Authors of GLAHW were challenged by author Tom Sawyer (and a few other people) to list ten books that have stayed with us in some way. This is my list of 11, and it would have been more, but I had to stop somewhere, and it’s by no means definitive. Books influence writers in lots of subtle and not so subtle ways, but that doesn’t mean we should give up reading. In fact, any writer who says they don’t read, probably can’t be trusted with entertaining you properly.
A Terrible Beauty
I don’t remember when I read this, my Goodreads doesn’t go that far back, and I don’t even remember where I’d obtained the book, but I have an image of a woman who’d literally being flayed alive to the bone and it has never left me.
House of Leaves
I’m not big on experimental storytelling, and I honestly don’t know what made me pick up House of Leaves but the story within a story wrapped around a third story was a nice hook, and once I was lured into the Navidson Record, the hook became a trap. It will take months to read, not because it’s boring (see a little further down) but because there’s so much to explore in the footnotes, side notes, and appendices.
Ten Little Indians
I probably read this story in the 5th or 6th Grade, and let me tell you a little something about how far the school system has come. After reading the book, the class has an assignment to take a nursery rhyme and turn it into a mystery. I choose “Rock A Bye Baby” and proceeded to kill of ten pregnant women. I think I only got a B- on it because I couldn’t tie the killer into the nursery rhyme to the teacher’s satisfaction, but think about this for a moment – in a Catholic School, I wrote a murder mystery that killed expecting mothers. No conferences, no psychologists, no media outrage. Thank you Mrs Gayde or Mrs. Hasho for letting me be budding twisted little freak I am today.
I’m not an epic-book reading person. Curling up with a novel on cool nights, with a glass of wine, and reading for hours hasn’t been a thing with me in a long time. That being said, I will read The Talisman a few times a year both as a well-loved dog-eared paperback and the incomparable narrated version by the late Frank Muller. Jack’s journey across America, as well as The Territories feels like something I need to endure and survive several times a year, because it’s so wonderfully rich and alive. It reads like a living document, and it never feels dated. I cry in the same parts, I laugh in the same parts, and I *always* discover something I missed the first 30 times I read it, as if I’m seeing something I needed to read right at that moment.
The Rosary Murders
I don’t remember a blessed thing about this book, but the cover terrified me for years. All I can remember is it was written by a priest and that was cool, and it was what led me to read The Exorcist.
F*ck. I mean … (no words) …
I used to have a friend that kept this book in his garage, much like Joey used to keep a copy of Cujo in the freezer. There’s nothing about this book that isn’t terrifying, and despite the fact that Regan did nothing to warrant possession (bad things just happen, chica), she spends a l ot of this book being very uncomfortable. I’m not Catholic, but I know this book was the cornerstone to my interest (obsession) in Angelic Hierarchy and complicated Catholic rituals and mysticism in general.
One of my earliest memories of my mother reading to us takes place in the basement of our Cambridge home (doesn’t that sound ridiculously posh? It’s not.). We’re all gathered around the arms of my grandfather’s chair, a black leather number with a houndstooth fabric, and my mother was probably trying to enjoy a little light reading. I have the most vivid memory of her reading us “The Boogeyman”. Her reading and my imagination (which for this memory is cast is a royal blue light with terrifying shadows) made me decide I wanted to scare people like this weird guy with the glasses did.
The Witching Hour
This one is not on my list because it’s good. It’s really not. It’s long and drawn out and took me six months to finish because every Garden District description needed four pages and it’s own appendix. Reading should not feel liek a chore, and everytime I picked this book to finish, it felt like an obligation. Where “The Boogeyman” showed me how thrilling the economical short form could, The Witching Hour showed how to abuse words to the point where you forgot what you were reading and why you cared.
Stories from the Twilight Zone
More of the short form. I dig it. I especially dig speculative fiction, stories that have no genre, but still make us think and feel. I pulled Rod Serling’s Stories From the Twilight Zone from a friend’s shelf to read whenever I’d get ignored (don’t worry, aren’t friends anymore) and managed to read a story or two before being recognized as a viable presence again. “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” despite having seen The Twilight Zone teleplays still felt new and very on the nose, and “Walking Distance” always made my heart hurt just a little.
The Howling Man
On a whim I’d picked up The Howling Man, by Charles Beaumont, not realizing he’d also written stories for The Twilight Zone, and when I tore through The Howling Man, I knew this was what I wanted to write forever. There is no story in that collection that doesn’t kick you in the teeth.
Stir of Echoes
I’d seen the movie a bunch of times (I’m sure it’s in my DVD collection) but didn’t read it for the first time until maybe two years ago. I’d read the book cover to cover in the bathtub one night, having to refresh the hot water, unable to put the book down. Thrilled and satisfied with the end, I turned to the front matter where all of the legal stuff is, and my jaw dropped when I saw the copyright date: 1958. The story is written where the only things that matter are the characters and what’s happening to them right at that moment. Over the next few days I thumbed through it several times and realized that within this marvelous story, there are no modern trappings – no mention of current events, technology, who drives what car. It’s a story that’s – wait for it – story driven. If I’m spending time describing what people are wearing or what they drive or the kind of phone they have, I’m taking words away from the who my characters are and the how that impacts the story. It was a huge revelation for me, and I’ve been rethinking my stories a little bit ever since, cutting out the stuff that doesn’t matter, creating a timeless story that doesn’t remind the reader of whens and the right nows, and instead focuses on the what of the story and the right thens.
I thought about all of the books I’d read and enjoyed – more than a few – but none of them influenced me, not as a person or a writer, like the ones above. They were just really good books – To Kill A Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, Harriet The Spy, for example that made me happy (or sad) to read.