Metatalktail Hour: Influential Media April 8, 2017 7:11 PM   Subscribe

Good Saturday Evening, Metafilter! I'm late today because I got sucked into The Andy Griffith Show with my 7-year-old, who sometimes deigns to watch old black-and-white sitcoms with me. Today's question is courtesy of frimble, what book (and/or movie and/or etc.) has influenced your life the most, for better or worse?

Remember, these are conversation starters, not conversation limiters, so feel free to gab about anything that's on your mind! Try to avoid politics, or at least skim lightly over it if your pick happens to be political. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee to MetaFilter-Related at 7:11 PM (103 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

I thought I'd use frimble's question this week because of all the work they did on the April Fool's character generator!

Mini McGee has learned about banana splits from Andy Griffith and I think we're gonna have to go find some now! Nano McGee is getting her first tooth, and has discovered the joy of quiche. She is a quiche monster and quiche is messy. Micro McGee was upset because he has a summer birthday and couldn't have a school birthday, and refused to let us pick an arbitrary date, so we declared his "Mercury Birthday" 88 days before his real birthday and that was official enough to make him a happy child again. We got sun cupcakes.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 7:18 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I'm going to pick two books...Charlotte's Web and Harriet the Spy. Those are the first chapter books I can remember reading all on my own--I'm pretty sure I was in second grade for both of them because I remember which house we lived in when I read them. I had always loved books and being read to, but I'm convinced that those books were the ones that hooked me on reading for good.
I remember crying at the dinner table the day I read about Charlotte's death. I was so upset that my mom, who had not then read the book, at first thought that I was crying because a child in my class had died. And I started keeping a journal because of Harriet and kept it up, off and on, for 25 years.
I still have my original copies of both those books and I re-read each of them every few years. Both copies are falling apart but I'll never get rid of them!
I can't even begin to calculate the thousands of hours I've spent reading books in my life, but I'm pretty sure that those two books were the beginning.
posted by bookmammal at 7:51 PM on April 8 [10 favorites]


Oh, right, the questions. As will probably surprise nobody on this website, I will go with Anne of Green Gables. Which I have read more than 100 times, I estimate, and certainly did more to mold my moral character than CCD (Catholic Sunday school).
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 8:16 PM on April 8 [8 favorites]


Oh man. CCD. I hated CCD. My mom was my teacher for a few years too, which made it worse. The only thing I got out of it was that I wanted nothing to do with the church.

I don't even have to think about this question. My side of the Mountain, by Jean George is the book that changed my life. One day in fifth grade I was browsing the book shelves in class and pulled this out. I read the blurb and it sounded interesting so I took it home.

It was the first book I ever read in one sitting. I couldn't put it down. I stayed up most of the night until I was done. The next night I read it again and I never brought it back to class. I must have read it ten times the first year.

I would day dream about living on my own in the mountains. I began exploring the woods near my house, whittling branches into spears, building snare traps (which I never baited, so I luckily never caught any squirrels) and building little huts out of branches.

That led to a love of hiking, which I had pretty much no opportunities to do. My family was not an outdoor family and we never went anywhere. Finally, when I got my license I would drag a few of my stoner buddies up to the mountains but I was the only one who enjoyed it.

Tired of never having a hiking partner, when I was 21 I joined the Appalachian Mountain Club and started hiking constantly. Over the years I've probably spent a few hundred nights out in the woods, in all four seasons. I don't do it much anymore, but my 20s were spent doing all manner of crazy things and sleeping in some amazing places.

I eventually took the outdoor leadership program so I could lead my own trips. One of the instructors was a woman named Amy and we hit it off a bit, but an age difference and my on-again off-again girlfriend kept us from pursuing anything.

Until the summer of 1994, when both of us were involved in separate car/moose collisions. Amy called me to talk about the experience, which lead to us doing a trip together, which, long story short, let to a couple of moose topping our wedding cake. This October it will be 20 years since we held our wedding at a little YMCA camp on Cape Cod, the same YMCA camp where that leadership program, where we first met, was held.

I am sitting here typing right now, my wife and son upstairs sleeping, and I can trace it all back to finding that book on the shelf in Mr. Peskin's fifth grade class.

Life is weird.
posted by bondcliff at 8:42 PM on April 8 [87 favorites]


I think I spent the first decade after binge-reading Fitzgerald and Updike in high school/college trying to live up to their ideals of womanhood, and the next few decades rebelling against it. I think I've hit a more neutral stance with it now, where I don't actually care what either of them has to say about how women should be, but they were both (for good and ill) major contributors to my sense of self, and my sense of myself as a woman. (I'm not necessarily proud of that, or in any way believing their work is necessary for anyone else to grapple with in that way; I just read both of them at a very impressionable time for me.)

Margaret Atwood, especially Cat's Eye and The Robber Bride (which I kind of think are almost the same novel), would be someone whose work I engaged with much more consciously, and which taught me that women's stories are important and worth centering. I've read each of them again and again. In my 20s, I had a male co-worker who said he liked The Robber Bride but he thought not having more story about the male characters' lives and motivations was a major flaw; I said to him that that was exactly the point, that the story was about the four main female characters and that the men were supporting characters, and I'm not sure if that was pre- or post- my knowledge of the Bechdel Test but it was my earliest "Aha!" moment that the Bechdel Test mattered. Cat's Eye helped me realize that not only does middle school suck for a lot of people, it sucks in particularly toxic ways for many girls, in ways that last long into adulthood.
posted by lazuli at 8:47 PM on April 8 [6 favorites]


Awww, bondcliff, your story made me tear up. Mazel tov!
posted by lazuli at 8:48 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


what book (and/or movie and/or etc.) has influenced your life the most, for better or worse?

I've had books that have had a positive impact on me, but there's one that stuck with me for a long, long time after I read it: The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. I can still fee the emotional texture of the hopelessness depicted, even before remembering the specific details. I've tried to think of what it is that makes it feel like books I haven't read before. I think it's that in most books of hardship, you can envision at least some scenario consistent with the world that could be hopeful: a respite, a safe haven; some sort of refuge to create in your imagination. This books strips everything away to make that impossible, and then it tells the story of a man struggling to keep hope alive in his son, when you don't see how it's remotely possible. Also, it's one of those stories where I enjoyed the movie, but only because I read the book first. I don't think I would have enjoyed the movie on its own.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:50 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


As always, thank you for the opportunity to mention Kierkegaard, Kierkegaard, Kierkegaard.

Also, am beyond beyond late to thanking frimble, and all of you mods for last weekend's character generator because I had to spend an incredible amount of time re-rolling my character. I was petulantly unsatisfied with my first result--or so I thought until I was literally hitting the button to roll it again and caught a brief glimpse of my first spell. It was marvelous, the best thing maybe ever on this site. Reader, I re-rolled for hours so that I might be able to fully out-of-context--and so of course fully in context--resecure that spell and now be able to cast: Call of Paphnutty.

I now return you to your cabal-less existence. (No cabal you're the cabal!!)
posted by riverlife at 9:06 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


The Great Brain series of books. I was read them by my mother and later must have read them myself at least 5 times. They really resonated with me. It is hard to explain, but the way I looked at life at such a young age was forever altered. I wish I could be as clear as bondcliff, but I am having a hard time verbalizing what the books meant, but know that I still think about the books all the time and have read them to my own children many many times.
posted by AugustWest at 9:20 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


Anne of Green Gables was big for me too! But my eighth grade year I carried around The Outsiders in my backpack and read it obsessively over and over.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 9:25 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Last summer my parents came to watch the kids for a week of Gramma and Grampa camp and I'm not aware of the details of how it happened but for like three weeks after they were insanely into The Andy Griffith show. To the point of playing the roles of Andy and Barney and building lego scenes and trying to the whistle the song. Kids are weird.

I am currently flying over Greenland right now watching the aurora borealis outside the window of our plan with my son, on our way to Reykjavik for spring break, thankful for Icelandair's free wifi. This is a digression, but it is a highly interesting one.

I'll say James Joyce Ulysses. The story of the outsider who sees the world from a detached perspective. Who overthinks everything and can find entertainment and meaning in the mundane. Who sees the scientific explanation, the humanistic explanation, the religious explanation and somehow integrates them all. A man who generally cowers from the world, then learns to stand firm. I took a seminar in college and its kinda the reason why I became a physician if that makes any kind of sense.

But the point is, I'm currently 35,000 feet over the North Pole watching the solar wind hit the atmosphere, and I stopped doing that to share an anecdote about Andy Griffith.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:42 PM on April 8 [13 favorites]


Oh! And I should have said! I got into Fitzgerald in high school because reading The Great Gatsby spun my head around because the language was so beautiful and alive. Whatever issues I now have with Fitzgerald's idealization of women, his writing is just spectacular and makes me happy and inspired.

I just tried to google up the passage that got me hooked on Gatsby, which I remember being about how the lawn scurried up to the house and then, as if overjoyed, turned into ivy, but (a), I might be remembering it wrong, and (b), searching for "Gatsby lawn" turned up a lot of annoying lawn party event descriptions.
posted by lazuli at 9:48 PM on April 8 [2 favorites]


This is already reminding me of the year my book club each picked our favorite book from adolescence (after we read The Great Gatsby when it was the Big Read book and we'd all read it in high school and none of us since and we had fascinating discussions as a result) and we read one each month. It was SO INTERESTING to have people pick their favorite/most important book from those years and hear why they loved it so much. This thread is doing the same for me!
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 9:51 PM on April 8 [4 favorites]


Pre-edit: The synopsis kinda got out of control so feel free to skip this entire comment if you may want to read the book mentioned.

I would, every chance I got anyway, tend to peruse the aisles of various libraries in the towns I've lived in. Partly out of need, as there have been times when I couldn't afford to go get the next book on my list, and partly out of a desire to stumble upon the next thing to read when I don't have anything on deck. That's how I stumbled upon the book The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach.

It was in the sci-fi section and had an interesting cover, not to mention a fairly unique title for a scifi book. Plus the forward was by Orson Scott Card (who I dug a bit at that point) so it was unlikely to be total tripe, as many sci-fi/fantasy books are, so I snagged it and off I went.

I'm not sure how much I should say here since I am pretty sure no one else has read this random book (translated from a German original, if that wasn't obvious already) that I haven't seen on a shelf since... soooooooo I'll err on the side of saying more rather than less so, spoilers and all that I suppose.

Basically it's a story told from various points of view, not unlike World War Z, and details (although you don't really know it until the end) the life cycle of these human hair carpets.

Nutshell version of the chapters I can recall:

Chapter 1: Aging (60s?) hair-carpet weaver on a desert planet, backwards economy but space travel known of as a fancy thing, I envisioned Tatooine, looks to his ungrateful/spoiled son to carry on the tradition of weaving hair carpets. Necessary hair is, mostly innocuously via brushes and combs, harvested from his daughters and the daughters of other weavers/townsfolk. Carpets are knotted from hair painstakingly, to the point where a carpet maker may only produce 2, maybe 3, carpets in a lifetime, vision permitting, one knot at a time, with progress measured in millimeters. Even the wooden frame's swelling and contracting and settling impacts the quality, and therefor the value, of the carpet, so frames on the order of hundreds of years are a necessary item nearly.

Anyway, his son is aloof from a life of being spoiled, since carpet weavers are above the poverty line by a decent bit in this society, and isn't learning the trade properly. Long story short, father/son fight about future, furniture dashed about, carpet is ripped/ruined, decades of work down the drain. Chapter's protagonist now faces the unlikely requirement of making another carpet in what's left of his life or his family falling into ruin/poverty.

Chapter 2: A space traveler scouting planets happens upon the desert planet in question and, since it's not on any charts, lands and investigates. Something something, loses his ship, witnesses the process whereby traveling armored caravans come to town to buy carpets for transport to the planet's capital via a cutthroat bidding/take-it-or-leave-it process, joins caravan, and is casually killed by bandits en route to said capital before backup can arrive to rescue him.

Chapter 3: Something about the carpets being bought up by governmental agency from caravans to be put on a spaceship bound for no one knows where.

Chapter 4: On a space station, not unlike ST:DS9, the ships (hundreds of them) arrive bearing carpets from god knows where. Station workers live their entire lives there. Male workers A and B are in a love triangle with Worker C, female. Promotions are handled via a very structured process and beyond a certain level (management) there's promise of amazing lifestyle and benefits, though no one really sees the folks that get promoted again. Worker A is truly in love with C, worker B is only interested in her for the wrong reasons. Worker C is unsure. Workers A and B go to compete for the promotion via a head to head mental battle, think Tron disc battle but mental and with balls of thought, and Worker B, very sneakily, throws the last match so that Worker A wins the promotion.

Whereupon worker A is promptly escorted away to his promotion: having his head cut off and his brain plugged into the computer system managing the station's docking and defenses for the next 500 years or so. Oh, did I mention worker A has access to the entirety of the surveillance/security cameras so he gets to witness B and C's life play out happily ever after?

Chapter 5: Cut to a primitive nomadic tribe, eating cold mush and grasses in a cave, while the leader prepares a war party. They have been forced out of their previous location by the oncoming wall of technology wielding vehicles and are nearly, as much as they can comprehend it at least, out of the habitable range of humans because of the forced migrations toward colder and colder parts of the globe. This eviction caused them to have to leave their crops behind, little though they had, so the leader calls for a final, and fruitless charge against the [literal] wall of encroaching, much advanced humans that are driving them to extinction... the chapter ends before they leave the women and children behind (to surely starve or worse) to go to battle.

Chapter 6: The scene is a ruined throne room with dust inches thick upon the floor. Imagine King Arthur's throne room but with a few, long dead, plasma TVs on the walls that are still standing. One window looks out upon a dead planet, maybe like mars. On the throne is a statue of a king, chained to the throne by bands of unbreakable metal. But the statue is crying liquid tears. The statue is alive. The statue is a human. The king of this planet, the entire star system actually. He's being/been kept alive by advanced technology and machinery buried under the throne room for millennia. Machinery that's self repairing with multiple layers of redundancy.

When he was first chained there, by the Emperor (of the entire galaxy, who is also immune to old age via some unknown technological process) his planet was a utopia and his palace looked out upon the largest city on the planet. Now it's all gone. All of it.

Demolished by the forces of Emperor down to the last brick.

... and then sterilized by the methodical process of laying down carpets made of human hair over every square inch of the planet. The king had to watch the city meet this fate and all of it's citizens, that didn't flee, die out his window. Then the video feeds showed angles, while they worked/were relevant, of the rest of his planet getting the same treatment as the demolishing crews worked, unceasingly, to punish him.

To punish him and his people for what he did.

He insulted the Emperor's hair.... as a result of the immortality treatments he received, you see, the Emperor was as bald as a cue ball. The king was haughty and, after an unfriendly trade deal, decided to say something along the lines of, "While I may be forced to be your subject in all things, at least I have a full head of hair to enjoy".

Chapter 7 and 8: I'll leave these blank, late here and I don't want to spoil the entire book if you've gotten your interest up.

Chapter 9: A scholar on the galactic capital is being escorted through the, city-sized, galactic library of the Emperor by the chief librarian to see something he'd heard much about. After much travel and walking through corridors, they find the cabinet in question and open it. There hangs a hair carpet of amazing quality. The scholar, after making other small talk with the librarian, asks what other things they passed along the walk there to be given the reply "Other things, with other stories."


*sigh*

So, forgive that long synopsis, but what's the point if you've never read the book and I'm trying to relate the impact that book had on me? Basically, it convinced me that there's no limit to human suffering or depravity and that no matter how hard I try to imagine or sympathize with other people on the planet that I'll never have the tiniest clue as to the lives that the most unfortunate live. Slavery, abuse, misfortune, perilous/tenuous grips on survival are far from unheard of for humans on this planet, right here... and much of it, the vast majority I'd say, is due to the depravity or greed or vengance or, at best, the willful indifference of other so-called human beings.

And there's nothing I can really do about it in the grand scheme of things... not one meaningful thing I can do to stop it and save someone, not least becuase I'm selfish and greedy and weak myself, I'm no saint or martyr. But, because of all of that, I MUST control the things that I can control such that I'm not supporting enslaved shrimp fishermen in the pacific or child laborers in Thailand or China or causing any pumping of garbage into the environment that's going to lay latent and poison our planet or ignoring the social needs of my community and fellow humans at large.

I do what I can, because that's all I can do. And because I'm not in the book, I just was the one reading it.. that makes me tremendously blessed, even when my wife and I were living off of <>
...because all it takes is an insult directed at the hair of a vain person in power and the lives of a whole lot of people could end, abruptly or slowly and painfully. That's relevant these days, more so than ever really, and it's terrifying.

Oh and I like The Giver and A Walk in the Woods and nearly anything by James Herriot too but who wants to hear about those books? Not me...
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:01 PM on April 8 [12 favorites]


Looks like I fudged the formatting there at the end, but I'll leave it as is since Edit doesn't seem to be a thing, rightly so, for Metatalk.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:08 PM on April 8


When I was 11 or so I wanted to read something before bed that I could finish in one session. I went to the basement bookcase and selected a slim paperback volume based mostly on its size, but also the titles of the two stories seemed pleasant.

It was The American Dream and The Zoo Story by Edward Albee.

I've been fucked up and cynical ever since.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 10:41 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


When I was still a young bunhead Gelsey Kirkland's autobiography Dancing on My Grave really had an effect on my dancing. It pulled my teenaged head out of the clouds of mere mimicry and made me really consider not only the micromechanics of every movement but the meaning to convey. It didn't help my body dysmorphia for sure, but my technique improved noticeably and it helped later when I was taught some classes at the know it all age of 18, because breaking down the mechanics and concepts for myself helped in explaining to my students.

I also learned that Barishnikov was apparently sort of an asshole.
posted by romakimmy at 11:40 PM on April 8 [4 favorites]


Early in my junior year of high school my English teacher slipped me Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams. She knew I was smart and bookish and outdoorsy and really having a hard time finding my place in a large conservative Mormon family and I think she also knew that I would connect with the story of an interesting, thoughtful woman of Mormon stock raised within 50 or so miles of my mother. I really did, and I also connected with that teacher who then led me to Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner and Annie Dillard and Barbara Kingsolver and Margaret Atwood and an ever-expanding universe of books and feminism and liberalism and 20 years later we still have coffee a couple times a year and it's one of my favorite things in the world.

My dad was right about her being a bad influence, I suppose, but in all the best ways.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:07 AM on April 9 [7 favorites]


I think I was 11 or 12 and down in my Grandpa's basement. It was packed full of science and science fiction stuff, from the beginning of the genre up until the (at time) mid-70s present day. He told me I could read whatever I liked but I should show him first.

Dhalgren was the forbidden fruit. "It's for adults," he said.

I tried when I was maybe 13 or 14, but he was right and not just because of the sex... it was dense, and literary, and I didn't have the context to properly appreciate it. But the story was so cool. I got just partway in and gave up.

I read it all the way through later on, as a late teen, and still didn't fully get it but ever since it has been an important part of my internal life.

Some time in my late twenties I read it again, and this time was able to more fully appreciate it as a work of literature. And as I discovered more about who Samuel R. Delany was, it helped me get a much better rounded appreciation of minority and gay issues. That book helped me get my 1980s prejudices out for consideration and to at least partially move them aside.

I haven't picked it up for decades, but I am sure I will come back to it again someday.

to wound the autumnal city.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:10 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


May I just first say that I have been looking forward to this all week! Thanks for the timely delivery, Sunday, [before coffee...]!

Now, the books and/or movies that probably influenced me most of all are, of course, the things from my childhood. Under the hood, in other words, you'll find reminiscences from Pippi Longstocking and the six Bullerby children, Otfried Preussler's books (and not only Robber Hotzenplotz), Michael Ende's first two books about an orphan kid and his best friend, a locomotive driver, mixed with a generous dose of the poetic stuff by storyteller James Krüss and a gentle sprinkle of Brothers Grimm. Oh and I must not forget Noddy and Big Ears, who my mom had brought back from her au pair year in Belfast and fed me spoon-wise, in English. Mash this together with most of the early Disney films (except Pinocchio, which for some reason I never saw until much later) and a large scoop of Looney Tunes, and you know what I'm all about.
posted by Namlit at 12:39 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Hmm, interesting question.

(1) When I was 13 or 14, my jr. high school band teacher often played jazz over the sound system in the band room before and after school and in between periods. It was the first time in my life that any music really grabbed my mind and gut and imagination. To this day jazz in most if not all of its forms is a major source of delight and happiness to me, far more than any other genre.

(2) In my early teens I'd go over to my best friend's house after school and we'd listen to his older brother's George Carlin albums over and over again for hours, laughing our asses off. I memorized whole swathes of Carlin routines down to the last nuance (I might still be able to recite his "Hair Poem" off the top of my head). The way he used and spoke about language taught me to think critically about words and ideas.

(3) Around the time I turned 17 I happened to read Richard Bach's "Illusions". Very roughly speaking it's kind of Zen Extra Lite for Oblivious Westerners (such as the sheltered vanilla southern middle-class Christian young adult I had been raised as). It was my first exposure to a completely different way of thinking about Life and religion and it was, in a word, Momentous. I was so excited about the book that I had to share it with my Methodist youth group (because of course going to church was just Something One Did, and who else to share philosophical ideas with?) So next Sunday morning there I was, reciting a particularly intriguing passage to what I assumed was a receptive audience. When I finished I looked up from the book to see a dozen or so faces filled with not the fascination I was expecting, but utter blankness - like they were so unable to comprehend these unfamiliar ideas that I may as well have been speaking Nahuatl or Khoisan or something. The memory of my inner realization at that precise moment is still vivid: "Yyyeah, I'm done here"...not just with church and that youth group, but with my entire upbringing.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:50 AM on April 9 [7 favorites]


When we were wee kids, my favorite thing was paging through our set of encyclopedias. Reading wasn’t a passion back then but I enjoyed learning about things.

The most influential book I read was The Black Stallion, not because it was engaging literature, but because when I was in fourth grade, a librarian pointed out the section of horse books and it was the first one I picked. My gosh! Reading could be fun!

By 6th grade when we had to present a book report (on anything we'd read) to the class, I went through the school library and picked an interesting looking book: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I had no clue till the end of my presentation that it was not "standard" literature for a 6th grader, according to the teacher.

So, thanks to the first "horse book" for instilling a passion for reading!
posted by mightshould at 4:10 AM on April 9 [3 favorites]


Two books that my mom gave me really changed my life, and I don't think it was in ways she had in mind. They were Elmer Gantry and Bright Lights, Big City. Both of them were around the age of 13 or 14 but I don't remember which order I read them in.

My parents are devout Catholics and up until I read Elmer Gantry I dutifully followed them to church and participated in the rituals and observances without ever really thinking about it. I was raised that way and it was just done. After reading Gantry I realized that there were other possible options and soon after refused to go to church and became a heathen.

Bright Lights, Big City made me fascinated with drugs. I think my mom felt that the second person narrator was cool, but what I liked was the drugs. I didn't start using drugs right away (remember, I was a young church goer at this point), but when they became available to me boy was I ready. I availed myself in ways that would make Neal Cassady consider holding an intervention for me.

So yeah, I am glad to have read those two books, but my mom might question her decision to give them to me in hindsight.
posted by Literaryhero at 4:21 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


High five, Greg_Ace.
posted by Literaryhero at 4:23 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Been thinking about this question while strolling to the pub for brunch. Can I indulge with three books and a movie please?

The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett. Though written over 20 years ago, arguably still one of the most important and relevant texts to this particular time in humanity. It's a scholarly - and a very long - read about pandemics and their causes. Zero hype or melodrama, as the facts clearly presented are unsettling enough. It's also a prime example of how you can make evidence in a complex, scientific, field readable and understandable to all.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Championed by Teddy Roosevelt when it was being rejected by publishers, it's supposedly just about the adventures of a few animals. On re-reading at different stages of my life, it conjures up very different interpretations, such as the class system in England, society as WWI loomed, and reality as distorted by the English landscape (and substances).

Blue Highways: a journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon. I've read a lot of travel books set in the USA (probably too many) and this one still stands out as a text more about people you meet on the way (if you want to). He also writes so damned hypnotically well. One of the influences on why I've spent several years in total there, mostly in rural parts of the mid-west. It opens:

"Beware thoughts that come in the night. They aren't turned properly; they come in askew, free of sense and restriction, deriving from the most remote of sources."

The movie pick is Princess Mononoke. My favorite animation and environmental film, with complex characters (no-one is one-dimensionally 'good' or 'bad'), a line-up of various people, animals and gods and saying a lot more about equality and feminism than most films, animated or otherwise. Lady Eboshi is probably my favorite character in any movie:

"Now watch closely, everyone. I'm going to show you how to kill a god. A god of life and death. The trick is not to fear him."

And ... that's decided which movie I'm going to rewatch tonight.
posted by Wordshore at 4:48 AM on April 9 [9 favorites]


My dad got sidelined and moved to a TB facility in Colorado after WWII and then his pregnant French war bride died of something else cause antibiotic shortage on a transatlantic sea crossing and my half-brother got locked in the stateroom for a week with his mother's corpse for quarantine reasons. The bee-keeper-looking crew fed him and gave him any French or Polish books they had. He vanished for 25 years when I was 4.

I found all those books in a box in the basement when I was nein. He'd written copiously in the margins. It was the drawings at first. I could recognize relatives.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:53 AM on April 9 [14 favorites]


I've got another one--
I love reading nonfiction of many kinds, and the first adult nonfiction book I remember reading was The Day Lincoln Was Shot by Jim Bishop. My dad was a history teacher and I pulled his copy off the bookshelf one day when I was in 4th grade. I was immediately hooked by the nearly minute-by-minute account of the events and was completely immersed in the time period. I remember my parents making me go with them to buy furniture that weekend, and I took the book with me and sat on the floor in a corner of the store and kept reading.

I've probably read that book a dozen times over the years. I'm pretty sure that's how I got hooked on nonfiction in general, and specifically on my love of presidential history. I went on vacation to Washington DC last fall and the very first thing I did was visit Ford's Theater.

(I cannot express how much I love this thread, and how much I enjoy and look forward to MetaTalkTails each week! I always feel as though I'm reading little excerpts of a lot of really great novels!)
posted by bookmammal at 5:21 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy did more to save my sanity as a pre-teen/teenager than the therapy I had at the time. I was a voracious reader, always borrowed the maximum number of books allowed from the school library (and imagine my glee when I discovered there was ANOTHER library in town and it was EVEN BIGGER than my school library), and I was a miserable kid stuck in my parents' unhappy and abusive marriage, and the victim of my father's incessant wrath. Books were my escape.

The Hobbit and LotR were the first books I completely fell into. The world was so vivid it was easy to get lost in it. I would have Middle Earth related dreams. They were the first really complex books I read at age 9/10 (everything before was Encyclopedia Brown or The Hardy Boys or whatever) and I just loved them.

There was a period of time in high school when all I did was read those books. Once I finished, I'd start again. So comfortable. When I finally got my driver's license, I was able to go the town library and bookstores and man oh man did I ever. I discovered a love for non-fiction and a world outside my little town and my family of origin and for the first time, I saw that maybe I could escape.

When I met my husband, one of the first things we bonded over was The Hobbit and LotR. I started a re-read of The Hobbit during the first trip I took with him to visit his family out east. It's been a while since I last read them, because my reading list now is so enormous but I expect I'll get back to them by the end of the year, just for familiarity and comfort in these awful times.
posted by cooker girl at 6:12 AM on April 9 [8 favorites]


I think my dad read me Dealing with Dragons when I was in kindergarten, and I have a hard time thinking of a book that molded my personality more. "But I'm a Princess, and I fence, so it is too done by princesses" has been the constant refrain in the back of my mind when I played football, read Ernie Pyle, took algebra, took physics, took AP chem, moved far away from home for college, did fieldwork in Peru, did fieldwork in Africa, argue with people, set my mind to do something even if someone didn't think it was a good idea. "Well, I'm doing it. So it can be done."

I had an entire cadre of young women heroes. Alanna, Laura, Anne, Caddie Woodlawn, Daine, Kel, Cassie Logan, Yolanda, Yoshiko Uchida, Anne Frank, Pippin (because I was pretty sure Pippin was a lady hobbit), Eowyn, Addy, Molly, Tiffany Aching, Granny Weatherwax, Ella Enchanted, Catherine Called Birdy, Sarah Plain and Tall, Julie of the Wolves. I can trace bits of me to all of them. But I think Cimorene is me down at the core, with some of Morwen and Kazul thrown in.

And, there's no way for me to answer this question without In The Shadow of Man, which my dad gave me to read the summer between 6th and 7th grade when I was complaining about having read all the interesting kids and YA books. It's now 17 years since I first read about the Gombe chimpanzees and Jane Goodall, and I can still tell you the details of Goliath, David Greybeard ("Now we must redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as human"), Meiissa, Flo, Fifi, Pom and Passion. I knew that that was what I was going to be when I grew up the moment I finished In the Shadow of Man and picked up Gorillas in the Mist and In the Mind of Monkeys and In the Kingdom of Wild Gorillas and Almost Human: A Journey into the World of Wild Baboons and A Primate's Memoir and Next of Kin and Through a Window . I was supported by my very broadminded parents and a host of amazing (mostly male) teachers and professors who were ecstatic that a 13-year old girl wanted to be a scientist, and then an 18-year-old girl wanted to work in the fossil lab, and then a 20-year-old woman who studied Swahili would be happy to go to Kenya even if she was the only woman on the field crew, and then a 22-year-old woman wanted to go study monkeys in Cote d'Ivoire. I don't study chimpanzees exactly, but I'm getting my PhD in a month and I study primates and it's all because of In the Shadow of Man.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:20 AM on April 9 [42 favorites]


In that a book read when you're a child might have the most influence on your life, my answer would have to be a tie between A Wrinkle in Time and The Westing Game; I've read many books since then, but it's been over 30 years since I first read them and I'm still waiting to find my tesseract and/or be a potential heir in a mysterious puzzle will.

I instead read lots of science books, will read and watch anything with a mystery, and do lots of puzzles.

I also still have huge crushes on my idealized versions of Calvin O'Keefe and Theo Thedorakis, even though I am far too old for them now.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:38 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


ChuraChura--I got chills (the good kind!) reading your response.
There is a quote I love that I heard years ago at an educators conference --"Children cannot pursue what they are not exposed to." Your story completely brings that quote to life. Books can and do change the trajectory of people's lives.
posted by bookmammal at 7:43 AM on April 9 [3 favorites]


Influences are many, but the one that comes to mind first is King Lear.

It may seem odd to draw comfort from a tragedy. However, the play has long been my grounding for living in an amoral universe where, though human action has a very real potential to help, our tendency to abandon our agency and responsibility too often leads us to bad ends.
....O, I have ta'en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:15 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


It's hard to pick the most influential thing... The first book that really pulled out my heart and stomped on it was The Changeling by Zilpha Snyder. But maybe the most influential would have to be the Atari 2600 Adventure game. Or effin By Balloon to the Sahara. Or maybe it was Free to be You and Me, or maybe the early Bill Cosby comedy albums.

Okay I have a couple questions about young adult books though:

1. What is the YA book where some kids investigate a crime and end up driving a station wagon under duress, and there's a chopped up body under a tarp lashed to the hood, and as they drive they are worried about parts of the body sticking out as it like sloshes around? When I try to think of the title I can clearly picture the cover of My Darling My Hamburger, but it wasn't that obviously.

2. Did anybody actually like Andre Norton's ___ Magic books???? Maybe I was too young, but Octagon Magic in particular was just not a pleasant reading experience at all. In fact it just made me uncomfortable to see it and the other books on the shelves next to one another. Are these books just cold empty places? Are they just poorly written? 'Fur Magic', really?? What's the deal with Andre Norton??? (I was probably too young.)
posted by fleacircus at 8:32 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


I think there are two books that made an imprint on my younger self that I still see going strong today. Watership Down because it made me want to know how stories work, and where character comes from, and how precisely narratives create empathy in people. It was the first book that worked on me. The first to make me hungry for more stories. It made me want to figure out how stories ticked, how Adams had performed that magic. It was also the first book I bought for myself after checking it out at the library.

And the other was Woody Allen's Getting Even, which taught me how powerful absurdity and humor could be. It was like a drug. I wanted more books like that. I read every funny thing I could get at the library. Every humor anthology, every comic collection, Twain, Vonnegut, Fran Lebowitz, Ambrose Bierce, Garry Trudeau, Mad, Cracked, Schulz, John Hart, Jonathan Winters, National Lampoon, Phyllis Diller, Erma Bombeck. I borrowed humor albums like Bob and Ray, George Carlin, Bob Newhart, Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Cheech and Chong, Monty Python, and Firesign Theatre.

I wish these books were something smarter but there you have it. And I'm still investigating those two questions—how do stories work and how can I use humor better. Another thing that's obvious to me is that my library changed my life.

I didn't mind CCD, but I don't think CCD cared much for me. It was in the seventies and the church we attended was one of those guitar strumming, Second Vatican types that embraced a theoretically more open approach. I remember getting thrown out of class for pointing out that Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is pretty consistently portrayed in the gospels, but if all the apostles were actually asleep during that prayer until woken by the arresting soldiers, how do they know what he said while they slept? I believe it was my characterization of the issue as being an obvious plot flaw, naturally the result of sloppy collusion among gospel authors that first got me kicked out. Looking back, they were probably more tolerant than most CCD instructors forty years ago, and certainly more tolerant than I was of their beliefs. I'd like to think I'm better at that now.
posted by Stanczyk at 8:54 AM on April 9 [5 favorites]


Dealing with Dragons is what came to mind for me too. I remember my mom hunting for it when she thought I was the right age for it.

Also, I have vague, but very fond memories of The Pushcart War.
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:00 AM on April 9


... I must have read it ten times the first year.

I had to special order Lois Bujold's Shards of Honor because it wasn't available at any of the bookstores I looked in. When it finally arrived, I read it eight times in the first week.
posted by Bruce H. at 9:14 AM on April 9


ChuraChura, your comment brought tears of both happiness and recognition to my eyes. I, too, LOVED Dealing With Dragons for all the reasons you did! And I had a similar book profession-wise: Annals of the Former World by John McPhee.

But the most influential books for young me were these two: the Old Mother West Wind series, which my dad also loved and would read to me - it was clear we had a bond with our love of the outdoors that we could share though activity, knowledge, and skill-learning, and it's influenced my entire life.

And oh oh oh! The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. I loved Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web, but there was something about Trumpet of the Swan. . . . the main human character loved being by himself in the woods, and that was okay. He liked thinking about things in nature, too, just like me! There was the message about taking care of wild things and the land. What great messages! It was even partially set near my neck of the woods. But the love of the swan family for their voiceless cygnet. . . it was just all about being loved even though you were different. I was pretty different for the time and place, I too felt voiceless at times, but I felt l was loved, and the message was that it was okay and things would work out - it was just really important to hear that as a kid.

Older me had a slightly different revelation with the Introduction to Great Books Series, which a college or high school student left on a park bench one summer and which I shamelessly stole. I was between 5th and 6th grade.

Not only was it the kind of literature I thought a college student was reading, and I wanted to go to college so badly, it was so different than all the other books I had been exposed to so far. My family read, a lot, but it was Zane Grey and murder mysteries, or books about exploration or hunting. These books weren't YA or westerns or "stories". . . . it was literature. It was a peak inside the mind of true intellectuals; it was rhetoric, logic, and social critique; it was an introduction to Ideas with a capital I and to some very disciplined thinking. It started with an essay called"Why War?" To my Cold War upbringing that was just inflammatory! It had Alexis de Tocqueville, Conrad, Chekov, Locke, Kant, Woolf, Plato, Hobbes, Dineson. I devoured the entire series and it just shocked me to my core - I had never been exposed to anything like that before.

But more than anything, I had to think critically about what I was reading in order to understand it - that was so new, so exciting, so challenging. The experience was wonderful - I read them to shreds. I only had a vague idea what going to college meant, but to my young self if the experience of reading these works was an example. . . well, let's just say it turned my college ideas from dreams into pure determination.
posted by barchan at 9:18 AM on April 9 [5 favorites]


I have multiple answers.

Movie - Star Wars. I was six when it first came out, and it's the first movie I remember seeing (I know my parents had taken me to Disney stuff before that, but I have no recollection of it). It sparked my imagination. And remember, this was 1977 - if the movie wasn't in a theatre, you had no way of seeing it again. So the presence of Star Wars in my mind was a huge thing then; that was where it lived for three years until we got Empire.

Books -The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were big for me as a pre/early adolescent. But perhaps the most influential book I read was Atlas Shrugged. I read it at the urging of my parents at age 17, in particular my mother. It drove home the point that I had been sensing for a while - that my parents and I had very different ideas about politics and life and social responsibility. And that I could reject the ideas espoused in that book and still have a relationship with my parents.
posted by nubs at 9:23 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Not very high-brow, but:

Harold and the Purple Crayon sparked my imagination and it still applies to this day.

I saw Harold and Maude for the first time when I was twelve. I walked in to the theatre Harold and left Maude.

Columbo helped me sharpen my analytical thinking skills.

All the humor my dad introduced me to. One of my earliest memories is listening to Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner's 2000 Year Old Man on the hi-fi with him. Watching Hogan's Heros with him and learning that you can find humor in tragedy. And being allowed to stay up late to watch Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett because laughter is important.

Bad influence:

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. In 7th grade I ran away to the now-defunct May Company department store and hid in the bathroom at closing just like in the book. Unlike the book, they shut off the lights and I got caught by a guard and then I cried until he let me go.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:28 AM on April 9 [17 favorites]


Barchan - my undergraduate advisor gave me a copy of Annals of the Former World to read while we were doing paleontology fieldwork in Kenya. Formative in a different way. Trumpet of the Swan is my favorite EB White book, as well.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:31 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Stanczyk: And the other was Woody Allen's Getting Even, which taught me how powerful absurdity and humor could be. It was like a drug. I wanted more books like that. I read every funny thing I could get at the library. Every humor anthology, every comic collection, Twain, Vonnegut, Fran Lebowitz, Ambrose Bierce, Garry Trudeau, Mad, Cracked, Schulz, John Hart, Jonathan Winters, National Lampoon, Phyllis Diller, Erma Bombeck

Oh, yes, all of these, also probably with Getting Even as the gateway drug.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:32 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


I watched (part of?) a horror movie when I was 11 and noped right out. Never watched another one. Never intend to. I'm not really sure if that changed my life. Maybe if I had been exposed when I was older I would have been better able to appreciate them, but maybe not.
posted by Bruce H. at 9:38 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


I grew up gay in a evangelical household which deliberately blocked me from seeing anything that might corrupt me (e.g. "Growing Pains"), so a lot of the big pieces of media were big because I got stuff out of them that I wasn't supposed to know/think/see.

Isaac Asimov had a series of books, collections of short essays about various topics: Asimov on Chemistry, Asimov on Physics, etc. that are probably responsible for me developing an interest in chemistry in junior high, which is responsible for meeting one of my better friends, my college major, at least two of the jobs I've had, and -- probably -- the reason why I was receptive to the idea of atheism when I encountered it in college, even though I managed to read the books with my faith intact in junior high.

I was obsessed with The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton) at around the same time, which appealed because there were intense emotional (if not sexual) relationships between dudes, as well as dudes paying attention to one another's appearance. I understand Hinton didn't intend that reading, but I was so sheltered that I just kind of took her word for it that this was how guys were. Which led to some unrealistic expectations down the line when I tried to create those sorts of relationships with straight guys I knew, and turned out to be remarkably difficult to unlearn.

Heathers literally changed my life; I am not at all clear how, but assume it had something to do with [Christian Slater is pretty] + [aggressive unwholesomeness]. ("My afterlife is so boring. If I have to sing 'Kumbaya' one more time I will spew burrito chunks.")

It's possible that The Robber Bride (Margaret Atwood) is the first piece of media I read in which the gay characters didn't die, didn't turn straight, and weren't condemned for their sexuality. I spent a lot of time with the book, so it probably had the biggest impact whether it came first or not, even though the gay characters weren't the focus.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 10:12 AM on April 9 [5 favorites]


The most influential book for me was both positive and negative. Oh Jane Eyre, you taught me to be a strong-willed woman, who was proud to be smart and artistically talented, even if a little oddball, or painfully plain. And oh, Jane. You led me to believe that as long as I found and intelligent man, even if he was abusive, moody, brooding, and rude, I could change him to be a better human. I spent 8 years doing that until it all fell apart (thankfully), and after I went back to being "solitary, friendless, and unsustained," I was finally able to reconnect with me true self, come out, and open myself to finding Mrs. ikahime who is so far away from Mr. Rochester, she might as well be Jane's orphanage friend, Helen Burns.

As far as movies, I think The Dark Crystal has had the most profound effect over the longest time. Its swirling miasma of animistic, fantastical mysticism still influences my amorphous spiritual beliefs to this day.

Thank you Metafilter for always being here for me. It's been another tough year for us, although one we thought we had prepped for. We lived through the toughest winter in 40 years in an Airstream while delays on our new house build put us way behind the eight-ball. This week was especially harsh, since I discovered my beloved kitty had blocked plumbing and then went went thru a harrowing series of vet visits to save his life. This thread (which is the procedure he ended up having), really helped me make some hard decisions about his health and reassured that I was making the best decision available. You are always my go-to, my support network, and my community, even if you don't know it.
posted by ikahime at 10:30 AM on April 9 [5 favorites]


... Atlas Shrugged. I read it at the urging of my parents at age 17, in particular my mother. It drove home the point that I had been sensing for a while - that my parents and I had very different ideas about politics and life and social responsibility.

nubs, your mention made me recall reading that book around the same age; I actually kind of liked the notions of "reason" and "individualism" as I perceived them at the time (in my state of massive innocence and naiveté).

My parents had divorced when I was a toddler, and I barely knew my father at all. Through a set of circumstances not relevant to this particular story, we ended up communicating when I was in college and he bought me a plane ticket to come visit him over Christmas break.

During that visit I happened to mention my admiration for "Atlas Shrugged" and was a bit surprised when he visibly winced. He proceeded to explain to me diplomatically that I might want to re-think that, and how it wasn't as exemplary a philosophy as I was maybe making it out to be. I did rethink it over the next few months and years, and I'm now very grateful to him for that bit of parental guidance. I tried re-reading it a few years later out of curiosity, to see what my fledgling adult ("un-woke", as the kids say nowadays) self saw in it, and from my less ignorant viewpoint I saw it in a far less favorable light. It is the only book that I have ever literally thrown in the trash (it was a paperback copy I'd bought used, not a library book).
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:23 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


I didn't learn to read until the beginning of 3rd grade, long after school had given up on me (I later learned that my parents had had to stave off at least two attempts to send me to a special school, one of which was thwarted only by moving districts), and I was, outside of my family, universally acknowledged as The Dumbest Kid in School -- I couldn't count to 20, and I didn't know the alphabet either; I remember being kind of confused about what the alphabet actually was. Toward the end of 3rd grade, and by then I was reading up a storm, a little girl was laughing at me because of something I said in class (and just on general principles, really, and maybe also because her older brother had lost a fight with me) and scornfully challenged me to recite the alphabet. I couldn't do it. I got to 'q', and after that it was a wilderness.

But I wasn't as upset by all this as everybody else was -- I remember being fairly happy, actually, though I hated school -- and one day as I was paging through one of my extensive collection of comic books, specifically the Classic Comics version of A Prisoner of Zenda, I kept being distracted by snatches of speech, which I thought must be commercials on a radio someone had left on. Yet no radios were on, and when I came back to my comic and the phenomenon continued, it gradually dawned on me that I was hearing the contents of the speech bubbles! So I guess I'd have to say that the Classic Comics Prisoner of Zenda was perhaps the most influential book I've ever read.

And that influence turned out to be more profound than I possibly could have imagined, because that little voice in my head reading me the contents of those speech bubbles also just happened to be the voice of my conscience, as well, which I hadn't been hearing from too much up until that point.

Reading The Prisoner of Zenda marked the last (but one) of the really violent fights I'd been having on a semi-regular basis before then, and practically from one week to the next, though I still liked fires, I was no longer a pyromaniac (I'd accidentally set our house on fire and burned away most of the back porch when I was 6 or 7, for example). Reading somehow satisfied the same craving which had led me to build fires in our huge old stone fireplace and stare into them for hours at a time most nights before bed, and that was an enormous relief of something I hadn't even known was wrong.
posted by jamjam at 11:58 AM on April 9 [11 favorites]


Greg_Ace, I feel like we went down some of the same paths, though I didn't start out Christian. (My father kept me from any religion as a kid, which of course made me all the more interested to explore as much religion and philosophy as I could.) I read a lot of Ayn Rand in high school myself, I'll confess, though looking back on it, none of it really makes that much sense. But yeah, for me, reading Richard Bach's The Bridge Across Forever was what turned my head, and I've read just about all his other books since then. I read Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" around that time as well (I've since read all of that series too), and I'd say both were major formative influences for me. My romance-meets-metaphysics-meets-actual-math-and-physics notions were also highly influenced by F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise and Richard Feynman's books for a more general audience. Anyone who knows me and knows those books can probably see how those threads come together. (Or, y'know, you could just read one of my most recent comments on the blue.)

Of course, I have mixed feelings about Bach at this point—the stuff he writes is such idealistic white-guy Eastern philosophy lite in a lot of ways, such a product of the '70s and '80s, such boomer philosophy, and apparently part of chasing his highest self involved getting divorced from Leslie Parrish Bach, marrying a much younger woman, then getting divorced from her too. (Though I think my notions of what divorce means may be changing, after reading so many relationship questions for years on the green—while I see a total pattern there, in Bach's case, I also have a much more nuanced, less judgmental view of divorce in general now.) All of that said, a lot of Bach's principles have stuck with me nonetheless, and I do find some validity there. Same with Card—I've gone from admiring his outlook to realizing just how unfortunately misguided a lot of his personal philosophy is, but the books hold up.

I also read Marilyn French's The Women's Room before I got into these guys' stuff, one summer starting when I was a counselor at Girl Scout camp (it was in the Rubbermaid tub on the porch of the house I stayed in at camp—thank you, older feminists!). Then I read Erica Jong's series that started with Fear of Flying at some point thereafter—I don't think I truly started to understand French's or Jong's perspective until my late twenties, though. How to Save Your Own Life truly makes the most sense when you're the age she was (and I am). At the time, as a teen, I was reading it largely because it was forbidden and titillating, much like all the horror novels I read back then. I guess I also just read a lot of '60s and '70s feminist or liberal lit as well—a lot of it was on my mother's shelves, in fact (and yet unfortunately, I feel like she really didn't exercise a lot of the principles therein).

Herman Hesse's Siddhartha would also be up there for me in terms of early influences. Richard Matheson's What Dreams May Come was a good one as well. Then followed a lot of other sci-fi, dystopia, and metaphysical explorations.

In terms of movies? Despite all its issues, the original Ghost in the Shell and its entire universe holds a place deep in my heart. (See also, from discussion in October.) Other formative influences in terms of movies: Real Genius, Ghostbusters, Fight Club, Good Will Hunting, A Beautiful Mind. Ones I only saw later on that I always come back to, in my heart of hearts: High Fidelity, Grosse Pointe Blank, Moulin Rouge, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Tombstone, Heathers, Ponyo, Howl's Moving Castle. Themes these all touch upon in my life: romance, the supernatural, metaphysics, physics, math, the iconoclast and unconventional. That's the stuff that inspires me.

I was just having a discussion with a friend a day or so ago regarding references to film, music, literature, etc. and their importance in our romantic lives. She noted that to her, these things don't necessarily have to line up—more important is a shared outlook, shared habits, beliefs that line up. I think all of those things are important to me, too, but having that extra level on which your minds meet and you find references that resonate for you both, especially when you each came to them separately and there are a lot of them, is always magical.

To some extent, these things can be picked up, though, and with everyone I've been with, I've learned so much about their respective cultural references, as I'll call this stuff collectively. To me, learning someone's favorite music, movies, and literature is like learning their personal inner language. There are most certainly generational things, too—a lot of my husband's touchstone references are so very Gen X, while I'm on the older end of millennial, and I've learned so much. So that aspect of all of this is super interesting to me too.

Anyway, this kind of wandered a bit far afield into some semantic cloud or another, but that's where talking about this stuff takes me!
posted by limeonaire at 12:43 PM on April 9 [5 favorites]


I am one of the countless rocket scientists who have been influenced by the television show Star Trek (for me, TOS) to choose my career, which for me is the biggest part of my life. When I was in Junior High I wanted to go to the US Naval Academy because I figured that would be the closest thing to Star Fleet Academy I could get.
posted by Rob Rockets at 1:55 PM on April 9 [4 favorites]


Totally agree with you about Bach, limeonaire. While "Illusions" was definitely a mind-blowing introduction to the very concept of a universe of thought outside of my insular upbringing, once the mental cat was out of the philosophical bag I was able to find more nourishing fare (including Alan Watts and Benjamin Hoff :) ).
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:57 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


I was initially kind of overwhelmed by this question - how could I possibly pick just one book? One tv show? A genre? I have no idea where to start. Dealing with Dragons! The Last Unicorn! The Mo and Dale Mystery series!

And then I realized oh, of course. The thing that has been the most influential for me was John Dehlin's interview with Benji Schwimmer, posted here on Metafilter lo many years ago. Although I was raised evangelical (not Mormon), that interview was the thing that gave me the courage to finally start coming out as queer to myself and my friends.

So, in a way I guess this is a long belated thank you to whoever posted that (and to Benji and Mormon Stories, for teaching me that I could be queer and keep my faith).
posted by janepanic at 2:12 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Two books:

As a child, the first science fiction book I read (likely one of the Winston Science Fiction series from the '50s with the Alex Schomburg endpapers that fascinated me almost as much as the books). Whatever the title, it inspired an addiction to SF and fantasy that hasn't been cured yet.

As an adult (sorta), I took a Chinese religion course in college where I discovered the Tao te Ching and have been aspiring to live as an uncarved block ever since (although the closest I've come is probably just incomprehensibly carved).
posted by ClingClang at 2:21 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


A weird thing about me is that I totally can't answer this kind of question. I get overwhelmed by the "most" thing. I also can't answer questions about my favorite book or movie or whatever. I know I should just pick a movie that I really like, and it doesn't matter if it's not actually my most favoritist movie ever, but superlatives freak me out, and I can't do it. I think I am a little strange!

But I do have an update on the half-assed cake situation. We were supposed to bring in desserts to work this week, and I was a little irked, because I am paid to do my job, not to make desserts on my own time. I was very proud of myself for deciding to half-ass it and make a doctored-cake-mix dessert that would be easy and not make me feel bitter and resentful. I made my half-assed dessert, and lo and behold, it won a prize for being the best dessert that anyone brought in. Hah! I think there is a lesson for me in there somewhere, but it may be about the arrogance of thinking that fancy, elaborate desserts are better than cake mixes.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:57 PM on April 9 [4 favorites]


The first book that really pulled out my heart and stomped on it was The Changeling by Zilpha Snyder.

I just read that book a few months ago and ... wow, yeah. So good but so sharp in some ways too. I also loved We Have Always Lived in the Castle for that sort of "Something is maybe wrong with this family and that kid is spooky" sort of stories. Also, that kid was mostly me.

As a kid I read a lot of books that were off my parents shelves and also a lot of books for kids. A few notable ones.

- Alan Mendehlson Boy From Mars by Daniel Pinkwater - nerds who find things out and go to new places even though everyone at their school are dicks)
- The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) by Ellen Raskin - fun word play and weird people who all get along in a sort of "chosen family" way
- From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konisberg - running away can be fun and who hasn't wanted to sleep overnight in a museum?

And a lot of books by Donald Barthelme and Tom Robbins that I only sort of understood. As an adult the biggest deal book for me was Let Us Now Praise Famous Men which is not just about rural poverty but about the systems that were designed to keep these people poor and how they only got out of generational poverty because of govt. social programs and flat out making stuff illegal. Good things to transfer to institutionalized racism, sexism and homophobia and transphobia. Just because people didn't write award winning books about (some of) these issues doesn't mean the oppressive systems aren't in place.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 3:17 PM on April 9 [3 favorites]


I was obsessed with the movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks when it came out. It became a birthday-party destination for many of my friends. I was really sick leading up to a friend's birthday, but I pretended to be better so my parents would let me go see it. I had to barf in the theater's bathroom before the show (hello, Southcenter Cinema!), but I did not let on to the adults or even the other kids because I was afraid one of them might accidentally rat me out and get me sent home. I can't bring myself to watch it as an adult, I don't want to lose the magic it held for me as a child.

When I was in fifth grade (11 years old) I was in a combined fifth and sixth grade class taught by a very progressive teacher. For one assignment we were allowed to choose from a selection of novels to read, which included George Orwell's Animal Farm and Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby among a few others I don't recall. I picked Animal Farm. The novel itself was less influential than the teacher. He respected us and he rewarded curiosity instead of perceiving it as a threat to classroom order. At some point the subject of Shakespeare came up, so he let those of us who were interested skip recess for a couple of weeks to read and discuss Richard III. He also invited the whole class to his wedding. It was the first wedding I ever attended.

He was a great teacher whom I respected a lot. I don't know where he is now, but years later I heard he went to prison for marijuana possession. Such a shame. He did more to develop the minds of the kids in his classes than all the rest of the conservative, conventional teachers in that school could ever hope to imagine doing.

Ernie Kovacs and Monty Python helped form my sense of humor. The films of Krzysztof Kieslowski, specifically The Double Life of Veronique and Bleu have been very influential in my life, as have the films of Guy Maddin. In college my film snob friends and I thought his name must have been pronounced to rhyme with "bee" instead of "buy" because of Canada's connection with France. It was really funny to learn that no, it rhymes with "buy."
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 3:47 PM on April 9 [5 favorites]


Frank Herbert's Dune. I was on a trip to Yellowstone National Park with my cousin and my aunt and uncle when I was 11 years old. I was about to board a plane and my cousin saw that I had not brought anything to read. Just something my brain didn't think about, despite being a voracious reader as a child, I had failed to consider that I would be on the plane with a fair bit of time.

My cousin asked my aunt and uncle for some money to buy me a book. We walked into an airport book-store kiosk and I stumbled upon this wonderful looking book. The cover was striking, this cover to be exact. Something about those shadowed figures and that giant rock that looms. Little did I know how much that book would change my life. I believe that was the first real hard SF book that I consumed. I found myself connecting with a young Paul Atreides.

I believe that certain books come to us at certain times in our lives. This book opened up my eyes to other ways of thinking. I found myself thinking deeply about religion, technology, philosophy, and warfare. Even if I didn't fully understand all of the concepts in this novel at that age, it let me in on the fact that there's something larger outside of myself. That cover. It's still my favourite.
posted by Fizz at 4:41 PM on April 9 [8 favorites]


When it comes to childhood books, the one I remember most fondly is The Great Green Apple War, which few other people seem to have encountered. I suppose it's a typical end-of-childhood, life-inevitably-changes kind of book, and I probably read it at just the right time to feel it deeply, or re-read it often enough that it finally hit me at the end of my own childhood, too. The lead character is initiated into the Orchard Gang, and the green apple orchard where they play is the setting for lots of imaginative outdoor adventures, until a developer buys the land the orchard is on, and, well...childhood ends.

I always had a fondness for melancholy books in general. Bridge to Terebithia is still a favorite, as is The Great Gilly Hopkins. Charlotte's Web was my initiation into those stories. I never could get into books that were too light or comedic, as least not until I was an adult. There wasn't much light and funny about my childhood, and they rang false.

But the book that has influenced my life the most is the Bible. I began reading it as a child because my preachers told me that it contained, perfectly and with no "admixture of error," the words of God. Those preachers were kind men, and they were helpful to me at a time when I needed some kind adults around, so I believed what they believed. The fact that they had, presumably, read the Bible and were able to maintain their belief that it was a grand harmonious unity, free from contradiction, is a testament to the power of motivated reasoning. I certainly wasn't able to to maintain that belief. But I do think they were sincere, and most of them hadn't been educated past high school and a non-accredited night school for training preachers. They had never been pushed to examine their assumptions. (And I should point out, since so often our picture of clergy is a person getting rich by fleecing the deluded masses, these were people who lived barely above the poverty line--if indeed they did manage to scrape across it. One, I learned later, lived on a salary of $600 a month plus use of the church parsonage. Even in 1981, that was a ticket to the get-rich-never train, especially since he had three children.)

At any rate, I read the Bible and then I went to college and got a degree in Biblical Studies and promptly became an atheist. Nothing about that experience will surprise most MeFites. Contradictions, morally troubling stories, etc. Having always wanted to be a preacher--and thus join the company of the kind men of my childhood who had meant so much to me--I was at a complete loss as to what to do next. I wandered around in dead end, low-wage work. "Hi! I'm an atheist with a bachelor's degree in Bible! Will you hire me?"

I couldn't give up the Bible, though, even though it wasn't what I expected. I kept reading it, kept marking contradictions and obvious seams. I started noting places where it ran parallel to other ancient myths and stories. At first, this was an effort to show the evangelical world just how stupid they were, but after a while a funny thing happened. I started to love the Bible again--or maybe love it for the first time, as I don't think I really loved it before, I just felt obligated to read it. But after I gave up the idea that it was a perfect, errorless tome I gradually gave up the idea that it was ever supposed to be a perfect, errorless tome. Then the things that grieved me before--the way it argues with itself, the way multiple viewpoints clash, the way it incorporates and adapts ideas from the cultures around it--well, I became enamored by all that. I love the way the Bible shows people wrestling with the how to make sense of their lives, what the proper way to live is, how to reconcile diverse traditions. And after a while, I came to realize that the ancient compilers weren't morons. They could see the places where the text was in tension with itself, or flat out contradicted itself. But (1) they weren't stuck on modern ideas of what scripture is supposed to look like and (2) they thought it was all worth holding on to. Keep the points and the counter points and let each generation search for truth again. Bible scholar Christopher Wright says that when we read the Bible "We are listening, not to a single voice, or even to a single choir in harmony, but to several choirs singing different songs with some protest groups jamming in the wings." It's not necessary pretty or simple, but it is vibrant.

So, yes, the Bible, for better or worse. Out of obligation, then spite, then fascination and love. It's my book. I think in its categories and images constantly. I probably re-read some section of it four or five days a week. And then there is the attendant literature: centuries of mystics, prophets, and scholars adding their own notes to the various songs already in motion. There are plenty of harmful, dead-end thoughts (as in the Bible itself), but there is always a deeper strain of grace. I've learned to listen for the grace.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:30 PM on April 9 [23 favorites]


(Oh, and then, having grown to love the Bible, I went on to seminary, and then on for a doctorate, and back into ministry and then back out--for now, anyway. But those are stories for other times.)
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:35 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Calvin and Hobbes kickstarted my love of the English language practically from the time I could read.

Guns Germs and Steel completely rewrote my understanding of reality and is the reason I became an anthropology major. It's not without its flaws but no other single book has influenced my life choices that much.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:51 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


I don't have one particular book I can hold out, but there were a handful of things that left a mark in grade school and middle school, a weird mix of classic youth lit and genre fiction.

Of the former: My Side of the Mountain, which didn't instill in me a love of the outdoors like it did for bondcliff (though I like the outdoors well enough) but did seem like an eye-opener about the possibilities of getting yourself in trouble and then bearing on through; Where the Red Fern Grows, which was the first book I remember really gut-punching me with the ending (I remember my mom asking if I was okay and I wasn't super okay but I said "yeah, I'm fine" because, I dunno, emotional repression was kind of my whole tactic as the quiet kid in the family); and a whole fleet of Walt Morey stories but in particular Scrub Dog of Alaska. As a kid I didn't understand that Morey wasn't like capital-f Famous because he was famous to me dammit. I recommended him to pb at one point last year and apparently Scrub Dog went over well with the kiddos, so that felt like paying it forward.

On the latter: Ender's Game for all its and more to the point its author's faults came at exactly the right time for me to digest and internalize a lot of what was going on in the narrative in terms of unhealthy power dynamics, the fragility of friendships under social duress, the reality of untrustworthy/unhelpful adult figures. And then, a tremendous amount of Stephen King, which I started on when I was too young for it and got me thinking about storytelling and writing and narrative early and in probably darker directions than I needed to as a kid, but I think I mostly came out benefiting from all that as a precocious reader and with an early interest in words and writing. And thematically some of King's books had the same adolescent/liminal resonance as Ender's Game, a kind of heavy "adulthood is looming and isn't looking friendly" vibe that mostly-sheltered as I was probably gave me a little bit of warning about how weird and bumpy life keeps being.

But in film, definitely Alien and Aliens. I saw a lot of great movies as a kid and got into Kubrick early and sure yadda yadda but those fuckin' xenomorphs, man! Those movies were scary as shit and I was too young for 'em and I loved every creepy minute and spent years drawing the damned things and have been a lifelong horror fan significantly on the strength of their early impact on me.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:55 PM on April 9 [10 favorites]


Mine are both book that I read during a mid-20s mental-health spiral, when, I am convinced, reading saved my life. One is Gargoyles by Thomas Bernhard; it clued me in to the fact that maybe I wasn't the only one with dark thoughts, and that maybe that wasn't such a bad thing, and in many ways freed me to be myself. The other is Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy, which gave me a model for thinking about creativity, transcendence, and despair that I still use several decades later.
posted by Lyme Drop at 6:13 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


When I was something less than 10 years old I had a set of "classics for children", all bound in red cloth - Alice in Wonderland, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Little Women - probably others too, but those are the ones that stuck with me. And Maurice Sendak's Nutshell Library and A Hole is to Dig. And, for some reason, a bilingual edition of The Cat in the Hat. Non, non, dit le poisson!

I also have a distinct memory of reading Ursula K. Le Guin's The Author of the Acacia Seeds around that time, though surely I'm remembering wrong.
posted by moonmilk at 6:43 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


A weird thing about me is that I totally can't answer this kind of question. I get overwhelmed by the "most" thing. I also can't answer questions about my favorite book or movie or whatever. I know I should just pick a movie that I really like, and it doesn't matter if it's not actually my most favoritist movie ever, but superlatives freak me out, and I can't do it. I think I am a little strange!

I am completely this way too. The question about books freaks me out - I have read so many books, was it just distracting myself? Am I that shallow of a reader that I can't immediately say, this book changed my life.

Maybe Will Durant's "The Story Of Philosophy", which I read about age 13, is a strong candidate.
posted by thelonius at 7:21 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Books have played a huge role in my life and I love reading everybody's comments. Early on, Black Beauty, Anna Sewall. I can still picture Black Beauty and Ginger eating apples in a sunny field. And it's really seditious; the theme is cruelty to animals. Lots of horse books, notably My Friend Flicka, Mary O'Hara, which is also about imperfect families. Our house was full of books, one of the best gifts my parents gave me. We had an 8 volume set of books called Book Trails, that were full of myths, legends, poetry. I rescued them from my Mom's yard sales and they survived the Great Basement Flood, thankfully.

As a teenager, The Once and Future King, T.H. White, and The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings, Tolkien.
posted by theora55 at 7:36 PM on April 9


I loved 'A Little Princess'. My favourite bit was when she and Becky had the party with the twisted up tissues as place settings and everything else that she put together as a simulacrum of how things had once been for her - I loved how her imagination was able to sustain her through this terrible life she'd fallen into, and then she woke up to find real food, real comfort. I felt such joy for her! I also loved the fact that there was a whole family who noticed her and watched out for her and she was completely unaware of them.

I've got three trillion other books that I loved as a kid but that one was so special. I read it again for the first time in decades just a year or so ago and it still stands up.
posted by h00py at 7:39 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


A lot of how my life shook out comes from an Isaac Asimov short story called 'Sucker Bait.' In it, there's a man whose job it is to have highly trained intuition - see the patterns in things, notice details and connections that regular people don't. The way he hopped from subject to subject informed how I went about studying from the age of maybe 13 on. No single story has had a bigger impact on my life.

My definition of what it means to be a functioning adult comes directly from the gom jabbar test in Dune, the bit with the box and the needle. That was the place where it really clicked for me that maturity was about being able to look past pain in the moment to avert disaster in the future. (Frank Herbert had a lot of notions about what it means to be human that resonated with me: his Voidship series was also important in my understanding of 'what does it mean to be a person?')

In visual stuff: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Most of my early writing, which led to me writing for money, was a reaction to what I loved and hated in Joss Whedon's work. (Not fanfic, it just helped me get clear in my head how I felt about a lot of themes and values and topics.)
posted by mordax at 7:49 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


"When I was 13 or 14, my jr. high school band teacher often played jazz over the sound system in the band room before and after school and in between periods."

Me similarly. My junior high orchestra needed a bassist when I started 8th grade, the previous VERY CUTE bassist having graduated, and I was a very mediocre violinist AND thought the previous bassist was super cute, so I volunteered. They told me I was too short, which made me SUPER DETERMINED. So I started on double bass and I was really good at it! Much better than I ever was at violin. About 8 weeks into the year they said, "Oh yeah, you're also in the jazz band." I'd never really heard jazz before -- my mom considered it "that boring old-person music my mom listens too" -- but I went to jazz band because I was a good student and played my first song, an arrangement of "Killer Joe," and I was like Holy crap, this is the thing. THIS IS THE THING. Devoted 10 years of my life to it. Love every part of it to this day. Love symphony music, but love jazz.

"I also still have huge crushes on my idealized versions of Calvin O'Keefe"

I mean, really, who doesn't?

"Harold and the Purple Crayon sparked my imagination and it still applies to this day."

My husband didn't read it until he was 32 and I bought it for one of our kids, and he was like, "WHY DIDN'T ANYONE READ THIS TO ME AS A CHILD??? THIS BOOK IS GREAT!!!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 7:53 PM on April 9 [5 favorites]


I think it was the "Danny Dunn" books, which I read when I was probably about 7 years old, that made me want to be a scientist. I made it all the way through my PhD before deciding that no, I didn't. I'm surprised to see from looking at Wikipedia that those were written in the 50s. Looking back on it, a lot of the books I liked​ as a kid (Tom Swift and the Great Brain books, in particular) weren't very contemporary.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:56 PM on April 9


The Three Investigators books made me want to have a secret hideout in a junkyard.
posted by moonmilk at 8:01 PM on April 9 [7 favorites]


I read far too many books with dragons on the cover as a (nerdy, male) kid, and i'm glad as a (nerdy, male) adult that Dealing With Dragons was among 'em.

Asimov has a short story called "The Last Question" which has fucked up my brain forever. I read it when I was in a deep existential funk my first year of college. It didn't help!

I read Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom during college. I was already an economics major, and I don't agree with the vast majority of the book, but I still think about it a lot, which I guess makes it a successful polemic. I hope it has made me better at arguing for my own beliefs about the scope and role of government, which are quite different than Friedman's. He really was a very clear writer, which is part of why it's such an infuriating book if you're not a libertarian.

This paper (the working paper version of which I read in 2013, as a second year PhD student) has probably had the biggest influence on my academic research agenda.
posted by dismas at 8:10 PM on April 9


Harriet the Spy inspired me to begin keeping a journal. A couple-and-a-half-or-so decades' worth are in boxes in the attic.

Rehearsing and performing Mozart's Requiem with my college glee club gave me a visceral understanding of worship.

"Xena: Warrior Princess" got me through the year my mother died.
posted by rtha at 8:12 PM on April 9 [4 favorites]


I was thinking about this question earlier cause the Slate Culture Gabfest had the same discussion. The somewhat boring answer I came to is the Singapore math textbooks. I was homeschooled and we used a mix of really boring Saxon math books and the Singapore ones that had really tough problems that were so satisfying to solve and understand. You know every couple years how some math problem from Singapore blows the internet's mind? Imagine whole textbooks of those. I ended up getting as far as a masters in math and then used that to get a job so I could immigrate to the US and be with my husband, so that worked out well.

Then all the books my dad read to us, like The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Dinotopia, Voyage of the Bassett, really helped start of a love of reading. There are many books I think about all the time but it's hard to think of ones that have really changed my life. I'm sure all the different perspectives I've read about have changed how I see the world but it's also hard to pinpoint.
posted by carolr at 8:19 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


I still remember sitting in a family friend's living room in San Francisco when I was four, reading a book that came with a read-along tape. It was called What the Moon is Like, and it had (in my memory) this haunting synthesizer music that evoked a sense of awe and wonder at outer space. I think that was one of the first things that really pushed me towards science, especially astronomy. I only ever read science book as a kid, with the exception of maybe a couple books I had to read for school.

I would love to say that all those science books led to me getting a bunch of degrees in astronomy and working for NASA, but my grades steadily declined as I got older, and all I ever really wound up with was a lifelong sense of awe at the sight of the night sky -- nothing special, but it means a lot to me.

----

I have to admit I'm a little embarrassed by this thread. My girlfriend always talks about how much she loved reading as I kid, but I think I just spent all my time looking at pictures of galaxies and illustrations of ring-shaped space stations (insert synthesizer music here). Looking back now, I regret that I didn't spend all my time reading like she (and apparently most people here) did. I think I always sort of tried, but even sci-fi wasn't as interesting to me as books (preferably with pictures) about the vastness of space. I've always felt sort of dumb for not reading as much as I could have, but truth be told, I don't think I had the patience for books.

I got into occult stuff thanks to seeing an episode of the X-Files as a kid while my dad was out one night (he came home to find me and my sister hiding under the bed -- I ended up becoming such a big fan that I owned both volumes of the Book of the Unexplained, which really nobody needs). I got into bad movies thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000. About 70% of my sense of humor was probably shaped by reading the Far Side strips.

When I was 16, I saw my first Hammer horror movie, Brides of Dracula, and I started raiding the local video store for more movies like it. A few years later I was working at that same store (I didn't even have to interview, the manager just called and said "you probably know the movies here better than we do"), and I stayed there for years. I was just talking to my girlfriend yesterday about how I think my ideal career path would be to work at a video store forever -- honestly, it's what I'd be doing today if it were still an option.

So there's my abridged list of TV shows and movies that changed my life. Honorable mentions: Alien, Star Trek: TNG, Blade Runner, and omfg I can't not mention In Search Of, with Leonary Nimoy.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:57 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Our family was overseas without TV for years. We had The Junior Classics, a set of books that came with the Colliers Encyclopedia, I still keep a copy of them. I am sure my teachers were shocked at my command of nineteenth century English. I checked out seven books, every two weeks, and read them. I remember a Clifford Simak story from Best Science Fiction of 1956. This tale dealt with the relationship between a boy and a sentient pond on the farm where he lived. I read also a book called Sign of the Labrys, about the coming yeast plagues, that start on Crete. I read all of Pearl S. Buck's books about China, I read all of Tennessee Williams by the time I was fifteen, maybe not so good. However, the book that has consistently kept me company over time is the Complete Works of TS Eliot. Particularly The Four Quartets, and its quality of stilled time, and Prufrock. I have enjoyed many films and a huge number of books over time, but Eliot, when I was seventeen, was the first adult I connected with on a level of amazed empathy. Over time I read and uncover surprising parts I missed before. Once a year I read The Four Quartets aloud to my self, and it is a homecoming of sorts. I spent time reading the nineteenth century Russian novelists a couple of summers ago, and three summers ago, I read everything Hemingway wrote. He mentioned "rope soled sandals," one too many times in For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Pynchon said the phrase in Gravity's Rainbow. I have read that book a few times too. I always have to refer to my ongoing vocabulary list. There is a house with mullioned windows in my new neighborhood.
posted by Oyéah at 10:03 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


The Harry Potter series has been the impetus behind all of my most important life choices since it hit the states in 1998. Everything I know how to do and have done is due to the fact that at some point I needed those skills in order to create something in tribute to Harry Potter. I even decided that I had to keep on living at least until after Book 7 was released, which was a very good thing, because then I was able to amend that decision to "at least until after Book 7 is turned into a movie", and that gave me much more time than I originally planned to ever have.

What really gets me lately, though, is how much my dad loves the series, too. He doesn't know about the degree to which I relied on the books in the way I described above. I don't plan to ever tell him. But I was considering the impact Harry Potter's had on my family in general recently, and I believe that there have been more than a few times where the mere existence of the story and all its arcs has gotten my dad through some seriously dark moments in his own life. May apply to my mom, too, especially right now. (Can books be patronuses? If not, my parents will be complaining to whichever Ministry department is responsible for such things.) So, yeah. This is a very nice topic for discussion, EMcG. Thank you.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:28 PM on April 9 [5 favorites]


> To me, learning someone's favorite music, movies, and literature is like learning their personal inner language.

limeonaire - I feel the same way. When I'm introduced to someone IRL and I'm trying to get to know them better, one of the first things I usually ask is about their favorite music / books / movies / etc. It's also telling when someone assumes that I like or don't like something based on... I don't know, their own superficial conclusions? Such as the time when someone said they were surprised to hear I enjoyed reading fiction (which was so far off base that I had to figure out if they were joking or not -- afaik, they were not joking).

If I had to pick just one influential author (and there are many), it would have to be E.M. Forster. His work has affected me -- for the better -- directly and tangentially in so many ways, and I'm sure I would be a very different person otherwise. I first read him the summer after my freshman year of high school, and I didn't recognize it at the time, but it ended up changing the course of my life. Pretty much all of my friends since then have heard me go on about his work, especially Howards End, or A Room with a View, or the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala adaptations. I still feel a deep connection to them and I'm glad to be able to learn something new every time I revisit them. The MIJ version of HE was the first film I went to see more than once in the theater. And much later, a good friend (who was self-admittedly not much of a reader) told me she wanted to read Howards End because she wanted to get what made me tick -- I still consider it one of the most memorable compliments I've ever gotten. (I don't know if she ever read it, but still...)

As a kid, I kept a chart taped to my desk and every week, I'd write in my top three favorite TV shows, movies, books, and radio shows for that week. I think I did this until the end of high school, and really wish I'd kept it up. I remember a few of the long-running favorites, but have no idea what happened to those charts.

I understand (now) that not everyone feels strongly about media the way I do, but it was a bit of a bumpy road to get to that understanding. Favorite media has always been so closely tied to my identity that I remember getting really defensive as a kid, when people at school made fun of my favorites (and a reason I had difficulty fitting in or finding friends). It happened more often than not when I was growing up, because my favorites were usually things that kids in my age group had never heard of. For instance, I really liked old movies from the '30s-'50s (thanks to my parents), and old-time radio (in junior high, my favorite movie was Mr Smith Goes to Washington, and I listened to the Jack Benny Show and can still quote lines from either).

Even now, I sometimes find myself being protective of my favorites. Someone might mention Forster or Merchant-Ivory or Mr Smith or Jack Benny etc, and I'll get this rush of emotion; part of me wants to jump in and say "Hey!" and talk about why I love them so much, but if it's not someone I know well, I've often downplayed my feelings or even said nothing because... maybe I don't feel up to having to defend it, or having to explain why I love the show or book, because doing so would mean sharing a part of my inner self at a time or in a place I'm not ready to share.

Thank goodness for the Internet (and MeFi), though, which makes it so much easier to find other people who like the same things, and know that I'm not alone.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 1:38 AM on April 10 [3 favorites]


When I was a kid, sick in bed, I read The Misfit and Jerry was a Man in the same day. The combination addicted me to paragraphs, turned me into a sf fan and started a search for more Heinleins. The first, because it showed a hillbilly kid could do alright out in the flatlands, not that I wanted to leave the Ozarks, but it was something to remember.

I thought JwaM's obvious assumption that a house slave, who was somewhat devious in his pursuit of cigarettes and liked to sing Swanee River, deserved his civil rights even if he was a genetically modified chimp, was a precautionary tale. Like, do not to return to the bad old days. Yeah I was young and dumb. Whatever, it helped pave the way to actually hear MLK when he showed up.

On the other hand, RAH's black kid ending up the leader of a band of castaways (Tunnel in the Sky) reinforced an assumption I had picked up from TV, that Blacks had it better than NDNs back then. It was a long time before I found out the subversive old fuck had snuck that one passed the gatekeepers and straight into kids heads. Double Star, unfortunately went right over my head.

On a good clear night I could almost pickup XEG or XERF on the radio but they always drifted or faded to much to get more than snatches, teasers of something else going on. Most nights I'ld give up and try for WLS out of Chicago or settle for bog standard Top 40 from WHB, Kansas City or C&W locally.

Around '67 KAAY, one of those "holler for a dollar" preacher stations down in Little Rock started broadcasting Beaker Street at 11PM. When I found that it was a mind bending experience. The slow talking DJ that always sounded stoned introduced me to some incredible album cuts, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Tull and Floyd, et al. On a really good night he would mix Progrock, Blues, Jazz, early Folk Rock, etc. together like movements in a symphony. Aw hell "Don't look back, you can never look back."
posted by ridgerunner at 4:55 AM on April 10


Cher, from The Sonny and Cher Show and forever more.
Marlo Thomas, as Ann Marie in That Girl and also from Free To Be, You And Me.
Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, and Betty White as Mary Richards, Rhoda Morgenstern, Phyllis Lindstrom, and Sue Ann Nivens in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Suzanne Pleshette as Emily Hartley in The Bob Newhart Show.
Nancy Drew
Cher, because she's worth mentioning twice.

All smart, funny, strong women in unconventional roles who spoke up for themselves and took non-tradtional paths in life.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:22 AM on April 10 [4 favorites]


Out of the many books or etceteras I could cite, here's one.

Back around 1987 or so I read Claire Tomalin's 1974 biography of 18th Century English feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft (wiki). A profile in courage if ever there was one. Though it was feminism that drew me to the book, I was led, obliquely, to a lifelong line of inquiry into a fascinating period of history. When I read about her trip to Paris in 1792 to witness the French Revolution first-hand, I imagined how it might it have felt, in that early period before the Terror, how hopeful and exhilarated one might have felt.

I knew sweet FA about the French Revolution and most of that came from Dickens. Now I had to know more. I plundered bookshops new and used, watched and rewatched tapes of "Danton" and "La Nuit de Varennes" and for two years read only books about the French Revolution. In the years since I haven't been quite that obsessed but it remains an abiding interest, a recurring habit.
posted by valetta at 7:24 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


When I was ten or so, my parents got me a Time-Life series of books on computers, to go along with my C64 - they're long lost, but I still remember this two-page illustration of the layers of the OSI stack, and tracing through the logic gate diagrams illustrating binary arithmetic.

In case anybody is wandering, I did in fact grow up to be a colossal dork.
posted by Dr Dracator at 8:11 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


While I love reading about everyone's favorite books as children, this is a hard one for me as I have almost no childhood memories. I know I read certain books, but I've had to reread them as an adult to rediscover them and I expect they don't have as much impact. I do know I read all of the Pippi Longstocking series of books and I must have loved them as they definitely stuck and I've always loved the name Annika. As an adult though, likely the most influential book I read was Good Intentions: How Big Business and the Medical Establishment are Corrupting the Fight Against AIDS by Bruce Nussbaum. It was one of the first books I read when I started in the HIV field and it was given to me by a mentor. I was incredibly naive when I started in HIV. I couldn't imagine that there were other motivations beyond finding a cure. It was very eye-opening. It's way past it's expiration date, but I still own it as a reminder.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:34 AM on April 10 [2 favorites]


As a child: Marjorie Torrey's Three Little Chipmunks, which taught me important lessons about responsibility and forgiveness. I still have the copy my mother read over and over to us, and I've read it to my grandsons, which gives me a great feeling of passing the good stuff down the generations; it's one of the best kids' books I know, and I can't imagine why it hasn't been reprinted. (Possibly because the author dropped out of sight to such an extent that nobody even knows when she died, so the copyright situation may be weird.) Anyway, I highly recommend buying a used copy and reading it to your young kids, should you have any. The illustrations are splendid!

As a boy: Whatever was the first book that hooked me on science fiction; it may well have been Richard M. Elam's Young Readers Science Fiction Stories (sic, no apostrophe), which my beloved Aunt Bettie gave me when I was six and which I now discover is available free from Project Gutenberg. I have no idea whether it's any good—I don't even remember reading it—but I spent a huge amount of my youth (and spare cash) on sf from then until I went to college, and that shaped much of my way of thinking (and exposed me to various random fragments of culture that have stuck with me).

As a pre-adolescent: William L. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which I read at way too early an age—thirteen, maybe? It filled my head with horrifying images and gave me a premature awareness of how awful the world can be; ever since, I have been unable to share the usual (white) American chipper attitude toward life and history.

In college: Discovering the slim volumes of Selected Poems by Ezra Pound and Hugh MacDiarmid was a double whammy that taught me most of what I know about modern English poetry (a few years later, Hugh Kenner's The Pound Era gave me a theoretical basis for my knowledge, and to this day it's maybe my favorite work of literary criticism). And while working in a library during the summer, I was looking at a multivolume collection of international treaties in English, French, German, and Russian; I could read the French and at least sound out the German, but the Russian was a complete mystery to me, which was very annoying, so on my lunch break I went to a bookstore and bought the Collins Russian Gem Dictionary by Waldemar Schapiro (1958, reprinted 1963) so I could learn the alphabet. That started me on my lifelong love of the Russian language and its literature, and I still have that little dictionary (along with a dozen or so others).

Movies: When my cinephile brother dragged me to Godard's Masculin Féminin shortly after it came out, I couldn't make head nor tail of it and accused him of being a sucker for unintelligible arty bullshit. Years later I saw it again and was bowled over, and started seeing every movie of his I could (sometimes walking out at the end and immediately going back in to watch the next showing). Godard is God!
posted by languagehat at 8:37 AM on April 10 [2 favorites]


If I had to pick just one influential author (and there are many), it would have to be E.M. Forster.

E.M. Forster is fantastic. I found him later in life, which is why he wasn't one of my hugest influences. That said, I remember reading The Machine Stops, wherein he pretty accurately predicts a ton of Internet culture, down to problems that we grapple with on Metafilter in the present day.

I was floored to discover it was initially published in 1909, and made all my friends read it.

Also, I missed this and needed to agree too:
To me, learning someone's favorite music, movies, and literature is like learning their personal inner language.

Totally. I think we're drawn to stories that reflect either how we believe the world does work, or how we think it should work. Like, the stories that hit us the hardest resonate because they fit our inner life. I consume a fair bit of popular media that I don't personally enjoy in order to better understand why people would be drawn to it. I first picked up the habit of studying things like that from Fred Clark's Left Behind analysis, years ago.
posted by mordax at 9:21 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, with honorable mentions to Gilmore Girls and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Saving Francesca saved me. It's one of those great and wonderful books that comes into your life at the exact moment when it will resonate with you most as a reader.

Afterward, the book really stuck with me, and helped me keep going, even when I wasn't sure that I could anymore. That book spoke to me, and probably kept me alive during my second major depressive episode. The other two were hugely influential to high school and middle school me, respectively, but Saving Francesca. That book.
posted by PearlRose at 9:51 AM on April 10


To me, learning someone's favorite music, movies, and literature is like learning their personal inner language.

Off the top of my head, the first 20-25 years of my inner language, in the people and things who tutored it.

Art Clokey. Julian May. Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese. Robert McCloskey. The staff of the Halifax Maritime Museum, Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Esso mapmakers. Jay Ward. Tohl Narita. Arthur P. Jacobs and Pierre Boule. Ooka Tadasuke, Echizen No Kami. James Nicholson, Samuel Z. Arkoff and Reuben Guberman. Expo '67. The manufacturers of the Nike Ajax missile. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. Sid and Marty Krofft. Jean and Laurent de Brunhof. Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire. The Great Gazoo. Gelett Burgess. Claire Huchet Bishop. Tim Rice and Andew Lloyd Webber. Gershon Kingsley. The authors of the How and Why Wonder Books. Panasonic's Toot-a-Loop Radio. Madeleine L'Engle. The cast and crew of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Kay Thompson and Hillary Knight. Chuck Jones. Frank C. Baxter. Amby Paliwoda. Fritz Freleng. Osamu Tezuka. Fred Wolf and Harry Nilsson. Jim Henson. The Beatles, Heinz Edelmann, et al. John Kendrick Bangs. Sirs W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. Ezra Jack Keats. Dan Barry. Louise Fitzhugh. Theodore Geisel. Mary and Conrad Buff. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and the Mighty Marvel Bullpen. Victor Appleton II and Graham Kaye. Lucas Samaras' Room No. 2. Abba. Herge. William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. Ray Bradbury. The Jackson 5. Stevie Wonder. Spike Jones. Bob Dorough and Thomas G. Yohe. Sylvia and Gerry Anderson. George Pal. Patrick Macnee. Diana Rigg. Lyle Waggoner. Lynda Carter. The Toho Film Company Ltd. Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Teruko Akatsuki. Jean Craighead George. Elvis. Dolly Parton. Glen Campbell. Robert Heinlein. Woody Allen. J.R.R. Tolkien. Fritz Leiber. Elliot S. Maggin. Gary Gygax. Jeff Lynn. John Lennon. H.G. Wells. H.P. Lovecraft. J.D. Salinger. David Bowie. Arthur Herzog. Carl Sagan. Ursula K. Leguin. Dougal Dixon. Tanith Lee. The Atari 2600. Mary Stewart. Aldous Huxley. Mary Renault. Michael Moorcock. Philip K. Dick. Dudley Moore. Douglas Adams. Gary Numan. Laurie Anderson. The author(s) of Beowulf. Deborah Harry. Thomas Dolby. Duran Duran. Grace Jones. Prince. The Human League. Kate Bush. Bryan Ferry. Christopher Fry. Lord Buckley. The Fuji America touring bike. The Walkman II and Maxell C90 cassette tapes. Neil Young. Murray Head. Simon Gray. Gore Vidal. Talking Heads. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Thomas Wolfe. William Blake. William Shakespeare. Jack Kerouac. Truman Capote. Bob Dylan. Hal B. Wallis, Humphrey Bogart, and Ingrid Bergman. Orson Welles. Hazel O’Connor. Philip Glass. Stuart Shapiro and Pat Prescott. Total Coelo. Ingrid Sischy. Andy Warhol. Brian Eno. REM. William Gibson. Alfred North Whitehead. Alan Moore. Seamus Heany. Walker Percy. Osip Mandelstam. Hart Crane. Ross MacDonald. Ridley Scott. Joseph Campbell. Mircea Eliade. Teilhard de Chardin. J.G. Ballard. Terry Gilliam. Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. Louis-Ferdinand Celine. Pedro Almodovar. Lew Welch. Charles Willard Moore, architect of The Piazza D’Italia. Erte. Professor Longhair. Thomas Mann. Bob Borsodi. James Joyce. The galleries and denizens of Royal Street, New Orleans. Pedro Almodovar. Louis Armstrong. Thomas Merton. William Burroughs. James Brown. Bram Stoker. William Morris. John D. MacDonald. Country Dick Montana. Galaxie 500. The Velvet Underground. John Adams. Steve Reich. Susan Sontag. Natalie Zemon-Davis. Luigi Serafini. Pauline Kael. Robert Christgau. Greil Marcus. David Lynch.

(I skimped on TV/film and I might do music a bit differently with more thought but you get the idea.)

However, looking at this list I'm reminded of a quote from Slacker, another, later, favorite:
"... like you just pull in these things from the shit you read, and you haven't thought it out for yourself, no bearing on the world around us, and totally unoriginal ... It's like you just pasted together these bits and pieces from your 'authoritative sources.' I don't know. I'm beginning to suspect there's nothing really in there."
posted by octobersurprise at 10:09 AM on April 10


My 1st grade teacher read "Sideways Stories from Wayside School" to us - a chapter a day until we finished all of them. I then got the book for myself and read it, and the sequels too. They had an extreme impact on me, as silly as it sounds. It was the first time I realized language and storytelling could be fun in a subversive way, not just as a tool to say what had happened when. It was also the first time I had experienced a piece of literature that said things that were not possible within the confines of the story, and the first time I had read anything parodic or satirical. I absolutely loved it.

I loved They Might Be Giants, probably for similar reasons.
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:27 AM on April 10


octobersurprise's list reminds me that you can see my list of favorite authors at my LibraryThing profile page.
posted by languagehat at 12:42 PM on April 10


My dad got me going on reading Charles Dickens, and I picked up a passion for Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. For some reason I really glommed onto Portia in A Merchant of Venice, too. I truly believe these books -- especially those by Dickens and Jane Eyre -- gave me a huge impetus toward social justice, and justice generally.
posted by bearwife at 1:22 PM on April 10


I think growing up watching various Star Trek series gave me a sense of morality, that we should always try to do right by each other, that we can accept our differences and still be friends. It made me believe that people mostly try to do the right thing (whether or not that's actually true is maybe the topic for another conversation). It's funny seeing the ways TNG and DS9 are dated (can't say I've watched Voyager recently), but overall I still love that they wanted to imagine a future where people really tried their hardest to do the right thing -- it's kind of a nice alternative to being too cynical all the time.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:31 PM on April 10 [6 favorites]


I was trying to think of what book had changed my life, but I don't really react that way to books. Perhaps the book of Peanuts cartoons I read on the train from Scotland when I was five. That was when I learned the word "sarcasm", and also when I discovered Charlie Brown, possibly the only character I ever really identified with (although I would have liked to have been Moomintroll). As you can guess, my childhood went very well.

Perhaps Mighty World of Marvel #1 in October 1972, which contained the origins of the Fantastic Four, The Hulk and Spiderman and after which the world was never quite the same.

In late 1982 or maybe early 1983 I wandered into a cinema I was passing on a whim and watched The Draughtsman's Contract, and that blew my mind - it was the first time I'd ever seen anything quite like that. I went straight to Virgin Records on Oxford Street and bought the soundtrack album, and had my mind blown all over again. I spent a few years obsessed with both Greenaway and Nyman, but have suffered few long-term negative side effects.

Later in 1983 I was taken to see The Medieval Players performing their version of Gargantua. They were a touring theatre company who specialised in that sort of thing, with masks and circus skills and an early music ensemble to boot. I ended up going to see the production many times as they drifted in and out of my area with the production over the next year or so. Their most prominent actor was Mark Heap, who's much better known now. He's a pretty good juggler and I think can breathe a bit of fire, although I might have had the wrong person on account of the masks. It was intensely theatrical, but at the same time very direct, very funny, no posturing or bullshit. I think it was possibly everything I want from a show. I bought their album, too. It's where my user name comes from.

But it's mostly albums that have shaped my life, I think. Largely because as a form, they're about feeling rather than thinking. Sometimes an album comes along and says "You can also see the world like this", and everything's suddenly different. It might not be anything the creator intended, is probably just something that was bubbling away at the back of my head anyway, but nevertheless the album is the trigger. I'm am lucky in that I'm still stumbling across albums that trigger that intense teenage passion in me. When I was young they were Meddle (not my favourite, but definitely the door I walked through to another world) and Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd; Discipline by King Crimson and Exposure by Robert Fripp (which have had a greater impact on me personally than any other cultural artefacts, I think. Everything I value in my life comes from following a line directly from those records, odd as that might sound); then later, while it was impossible to find the actual records, I got a teacher to tape Five Leaves Left and Brighter Layter by Nick Drake for me, because they'd played Fruit Tree on the radio and I had sat transfixed throughout, barely daring to breathe lest I miss something; Doolittle by The Pixies, which was lying around the house when I was a student - first I hated it, then I liked Monkey Gone to Heaven, then I liked the album, then I could hardly listen to anything else for a long time. I listened to it on a loop while I was reading Neuromancer, though I now think the book was the accompaniment to the album; The Bends and OK Computer, about which loads has been said recently; In 2002 I discovered Cardiacs, and in particular their masterpiece Sing to God, which I usually refer to as the greatest album hardly anyone has ever heard of, which it is, and which left me giddy and obsessed and grateful that I could still find a record that could make me feel like that again; a few years later I found Actor by St Vincent, which was the first new record I'd heard in seemingly forever that sounded like it was for the present day; I can't remember how I found The Chap - possibly a recommendation on Last FM, which was good of them, as I really needed to find a band who were intelligent and funny and silly and really made me want to dance around and shout and make an arse of myself, and their album Mega Breakfast, and then Well Done, Europe were just the records for that; I developed an obsession with the music of Nakata Yasutaka, which is odd as I really don't particularly like anybody else's take on the kind of music he makes. There was a reference in The Guardian to his one-off collaboration with Shiina Ringo, Netsuai Hakkakuchū, along with a further reference to her album Kuruki Samen Kuri no hana, which made me curious. Well. By the third listening I'd developed the sort of intoxicated obsession I had in my teenage years - I listened to it at least once a day for six months. It's very quietly revolutionary - it doesn't sound like anything challenging, but for me it made all sorts of things possible again, that I'd quite forgotten about.

I suppose I felt that way about The Dancers At the End of Time when I was fourteen, but I don't know how much it changed my life once I'd reluctantly admitted to myself that time travel wasn't possible, or at least not like that.
posted by Grangousier at 4:40 PM on April 10 [3 favorites]


I guess I'll own the fact that I wasn't as sophisticated reader as others when I was a child. I read what was available to me at the time and as my parents weren't Academics, the books that touched my soul were ones like Little Women, Black Beauty, Nancy Drew, and All Creatures Great and Small. Little Women seems antiquated, but the March women were the plot drivers. They made things happen, even as restricted as they were by society.

And laugh if you will, but Eat, Pray, Love came to me just at the right time. Of course I grokked the reality that it's nice to have money to travel with, but the message I took from it was "things will get better, even when you're broken."

I will never meet a TV show again that I will love as much as I loved Parks and Recreation. It came at a time when my cynicism button was jammed in, and it made me want to be a better person.
posted by kimberussell at 5:02 PM on April 10 [4 favorites]


When I was a young child, I read the book The Pigs Are Flying, by Emily Rodda, which is about a girl who finds her way to an alternate universe that periodically gets battered by storms of Unlikely Event Factor (UEF), an ether-like substance that plays havoc with probability.

The idea of it was intoxicating to me -- that the air could be charged with something that wreaks total chaos. As I recall (spoilers follow), the little girl discovers at the end of the book that an older relative (maybe her cool uncle or aunt?) had also discovered this universe, and captured some UEF in a thermos. Whenever they felt life needed to become more unpredictable, they would open the thermos a little, and some would seep out.

For quite a while after that, in my grade school, I carried around an empty thermos, pretending it was full of UEF.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:57 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Go Dogs Go
posted by wallabear at 9:30 PM on April 10 [3 favorites]


Straw Dogs by John Gray.
posted by turbid dahlia at 10:10 PM on April 10


Go Dogs Go

Do you like my hat?
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:30 PM on April 10 [5 favorites]


I have to share my love of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede--i.e. Dealing with Dragons and the sequels. I first read them when I was 10 or 12, and they have been a source of inspiration and strength for the last 20+ years. Princess Cimorene showed me how to unapologetically be myself. Kazul showed me that a grandmother can be King and that women can do excellent work in roles typically associated with men!

While I was afforded many opportunities as a child, people would discourage me from things I wanted to do because of their ideas about what valuable and appropriate.

Various people told me that I couldn't study Latin "because it's a dead language", but I grew up to study Latin (and a bunch of other obscure ancient and modern languages)! Folks told me it was silly to want to do sword fighting, but I went into the SCA and tried out heavy fighting.

Most importantly, though, society repeatedly told me, "You can't be a girl!", but as soon as I turned 18--and crucially, couldn't be involuntarily institutionalized--, I said, "I am already a girl!" I'm trans, as I've mentioned many times on the blue, and these books were indescribably important in giving me the piece of mind to come out. Even as an adult, I still love to pull out these books and reread them.
posted by Excommunicated Cardinal at 8:46 AM on April 11 [7 favorites]


"WHY DIDN'T ANYONE READ THIS TO ME AS A CHILD??? THIS BOOK IS GREAT!!!"

My reaction when reading Winnie the Pooh and Pooh Corner in high school.

But previously, at the end of 8th grade, The Lord of the Flies -- good God but kids can be mean. And then in 9th grade I was given The Catcher In The Rye, absolutely the perfect age for first exposure to Holden -- the first book I couldn't put down and stayed up all night reading). Later, in college, the life-changer for me was (don't laugh) Atlas Shrugged, not for its notorious philosophy, most of which went over my head, but for the images of a decaying US echoing trends which had begun in my perception a couple years earlier with the 1973 Oil Embargo and subsequent gasoline shortages; and the cancellation of the last three Apollo moon missions. (Makes the book still valid reading today IMO). I read it in 1975 and the other key thing I picked up from the book was appreciation of work and a job well done, since up until then I'd been a total slacker. This theme is touched upon by James Fallows in his long-ago essay from the same year I read it: Liberals and Ayn Rand.

Also, klingklang, yeah, the Winstons, and those endpapers. Most of their writing doesn't hold up at all well today (unlike the Heinlein Juveniles, which I found in the same place in the library) but I love those covers so much I made 'em available on a Winstons web page. The Star Seekers by Milton Lesser was my SF gateway.

posted by Rash at 3:24 PM on April 11


Winnie the Pooh and Pooh Corner

Those were definitely among the books that got read to me, and I then learned to read for myself. And I think I had even more fun later on in my life when I in turn read them to my kids (along with the usual Dr. Seuss books, and Wind in the Willows...and the Calvin & Hobbes comics as well).
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:52 PM on April 11


My mom left a paperback War and Peace on the downstairs toilet tank and it stayed there for years, the bookmark slowly progressing. I tried to keep up with her but I didn't have colitus.

Friend used the room. "You know? Normal people have a magazine or something. War and Peace is one ambitious shit."
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:12 PM on April 11 [3 favorites]


Probably Copper Blue by Sugar, Bob Mould's post-Husker Du power trio. It came to me the fall after some terrible things happened to me and I felt trapped in my life, and the rage on that album was everything I felt but couldn't express. My love of Husker Du also led me to meeting my Gentleman Caller, as well as misadventures like having Grant Hart crash on my floor.

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea dropped the summer after my dad died, and between the crappy economy and the stress of working on his will I was at home a lot...I bought that album on vinyl and listened to it twice a day. It felt like a lifeline. I've burned out on it in recent years--reminds me too much of a sad time--but I'm thankful I had it when I did.
posted by pxe2000 at 3:17 AM on April 12 [2 favorites]


"You know? Normal people have a magazine or something. War and Peace is one ambitious shit."
Michael: I'm getting tired of everything I write being read in the can.
Harold: You can read Dostoevsky in the can.
Michael: Yes, but you can't finish it.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:35 PM on April 12 [1 favorite]


I read the first Harry Potter book when I was 9 or so. The last one came out on my 18th birthday. I grew up with Hermione and Ron and Harry, and learned a lot about friendship and loyalty from them. That said, I think Tamora Pierce (especially the Protector of the Small series) affected me more deeply than anything else. Kel and Alanna taught me how to be brave, and how to stick to what you know to be right for you, even in the face of adversity.


Taylor Swift and the Mindy Project taught me that femininity is not something to be ashamed of.
posted by coppermoss at 6:25 PM on April 12


My first book, around 1955, was a picture book about a gecko that lost its tail but in the end it grows back. It had beautiful ink drawings or maybe they were woodblocks. Thing is, it was mis-bound, or mis-printed - my mum brought it home from the publisher's she worked at. Halfway-through you had to turn the book around to see the rest.

I'm not going to attempt analysing the effect this might have had on my character or my destiny except to say it's no wonder I'm confused.
posted by valetta at 11:04 PM on April 12 [3 favorites]


Woodcuts, not woodblocks. Tsk.
posted by valetta at 6:42 AM on April 14


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