Patrick started this interesting discussion, and asked us to follow with our thoughts. I love books. I have always been a reader. The funny thing is, this was really hard for me. I think I read in an almost disposable manner. I will read just about anything. I go into the library and look through the new books rack until something grabs me. With that in mind, my list of 10 books that shaped me is a little different (and might be considered cheating..) This might be a little long. (and aren't those famous last words…)In no particular order:
– Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. This book (even more than Zinn's People's History) made me question everything. It's a fascinating examination of how textbooks lie to us explicitly and implicitly. It stayed with me through my own time teaching.
– 48 Minutes A Night in the Life of the NBA by Bob Ryan & Terry Pluto. I love "behind the scenes" books and I love basketball, and 48 Minutes is behind the scenes of one NBA game between the Celtics & Cavaliers in the 80s. There is a baseball version as well – 9 innings which I love as well. The book gives you not only play by play, but also insight into the reasons decisions were made by both teams. I really enjoyed it.
– Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. My father read the books to us when we were young, but I still remember the first time I read them. We were camping in South Padre Island in Texas, and I sat in the car at night with the interior lights on so I could voraciously consume the entire series over the course of the week's vacation. Needless to say, my geekiness was born early.
– Call of Cthulhu by HP Lovecraft. Speaking of geekiness. I love everything Lovecraft has written. No other writer has ever caused me to reach for a dictionary. The pictures he painted with words sucked me into his world.
– Flatland by Edwin Abbott. I was forced to read this book in 6th grade. It was the only compulsory reading I really enjoyed. My teacher, Mr. Cruz – still the finest teacher I have ever known – walked us through the book letting us make conclusions and discover the many layers of the book on our own. It was also one of the few times I enjoyed Math.
– Ed Emberley's Drawing Book "Make a World." I am not a good artist. This book is mainly built around stick figures and simple shapes, but it spreads out to giving you the tools to draw just about anything. It was perfect for my favored style of drawings – cityscapes with all sorts of strange little details. My brother and I spent hours making detailed cities or bases and then systematically destroying them with some alien attack or something. The greatest thing about Emberley's book is the scope of it. There's no right way to draw his stuff.
– The Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. I don't really remember how we got into D&D, but I know it was early in the 80s. At first it was just my brother and I playing (before we had dice, we used coin flips to do fights). It opened up worlds upon worlds for us. We spent hours making worlds, modules and characters. We made metagames like building castles or creating arena battles. I would be surprised if anything was as meaningful to my imagination developing as D&D.
– Getting Even by Woody Allen. Perhaps the funniest book I have ever read. It's a collection of absurdist essays and even a one act play. I read this early in High School and it was formative to my sense of humor (even if I had no idea what some of the more obscure references were..) The closing piece "Mr. Big" where a noirish tone mixes with existentialism is one of my favorites. A Bogart style private dick is tasked with finding God for a femme fatale. But, the funniest thing in the book is the correspondence between two chess players. Their play by mail game becomes increasingly heated and disjointed as they completely fail to communicate.
-Impro by Keith Johnstone. The textbook of improvisational comedy. Johnstone's ideas of integrating the excitement of live sporting events into theatre are laid out here, as well as his thoughts on physicality, acceptance of ideas and the basic tenets of improv. As a young actor, this was far more important to me than Strindberg or Ute Hagen. Which might explain why I am not an older actor.
– Comic Books. It really didn't matter the title or brand (although I was always more a Marvel guy.) My mother had a large collection of really old comics that we shredded as we read them over and over. X men #1 was a favorite, but I also remember some Superman and Spiderman comics in there. A few random comic book thoughts throughtout my almost 40 year love affair:
- I'm not a collector. I read every comic I ever got, and never use plastic bags. They aren't to sell back, they are for me to enjoy.
- I spent hours going through old Legion of Superheroes comics finding the random alien language that they once provided the alphabet for. We scanned them obsessively to translate every bit of text.
- The Avengers was my favorite title. I recently found a DVD put out by Marvel that had pdfs of every Avengers comic up to 2006 on it. That made me very happy.
- 2 storylines that stand out to me are the Fall of Terra from the New Teen Titans and Yellowjacket's Trial from the Avengers. Hmm, I guess I have a thing for falls from grace.
- My brother and I spent hours coming up with Superheroes to submit to the old comic Dial H for Hero. Anybody else remember that one?
This was a difficult list to put together. I am something of an indiscriminate reader, and that sometimes leads to me reading some pretty disposable stuff. I was also really resistant to compulsory titles in school, so I have never gone back to enjoy some of the good oldies like Tale of Two Cities or Snows of Kilimanjaro.
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