None of us start writing in vacuum. None of us are inspired only by the light within. Someone (or something) needs to turn that light on. That someone is an author. That something is a book.
If you don’t read, how on earth are you going to write? Why would you?
I started reading – seriously reading – very late in my life. Unlike other bookworms, I wasn’t drawn to books at childhood. I did enjoy them, especially the ones with more pictures.
As a young kid in the desert land at what is now the north of Egypt, I loved a series of books called something like “The bible in pictures”. This was an early seventies version of a graphic novel I guess. The tales of the old testament translated very well into this format and stimulated my imagination. I became a story-teller (read: liar) very early and loved making things up, though had no grasp of literary tools much beyond that.
During a low period in my life, I found myself looking to escape reality and was in luck when my next door neighbor and good friend, Eli Barzilay handed me a copy of Robert Silverberg’s phenomenal book “The man in the maze.” Having read “The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy” (for the first of so many times) at his recommendation, I dove into this book with everything I had.
I guess the answer to “Why do you write?” is – because a friend of mine recommended a book to me.
The man in the maze is everything I love in a novel. It has a protagonist with whom I connected immediately (having been inflicted with somewhat similar condition), a major dilemma and a concept that grabbed me and occupies my brain to this day. Though being a tale of fiction – fantasy at that – it resonated so strongly that I had to start over as soon as I finished reading the last page.
I’ve become very intrigued with Silverberg’s work and read everything I could buy, lend, take out from the library. I became a serial reader. I tend to get excited about a writer’s book then start going through some of his other ones, and in the case of Mr. Silverberg that was a long list indeed. An honorable mention (since I want to tell you about other authors too) goes of course to the wonderful Majipoor series, which I also ran through with some gusto.
At one point I remained with “nothing to read” and decided to pick up the hitchhiker’s guide once again, a decision I have made many times in years to come. It’s not just the humor, though it felt like it was for a while. After much thought I understood the apeal. It was telling my own story. A tale of a clueless underdog being hurtled at dazzling speed through the absurdities of space and time. Not the least of which is the endless searchreally for meaning.
But of course humor is a part of it, my favorite kind of humor being the witty British one. The Englishman looking for tea throughout the universe, being frustrated with what (righfully) seems to him as utter nonsense, being misunderstood and mocked for his own misunderstanding of what seems (absurdly) so logical to the rest of the universe dwellers. The analogies to our own lives on earth are worked into these stories beautifully, making it very easy to read and perhaps equally easy to underestimate as a work of art. As became my habit I continued reading Adams’s books including the wonderful “Dirk Gently” series.
I relocated to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in 2001 with the company I work for, not long after my father passed away and in retrospect, was somewhat of a wreck. I worked long hard days, saw little of my family and in general was a different person altogether. My friend Laurie Boulet, having realized that I love science fiction, recommended a series of books called “Otherland” by Tad Williams, thus is the one to blame for Mr. Williams becoming my favorite contemporary writer.
I seriously needed another escape and this wonderful series gave me exactly that. Williams, slowly and masterfully, drew the world in which the story takes place, moving forward with a lot of tension and anticipation. The concept is not only great in and of itself, but also very timely (I’ve read in recent years of attempts at realizing that “big thing” in reality, right now). It has all the elements I enjoy in both science fiction as well as fantasy, both are genres Tad writes simply amazing. I urge any fan of these genres, as well as anyone who simply likes good books to check this out, as well as the rest of Tad Williams’s extensive body of work.
I don’t remember how I got to Roger Zelanzny’s “The great book of Amber“. I can only be thankful that I have. Another example of a book that kept me up way past bed time on many a night. It’s wonderful what a simple (but brilliant) concept can lead to, with imagination, relatable characters and a voice like Zelazny’s. I don’t know that there is much more to say, that simply reading this wonderful compilation can’t say better. Once you’ve read that, let me invite you to read his excellent “My name is legion” which hits another great concept on the head. One of the greatest story tellers I know of.
I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy early on, and I don’t have a great explanation why, other than to say that good science fiction and good fantasy result in some phenomenal books. Having read a lot of these, I decided it was time to pick up (at long last) a book by Isaac Asimov. I only heard about how amazing he was for as long as I lived. So I bought a copy of “Foundation” and sat down to read. When it comes to introduce the reader to a different/fictional world, Asimov is without a doubt the best I know. “Foundation” is but the best example of that (in every book of his that I’ve read it’s clear). From the current state of affairs to fictional history, attitudes, relationship, culture and every aspect of life, Asimov paints a vivid picture that puts the reader alongside the hero and takes him on this journey. I understand why people keep marveling at his work. I do. I did not read a book by Asimov that I didn’t really like. I honestly don’t think it’s possible. I can’t recommend a specific book too, as Asimov was so prolific and really, you should simply pick one up and start reading. quickly now, there are many books to read…
And since we’ve talked about the highest authority on world custruction and one of the true masters of science fiction, let me say a few words about the amazing Ursula Le Guin. At the recommendation of my friend and writing coach Christina Ranallo, I read “The lathe of heaven“. It was during a time I started developing a science fiction novel of my own (which needs more than a big refinement) and was blown away, as would you, should you take my word for it and read the book. I dare say that Le Guin is one of the best 3 story tellers I’ve read. Lathe of heaven, as well as “The dispossessed” which I read immediately after are but a tasting of her exceptional skills. Bringing intricate realities to the page, drawn with the most exquisite language and sensitive attention to her characters is what makes her – in my humble opinion – one the of the greatest authors. A literary giant. genuis. I think you got my point.
Before Asimov and Le Guin, I did read “Ender’s game” by Orson Scott Card and this one brought back feelings not unlike those that came over me while reading the man in the maze. There are truths in this story that a person can strongly relate to, groups of people can strongly relate to.
I love stories that are just fun to read. I love even more those that also tell me something about myself, or the world I live in. Sometimes it teaches me something new and other times it reinforces existing beliefs, but it always enriches.
Terry Prachett is one writer I haven’t read anough from, but “Going postal” and “Unseen Academicals” were both fantastic and I promise I will get back to his books as soon as I’m done with a couple on my to-read list.
But what about different genres? Yes, I like other genres too. I love John Le Carre’s books. My favorites being “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “The spy who came in from the cold“. I loved pretty much every Stephen King book I read, my favorites being “IT” and “The Stand“. I thoroughly enjoyed Grisham’s early works, not the least of which “A time to kill“, and the list goes on.
I listed the above as they had a significant impact on my choices and commitment to be a writer, but they are just a part of an always growing list.
You’re welcome to see my virtual library at librarything.com
If you have a reading recommendation – please share it in the comments. I promise to take them seriously.