Authors share five books that have, in one way or another, influenced their lives and writing.
Mike Sacks, author of Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason – a humor anthology that pokes fun at oddball characters and their idiosyncrasies – lists the five most influential books he’s read growing up.
Stuart Little, E.B. White (read at age eight)
A very strange book, and yet a very effective one. The character is a mouse born to human parents. There’s no great explanation for this, and yet it works. Many librarians and “experts” felt that kids would never accept such a notion, but they did and still do. One of my first favorites.
And just to prove that idiots still don’t understand anything that deviates from the norm in any way, the following is a recent reader comment left on barnesandnoble.com. Oh boy:
This book is one of the worst I’ve ever read! It is just useless and boring. I don’t understand why this was turned into a movie because it is just such a horrible book! So please don’t waste your time on it!
the Chronicles of Narnia books, C.S. Lewis (read at age ten)
I’ve always loved stories that take place in alternate realities; not necessarily on planets far, far away, but in worlds that co-exist with ours. I loved the fact that a child could walk into a wardrobe and emerge directly into another universe. This made a huge impact on me as a kid. What other strange worlds exist just beyond our reach? Truthfully, I read it again recently, and it didn’t work for me nearly as well. The Christian allusions sort of drove me crazy, but as a child, this book was incredibly important and influential to me.
The Shining, Stephen King (read at age fourteen)
There are very few books in which I can remember exactly where I was when I first read them. The Shining was the first adult horror book that I read and it was, and remains, one of the most frightening books I’ve ever experienced. The fact that the horror takes place from within rather than from without was a real influence. The danger comes not from outside of the house, but from the house itself, and from the child’s protector, his father. I read this book on the way from Maryland to Pittsburgh to visit relatives, and by the time we pulled into the city, I was slightly car sick and my head was spinning from the story’s images.
My first dream as a writer was to write horror stories. In some ways, I suppose what I write isn’t too different. The realities are just one shade off from our own and the characters are usually stuck in claustrophobic situations they’ll never escape from. This may be more frightening than any story involving a monster.
Without Feathers and Side Effects, Woody Allen (read at age sixteen)
Woody Allen is a master at both satire and parody, and there are very few humor books as good as these. The characters are strong and the style is very individualistic. I later became a huge fan of David Sedaris’s, who I think is brilliant. Sedaris writes what he wants, how he wants, without caring how many people read him. And because of that he has a huge following. He’s also an incredibly nice guy. I don’t there are any authors of his caliber who are as nice to his readers as he is. He’s a class act.
The Complete Stories of Richard Yates, Richard Yates (read at age eighteen)
These are dark, dark stories, filled with unhappy characters who never achieve the aspirations they once dreamed about. Not sure why this appealed to me as an 18-year-old, but I suppose that I too was frightened of living an unhappy life without ever achieving my dreams. I read Revolutionary Road recently, and it affected me differently than it did when I was a kid. There’s nothing sadder or more horrifying than living a life of failed hopes and dreams, I suppose. But all of us have to reconcile with that at one time or another. Yates wrote about this better than anyone, with the exception perhaps of Patricia Highsmith. If you haven’t read either of these writers, do so immediately. The end.