Other people’s books

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Like many of my buddies, I learned to read early, and never looked back. The summer before fourth grade, my mother had to accompany me to the library to sign a permission card so I could check out books that had more words than pictures. In high school, I’d do my homework so I could reward myself with whatever book I happened to be reading at the time. I sometimes say it was no wonder I started writing myself, but that’s not quite accurate – I was happy being surrounded by other peoples’ books. I did write some stories along the way, beginning at nine with a Wild, Wild West fanfic (anyone old enough to remember that show? They didn’t call it fanfic back then.) I never really considered writing as a career until I was in my early twenties, when I read a book that rocked my world.

I was working for the Intimate Bookshop in Charlotte NC, and one day I was assigned to pull and strip the mass-market books that needed returning. Working my way through the shelf, I came across a book called The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers. I opened to read a page, just out of curiosity. Twenty minutes later, my manager found me sitting on the floor, completely engrossed.

That book spoke to all the feelings I’d had about the world since childhood. As I mentioned in comments to David’s wonderful post yesterday, I’ve always been convinced there’s something more to the ordinary world, another layer that I could reach out and touch if I just find the right way to do it. Tim Powers wrote about that unseen layer, brought together historical events and pointed out the possible supernatural forces that might have driven them. He’d found that magic, with his words. And suddenly I realized that I, too, could stop wishing, and start writing.

So today I’d love to hear from other people – writers, is there a book that turned on the light for you? Readers, is there a book that you’d rush into a burning house to rescue?

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9 comments to Other people’s books

  • Several, over the years.
    Anne Rice’s Interveiw With Vampire, and Belinda by her AKA . Belinda was so beautifuly written that it swept me away, and made me totally believe in the world she created.

    I read that book over and over while I wrote my first solo book. the *feelings* she created were feelings I wanted to create. I wrote a totally different book from hers, BTW, but the flow of her words kept mine going.
    Faith

  • Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry (THE SUMMER TREE, THE WANDERING FIRE, THE DARKEST ROAD). I don’t even think it’s his best work (that would be TIGANA) but at the time it was the best fantasy I’d ever read. It moved me to tears, which few books had ever done, it created a world that was so real I could taste it, and it introduced me to characters who haunted me for months after I’d finished it. That, I decided, was what fantasy was supposed to do. And as I wrote my first trilogy, I strove to create a world as real as Kay’s, and to populate it with characters as compelling as his.

  • Chris Branch

    Misty, I have a whole shelf of books that I’d like to rescue from a burning house (and now that I think about it, the shelf is near a convenient window so I could possibly throw them all out with a minimum of damage…) and yes, _The Anubis Gates_ and all my other Powers books are among them.

    And I’m right with you on your impression of that book, up through “He’d found that magic, with his words.” But as for your next sentence… Powers didn’t inspire me to write, because to be honest, I don’t see myself being able to match what he’s done.

    Maybe this is unfair or off base, but I’ve been more inspired by seeing published books that are just “okay”. Because in that case, I immediately say to myself “I could do better than that!” Not that it wasn’t difficult for that author to produce that work; no doubt it was – but I just see it as something that I could surpass with what’s in my imagination. Call it aiming low if you want – I just don’t have the confidence at this amateurish stage to imagine that I could equal Powers and my other top favorites.

  • Oh heavens, no! I could never, ever match Tim! But he”d shown me the way to find the magic I always knew was out there, and with any luck, I’ll be able to do for some reader what he did for me. 😀

  • Mark Wise

    As shallow as this may sound, what first inspired me to put pen to paper wasn’t a book. It was a video game entitled “Uncharted Waters” by KOEI. I have always loved seafaring adventures and the storyline of that game, especially the ending scene is what inspried me to write.

  • Beatriz

    The Stand, by Stephen King. It was the first book I read that I can recall falling head-over-heels into another world, scaring me, making me laugh and making me cry.

  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
    The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury.
    The Female Man, by Joanna Russ.
    The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart.
    Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut.
    The Left-Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Le Guin.
    Bridge of Birds, by Barry Hughart.
    Anything and everything by Fritz Leiber.

    Through the years and all the moves, I keep these books close by — the people and the imagery and the ideas stay with me, haunting me still after all this time.

    These books and these writers made me think, made me think about the power of the written word, make me want to tell the stories of the people living inside my head.

    To these writers, and all the others who’ve inspired me and make me think, I say:
    Thank you. And kindly remember it’s your fault I need to write.

  • Ben Reeder

    Like you, I started reading at an early age, but I really came into my own in the lates 70’s when I read The Hobbit on a trip from South Texas to New Mexico, cramped into the back of a VW Beetle for what seemed like days…but I didn’t mind until the sun went down. Then I slept and dreamed of another world. For a long time, I wrote for my own amusement, never dreaming I could be a “real” writer. The thing that inspired me to write wasn’t the best book I’d ever read, it was the worst fan fic I read, an entry in the Diablo II forums. I remember thinking “I can write better than this in my sleep!” So I did. That gave me the boost to thinking that I could write somethign people would read and be happy to have paid their hard earned money for, and spend some of their time on.

  • I find this a really hard question to answer (and I’ve been asked it before!) because there has been so much that has influenced me over the years and become really special to me. The Lord of the Rings was a definite turning point for me and gave me an insatiable appetite for quality fantasy fiction. The Belgariad was another series that had me totally immersed and The Chronicles of Morgaine by C J Cheryh. There were also a lot of great comic books that I read as a kid that fed the fuel of my own creative urge. Pretty much anything by Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman would fall into that category, for example.