Books That Made Me

Based on the Guardian series, here.

The book I am currently reading

I’m very good at starting books.

The book that changed my life

I guess it would be the first one I copy edited and the author didn’t complain. I wish I could remember what it was.

The book I wish I’d written

So many. Maybe Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. When I was trying to be a novelist, this is the book I was trying to write.

The book that had the greatest influence on my writing

First it would be anything by Raymond Chandler, then it would have been the Raymond Carver short stories. Then Jesus’ Son and Fight Club. Now, I’d say The Santaland Diaries (Holidays on Ice, maybe?).

The book I think is most under/overrated

“Overrated” just means that other people like something I don’t; and vice versa for “underrated”. A book I would recommend that maybe isn’t that well known is My Own Devices by Dessa, singer, writer, and barrier-breaker.

The book that changed my mind

A Short History of Nearly Everything persuaded me that science was something I should – and could – be interested in. At school, I didn’t get good grades in science, so adolescent me decided it wasn’t something I could ever understand. That may be some kind of indictment of science teaching, but it also says a lot about how I approached success and failure at the time…and ever since.

The last book that made me cry

I can’t remember the last book. I went through a memorable phase of reading first The Road and then a Bill Hicks biography, and sat in floods of tears at the end of each one. Since then, nothing has really hit me the same way.

The last book that made me laugh

Possibly Calypso by David Sedaris. My wife and I listened to the audiobook on a road trip recently and will probably listen to it again on our next big trip. His writing is excellent; hearing him read his work takes the whole thing to another level that other writers/memoirists/humorists can’t seem to reach.

The book I couldn’t finish

Oh so many. Allowing myself to not finish a book was a greatly liberating moment in my life. I try not to be negative and criticize authors or books I don’t like; I learned my lesson there. I do have a number of technical writing textbooks that barely had their spines cracked. One day, I’ll get around to those…

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. I bought it when I was feeling radical and angry. Now I mostly feel tired and sad when I think of the world.

My earliest reading memory

The reading book series we had at primary school. The different reading levels were represented by color-coded pirates. There were green pirate stories, yellow pirate stories, red pirate stories, and blue pirate stories. I remember the blue pirate was my favorite. “Pirate” was my first career choice. It didn’t pan out.

Later, I read the Adventure series of books by Willard Price. I collected all of them and loved them. Stories of two young brothers traveling the world and collecting animals for…something? A zoo? Whatever it was, I’m sure it would be problematic now. But at the time, I absorbed them through my eyes and into my brain.

My comfort read

Comic books…well, graphic novels, which are comic books for people with too much disposable income. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (Grant Morrison and Dave McKean) is my personal favorite, but there’s something for everyone if they’re brave enough to look.

The book I give as a gift

A Short History of Nearly Everything. It really is a great book. It’s pop science, sure, but what Mr Bryson has done is hit on a way to study fascinating subjects and pass that fascination along to the reader, along with a reasonable smattering of superior dad jokes. Mary Roach does a similar excellent job. Her book Stiff is wonderful. I prefer Bryson’s fact-to-joke ratio, but both writers are inspirational.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for

Well, first I have to write one.

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