I thought I'd begin my blogging/writing journey by discussing how I got to this point. I figured one way of telling that story would be to go over some of the books that have become my favorites over the years.
I must stress that I am definitely not as well read as I should be (tomes like Ulysses and Moby Dick residing idly on my shelf for a better day, etc) but have found, especially in the last decade, books that have shaped my writing self and blown away my reading self through the prowess displayed by these authors. I will later delve more into how I actually tried giving this writing thing a go, but that history kinda winds back and forth all the way to childhood, and is deserving of its own separate series of posts.
(Also, I should note that this list comprises fiction books only; hopefully one day I'll get around to listing my favorite works of journalism/non-fiction as those are major interests, too. And feel free to add your own commentary/lists in the comment section.)
Thanks for reading. jA_W
(All images via Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons.)
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
I sadly was late to the game on this one, not reading Huxley's masterpiece until a few short years ago. But once I finished it (and was fortunate enough to read the additional Brave New World Revisited, which was included in my version) I was blown away by Huxley's use of technology and humanity to show us a world not so far from our own current predicament, with entertainment on tap 24-hours a day and "soma" provided in a hundred different flavors. The brilliant writer Neil Postman conducted a massive thought experiment with his work Amusing Ourselves to Death that postulated whether or not his current world (in the Eighties) was more like Huxley's blissed-out experience or Orwell's technology-driven neo-humanity of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Postman came to the conclusion that Huxley was far and away the closer vision, a contention that struck me anew after I finished the impressive volume (Revisited is an essay Huxley wrote thirty years on appraising his work's predictions). Huxley proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that watching humanity's peril at its own hand was nothing that would change throughout the course of the perilous 20th century, and sends huge messages toward today's internet-obsessed media landscape.
East of Eden - John Steinbeck
I also am embarrassed to admit this was my first Steinbeck, having somehow missed The Grapes of Wrath and other classics in high school. But what a master-work to take in as the first! This generation-spanning magnificent chronicle of two families' journey in California around the turn of the century is an amazing work of literature, story and character. The book delves into the Biblical intertwining of the Trasks and Hamiltons and dives into the dark heart of American empire as the world changed in the first part of the 20th century. I'm reading Catch-22 right now, which is similar to East of Eden for me in that I can't wait to jump back into reading each night because it was so amazingly written. A true landmark of American literature.
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
I won't spend too much time on this book, given that Lee's finally completed sequel has been exploding in the news lately. I don't plan on reading it anytime soon since I just read through this one with my wife about a year ago. Another classic I missed but greatly enjoyed on what was my first read-through, this is simply a story about America, told through the eyes of someone young enough to understand both the horror and the mindlessness of racism while still possessing a sense of wonder toward a wounded soul. This is THE story about growing up as a child in a certain period in this nation's history. My wife loves it so much she named one of her cats "Scout."
Sphere - Michael Crichton
Conversely, when I probably should have been reading stuff like To Kill a Mockingbird, I was instead obsessed with the fiction of Michael Crichton. This one in particular, which came right before the hugely successful theme-park spectacle of Jurassic Park, was a story of terror under the sea. Scientists unearth some kind of alien device miles beneath the ocean only to find it already is kind of among them. I've probably said too much for those who might have interest in reading it, which like JP was also a big-budget Hollywood flick (and is, I'll admit, a decent adaptation) which came on the heels of Spielberg's disastrous interpretation of The Lost World. This science fiction story is a work of pure aquatic dread, and a mind-bender at that.
The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien
Another monumental work from the Minnesota author, containing a bunch of short stories that promptly illustrate the horror and stupidity of war, in particular the Vietnam entanglement. An incredible collection which also showcases O'Brien's amazing ability to capture wartime dialogue among these bands of brothers, using it to describe the realities of war in another country.
The Bonfire of the Vanities - Tom Wolfe
There probably isn't a lot to say about this one that wasn't said when it was published in the Eighties, but it still sticks out to me as a moral parable of our modern times, given all the mendacity we've witnessed on Wall Street in the last decade. Wolfe's story is more of its place and time, but the major themes still have a lot to say about decadence and the meaning of power when it comes to racial relations in America's biggest city.
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
I didn't get to this masterpiece until a few years ago, but what a doozey, and an amazingly prophetic one at that. Ellison's incredibly detailed tale about a young black man rising into the highest levels of the protest movement and then falling from grace (among other things) is a stunning American tale and remains searingly relevant in this day and age of Ferguson and Charleston.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
Not much else to say about this American classic either, other than Twain has been a favorite of mine since middle school, and I eagerly await the time when I have a year of my life to spend grappling with reading his entire, recently-published autobiography. The premiere example of "how to tell a story well;" that this was just one of many other incredible stories is a testament to the pure, unalterable talent of Samuel Clemens.
Needful Things - Stephen King
I would be remiss in advertising my second novel as a love-letter to the King himself if I didn't mention my favorite of his (many) works. While I have read a ton of this guy's books, and loved almost all of them, I'd have to say this morality tale about the darkness lurking behind small town Maine is my absolute favorite (also ranking high would be Misery and The Shining). Plus, he got to blow up an entire fictional town he created. What could be more fun than that?
Watchmen - Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
For the sake of brevity, I'll have to cut this list short and include only one graphic novel out of the many that I love (Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Year One come to mind, as does anything by Neil Gaiman, but there you have it). It's pretty hard to keep any other one than this utter masterpiece of comic history, which has come to define not only the next thirty years of comic book art direction and thematic elements, but remains a philosophical tale that dashed me away when I re-read it last year. For some reason I followed it up with the bitter pill that is Zak Snyder's risible, staid film adaptation (which struck me again as dull and facsimile) but there is no denying this book changed the comic book world, arguably for better and worse. And as a weirdo introvert myself, I find myself a kindred soul in the brutal genius that is Alan Moore.
John Abraham-Watne is an author and freelance journalist located in the Twin Cities, where he lives with his wife Mary and their two cats. This blog is his attempt to catalog all the events that culminate a local writer's life.