyond belief.

    Ooo...I'm curious to see what other bloggers comment. Maybe it will give me a few more books to add to my reading list :)

  2. awesome post, patrick! and what a question: there are so many love affairs i've had with books. how to choose one?

    but i guess the one book that totally rocked my world -- and continues to -- and makes me feel like i could conquer the universe is Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. it's less a book that inspires me as a writer than it is a book that inspires me as a human.

    and tess? i've got my handy notebook out, ready to jot down any new book ideas :) I've already got yours down!

  3. Great post Patrick.
    You've got me really thinking about this. I can't remember not loving books, and I took to adult novels at a young age. I don't recall if my dad left them around or how I picked up some of them. The writing may not have been top-drawer but the stories were riveting and terrifying to a kid. Two that rocked my world (age about 12-14) were Leon Uris' "Exodus," about the founding of Israel in the fallout of the Holocaust and "On the Beach," a gut-wrenching story about the last survivors of nuclear war by Nevil Shute. These are not books I would read again, but they opened my eyes really, really wide to the consequences of human behavior.
    I went on to read and be moved by "Wuthering Heights" and "Tess of the d'urbervilles."
    As an older teen, my world shifted again when I discovered Tolkien and Heinlein.
    It's funny that I started with heavy adult reading and now often reach for YA fantasy. Is this regression or what? Cheers and have fun remembering.....

  4. I never read much of anything in high school or college that didn't involve physics, math, or engineering. Pretty much what it takes to get your engineering degree...

    It wasn't until I was in the working world that I picked up a few books and became fascinated. I was never much of a fantasy lover, but of course the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy was fantastic. I moved on to the Dune series but what really got me into reading a lot more.... and don't laugh too long or loud... was Clancy and Crichton. I think because of my engineering background I was taken in by the technology aspects of their work.

    I know that they don't have the deepest characters. I know that they don't have the most flowery descriptions, but that's not what I was looking for. These authors told interesting stories that transported me to another place and time.

    Picking a couple of books that have really stayed with me? Tough question, but if I really, really have to, "Hunt for Red October" and "Jurassic Park" come to mind.

  5. Ok so now this is bordering on obsession. I'm still thinking of books that influenced me after those I already noted. These I read late teens/early 20s and each one gave me new perceptions. I still get the creeps remembering Bradbury's "The Illustrated Man." The others are Heller's "Catch-22," Vonnegut's "Slaughter-House Five" and Tim O'Brien's "Going after Cacciato." Hmmmm, I guess there is a theme here of the absurdity of war.

  6. Thanks guys for posting some of your favorites. The Book Thief was great, Tess, for sure. For me recently I still can't get over Life of Pi and how Martel pulled that off.

    And Tricia, I hear you about the absurdities of war books. Those almost always pull me in.

    And Douglas, I read Sphere by Crichton, but felt the movie obliterated what he'd accomplished.

    Alex...The Fountainhead? Whew! I went through a stint of hating how Rand had that theory of Objectivism. It just bothered me, but that was so long ago I'll have to give one of her books a chance. A few friends of mine have said I should read her.

  7. Patrick, I like hearing about your writing record. Those few words speak to a lot of effort, years of effort.

    Plus, I'm thinking about what comes next for me as a writer. It is somehow inspiring to know how others have progressed. To blow off a novel as a stink bomb somehow makes me laugh and want to cry all at once.

    There are a few books that inpire me. Into Thin Air shows me how a story about real lives (and deaths) can be powerful. I'm considering doing some creative nonfiction.

    Also, George R.R. Martin writes in a way that inspires me to want to explore the issue of perception and what is ethical. I love the way he creates the reader's attitude toward a character and then changes it. He simultaneously creates a panaromic view and brings me closer to the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of characters than any other author that I have read.

    As to why I write, and what keeps me going, I think that I need to write in the same way that I need to walk or run. I just don't feel right if I don't. Something atrophes, just like muscles that don't get used. Even if I never read an inspiring book I think that there would be a loss if I did not write or express myself in some way.

    I often see my daughter draw something extraordinary that she just experienced. For example, the first ant that she let crawl around on her hand and arm. I'm the same way, I have an urge to create something that represents extradinary experiences.

  8. W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge

  9. Oh, and Cannery Row. Sorry, that deserved a second comment from me.

  10. i understand your sentiments, patrick. i think she has some profound insights into human behavior & motivation --> and sometimes it's hard to take the ugly w/ the good. growing up soviet impacted her in ways my soft existence can't even comprehend, and i guess my heart always went out to her. as for Objectivism, i suppose i've considered it much like anything else: there are pieces I agree with, disagree with, and am neutral on. i tend to look for the lesson that i can apply to my life -- but then, my glass is always half full :P

    well, to be honest, i struggle w/ scientology.

  11. Great post, Patrick.

    I have to say that although I'd heard and heard about Dune for so many times, reading it really was an eye opening event for me. I deeply love that book.

    Otherwise, I found the Book Thief like Tess nice, but I remember most the books from my childhood. Which is why I guess I write MG.


Join the conversation, add insight, or disagree with us! We welcome your thoughts.