Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Reading Impact

Which book that you’ve read has had the most profound effect on you? And why?

From Frank

I groaned when I read this question. Not because it isn't a good question - it's a great one, in fact. No, my reaction was simply because it is an impossible question to answer. 

How can I choose just one?

It's time like these that I almost wish I was a religious fundamentalist. I could point to the guiding religious tome of my faith, snap my fingers, and be pressing PUBLISH on this post at 75 words in. But I don't have that luxury, so I have to go through the exercise.

I'll spare you the long, tortured path my mind took on this journey. Just deciding how to approach the question was difficult enough. Non-fiction or fiction? Affected me as a person, as a reader, or as a writer? Does "affect" mean elicting an emotional response or does it mean being a catalyst for change? Do I take stage of life into consideration? Or give multiple answers based on these different criteria?


Here's what I decided, and it is completely arbitrary. I went with fiction and the effect on me as a writer, and the lessons I learned for my own writing as a result.

Even that was nigh on impossible. So even though I am picking one title, know that there another dozen books that are interchangeably impactful, and literally hundreds of others that had some kind of meaningful impact, too... and again, that is just accounting for fiction titles that affected me as a writer.

[Yeah, I hate this question. Which means it is a brilliant question, of course. Hats off to whoever came up with it, seriously (and maybe a frustreated middle finger, too).]

Anyway, I'm going with Dune by Frank Herbert.

Here's a few reasons why:

The first time I tried to read it, I couldn't.
I don't remember when this was exactly but it was sometime between ages ten and thirteen. I was a fairly advanced reader for my age but the narrative scope and layers of this book were too complex for me at the time.

The world-building is outstanding. The galaxy of the Dune series feels alive, real, and full. A reader should feel like the world they're reading about has been going on long before they arrived, continues while they're not there, and will move on once they're gone.

The characters are multi-dimensional. In addition to feeling the same way about characters as the world (see previous point), characters should feel like real people. They absolutely do in Dune. It's also one of the first books I remember reading that had female characters who were just as interesting and powerful as their male counterparts, and had just as much agency. I was probably fifteen at the time, so I probably didn't recognize why this seemed different to me, only that I found it compelling and I liked it.

The book is massively layered. Dune and it's sequels are more than just storytelling and character. Each book in the series explores politics, religion, economics, relationships, culture, colonialism, and the human condition, just to name a few of the larger topics. I don't mean that these things merely get a mention or cursory examination. They are explored, and not in boring fashion, either. Each element is important to the characters in some way and to the stakes they are facing

So how as I affected as a writer? Well, I learned that it is okay to write a deep, complex book with multiple layers (you can argue that I haven't written one yet but at least I know it is okay). I learned the importance of building a world that a reader can both believe and get lost in. I learned the importance of rounded, real characters who live and breathe (and aren't all just disguised carbon copies of me). And I learned that different aspects of the world can be interwoven into the story in a way that deepens everything. Put another way, that there is an ecosystem that the book exists within and I'd better be aware of that even if I don't feature it prominently.

That's just for starters, of course. But it's all we really have room for, and I think you get the point.

Honorable mentions (again, just a few, and only fiction that affected me as a writer): 
The EarthSea series by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny
Bio of a Space Tyrant by Piers Anthony
Kenzie/Gennaro Mysteries by Dennis Lehane
Scudder Mysteries by Lawrence Block
Alphabet series by Sue Grafton
Travis McGee series by J.D. MacDonald

Yeah, I cheated and listed series and not individual books. I told you it was a hard question.

*********************BSP Alert********************

My first Stanley Melvin story was released on August 17, 2021 from PI Tales.

In Hallmarks of the Job, meticulous private investigator Stanley Melvin likes to keep his work grounded in reality, not at all like the classic detective novels he has read incessantly since childhood. But his best friend and annoying neighbor Rudy quickly points out that his routine “cheater” case is rapidly taking on all of the features that Stanley steadfastly insists are mere fictional tropes of the genre.

This novella is being paired with another by Michael Bracken, who you no doubt recognize as a prolific author and editor. I'm proud to share a spine with him.

Hallmarks of the Job has some humor in addition to the case Stanley is working on.  Humor is not necessarily my bailiwick, so I took it easy. It's not a wall-to-wall laugh-fest but I do believe you'll smile once or twice. Maybe even let out a chuckle!

1 comment:

Susan C Shea said...

If I asked my younger son, who is a part-time writer, the answer would clearly be the Tolkien set - The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. If I asked my older son, who is a writer of fiction and prose essays, he'd undoubtedly be stuck in a spin cycle. But it's essentially the same and both your answer and mine this week: We are all voracious, hungry, inspired readers. Books were made for people like us! I salute you for your choices.