By: S. G. Lacey
Several writers have profoundly influenced my life. Looking back through time, there are a few authors and artists I consider mentors despite having never meet them in person. In my mind, that is one of the most compelling reasons to read; the more works you explore from a given writer, the more it feels like you know them. That realization, while simple, is quite compelling.
Below is my list of notable authors, with some notes on how I feel each writer has shaped my own literary endeavors. It’s a rambling list, matching my erratic life path and wandering mind, but I would highly recommend them all. Looking at our home bookshelf, many of these works are represented in paper form, which is a commitment after moving back and forth across the country several times. Without further ado, my chronology of inspirational writers is as follows:
Dr. Seuss – No introduction needed, Theodor Seuss Geisel’s combination of witty lyrics and amusing cartoons are known by generations of young children. My mom was a huge influence on my lifelong interest in learning; she read to us every night before bed and the Dr. Seuss collection are some of the first books I actually remember. For those adults in the audience, check out one of Dr. Seuss’s hidden gems, “You’re Only Old Once” written by Mr. Geisel on his 82nd birthday. I’ll also thank the Dr. Seuss books for my lifelong love of puns and sarcasm, as evidence by the quote below from our friend the Lorax.
“They say I’m old-fashioned, and live in the past, but sometimes I think progress progresses too fast!”
J. R. R. Tolkien – Another household name, Tolkien and his Lord Of The Rings high fantasy world can probably be credited on some level with George R. R. Martin’s (suspiciously similar middle initials) writings and the incredible success of the Game Of Thrones book/TV series. Tolkien’s work has the feel of an old English writer, but was in fact not written until the 1950’s. These stories, which my brother and I burned through as middle school students, shaped our imagination as well as interest in random activities like target practice with homemade bow & arrows and countless hours playing the Magic The Gathering card game. Fortunately, we avoided getting any atomic wedgies or swirlies through most of high school.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The creator of literary characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson, Doyle is the oldest writer in my list of influences. Doyle wrote 4 long format Sherlock Holmes novels, but what I remember the most are his engaging petite mysteries. With over 50 total short stories, many originally published weekly in the Strand Magazine during the 1890’s, these works focus on crime solving in Victorian London using the cunning logic and reasoning of Holmes combined with the physically strong but sometimes dim-witted Watson. This combination of protagonist traits has been applied to countless literary and cinematic duos since Doyle’s original conception. I read all these Holmes & Watson accounts in book format, but also had many of the short stories on tape; I remember falling asleep listening to these entertaining stories, and can recite many of them verbatim.
Michael Crichton – Jurassic Park, Congo, Rising Sun, Sphere. You would think Michael Crichton was a movie screenwriter. In fact, at 6’ 9” tall Crichton was literally one of the largest, and most inspirational realistic future fiction novelists of our era, who unfortunately died ahead of his time. The Crichton books were addictive for me; my parents would get the hard copy of each new story when it came out, and I’d stay up all night burning through each new tale. Not great for school the next morning, but Crichton’s fact driven insights on science and technology were more insightful than a day of class anyways and his forward-looking society inferences still shape a lot of my own fiction writing.
M. C. Escher – While not necessarily an author, the Dutch graphic artist Escher was incredibly influential in my own creative process during high school. For those who are unfamiliar, Escher’s works, primarily drawings but some sculptures, are heavily based on geometry, repetition, and spatial reasoning. I inevitably loan out my massive hardcover book with the full collection of Escher’s life’s works to any child I meet who displays that odd combination of mathematical and artistic inclination. His pieces are often both confusing and through provoking, like “Sky And Water 1” shown below, which relies on the use of positive and negative space to generate a compelling visual effect.
Tony Hillerman, Randy Wayne White, and Lee Child – These 3 crime novelists have different literary styles, but all fall under the same theme of recreational reading for me. Their collective writing series are all characterized by winding mystery stories set in the present time, using strong lead character development, and plots which are, for the most part, plausible. These books represent good binge reading, intent focus is not needed as one’s imagination can fill in the details; this activity is much more relaxing than staring at a TV for hours. Reading these engrossing plots is also great for airplanes which I unfortunately spend more time on than desired.
Stephen J. Dubner And Steven Levitt – These gentlemen, a New York Times journalist and a University Of Chicago economics professor respectively, are potentially the least known on my list, the authors responsible for the groundbreaking book Freakonomics (and SuperFreakonomics). Their original offering was enlightening and inspirational, processing readily available public data and making some provocative claims about teacher’s grading practices, U.S. drug control policies, naming children, etc. This book was the start of a thread that’s led me into the broad world of macroeconomics and investing; I try to listen or read at least one hour on these topics daily while avoiding the primarily distorted mainstream news as much as possible. Check out the ongoing Freakonomic’s podcast hosted by Mr. Dubner if you get a free hour some time, a great staring point is the 2018 Soccer World Cup Series linked below.
Looking through these inspirational authors/artists as a group, who I’ve never taken the time to write down before was a very insightful exercise, there are a few interesting conclusions. First, while broad in scope, examining the full list there’s a clear focus on logic, technology, and math. This makes sense considering my chosen profession as an engineer. Another observation is that there are no female authors on the list, this was not intentional but, aside from Agatha Christie and Laurie R. King, I can’t recall any female writer of whom I‘ve read more than a few of their books. This is something I’ll need to rectify in the near future, feel free to provide suggestions beyond Mrs. Rowling, no offense to her very popular works.
After going thought this influential writer’s thought experiment, I would recommend it to everyone. You may be surprised how few books are truly memorable, and how much you have been shaped by just a few authors. Also, ask someone who knows you well to take a gander; my wife got 4 of the authors above almost instantly so it’s clear what we read can shape a person’s life and actions. Happy reading.