Reading has been a major inspiration for me throughout my life. Not only an inspiration for my own writing, but for life in general, for whatever philosophy I claim, for my career in academia, for the way I try to treat others. It would require many blog posts to list all the books and stories that have influenced me, but I can show you pictures of those works that have stuck with me the longest and which I continue to this day to pick up periodically and peruse.
First up are three books that reflect both my love of nature and of beautiful writing. All of these are nonfiction. The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen is my favorite work of all time. I have multiple copies, and keep one at home and one at school. Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez is hallucinogenically beautiful. And Walden, by Thoreau! Nuff said.
Next, I didn’t discover Fitzgerald’s translation of Homer until college but when I did, I fell in love and memorized long sections of it. Some of those I still recall. I didn’t discover The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers until grad school, but when I started writing Chambers’ work was right there with me, particularly a section of flash pieces called “The Prophet’s Paradise,” sections of which I also memorized.
Inspiration comes for me from every kind of work and every type of writer. The opening to Jitterbug Perfume is just about the most perfect piece of writing I’ve ever seen. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday beings with another of those hallucinatory passages that fires my imagination. And Teot’s War by Heather Gladney is a gorgeously written fantasy novel.
Ernest Hemingway is the only writer with two books on my inspiration shelf. The Short Stories contains some absolute jewels of Hemingway’s work, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “The Short Happy Life of Francis MaComber,” among them. But the piece simply headed by “Chapter V” on page 127 is a thing of beauty. A Moveable Feast is not on my shelf because of particularly beautiful writing, but because it contains the best advice on writing and on being a writer that I’ve ever read.
Finally, we have two very different types of works. Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of the Species” is one of the best written scientific arguments ever produced, and it certainly helped inspire in me an interest in science and reason. The other book here, which you can’t see the title on, is a near polar opposite to Darwin. It is the Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. I thought I disliked poetry until I read this book late in college. This made me realize that I wanted a sense of poetry to be at the heart of everything I did.
So tell me, what books have inspired you?