Tuesday Talks is a discussion group on GoodReads—readers who discuss different aspects of books: point of view, or settings, or whatever.
This week’s topic is on influences, as in what has influenced you? It’s a huge subject. influences include can the people one knows, as well as authors and books—even performance art.
For me the list of books that have affected me is far to large to single any one out—and the same applies to authors. For people, I’d have to say my mother was a big influence, since she began reading serious books to me before I could read, and I learned to read very early—somewhere in the 3 to 4 year old range, just after we’d moved to Berlin in 1961.
When young I read all the usual things, including people like Twain, but I also moved into science fiction, too. I can remember mowing my way through series of books by the same author, but few stick out as significant events. Later in life, I combined an interest in writing with reading to sharpen my writing skills. I can remember going through all of the Hemingway books at the library and then moving on to Steinbeck and others. Later, I read things like Tolkien, Frank Herbert, Bradbury . . . To prepare for writing a YA book with a female protagonist I systematically worked through novels, mainly written by women, with a strong female protagonist—220 books in 2011. But for me, it isn’t the plot that necessarily draws me to a book. It’s as much the tone and feel that the author creates, and how well he or she uses imagery and events to play on emotions. The plot has to be there, of course, but I think of writing as an art. and art is as much as feast for emotion as it is for intellect—more than just the story, but how the story is told and how deeply the author can draw readers into the world created. A story can be clever but, for me, without these “tactile” elements, it falls flat. I’ve read Asimov, of course, and his stories are amazingly inventive, but I’ve often found that his characters to lack an emotionally complex dimension. I can read his work and appreciate it—the Foundation trilogy, for example, was a tour de force—but only a few of his characters there were sympathetic. At the same time, in Jane Austin’s books, it might at first seem more difficult to relate to the characters, both because of the language and because she writes about people in the propertied class of England, but these people are imbued with depth, even her flawed characters have redeeming qualities.
I rambled on above to illustrate how hard it is to isolate one’s influences to this or that author or book. Literature is kind of like the universe—complex and too enormous to capture in a few words. I feel we are influenced by so many things that it’s hard (and unfair) to name just a few.