The truth is that I’m thankful for the existence of all books and all other reading material. I’m thankful for that fact that I belong to a species that developed the ability to both create fiction and to find a way to express language in a stored way. Those three skills – language, storage (writing, for example), and creation – are responsible for what has become the truest and most consistent part of my life: reading books.
Trying to choose which books most influenced me or for which I am the most grateful is a little bit impossible, and I am certainly leaving off this list books that I couldn’t live without but don’t happen to remember at just this moment. I can’t even limit myself to just books! However, right this moment, these are the books that I am most thankful for:
- Gutenberg Bible, Lenox Copy, New York Public Library
- The Gutenberg Bible – first book printed with the European printing press, and representative of the start of the move to the printed book. It is an object of stunning beauty, and more importantly, it is part of the change in society which leads us up to our modern age of mass literacy.
- Harold and the Purple Crayon and The Phantom Tollbooth – two books that I remember reading as a very young child, and which had a clear impact on the kind of reading I still like to do today. both are fantasies of a sort – would definitely fit into today’s definition of “genre fiction” – and the “killing time” joke in Tollbooth is the first instance that I remember understanding what a pun is. Harold uses the power of his imagination to make his own world, and I think that’s a good of a definition of “writer” as any that I can think of.
- Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. Actually where I got started on jazz and the trumpet (I ended up even playing a little in high school). Plus, a it was magical without having magic in it, a fantasy without spells. A swan that plays the trumpet? Very unlikely. But beautiful, and it’s delightful to live in a world where that’s even a little bit possible.
- Skeleton Crew – The first book I read by Stephen King. I read my mom’s copy when I was about 14. I spent the next couple of years reading all of the King I could find, and it shaped both my view of people and my view of horror. From this collection I learned to love short stories, and the opening novella, “The Mist”, was so important to me that when I got to see the movie version I was so violently upset by the end (changed from the story) that I threw out my DVD and begged everyone I knew to never watch it again, just so that version of David Drayton didn’t exist in our world. While I’ve stopped reading new works by King, I still look to his early work, and to this collection, for inspiration.
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. I loved it, so I promptly read everything else he wrote, and then a bunch of classic sci-fi that inspired him, and then a bunch of authors that were recommended to be based on what I’d just read. It opened up hundreds of new books for me.
- Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, along with American Gods by Gaiman, and the Sandman comic book series, and just about everything else that Terry Pratchett ever wrote. These books are good, easy to slip into, wonderfully fun (even when they’re dark) and I re-read them often.
- Literally anything by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, probably the biggest influence on not just me as a writer but on the writers and readers I admire most.
- Same goes for Shakespeare, who’s the other great literary idol of my world, and who, like Lovecraft, influenced not just me but the writers I read most. He’s the reason I learned to write plays, and to write sonnets.
- The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Chronicles of Narnia series, for teaching me what epic fantasy could and should be.
- “Watchmen“, “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale“, and “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth” for showing me that a comic book could be an amazing story.
There are more, of course, there always will be and that’s the beauty of books and of writers – there will always be new books to discover and be inspired by and shortly learn you can’t live without. I’m going to leave this list here for the moment but please feel free to leave your list in the comments.
And thank you, readers, for reading me. I’m grateful for you too.