First Steps and Foundational Pieces
May 10, 2015 § Leave a comment
I wrote this post by accident.
My friend George emailed me a few days ago to say (among other things) that a local theater was showing a production of Brecht and Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, an opera he considered to be “one of the foundational pieces” of his late adolescence.
I intended to reply, got distracted by something shiny, and rediscovered the email as I sat down to write a half hour ago.
In between George’s email and my eventual reply (which became the bulk of this blog post), my wife Tracy and I had a discussion about about our favorite books. What sparked the conversation was something Tracy saw recently on Facebook — the idea to paint the risers of stairs to look like the spines of favorite books. She counted the stairs from the landing of our split-level home and found we had 14, which she said we should divide evenly; seven of her favorite books and seven of mine. What, she asked, would be my seven?
The very first book that came to my mind was Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, by Richard Bach. Bach’s more famous for writing Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but Illusions was the book that gave adolescent me the first glimpse of who I wanted to be as an adult. Not a real Messiah, obviously, but someone very much like Don Shimoda (the titular reluctant Second Coming). I already suspected by that age that I was agnostic (I wouldn’t become full-fledged atheist until much later), but like Fox Mulder, I wanted to believe.
I digress. Shimoda was patient and kind and wise, and although there was no seeing-the-light moment, reading Illusions certainly planted the seed that I, too, wanted to be patient and kind and wise. (I grew up to be a quick-tempered idiot, but I still aspire.)
In talking with Tracy, I decided that Illusions had to be my first stair, since it did have a big influence on me and is what I consider my “first step” toward becoming an Adult. The rest of my stair collection are books that influenced me as a writer — Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson), Rum Punch (Elmore Leonard), The Tourist (Olen Steinhauer), The Use of Weapons (Iain M. Banks), and, of course, the complete works of William Shakespeare. Not sure what order my stair collection will go in, but they’ve all influenced the way I write in some way.
Of course, if I think about it too much, I’ll probably chuck all of those and come up with seven others. Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow comes to mind. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried also had a big impact. I made need more stairs.
What books do you consider to be the “foundational pieces” of who you’ve become? What would be on your seven stairs? It’s an interesting and surprisingly fun little thought exercise.