So there is this tagging game going through Facebook. Once you’re tagged you need to post what your ten most influential books are and tag ten other people. I was tagged and knew I would need to consider it. Picking out favorite books is like picking out favorite children. It is simply not done. But then it wasn’t asking for my favorite books. It was asking for the ones that had the most profound effect on me. That is a different story. (See what I did there?)
Normally I avoid the FB meme style of posting. It is an exercise that turns you into Patient Zero, mimicking the zombie outbreak in text form. Not to mention it is always something along the lines of:
“I like puppies, kittens and chocolate cake. If you’ve ever had a puppy… or a kitten… or eaten a piece of cake, copy and paste this into your status. Even if for only an hour. 90% of you won’t respond to this.”
To be clear. I am a dog person, though not an anti-kitten person. I’m a baker, so obviously I have no issues with cake. But I’m not going to guilt trip 5-10% of my friends list into doing the same thing.
I will do one’s similar to sitting around and saying, “Okay, its the zombie apocalypse, who is on your team. Go!” Usually there are some messed up ones in there, and if they mesh to people in my friends list well I will play along. Like if it tells me the 4th person on my friends list is a cannibal foodie and it comes up with Mark Henry, I’m in. I’ll repost that. The key is it has to be funny.
That said, there are far more than 10 books that have had an impact on my life. To narrow it down to ten would be to dishonor the others. But at the same time, I would hate to not post on some of the books that have inspired me over the years. So, here we go. In no particular order…
Though not the first book I ever read, it was the first book that I have a visceral memory of reading. My best guess is that it was the first instance of “choose a book to read on your own” in school. Though I am unsure why I chose this one. It could have very well been a case of it being suggested to me by the librarian. That happened from time to time in the grade schools of the 70’s. No matter how it came to be in my hands, the fact still remains that the memory of it held through the years. And I don’t even remember being in high school.
I have picked up a copy for grandkids, and just this week I suggested it to an editor looking for a book for their middle-grade child. It had that profound of an effect on me.
Fast forward about fifteen years from the first book and we get here. It was martial arts, diet, horror and what would now be called urban fantasy all rolled up into one. Also the prose was tight and the fight scenes well choreographed. At one point I had likened reading one of them to my sensei explaining the movements of a kata to me.
Having met the author even more years later (and replacing the copy that never made it out of my in-laws house), I understood why. He isn’t just a writer, but a martial artist and a teacher. There are some strong similarities between him and the man who taught me martial arts. And equally as many differences. Both men taught me more than I expected.
This title has been resurrected from Out-of-Print-landia and found new life in audio and ebook formats. Much easier than scouring second hand bookstores for a mass market paperback in decent shape from the early 90’s.
With over a dozen novels and still more in graphic novels and short stories, it would be hard not to have a couple of them show up on this list. So I’ll just leave them all in one. Specifically in this instance I have to mention in addition to owning many of them in print, I have all of them in audiobook format.
Aside from the horror to urban fantasy bent of these stories (not to mention the snarky Spider-Man like quips he cuts out from time to time), the audio has changed my view of how I read. This was the first series that really made me want to get the audio version first. James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Torchwood) gave characters to the voice as much as the other way around. Between that and Stephen King giving me affirmation in On Writing that audiobooks were real books, made my audible account stick.
This gave me a view of what powerful prose can do in a speculative fiction piece. A touch of horror, a dash of science fiction and a hint of urban fantasy. All wrapped up in the better aspects of a literary fiction novel with few of the drawbacks. And that was before the scene with Lucille Ball or The House on the Rock.
If you’re a fan of his work (or a Wisconsin native like me), you already know this. The House on the Rock is a real place. It is just as odd and other-wordly as he describes it in the book. Oddly, one of the things his editor said was the least believable in the book was the part that was true.
There was even a huge event for American Gods hosted at the House on the Rock a few years back. And you better believe I was there. My wife dressed up as Lucille Ball (the god of media) for the costume contest. She was a semi-finalist to win a ride on the carousel that nobody gets to ride.
This is where I get twitchy. There are so many authors I have come to know personally, I hate to single any of them out. But this book introduced me to many of the others. I found their books through him. And more so, this book had an impact on me. It was like I had found my people.
This novel showed me there was a place in traditional publishing for people like me. Those with a twisted sense of humor. Downright inappropriate at really odd times. It also taught me some of the hardships of traditional publishing, when the series was dropped after book three.
Last, but certainly not least, it showed me the power of what self-publishing and indy publishing can do. This series is coming back with three new stories. And I cannot wait for my zombies on a boat novel. Or more likely, I can’t wait any longer. (Book four was to take place on a cruise ship.)
I can honestly say that this is the first book that showed me that monsters could be protagonists. Anne Rice was read first, but Louie annoyed me and the rest were just monsters. Not so much likable monsters. With Cabal I took to identifying with the Children of the Moon. Specifically Peloquin.
Sure, Barker is known for his horror and gore. And the movie Nightbreed that was based off of the book had some pretty harsh scenes in it, those were a bit of a divergence from the book. Partially in there to appeal to slasher movie goers as well as to demonize the antagonist in a way that couldn’t be shown visually from the book.
But more so than the gore was the tone of the book. The setting. Scare me without showing me someone’s insides. Like the “one inch punch”, great effect can be invoked from small displays. And that is one of the things that struck me with Barker’s writing. He can spray me with gore, or scare me with something I can’t fully see. Both have their time and place.
More to come…
This post is getting lengthy and I am only through five of the ten. So I think I will end things here and pick up with the second half in a day or so. It will give me time to collect up my thoughts. Put them down on paper. Virtually.
Until that time, what are some of the books that have had a profound effect on you? Recent or classics.