Saturday, September 06, 2014

Football Counter-Programming #2

A few days ago, I got tagged to list some books that have influenced me in the past. And so I came up with the list that you see. I thought that looking at this list a bit more carefully would serve as this week's anti-football post.

So, put down the remote, stop trying to understand what Cover-Two Defense means, and read up. It's this week's Football Counter-Programming!


I listed these numbers in approximate chronological order to when I first read them. So take that into account. (For whatever that is worth, I guess.)

1. The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
I knew that picking a volume of the Narnia books would be on the list. But I chose Magicians rather than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for a few reasons. First, I try to be iconoclastic when I can manage it. I also LIKE that book the best. But most importantly, I like that this book serves as a flashback that explains the origins or Narnia and how it all came to be. For, you see, my 1980s edition of the Narnia boxed set placed The Magician's Nephew at the sixth book in the seven book series. So, when I read it, it truly served as a FLASHBACK, semi-time travelling story that illuminated the history of Professor Kirke, the building of the wardrobe itself, the creation of Narnia, the "planting" of the lamppost, the arrival of the White Witch and everything else. It might have served as my first childhood mind-blowing moment. And it probably set me up to love all J.J. Abrams-related time-travel episodes and every other use of flashbacks ever.
I hear that most newly published editions of the series put The Magician's Nephew first now. And for all of the self-serving reasons listed above that makes me sad. It is a missed opportunity for surprising revelations for today's new readers.

2. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
As with #1, I had to choose between  The Hobbit, the LotR series as a whole, and The Silmarillion (which is more and more my favorite as I age). But if we are going with the Facebook rules that I choose influential books, then I have to pick the first one that I read. If I hadn't liked The Hobbit, I might never have tried to read LotR and who knows what OTHER books and influences might have changed in my life as a result? Maybe I could have learned to whittle or might have learned to catch a football? Maybe I'd be an accountant with a head for numbers? We'll never know . . .

3. Watership Down by Richard Adams
This completes my childhood trilogy of English fantasy novels. This is the one that swaps hobbits tramping across mythical downs with rabbits that hop across the hilltops. But I'm (also) a sucker for novels that include a glossary in the back. [I could have included Frank Herbert's Dune on this list, but I decided to keep it at ten titles. That is also why Carl Sagan's Cosmos isn't on the list.]
My parents gave me a first edition of this book for my 18th birthday. One of the nicest, most thoughtful gifts I've ever gotten.

4. Magician by Raymond Feist
Other worlds, magic, castles, pretty princesses and unrequited love with the overlooked orphan boy. My middle school/freshman high school self LOVED this stuff. It spoke to the fearful part of me that was afraid to be authentic and bold and show myself to everyone else. It fed the prideful part of me that just knew that there was more to me than anyone else could ever guess. All you nerds who are disgruntled and afraid and inarticulate . . . give this book (and its sequels) a try.

5. The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Let's give my high school self a moment of congratulatory applause for stepping outside of the fantasy cycle and reading something set in the real world for a change. (In this case 1960s Charleston, South Carolina . . . the Citadel military academy to be specific.)
Equal parts memoir, mystery, expose The Prince of Tides represents that period of my young reading life when I was trying to read more Southern literature--traditional stuff like Gone with the Wind, the John Jakes North and South Civil War series, Ferrol Sams, and some others. But I think I've liked Conroy's book the best. It is a really engaging and mysterious story about the military, the Southern culture, racism, and Conroy's own family tortures. I've read some of his other books, but this is his best. The move that also came out during these years was seen after I had read the book the first time and it wasn't as good.

6. A Supposedly Fun Think I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
I've written on WWYG?! many times about my appreciation of DFW and this book in particular. It was my first experience with his writing and easily the most accessible for a newbie. In fact, I've always liked his essay volumes more than his novels. They are more bite sized, more varied and engaging and infinitely more approachable.
This book also sort of marks the reemergence of fiction reading in my life, after many years of college-based nonfiction reading. I desperately wanted to enjoy reading again. And I'll always honor Wallace's book for helping me remember the variety and unexpectedness of fiction.

7. House of Leaves by Mark J. Danielewski
Again, if you search in the archives of WWYG?! you'll see me mention this book again and again. This was another book that helped reawaken my interest in fiction reading. And the story is mysterious and completely original, and just a trip to read. The book is formatted to come alive as you read it and it really excited my imagination and my admiration for the novelty of the work.

8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
You KNEW I'd list a Potter book on this list, right? But which one? Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is my actual favorite of the seven, with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows an extremely close second. In fact, I've said publicly before that OotP is one of my LEAST favorites. So, why. . . ?
Well, Year 5 represents my entrance into the HP fandom as a real-time participant. Prior to the summer of 2003, I was hearing about the series, reading news stories about it, hearing recommendations from people I trusted and borrowing previously published books from friends.
But Order of the Phoenix was the first one that I preordered, eagerly anticipated its mail arrival, and then devoured it in a matter of days. And it sparked my entry into the internet Web pages and podcasts and everything else that also shaped how I later became a fan/consumer of LOST and many, many movies during the early 2000s.
So, it may not be my most favorite STORY . . . but it was the most influential to my experience.

9. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs  by Chuck Klosterman
I enjoy Klosterman's writing because it is interesting and it is humorous and it speaks to many of my direct life experiences (or, really, events that happened contemporaneously to my life experiences).
But, to be really honest with you for a minute. I also like reading Klosterman because it makes me feel cool somehow.
I realize that that is an embarassing thing to say and you area all free to judge me for being idiotic and hopelessly naive. But go back and reread some of the things that I wrote about book #4 above.

That stuff never really goes away entirely, you know.

10. Looking for Alaska by John Green
One of John's books was for sure making it on this list and logically it had to be this one for all the same reasons that I picked The Hobbit over The Silmarillion.
Had I not liked LFA, I might not have tried to read An Abundance of Katherines or Paper Towns or Will Grayson, Will Grayson or  The Fault in Our Stars. And I might not have similarly enjoyed Maureen Johnson's Suite Scarlett series or her Shades of London series or enjoyed all of her tweeting.

Anyway . . . that's it.
Maybe you know a bit more about me now? And that was untimately the entire point of the exercise.

What books did YOU like as you grew up? Put some titles in the comments!

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