Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My influential books

Around the internets, some folks, economists? or something? for some reason?, have been making lists of the books that have "influenced [their] view of the world." I thought I would weigh in, because I am of great influence, have read books, and have a view of the world. This may be more a list of books that have influenced my brain/writing/worldview. Whatever.

1. Ulysses by James Joyce. Probably the greatest book ever written. You can tell because it doesn't make any sense. Until you realize it makes so much sense that if you ever truly understood how much sense it makes, your head would explode. I've spent my life trying to recapture Molly's monologue. Good luck to me on that.

2. City of Glass by Paul Auster. I may have read this book more times than any book on the planet. It's exquisitely spare. "It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not." Sigh.

3. Porn: Myths for the Twentieth Century by Robert J. Stoller, MD. This book is the italics that emphasize porn is a legitimate subject. Stoller got hit by a bus. Infinite sadness.

4. The Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch. He started writing this book when he was in a concentration camp, so stop fucking whining and write your novel already, you bunch of sniveling bitches.

5. Orlando by Virginia Woolf. A novel about a human that changes sex and lives forever. What you got? Nothing. That's what. Movie is pretty great, too. I heart Tilda Swinton. Slicing at the heads of Moors is awesome.

6. The Bible by God. This one is pretty spectacular. I like the Psalms, the Apocrypha, and Revelations the best. John is also very terrific. Don't overlook it, even if you aren't a True Believer. It's great literature. "And on her forehead was a name written: 'I am a symbol of great Babylon, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth.'" I prefer the King James version.

7. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. So wonderful. Took him 20 years after the war to be ready to write it. My favorites are "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" and "How to Tell a True War Story." The book is 20 years old this year. Happy birthday, The Things They Carried.

8. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. I like to think of my novel as a 21st century American Psycho. Or "Boogie Nights" meets "The Bourne Identity." Or "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2" meets "Terminator." It's not easy to write a book that speaks of its time in its time. I should know. As did Melville.

9. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. The Addie part where there's a space on the page? That's some écriture féminine right there. Leave it to the man from Mississippi to put Hélène Cixous to shame. If you liked Yoknapatawpha County, if you loved Caddy Compson, if you can't get enough of the great, sprawling, brawling Mississippi River, read this book.

10. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. This was the book of my childhood. Writing is looking for portals to other worlds in the backs of wardrobes for the rest of your life. Don't end up hanging in one if you can't find Narnia. Being a writer isn't an easy job, but, dammit, somebody's got to do it.