Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bookish Pursuits

Here's a great interview with my friend Sarah Leavitt, author of the new graphic memoir Tangles, and I'm not just recommending it because she says something nice about me (but thanks for that!). I mentioned Sarah a few posts ago: her comic is about her mother's ordeal with Alzheimer's Disease, and was just shortlisted for Canada's Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Award. Read the interview, buy the book. It's just that simple.

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My high-school friend Teri tagged me with one of those Facebook things that asks you to name 15 authors off the top of your head who "influenced you and will always stick with you." Rather than perpetuate the chain-letter approach, I thought I'd do it here. With minimal reflection, the first 15 who come to mind:

Bill Shakespeare
Mark Twain
Goethe (Faust has haunted me for decades)
Carl Sagan (his Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is my manifesto)
E.B. White (great prose stylist whose voice rubbed off on mine long ago)
Dr. Seuss (hey, the question says "influential," it doesn't specify when)
James Boswell (I re-read his London Journal every few years)
Robert Heinlein (I'm not much into science fiction now, but there was a time . . .)
JRR Tolkien (ditto)
Charles Dickens
Jack London (Martin Eden is an overlooked gem)
The writers and editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica (which as a boy I often sat and read, to the derision of my peers)
Walt Kelly/Charles Schulz/Winsor McCay
Gene Roddenberry
Stan Lee

I can feel your eyebrows rise at those last two. I won't argue that Roddenberry and Lee were great writers, only that I found them tremendously influential. For better or worse, "Star Trek" and Marvel Comics made me who I am today. As for Kelly/Schulz/McCay, I put them together like that because I think those three contributed roughly equally to my understanding of what cartooning is and can be.

It doesn't escape my notice that my list is a bunch of dead (except for Stan Lee) white guys. I've read and enjoyed works by non-dead-white-guys*, I just wouldn't put them in my Top 15. Sadly, the list of books and authors I know I need to get around to someday just keeps getting longer. I also expect to wake up in the middle of the night with three names I should have included but forgot. Shrug. To quote a respected naval philosopher, I yam what I yam.

(*Not the same as undead white guys. Those would be zombies. Which generally write poorly.)

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I've resolved to read more fiction and am revving up to start Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. Is that a good idea or a mistake?

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The last great book I read was Walter Isaacson's bio of Ben Franklin. The last book of any sort I read was Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery, written by Dave Roman and illustrated by many, including Dave himself. Agnes is a teenage detective who talks to the dead. It's a very appealing mix of fantasy, mystery, horror and humor. Dave's a sort-of friend (by which I mean I think he's swell but don't claim to know him well) and Agnes Quill is first-rate comics.

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What's the last good book you read? Recommend one in the comments and I'll add it to the top of my "get around to it" pile.


Sherwood Harrington said...

"Bill," eh? As the bon mot master probably ghost-wrote for the Bard, "upon familiarity will grow more contempt." Maybe he actually wrote that himself, but it sounds more like Sir John's stuff.

Anonymous said...

The last books I read, Erling's World and West Oversea by Lars Walker were very good.

I also just read "Mom's Cancer" last night. I work as a Page at my local library. I had the book in my hands to put away and instead checked it out. I could relate very well as a Cancer Survivor of Stage IV Oral cancer and wearing the mesh mask like your Mom. My Mom has been given 3-6 months left to this life. We are at the 3 month mark and she's still squeezing as much as she can out of the time she has. My Mom and I were both diagnosed with different forms of cancer in the same year 2004. Thanks for writing the book.

Brian Fies said...

Sherwood, Bill and I go way back. Don't diss the Shakester.

Anon, thanks for the book recommendation, and thanks more for telling me about your experience with cancer. Saying "you're welcome" isn't quite adequate. All my best wishes to you and your Mom.

Jim O'Kane said...

No C.S. Forester? I'm shocked. Roddenberry practically lifted the entire concept of Star Trek from the Hornblower series.

If you haven't read Hornblower (which to me is one of those basic cultural touchstones of reading) pick up Beat To Quarters. Captain Horatio Hornblower had to make decisions waaay bigger than whether or not Edith Keeler should get hit by a truck.

Patty O'Furniture said...

John Novack at suggests "Grant and Twain: The Story of a Friendship That Changed America." It's the story of U.S. Grant's writing of his memoirs as he was dying of oral cancer. Grant and his family were in financial ruin after his presidency because he was fleeced of his savings by a Bernie Madoff swindler type of the 1880s. In near-constant agony because of the spreading cancer, Grant labored to write his autobiography, sales of which ensured his family's financial security after his death.

The book captures the intensity of Grant's physical pain and his self-awareness that he was in a race with death to complete his memoirs.

Sound like the feel good hit of the year! Just kidding. Mark Twain (and Franklin W. Dixon) were aces in my book. I am going to take a look at Grant & Twain...

Brian Fies said...

Thanks, Jim and Patty (great name). I have read Forrester, just wouldn't make my All-Time Top 15 Team. The rest sound interesting. Although Franklin W. Dixon doesn't really hold up as well as you'd hope...