Thursday, April 3, 2014

Books that changed my life

Now for something totally different

Instead of writing about writing, something most of you could care less about, I thought I’d write about something different – Reading – How certain books leave a lasting impression.

  I was about ten years old when I read “MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN” by Jean Craighead George. The first book to change my life, thankfully not the last. I identified with the main character because of our similar ages. It’s the story of a young boy who runs away from home to live in the woods. He tames a wild falcon and builds a home inside an old tree. The perfect adventure story.

 What the book did for me was open up the possibilities of self-reliance, of individuality, and the fact that there was a world outside that needed to be explored. It also taught me how to get lost in a story. To totally and completely fall into the story and hope I never clawed my way out. The book was like a lifeline. Every time things got hard in my life I knew that I could always run to the forest if I had too.

The next book was the western “THE SACKET BRAND” by Louis L ‘Amour. About a cowboy whose wife is killed and he spends the entire story getting revenge against the killers. Even though I was only eleven it taught me what it meant to be a hero.  What was expected of a man. It opened my eyes and made me fall in love with history, especially western history. It’s the only book I cannot read again. The impression it left is so strong I don’t want to do anything to change it. Instantly becoming a rabid Louis L ’Amour fan I read each of his over two hundred books, most of them more than once. My ex-Sister-In-Law once sneered and said that she thought those types of books were a men’s version of a Romance Novel. I smiled and agreed with her and said, “Yes, if you mean they bring enjoyment to millions of fans, I agree totally.”

At Thirteen I stole my mom’s copy of the “THE GODFATHER” by Mario Puzo. This was the first true adult book, with adult situations (meaning sex). I loved the story and the fact that the main character was both a bad guy and a good guy. I don’t think I ever read another “Kid’s” book after reading it.

In my late teens I read Stephen King’s “THE STAND.” A band of strangers come together to overcome evil in a post-apocalyptic world without rules. After reading it I devoured everything he had written then branched out to other authors in the same genre. It was then that I fell in love with the idea of storytelling and started creating stories in my own mind. I wrote some of them down but they were never good enough so I put them aside. But I never stopped creating them in my head.

While stationed aboard USCGC Storis in Kodiak Alaska I read “THE HIGHLINERS” by William McKluskey a novel about the Alaska fishing fleet in the 1970’s. I also read “GRAY SEAS UNDER” by Farley Mowatt about a Tug Boat conducting rescue missions off the Canadian Maritimes. Both of these books taught me the true romance of the sea and were a big reason I spent the next ten years of my life at sea. I loved the fact that I was living the life these books where talking about. My adventures were true.

I was stationed in Long Beach California on the USCG Venturous when I read “CANNERY ROW and SWEET THURSDAY” by John Steinbeck. These books brought to life those people living on the seedier side of town. The side I was now stationed in. It gave them depth and made me look at them differently. I began hanging out in their world and learned a great many lessons about life.

Finally, while in Antarctica aboard USCGC Polar Sea I read all four volumes of Churchill’s “HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH SPEAKING PEOPLE.” It covers the history of Great Britain from pre-historic times to World War One. It opened my eyes to the big picture and introduced me to Non-Fiction. I hadn’t known that I could get lost in a true story like that. I’d thought it could only be in fiction. I spent several years devouring History books, focusing on Military History. That voracious reading eventually led to me getting my BA in History a few years later and eventually a Master’s in Education with the goal of teaching History.

I would not be the person I am today without these books. I might be better, maybe worse, but most assuredly not the same.  My value system would be different. The way I view people, analyze problems and issues. All of it would be different.

There are many other authors that I have read and loved, Heinlein, Ludlum, Asimov, Austin, Orson Scott Card. Authors that reinforced what had come before or showed me alternative viewpoints. All of them were great but they didn’t have the impact on me like the books listed above.

What books changed your life and why?



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