Ten books that influenced my life

There is a thing going around Facebook these days—electronic chain mail, really—where friends invite each other to list the 10 books that have stuck with them through life. Thanks (??) to my friend Nancy for inviting me to participate.

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The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Since my first introduction to the works of the Bard in Grade 9 (Merchant of Venice) through my many pilgrimages to The Stratford Festival in Southern Ontario, I have been entranced. No matter what is going on in my life, I find solace and refuge in the pages of the Master’s folio. Favourite play: Henry V. My lone tattoo: Julius Caesar V.v.73.

His life was gentle, and the elements

So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up

And say to all the world ‘This was a man!’

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DuneFrank Herbert

For such a short book—and particularly within such a long series—this is a novel I return to on a regular basis. The story is woven so tightly and yet offers mythic proportions. The language is at once simple and profound…and incredibly quotable. Every time I read the story, I find a new interpretation.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

asimov

Asimov on ChemistryIsaac Asimov

To a budding geek, this book and the next on my list were manna from heaven. Although I was a fan of Asimov’s fiction, I found a home in his look at various subjects in science (and eventually theatre and religion). He explained the universe to me in a way that no one else could and gave me the tools to extend that learning to others (whether they wanted to hear it or not).

Broca

Broca’s BrainCarl Sagan

While Cosmos was the book (and television series) that everyone else was talking about, this was the book that first grabbed my attention. Like Asimov, Sagan had a way of contextualizing science that few others have mastered, offering not just a series of facts, but the stories of the people behind those facts, including the dearly departed Paul Broca. Asimov and Sagan likely influenced my decision to move into science writing.

Wolf

Never Cry WolfFarley Mowat

If not for my abhorrence of discomfort, I would be living on the Canadian tundra today, studying and communing with the wolves. That’s how powerful this book was to me. Many criticize Mowat for fabricating many elements of his non-fiction and particularly in this story, but I don’t really care because he grabbed a young mind (mine) and transported me into the minds of the wolves he studied for the Canadian government. To see these creatures as more than just vicious wild dogs was life-changing.

purple-cow

Purple CowSeth Godin

Drive past enough farm fields filled with cows and eventually you cease to see them. Drive past a purple cow, however, and you stop. In short, the premise of a book of blog entries that challenges the reader to skew their view of the world with an eye to drawing the attention of your audience. Less an epiphany than a confirmation of what I already believed, Purple Cow told me there was merit in my mania.

Natural

Popular Natural HistoryRev. J.G. Wood

Published in 1885 (my edition), the content of this book is not only dated (it includes a discussion of the dodo), it is often outright wrong. But it holds a special place in my heart because I received it from my great-grandmother and it initiated my fascination with antiquarian books, something that continues to this day despite my inability to financially support it. These books—particularly the non-fiction—open a portal into another time and another way of thinking, much as the rest of my book collection will in 100 years.

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The Love You MakePeter Brown & Steven Gaines

The murder of John Lennon in 1980 took what was a passing awareness of The Beatles and turned it into an obsession for me. I had heard the music, I had seen the movies, but I was completely unaware of their context. Thus, the biography of the Fab Four, written by insider Peter Brown (…called to say, you can make it okay, you can get married in Gibraltar, near Spain), blew the lid off my ignorance, pouring kerosene on a flame that has not died in the intervening 34 years.

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The Elements of Style – Strunk & White

As a writer and editorialist (I will not call myself a journalist…different craft), you might suspect that this book is close to my heart because it helped me become a better writer. And you would be DEAD WRONG. Just the opposite, in fact.

Instead, this book informed me that my new Editor had absolutely no respect for my writing nor that of my writer/editor colleagues. In our first staff meeting, she cheerfully told us she was looking to make some changes in our magazine and then gave us each a gift of this book. In my eyes, it was tantamount to handing Dostoyevsky a first-grade reading primer and suggesting he rewrite Crime & Punishment in the format of Mr. Whiskers (no self-aggrandizing hyperbole intended). I moved on.

Etymology

Chambers Dictionary of Etymology – Robert K Barnhart (Ed.)

As a word-jockey, history-buff and all-around geek, I can never be sure if my wife’s gift of an etymology book was a reward or a well-disguised pun-ishment (the hyphen should give you a clue as to why she would punish me). Regardless, the book has served me well as I endeavour to sculpt language to fit my needs, crossing words at their roots to develop new varietals that colour an otherwise mundane existence.

Another Liebster Award?

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I can’t believe how lucky I feel and how honoured I am to have been nominated for a second Liebster Award in just two months of running my blog. My nominator was new friend Julian Froment—book lover and reading fanatic—who blogs at http://julianfroment.wordpress.com/.

According to Julian, and as I recall from earlier, the rules for the Liebster Blog Award are:

  • List 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer a series of questions that were asked of you.
  • Nominate another 11 bloggers for the Liebster Award and link to their blogs.
  • Notify those bloggers of their nominations.
  • Ask those bloggers 11 questions they must answer in accepting their award.

Eleven (different) random facts:

  1. I missed actually being at the Pentagon (specifically, the metro station) on 9/11 by about an hour.
  2. I have an almost paralytic fear of heights and am getting sweaty as I type this because I am thinking of heights of which I have been afraid
  3. I adore sleep and positively purr in those moments just before sleep arrives and just as I awake
  4. I am a nature/science documentary junkie, but not the ones with overt agendas that border on zealotry (even if I agree with the agenda)
  5. To celebrate my 50th birthday this year, I am trying to plan an evening comedy cabaret in support of some charity, just so I can hang out with funny people
  6. I would eat cold cereal for all 3 main meals if I could
  7. I typically create my written works long-hand in a notebook and then transfer to the computer
  8. I struggle with weight and have been an emotional eater my entire life
  9. I am a dog person, but real dogs, not those rats with a glandular condition (no offense to rats)
  10. I have a tattoo that reads Julius Caesar V. v. 73
  11. When it comes to housework, I am tidy but not clean…I’ll organize, but it’s gotta be pretty dirty for me to mop it

Julian’s questions of me:

  1. What is your favourite book? I would pick something by Shakespeare, but as you specified book, I would have to go with Dune, which for all its brevity, provides an amazingly intricate story that also serves as something of an ecological allegory.
  2. Do you play an instrument? If so, which one? No, but have often wished I did, as I am envious of the joy others experience while playing.
  3. What is your ideal holiday? Sunshine, warmth, water, a breeze, a notebook and my camera.
  4. Which author would you most like to meet (they do not need to be currently alive)? As I behaved earlier, I will cheat here and push for Shakespeare, although I must admit to some trepidation that the man could not possibly match the art.
  5. What is your favourite genre to write in? I am a natural comedy writer—sketch, sitcom, movie—but don’t like to be hemmed in by specific genre…not wanting to sound pretentious but certain I will, my genre is story.
  6. What is your least favourite book? There have been many books I have found lacking, but if forced to focus my animosity on just one, it would have to be Ken Dryden’s The Moved and the Shaken, which if nothing else answered my question why don’t people write novels about normal people leading normal lives (answer: they are boring).
  7. Do you have siblings, if so which? Yes, I have two brothers, whom I am happy to say I have finally learned to appreciate as great men—the lack was on my part, not theirs.
  8. PC or Mac? PC
  9. Do you eat meat? Aggressively so!
  10. What is your favourite sport? Hockey (and specifically, my beloved Toronto Marlies)
  11. Do you have a day job? No…it got in the way of my storytelling efforts.

Eleven nominees for the Liebster Award:

I believe the idea behind the Liebster is to promote relatively new bloggers who have fewer than some threshold of followers (I’ve seen anywhere from 200 to 500).

Last time, I begged off on this part, because I really didn’t know anyone who fit that category, but I feel it would be a cop out to do the same this time, so I am simply going to nominate people who jazz me in some manner.

  1. Ben’s Bitter Blog – for his sardonic wit and the sheer pleasure he takes in bitterness
  2. A Day in the Life of Shareen A – she makes me smile
  3. BadsPhotoBlog – because I thought he was nuts for considering these bad photos (misread the name)
  4. Salty Palette – for the sheer delicacy of these amazing photographs
  5. Ryan Hermann – for making me want to try harder with my camera
  6. Pressed Words – their sheer elan and joy of food
  7. Bite Size Canada – for the tireless efforts to celebrate Canada’s history and culture
  8. Life According to Madelin – because her interests are completely unrelated to mine but her joy is not
  9. Write, Read, Repeat – for her sheer determination to do just that

Questions for the nominees:

  1. What is your primary art, whether desired or actively pursued?
  2. Artichokes, brussel sprouts, beets, bok choy, durian. Which, if any, of these do you enjoy eating?
  3. What teacher meant the most to you in your life (school or otherwise)?
  4. Do you actively or would you consider mentoring someone?
  5. Are you funny and can you give an example (either way)?
  6. If you could be any other species, which would you choose?
  7. Pick a number between 1 and 3.
  8. Do you live urban, suburban or rural?
  9. What is the most exotic place you have ever visited (define exotic as you wish)?
  10. What actor or performer turns you on? Turns your stomach?
  11. When was the last time you cried (for whatever reason, positive or negative)?

I look forward to learning more about each of you.