I often want to write a book. Then I remember the libraries stacked to the ceiling filled with ideas in the same spirit. So one day — it will be my time to write. Until then, check back here to see what I think about some of my favorite reads.
I ought to start this out with an overview of my major literary influences to date. Undoubtedly, my love for reading developed at a young age in the peaceful moments reading stories with my parents, particularly Dr. Seuss rhymes; Three Little Pigs; Goodnight Moon; Humpty Dumpty; just to name a few.
One afternoon I returned home with duffle bag of Goosebumps novels that had been gathering dust in one of my older cousin’s closets. I never made my way through all of those books, but I dreamt of having that many ideas..to fill that many books with stories.. and to have the time to write them all down.
After Goosebumps, I definitely enjoyed adventure novels (see Gary Paulsen) and imaginative fiction (see Animorphs). However, once I discovered Harry Potter, there were no other books that mattered. Rowlings’ ability to connect with youthful minds seeking guidance is unprecedented. She truly mastered the connection of sacred ideas and lessons told through fiction for an entire generation of readers. Although I missed the direct impact of Star Wars, Harry Potter opened my mind to the same capacity of creativity.
I always will cherish Harry Potter, but long before Harry Potter, mythological texts were impactful to entire cultures. I was lucky to study Homeric texts (The Illiad, The Odyssey, The Aneid) around age 16 in high school.
— I can hardly fathom the luxury one would have had in order to experience the same learning opportunities merely a century ago. —
Although impacted by many of the classics taught in high school, I think my entire world view changed most after being introduced to “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn. I’ve spent a great deal of my life trying to balance my passions with logical reasoning, and thus leading towards a life of sustainability and stewardship towards the environment. Quinn was able to establish a literary paradigm exploring the daily struggle of man to find a collective role in their environment while living compatibly with the undeniable impact of religion. Unfortunately, the novel ends with more questions than answers, and in many ways could lead the reader towards many open-ended conclusions. Quinn attempts to find additional solutions in subsequent novels “My Ishmael” and “The Story of B” (both of which are very fascinating indeed). Ultimately, the struggle to find a role in our world is the greatest privilege of consciousness.
Colin Beavan’s journey towards zero-waste while raising a family in New York City in “No Impact Man” was nearly as impactful and is a must read *IMO*. When you sit down and think of the full cycle of a materialistic lifestyle, it is overwhelming. Beavan’s ambitious goals are inspiring, and if enough people prescribe, perhaps one day, environmental consciousness will prevail the burnout in its passive war against materialism.
I spent a summer in Wyoming studying ecology and the interconnections with geology, archaeology and paleontology (see my short story “The Lonesome Crowded West”). My experience in the remnants of the “Wild West” led me to a used book store on a day off where I found Owen Wister’s classic “The Virginian” — this ragged paperback — I will always cherish. No matter how far from home I may find myself, this novel serves as a reminder that love will always lead us towards truth and happiness.
It’s hard to say what exactly makes a person choose a book out of all the options available, but when I found “The Virginian”, the same shop also had an anthology of Native American myths. I was quick to snatch up this treasured text as well. It treated me to a divine reading experience while riding from Laramie to Jackson Hole via the Wind River Indian Reservation. Those sacred stories held such a depth of knowledge that I had to pass that book along once I finished it. It is not safe to stare into the sun. — I don’t know where that book is today, but I trust it found its way into good hands. Myths are to be shared wisely and with trust.
When I returned from Wyoming, back to Pittsburgh, for one more year of guided lectures and assigned readings, I hoped to find books that matched my level of inspiration. As it turns out, I didn’t really find any inspiration when I got back. I’m sure there’s a more eloquent term for the way I felt, but Modest Mouse wrote a song “Blame it on the Tetons” and to me, thats the only way to describe the pessimism that filled my mind once I returned to ‘civilized’ life. I wish it were different. It took a couple years of listening to music and struggling through sales jobs before Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize and woke me up to the realm of literature that I willfully ignored. His Nobel Prize speech referenced classical sacred literary ideas, religion, and the human struggle. The way he explained how he found his inspiration allowed my brain to synchronize so many fluctuating thought patterns. I started to listen to all of his early music and found it incredibly relevant in today’s world still. And now I’m still on that Bob Dylan journey in a literary sense. His poem “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” made me question all of my influences. I again had found the level of inspiration that had fulfilled me in Wyoming.
Joe Klein writes an incredible biography of Woody Guthrie. Before diving into the Dylan realm, I really hadn’t heard of Woody Guthrie’s legacy. I vaguely remembered that the Americana Classic, “This Land is Your Land” was attributed to him, not much else. But as I read his biography, and I related the timeline of his life, I realized I was reading the story of a life of my grandfather, or a great uncle or, some other wise elder family member’s youthful story. Woody was just so real, so relatable, and Klein was perfectly able to articulate his humble hero persona. I see clearly how Woody’s words and simple ideas are reflections of folk tales that resonate through every human. He was the master of connection. Folk music, the human struggle, the desire to be great, Woody was all of it at once — he lived it, he saw it, he achieved it — and he left a roadmap, the same map that he found, the same map that God shared with him.
Currently, I’m halfway through his posthumously published novel “House of Earth”. The introduction alone, by Johnny Depp and Douglas Brinkley, is worth picking this book off of the shelf. But Woody had already written the story within back in the 1970’s. He feared the prude-ness of the world at that time would destroy the spirit of his story and thus decided to store it away. Who knows what “House of Earth’s” legacy would have been if it had reached the mainstream during the heat of revolutionary days. I haven’t read much of MLK yet, but Woody was preaching similar ideas in simple folk terms. *I think* MLK and Woody held the tools to unite the oppression felt in cities with the struggle felt in rural areas, simultaneously, but their networks didn’t intertwine. Regardless, Woody’s legacy will always live strong throughout my story.