Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Wednesday Factoid: Influential Books

Today's Wednesday Factoid is: What are the five most influential books over your lifetime?

Well that's a hell of a question isn't it??

I'll try to think of books that have actually changed my life or influenced my writing somehow rather than the books I've liked best. Which probably means I won't have any super recent ones.

Here they are, in alphabetical order by author. 

1. Octavia E. Butler: Parable of the Sower

I read this book as a teen and it was my first powerful introduction to near-future dystopia. Even though that's not even something I particularly like, I enjoyed how relatable everyone was and how you got this feeling that this could actually happen to our world, and the main character having a syndrome called "hyperempathy" which was a delusional experience of feeling other people's pain was interesting me--most notably because it was handled a little like a superpower but explicitly was not a superpower because the protagonist wasn't actually experiencing other people's feelings. (She could be tricked into thinking someone was hurt, for instance, and it was a huge liability when she was in a fight or if she had to be around when someone got shot.) As a white woman it was also a good glimpse for me about how black women are viewed in the world and what it's like if you're poor when hell breaks loose--combined with an optimism you usually don't see in books that dump gritty reality all over you. 
2. Shannon Hale: Books of Bayern

This series was an excellent demonstration for me about how to balance an epic plot with a personal story. Huge things are happening in these characters' world, but the focus of the story remains intensely individual even as it shows the far-reaching manifestations of the plots rumbling through several kingdoms. Characters learn, grow, have relationships that build on their pasts, and find their places in satisfying ways that don't feel too contrived (even if they're sometimes kinda predictable). Hale's way of centering female characters without acting like that's a "point" she's making was a great learning experience for me too.
3. Eloise McGraw: The Moorchild

An excellent fantasy style book with a fairy tale feel, which taught me a lot about how to make a place and a culture feel real. The local culture of the characters is so viscerally present and understandable even though it is simplistic, and the incorporation of myths into the characters' reality helped me see how authors can hook an audience with appreciation for folk tales that they're already primed and ready to see used as a framework for another story. I loved the "square peg in a round hole" feeling of the main character too--who hasn't felt like the weirdo?
4. Rainbow Rowell: Fangirl

This I read relatively recently for a book I consider influential, but it's the only one on my list here that isn't SF or fantasy, and I enjoy it as a good demonstration for how to make catastrophically beautiful contemporary fiction feel magical. It's practically an instruction book on how to write complicated families without becoming convoluted or filling it with tropes; you could believe every word, and of course I enjoyed reading a book about a struggling young writer (even though I never wrote fanfiction).

5. Joan D. Vinge: The Cat Series 

I called Joan D. Vinge my favorite author for many years because of these books. Her worldbuilding is complex and dirty, and I don't think I could ever do something like this, but she did a great job showing how messy the future would be considering that it evolved from us and parts of it are pretty broken (just like our present). Human nature is explored pretty intensely here by digging around in its guts, and there was a really cool balance of idealism and jadedness in the main character that I particularly appreciated. This is how you SF with epic stuff without losing the character focus.

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