Tag Archives: Writing

30 Years and 30 Books of Influence

I turned 30 recently, which prompted much life reflection, introspection and despair. Really, it’s not so bad. My childhood years were filled with wonder and play. My teenage years were riddled with angst, questioning and sarcasm. My twenties were a time for debauchery, wandering adventures and self discovery. I expect my thirties to build on the wisdom I’ve gained as a young adult and give me the opportunity to contribute to a community in a positive way. Whatever happens in the future, I’d like to take the time now to reflect on a life of books. 30 years and 30 books of influence. The following list occurs in the order they affected me, from youngest to present time.

1. Happy Birthday, Moon By Frank Asch

As a child I found this book enchanting. The illustrations seemed to illuminate from the page. I read this book repeatedly transfixed by the powers of imagination.

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2. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

This comic strip’s mischievous playfulness delighted my sense of adventure when I was a kid. As an adult I appreciate its philosophical and ethical commentary on the human condition.

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3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

This is such a deranged novel. Set in the near future where society is shaped by an extremely violent youth culture, it is narrated by a teenage anti-hero. It is completely inappropriate reading material for a middle school student. My teachers were probably worried.

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4. The Republic by Plato

The foundation for any serious discussion on justice.

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5. The Stranger by Albert Camus

Camus never accepted the label “existentialist.” But because he preferred being called an “absurdist,” it is only fitting that his most famous work is almost always associated with existentialism. Such is the struggle to find meaning in a meaningless world.

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6. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

A deeply profound and disturbing Russian masterpiece. A text to be reckoned with.

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7. On The Road by Jack Kerouac

A book that never yawns or says a commonplace thing, but burns, burns, burns.

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8. Howl by Allen Ginsberg

Poetry that rattled my bones and opened my mind. The beauty and anguish captured in this rambling verse is remarkable.

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9. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

The bizarre descriptions of demented hallucinatory confusion and the honest perverseness of this book made me laugh out loud. “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

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10. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

A simple book with a simple question: do you want to save the world? Telepathic gorilla aside, there are some heavy topics about the evolution of civilization brought to light in this meditative novel.

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11. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

American history 101. I graduated high school a semester early and spent my time working and reading. This book made up for the shortcomings of my high school history education. 

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12. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since WWII by William Blum

I was and still am a big fan of the band Rage Against the Machine. In the liner notes to their album Evil Empire this book appears among a sprawl of other counter-cultural books. I considered the liner notes my curriculum for radical thinking. This book blew my mind and still serves to frame the way I look at the world today.

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13. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda

I was fortunate to have an avid reader for a father who grew up during the ‘60s. He introduced me to this book and many others. This book is as much of a spiritual journey as it is an intellectual exercise. Serendipitously, I met the love of my life in Boulder, CO who happened to be reading this same book at the time (at 18 years of age, my only peers who had heard of it were ones I told). 

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14. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

Sex, drugs and rock and roll embodied the Merry Prankster attitude. This book is about a bunch of free thinking hippies, led by Ken Kesey – fresh from the success of One Flew Over the Cu Coo’s Nest. They painted a bus in psychedelic day-glo colors and crisscrossed America pontificating the gospel of LSD. At times tragic and hilarious, the book is a portrait of a culture with infinite optimism.

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15. Hamlet William Shakespeare

Classic philosophical tragedy. Shakespeare set the bar high.

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16. Bound For Glory by Woody Guthrie

This is Guthrie’s hyperbolic autobiography that reads at the speed the man lived. Great stories and endearing characters open the reader up to the charisma Guthrie was known for.

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17. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

When I read that this book was the result of a bet between Mary Shelley, her husband and other literary figures to see who could write the scariest story, I thought, yea, that is kind of cool. She won the bet of course. You can’t grow up in an environment of pop culture without being familiar with this story. However, it took a college course to force me to actually read the book. I am happy I did. It is an affecting book about the dangerous possibilities of science and the ethical implications inventors must wrestle with.

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18. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

This is a fictional account of Vietnam by a Vietnam veteran. Quizzically, the book is dedicated to its fictional characters. Throughout the narrative O’Brien discusses the blurred line between truth and fiction. Disjointed stories echo into one another. Nightmarish episodes explore the human heart and weigh the torment of those things people carry throughout their lives.

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19. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Chabon writes with such creative flare. His use of figurative language, character development and pacing is expert. Reading this book is like stepping into another world, which of course is what all good fiction strives to do.

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20. White Noise by Don DeLillo

This is an amazing commentary on the social and emotional state of America in the 20th century. I wonder what changes DeLillo would have to make if he rewrote it for the 21st century? In the book families are disconnected, dysfunctional and afraid of non/imaginary threats. Right, he wouldn’t have to change a thing.

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21. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

If I had to pick a favorite book I would say that I don’t have a favorite book. But if I were pressed to name a book that could be my favorite I would say that it would depend on my mood and what book I was reading at the time. Then, eventually, by default I’d name “Grapes of Wrath.” I had a friend that wanted to name his band Rosasharn’s Milk. His band mates declined. They must have been illiterate.

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22. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Simple, profound and worth reading annually.

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23. 1984 by George Orwell

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Orwell was a brilliant writer. He envisioned the dystopian world that to some extent, we now live in. Beyond the big ideas, the love story at the center of this book is devastating.

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24. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Kundera opened my mind to the poetic power of the vignette. He weaves brief philosophical musings, erotic encounters and intimate secrets together, which form a brutally honest portrait of the human condition.

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25. A Joseph Campbell Companion by Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell is known for his academic writings about myth and the power of metaphor. This book highlights his collective insights, dispensing nuggets of wisdom.

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26. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy’s sparse prose in this epic vision of a post-apocalyptic world is absolutely haunting. Its realism is tragic. Its thematic symbolism is spectacular. This is the story of a nameless father and son who makes their way to the coast after an unspecified catastrophic event has set the world back to year zero. A parable of the 21st century.

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27. The Watchmen by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore

Who watches the watchmen? This graphic novel is the stuff of mythic proportions.

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28. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Words to live by – “I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use — silence, exile, and cunning.”

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29. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Hemingway said it best – “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that.”

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30. Beloved by Toni Morrison

This novel pushes the boundaries of the art form. It opened me to the possibilities of brutality and beauty. Reading it is like staring into the abyss of slavery and having the abyss stare back.

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Orbiting

I check to see if I have my keys before I leave the house. I double check to see if I have my keys. I have my keys.

I walk to the coffee house. Inside it smells awake. The man behind the counter smiles, says good morning, he knows me, he knows how I like my coffee. He knows to tell me, to reassure me, to explain how he thinks I like my coffee. Half decaf, half regular, one pump of sugar-free vanilla and an inch of non-fat milk.

He doesn’t forget to keep the lid off. I don’t like the feeling of plastic on my lips. It feels industrial.

I sit in the coffee house to drink my coffee and it is busy. The coffee house is small. There are photographs of plants and run-down old barns on the wall. They are not very good photographs.

The day is early and the sun shines through the window like tiny yellow songbirds. The people in line don’t look happy. They never look happy before work. They look like assembly parts.

I don’t work. I read the newspaper, every word of the newspaper everyday. Reading the entire paper takes a long time, but I am compelled to do it. I am obsessed. It makes me feel important.

I finish the newspaper and walk back home. My mother is there. She quizzes me about what I read in the newspaper, “How’d the fire start over on Hawk St. yesterday,” she asks.

“New York Times, mom, I read the New York Times,” I tell her. She knows which paper I read. She knows I don’t read the local paper, but she likes to see me get worked up. I don’t understand why she keeps doing this when she knows how much I hate it.

She sits at the kitchen table drinking earl grey tea out of a Chinese porcelain cup and I know what she is thinking. She thinks I should have a job. She thinks I could have a job.

“You could be a researcher,” she says. We have this conversation every week. She wants me out of the house. She wants me to be independent. She doesn’t want to accept that her 30-year-old son is different.

“I’m different,” I tell her, “don’t you believe the doctors?” She doesn’t believe the doctors. She wants what’s best for me and doctors don’t know what’s best for me, only a mother knows what’s best for her child, she says.

She wants me to meet people. “Why don’t you try joining a book club to make some friends,” she says.

“Green Mountain is my friend,” I say. “Green Mountain reads the entire newspaper with me everyday.”

“Green Mountain isn’t real,” she says coldly. The doctors say this and she says this, but I see him and he talks to me and his hair is in alphabetical order and it’s confusing to wonder who is real and who isn’t.

“Sometimes I wonder if I am real,” I say.

And under her breath she says, “I wish you weren’t.” But I hear what she says and she doesn’t care that I hear what she says and it makes me feel like a broken satellite.

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Graffiti Written Inside an Abandoned House in Biloxi, MS

She walks sideways across plateaus of peasants. Speaking in currency, she is opposite of asking. Give her what you have, her strangeness governs. Tricks play paramount, serve against balance. She refuses to submit. She refuses to give birth to a daughter.

Stumbling along ambitious suburbs, the windows are dark. Basements anchor the debt of emptiness. Somewhere behind a fence grass is perfectly green. Somewhere along the pavement she puts her hand on a spot of oil.

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Similar Feathers

Every morning I go to the library on my college campus and sit in a chair by the window on the second floor. There is a ledge outside of the window. On the ledge a bird lays dead. It has lied there for three weeks.

There are many seats available in the library but I feel compelled to sit by the dead bird. I look at its mangled body, its snarled beak, legs gripping for something, but there is nothing to grip.

Every week the bird corpse deteriorates slightly more. One day it will be a skeleton and one day it will be gone.

But it is here now. And I come to the second floor of my college library and sit by it watching to see how death works.

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Consumer Love Story

The freshman college boy sat next to the sophomore college girl on the bench as they waited for their bus on an early fall semester day. They had a science class together but only the boy knew this. The boy admired the girl’s confidence and her well kept manner. He wanted to tell her this and more. He wanted to tell her that he was a good person and would show her the respect that her beauty deserved. But he couldn’t just start there, he had to start small. She was playing with her cell phone, checking her calendar and text messaging.

                “I like your phone,” he said.

                “Thanks.”

                “Is that the new Droid?”

                “Yea,” she replied uninterestedly.

                “That’s cool. I’ve been thinking about buying it.”

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