Brooks Briggs, a Facebook friend and former co-worker recently posed an interesting question on Facebook: "What are the top three to five books that have influenced your life—for better or worse? What books influenced your thinking, your trajectory, and who you are today? And—if you have another moment to spare—give a little explanation about how or why. But you must honest. Ready? GO!"
I've been an avid reader for most of my life. So I loved the challenge of this question. But it's definitely too involved to be answered within the abbreviated limits of a Facebook update. So I decided a blog post would be a more appropriate answer. Here are four books that have been influential in my life.
A biography of Harry Houdini. I can’t remember the title of this book or the name of the author. It was geared to younger readers. I checked it out from the Washakie County Library and read it at least three times in fifth or sixth grade. It was totally inspiring to a weird kid like me and it made me want to be a magician. But more than that, it was so much fun to read that it’s the reason I’ve been a life-long reader. Even today, I’m still willing to trudge through unpleasant books because I know that somewhere out there is a book like that biography of Harry Houdini that will be an immensely pleasurable read. And I’m always happy to find such a book. Which brings me to my second choice.
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. This book could make it onto this list just for the fun factor. The snappy, smart writing style makes it the ultimate page turner. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. It features mad-cap, crazy plot lines that you’re somehow willing to believe. And it’s got characters that are so brilliantly defined they jump to life off the page. This makes it all the amore amazing that Tales of the City speaks to me on a much deeper level. This is a book about people who find that the lives they thought they were supposed to lead, are somehow not the lives that are best for them. These are outcasts and misfits who are embraced by a magical place that is willing to let them be themselves. I’ve returned to these characters time and time again. I’ve consumed the book and all its sequels multiple times. I’ve watched the TV series. I’ve listened to the audio book. I’m even one of a limited number of people who have seen the Broadway-style musical based on the novel. Oh, and I've made a pilgrimage to visit the places that make the book so delightful. And every time I interact with the characters who populate 28 Barbary Lane, I’m a better person for it, even with all the sex and drugs.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. This is the perfect segue from my previous choice. Great Expectations and Tales of the City have a lot in common. They both began as serialized stories in popular periodicals. Both books are brilliant accomplishments in character development. And they both capture the essence of a place and time, all while raising questions about social issues. of the era Where Great Expectations differs from Tales of the City is in the theme that I took away from the novel; What is legal may not always be morally right. And what is morally right may not always be legal. That lesson has served me well. It’s been a reminder to keep an open mind, to listen to the stories of others, and to try to be more caring towards people I may not fully understand. It’s a lesson that has inspired a fair amount of kindness and happiness in my life.
The Book of Mormon. The assignment as laid out by Brooks was to talk about books that have been influential in your life, not your favorite books. Up until now, the books I’ve listed have fallen into both categories. With this selection, the story gets decidedly more complex. When looking at the responses to Brooks' question, I noticed that many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints selected The Book of Mormon as an influential book. I am no longer a member of the Church so this might seem like an odd choice for me. I don’t even like The Book of Mormon. I find the writing clunky. I find the stories mostly heavy handed. The violence is frequently overwhelming. And I question the suggestion that the great civilizations of the Americas are a result of Judeo-Christian traditions. And yet, many important decisions in my life were based on the principles extolled by this book or were influenced by the ideas that emanate from the book and its associated religion. The perplexing part, most of those decisions were reasonably smart. I'll admit that I tend to make reasonably smart decisions. But without The Book of Mormon my decisions would have been very different. And I question if they would have been better. On a more humorous note, The Book of Mormon does share something with Tales of the City: I've seen both the musicals!
There are many more books that have influenced me. But this is a decent response to the question posed by Brooks.