Today is Veterans’ Day, which means that all schools are closed. My friend Katie recently posted a list of fifteen authors who have influenced her life, as part of her series of things for which she is grateful. I thought I’d follow her example and use that as the topic for today’s update.
The Rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who’ve influenced you and who will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. If you want, make your own blog post and give us a link in the comments. Alternatively, you could write it as a note on Facebook and tag me (if we’re not already FB friends and you’re a regular reader, add me!).
Disclaimer: There are a multitude of authors whom I love and adore. This list is not exhaustive in terms of being influential authors in my life. It is exhaustive in that it does indeed include fifteen authors. They are listed in no particular order. It will probably give some insights into the type of literature I read, but I will also point out that I am willing to read just about anything at least once.
So, without further ado:
1. Ayn Rand
I was first introduced to the works of Ayn Rand not by reading them, but by hearing my family members talk about her. A lot. My introduction to her literature started with my brother Adam, who challenged me to read Anthem in 24 hours and report on the meaning of the book. He promised me $5 if I could do so. (At least, that is how I remember it.) This was in 1996 or 1997, when I was in 8th grade. I read it. I enjoyed it. I loved the idea that Self is a power, important aspect of our human existence.
I told my brother that I felt that Anthem was an anthem to the human spirit and to individuality. He said that while that was part, it wasn’t all, because it is a complex book. He refused to pay me. This didn’t sway me from pursuing Ms. Rand’s other books. I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged during my freshman year of high school. With the exception of the two years during which I was on a mission for my church and limited my reading to LDS-themed books, I have read Atlas Shrugged once a year since then. I have also read We The Living, On The Night of January 16th, and several of her essays and short stories. While I do not agree with Ayn Rand’s atheist views, her political views have quite thoroughly shaped my own views as a conservative capitalist. I also love her belief that men and women can rise above their environment and become something so much more completely and thoroughly human.
2. John Grisham
I own almost every single book John Grisham has written. To date, I am missing only Ford County and The Confession. I first tried reading Grisham in 5th grade with A Time To Kill but quickly realised I wasn’t quite ready for that. So I read The Client instead, and instantly fell in love with his writing style. I have been influenced by his story-telling, his characters, and the many serious topics he addresses.
3. C.S. Lewis
While I was in kindergarten, my mum read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my sister and I. I have been in love with CS Lewis ever since. His practical approach to Christianity inspires me to be a better person. I’ve read most of his works, although, sadly, I own very few. I am pleased to state that, while subbing for the librarian in Mahomet, I was able to find several of his books and move them from fiction to non-fiction (Mere Christianity, A Grief Observed, and Surprised By Joy.)
4. Susan Cooper
Have you ever read a book and just known that it was important? This is how I feel toward Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence. I read it in 4th grade, bought it, and have read it many, many, many times since. Although I absolutely loathe the last few paragraphs of the last book, I have mentally rewritten the ending by removing a single paragraph, and it is so much better. My first son will be named William and called Will because of this series. (And yes, my wife is aware of this.) What is so important about this series? It shows how regular people are involved in the great battle between good and evil. And it is fun!
5. Joseph Smith, Jr.
I would be in great error to leave off the founder of my religion from this list. Much like my friend Katie, I will include The Book of Mormon and The Pearl of Great Price as part of the body of his literature, although I believe these to be divinely-inspired translations and not original writings. I am a Latter-day Saint and for this I am not ashamed. Joseph Smith was a man, and he made mistakes, but he was truly inspired as he penned what I consider to be some of the greatest truths ever revealed to modern mankind.
6. J.R.R. Tolkien
What can I say? I love fantasy. I love British authors. And there is nothing better than an amazing series of books written by one of the greatest British authors of all time. Tolkien was a contemporary (and the best friend) of CS Lewis and was the man credited (by Lewis himself) for introducing Lewis to Christianity. The Lord of the Rings is one of the great stories of good vs. evil. It is magnificently written, full of depth and wisdom and truth, even though the author himself claims to have no religious influence within the story. To me, Tolkien’s writing rises above religion and reveals truth in a way that only fiction can.
7. Esmé Raji Codell
I have already spoken at some length on why I am so taken with this author. Esmé is an amazing educator, and her struggles give me hope as I go through my own struggles. I recommend her book to anyone who wants to know what it is like to be a new teacher.
8. Greg Michie & LouAnne Johnson
Holler If You Hear Me was required reading in one of my education classes. Greg Michie is an inspiring teacher who, with practically no resources, changed the lives of his students. I am surprised that there is not a movie based on his story yet. My Posse Don’t Do Homework and its sequel, The Girls In The Back Of The Class are on the same level as Greg’s work, which is why I put LouAnne Johnson with him. (Also, I needed to cheat and include one more author in my list.) Just about everyone has heard of this first book by Ms. Johnson, although the title was changed when it was made into a movie. You probably know it better as Dangerous Minds. I have seen bits and pieces of the movie. I promise you, the book is so much better!
9. Erin Gruwell
I don’t cry. At least, not very often. In the past ten years, I have probably shed tears less than five times. It is just not a typical emotional response for me. But there are exceptions. The ending of Bridge To Terabithia (a book by another amazing author who didn’t make the list) makes me cry. Every time. Not when Leslie dies. But what comes afterwards. I love how the relationship between Jess and his little sister so quickly becomes the focus. The other story that makes me weep is because of Erin Gruwell. She is known as the teacher who inspired the students in Room 203 to become the Freedom Writers. And even though the scene in the movie is completely fictional, I tear up every time I see Andre take the arm of Miep Gies and lead her into the library. We all need heroes. He found his. Erin Gruwell no longer teaches high school, but she continues to teach, as do her students, who were inspired by her.
10. Richard Bach
Jonathon Livingston Seagull. The Bridge Across Forever. One. Illusions. These books have helped shape my philosophical views just as much as Ayn Rand, C.S. Lewis, and Joseph Smith, Jr., have. While I don’t believe his philosophy has ever been given a name, I think of it an transcendentalism. Again, it is the theme that man can rise above his station and become something that is more complete.
11. Michael Crichton
I love science fiction, and I credit Michael Crichton for this. He is another author whose many works I love, own, share, and re-read. He is skilled in depicting the complex dilemmas of the human experience through fiction. He is also a talented author and well-read on his subjects, even if he does allow for things that are not possible within our universe. (Hey, we can all stand to suspend disbelief from time to time.)
12. Robert Heinlein
Another science fiction author, Robert Heinlein makes the list because of Stranger in a Strange Land. Once you come to understand what it means to grok, you won’t turn back. Some people hate Heinlein because he depicts several stereotypes through his characters. I believe he used his characters to identify the ridiculousness of stereotypes and discrimination.
13. Isobelle Carmody
While I lived in Australia, my friend Amelia told me that I absolutely had to read a series of books called The Obernewtyn Chronicles. I am glad I did. The stories depict a post-apocalyptic world, and they are just awesome. I love the characters, I love the storytelling, and I love that I learned about these books while living in another country. Ms. Carmody may not have had much influence in shaping my worldview, but she has had an influence in reminding me that there is a lot of really great literature out there, and if all we do is read what makes it to the New York Times Bestseller list, we are going to be missing out.
14. Lois Lowry
Number The Stars, The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger are the four books by Lois Lowry that everyone must read. The last three are all stories from the same post-apocalyptic world that come together to help us remember what happens when we forget. Number The Stars does the same thing. My commitment to not forgetting can, in a large part, be traced to this author.
15. Dr. Seuss
Last, but certainly not least, is Theodore Geisel, better known to the world as Dr. Seuss. As a general rule, I don’t care for poetry. I find a lot of it to be annoying, poorly-written, and generally a poor excuse for literature. I have complained at length on Facebook about my disdain for those who believe poetry to be a higher form of communication than prose. But I will make an exception for Dr. Seuss’ poetry. I don’t think we own all of them yet, but my wife and I own most of his books. I don’t think there is a better morality tale about conservation than The Lorax. You’ll never find a better case for loyalty and for believing in the power of one than in Horton Hears A Who. Want to know how to conquer a bully? Read The Grinch. Want to know what the future will bring, and how you should deal with it? Consider Oh, The Places You’ll Go. And so the list goes on.
There are literally hundreds of other authors who have influenced my life. I cannot possibly list them all. I cheated enough by sneaking 16 authors into my list of 15. I love literature, and I love what I learn by reading. I take seriously the counsel given in the 118th verse of the 88th section of The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” And so it is that I will continue to read and to learn as I continue to teach.