The Five Books That Changed My Life (wherein I cheat mercilessly)

In another one of those “tagged in a post” things, Graham Storrs long ago tagged me to write a post about five books that most influenced me.

I’m going to cheat.

  1. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. A memoir of Vietnam, done up as a series of short stories. It’s unclear from the narrative how much is actually autobiographical memoir and how much is fictional. It all feels true. This book is singlehandedly responsible for rescuing me from hating literary fiction. (I had a college prof who spent a whole semester having freshmen dive into the Grapes of Wrath.) It’s powerful, it’s passionate, and it’s engrossing.
  2. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. This book is remarkable. Twining narrative, “found” objects, and potentially pretentious things like colored text, it manages to avoid being overly clever art, and instead comes down on the side of immersively powerful narrative. It shook up what was left from “The Things They Carried”, making it obvious that “clever” and “smart” were not always synonyms for “douchebag pretension”.  My girlfriend (or LLL, if you prefer) got me a better edition for Christmas.  YAY!
  3. Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuck. This book (the only nonfiction one on the list) did a lot to help convince me that it would be possible to do what I love. It’s not gimmicky, it doesn’t have a secret solution, but it does contain a lot of common-sense wisdom that might not be that common. It, along with zefrank, AFP, and Tyler Durden help keep my FILDI high.
  4. The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. 23 Skiddo. I ran across this book while still a teenager. This book introduced me (obliquely) to Discordianism and the art of looking at life obliquely and with humor. It’s absurdist, insane, profane, and delightful. All in equal measures, at least, if you’re descended from a Yeti. Fnord.
  5. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger in a Strange Land, and Starship Troopers, all by Robert Heinlein. Here’s where I cheat. You should read all three of these. (Anyone who bases their opinion on RAH from reading just one of these three is a fool.) Not only is each a thoughtful examination of these systems of government and ethics (libertarianism, a fully participatory democracy, and communism) working correctly, but by reading all three, you’ll realize that RAH could actually write coherently and kindly about each of them. While each book’s argument has flaws, they’re remarkably well put together, and with a far better plot:lecture ratio than anything that Orwell wrote. Warning, though: They’re sexist. Perhaps progressive for their time, but still quite sexist and heteronormative. And still worth reading.

So what books have influenced you?

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