Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Five Most Influential Books EVER!

This week we turn back towards the literary realm to discuss The Five Most Influential Books EVER!. This is also the first post that we have put up that is completely influenced by one of your comments.

During our first post Heather very correctly pointed out that to have a true discussion on the five best books of all time we needed to consider books from our childhood. She suggested books like Harold and the Purple Crayon and Good Night Moon, both of which could end up on the list. To define our thinking just a little bit (but Lord knows that there is only so much "definition" that can be applied to our collective thinking) we will be picking books that had an impact on our development as grown-people. Notice I did not say "grown ups." We would never be so bold as to make that claim.

1) Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
If you didn't read this book as a child I am sincerely sorry. It was a favorite of mine growing up, and it is the first one I bought for my friends who just had their first child. The story of the book centers around the main character, Max. Max is about 7(ish), and within the first few pages he gets sent to his room for making mischief. From this point in the story Max closes his eyes and drifts off to "where the wild things are."

The reasons this book was so great for me as a kid came from two key places: 1) Max was in charge the entire time, and wasn't scared of the Wild Things and 2) The pictures are amazing. I would literally listen to this story as many times as my dad was willing to read it to me, and it is one of the first books I can remember holding. As some of you already know, I am now a reading teacher. Anyone want to guess which book I taught to 1st graders on my very first day?

-This book is very deserving of number one. I loved it, even today as soon as I see one of those pictures, I recognize it immediately. Good times were had in my life around the time I first read this. The funnest memory of Where The Wild Things Are, and I warn you children and adults with sticks up their ass should not read this, was from a party where I was shrooming something fierce.

My buddy James was in a corner of the living room of the old house specifically decorated for just what we were doing. he had a giant circus ball on his head, and if he read this he might be offended, but I swear to God he turned into Moeshe. If you knew James, you would know why this was not an enormous leap for one's chemistry enhanced brain to take. Me and James were always into Stanislav Szukalski, so his morphing into a yeti was not as frightening as one would think. We had been expecting them to rise one day.

Even weirder was my friend Ash, who became one of those fucking Kangaroos from:

2) Horton Hears A Who

I know it's all politically allegorical, but I loved Dr. Seuss. I was lucky in my formative years that my parents made it a priority to get us to the library as much as possible. When I got my first library card, this was the book I checked out along with the Asimov's Norby, The Mixed Up Robot.

And thus I nominate myself to be mayor of Nerdton.

I don't even really have a complicated reason I think this is in The Five. I read it, it got me reading early and I loved it. My life-long obsession with reading had its start in this little critique on Roe v. Wade. I wish I had had the opportunity to meet Dr. Seuss. I feel he deserves some serious gratitude. The other day, my little niece came home with this book under her arm. I was very touched, I hope that someday my contribution to humanity can be half of what Dr. Seuss' is.

-Yeah, that Ted Geisel was a pretty clever dude. I also loved "Horton," The Cat in the Hat, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I do have to say that I never got into Oh The Places You Will Go. I saw so many people both give and receive this book during a college graduation that it made me vomit a little. But then again, maybe I am just a cynical bastard.

3) The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

I can't say too much about this book or I will be crying salty tears on my keyboard. I remember my mom reading this to me and my brother when we were kids. I think that even as a child I knew that someday I would want to read this book to my own kids.

The plot is simple. It is about a young boy who falls in love with a tree. As the boy grows up/older so does the tree, and it is amazing how it affects people both young and old. I know that sounds like a pretty simple book, but if you've never read it you should take 5 minutes the next time you are in a bookstore. I won't predict or promise that you will cry, but if you don't think that it is a worthwhile book to read to a child you may have something wrong with your soul. Specifically, your soul may be missing. If that is in fact the case I recommend that you move over to the self-help section of the bookstore and start looking for some guided help.

-I remember my principal reading this to our class in first grade. All he told us about the author is that he was "an old man." After he read the story, he asked us what we thought the old man looked like and let us ponder for a minute. Then he showed us the picture on the back cover. The man was black! He asked all of us if we had any idea that he looked like that, and of course none of us did. The school had either poor, dusty country white kids or poor, dusty Navajos and Utes from the Res. I doubt most of us had seen a black person outside of cartoons. It was an important lesson that I don't think I fully understood for years.

Also, this book has interesting point/counter-point going with another Silverstein masterwork, A Boy Named Sue. Whatever you do, make sure you don't mention to an ignorant redneck that such a classic country song (and several others) was written by a black man.

Sort of a departure, but I really have to put in here:

4)White Fang, Jack London

You have to understand that this list is about personally influential books. I doubt this would make anyone else's list, and frankly I don't care. This might not even make my list, this is the last week before finals and I'm a little brain-dead. This list might suck because of me. I hate you all.

Um. The book is good. It's great, actually. I read both White Fang and The Call of the Wild the summer our family had to squat in an orchard. How much of the setting in which I read the books (no electricity, no TV, kerosene lamps, etc) effected the net influence on my life verses how much the books alone would have changed me. I tried to read some London a while back, but it was just too tough to focus. I have had the urge my entire life, and I place the blame square on London, to pack up all my belongings and move to the Yukon.

I owned a wolf once, he died. Talking about these books makes me sad, and arguably dumber. How do you conjugate stem-changing -ir verbs in Castille Spanish? Vosotros pedis ir al banco? Poor dog.

-Wow. Lots of info about you that I didn't know in there. I have nothing negative to say about White Fang. I will say that if you like books about wolves, and if you don't mind having your heart ripped out of your chest, you should check out The Crossing by Cormack McCarthy. Pretty good book if I say so myself.

So now it is up to you the reader. This week should be a lot of fun because we are looking for your contribution to our list of influential books. Be creative. Don't limit yourself to "kids books." And as always, chime in on what we've given you.


mysterygirl! said...

I haven't read it for a few years, but I'm pretty sure that The Giving Tree still makes me cry. I hated that greedy little bastard of a kid. (What, that wasn't the point?)

One book I remember reading all the time when I was very small was Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman, which was all about a baby bird looking for his mom (and hilarity ensuing as he asks all these animals and objects that are clearly not birds). This, coupled with the fact that my mom read to me constantly, contributes to why I was reading at 3 and am quite a bibliophile today. (If any moms read this, it seems like a rather shameless Mother's Day plug.)

You can call me, 'Sir' said...

The World of Pooh, which was an anthology of The House at Pooh Corner and the original Winnie the Pooh stories. I'm a book freak and have what qualifies quantitatively as "an assload" of books, and this one is nestled snuggly between the biographies of John Adams and Harry Truman. I read it constantly while growing up and have always found comfort in going back and reading the same stories over again. There's something simple and comfortable about the characters and the world in which they live.

I was a huge Dr. Seuss fan, as well. "There's a Wocket in My Pocket" sticks out for no particular reason, aside from the wocket being in the dude's pocket, which doesn't just happen every day.

Airam said...

I love The Giving Tree. I read that to my kids every year. One of my favourite authors is Robert Munsch. He's a Canadian writer and writes very funny and cute stories. One that I remember was read to me in school by him is called "Love You Forever". I loved this book. I bought this book for my sister-in-laws when they became mothers for the first time and it's a book that I recommend for first time parents. It's a book about a mother and son and she chronicles his life growing up and the mistakes he's made along with accomplishments. At the end of each day after he's fallen asleep she goes in his room, cradles him (even as an adult) and sings to him "I will love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be."

Eventually the mother grows old and is dying when his son picks up his frail mother, cradles her and sings the poem to her. It's an extremely touching story.

Jill said...

Shrooming something fierce, huh? I enjoyed the juxtaposition right next to the heartwarming tale of childhood. Squatting in an orchard. Oh, the things you will learn.

The Lorax, people. The Lorax.

And my first favorite book was Colors Are Nice. Just in case I haven't mentioned that enough. Green is good for trees, I think. And I like clover blossoms pink!

Momentary Academic said...

I do remember PD Eastman's Are You My Mother?, but that wasn't the book that did that for me. It was Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now?; however, I realize that that isn't an influential book, but I will argue, without doubt, that the Nancy Drew series were the MOST awesome books ever. I loved reading every mystery and I owe some of my current sass to Carolyn Keene (even if she didn't write every single book). Nancy, Ned, Bess and George were like friends. :)

Casey said...

Good inputs so far, and I'm with MG! (I don't really know you, hope you don't mind the shortening) about what a little shit the kid was. Also, Are You My Mother? was a decent read in the pre-K department.

I have always been interested in the hundred acre woods. I really think a lot of sociological woes would be solved by everyone looking in the mirror and singing songs about being fat. My wocket fell out of my pocket today, Sir, very embarassing.

I'll have to look up this Munsch guy. Even though I think any man would cringe at the idea of his mom reading him a poem over and over after he was past grade school.

Jill:Shrooming something fierce does not do the night justice. I'm only drunk now and I can barely comment coherently, that night was more like, "Man, we've all got..like...galaxies in our head, man."

MA, if the book was influential to you, that will suffice for the purposes of this blog. We're not picky. I read some Nancy Drew, but I have to admit to veering toward the Hardy Boys, since they actually punched people sometimes. You do bring to mind, though, for whatever reason, Beverly Cleary. On this list, she got robbed.

Lord Chimmy said...

I used to love the Babar the Elephant books as a kid. My favorite was Babar Visits Another Planet.

I don't know how influential they were in my life, but they were definitely a great source of creativity and imagination.

I'd have to re-read them today and see what emotions they bring up...

You can call me, Sir said...

Oh, SNAP! Beverly Cleary. Henry Huggins. How could I have forgotten? I loved those books. He taught me how to be incorrigible.

That incorrigible part of me wants desperately to go into book stores, find all the copies of "There's a Wocket in My Pocket", and draw a thought bubble over the guy's head with the words, "Holy shit, a wocket!!!" to match the look on his face.

Megarita said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Megarita said...

Horton! Babar! And The Giving Tree are all classics. I'd add The Runaway Bunny, which is both beautifully illustrated and a sweet little story about mommies and kids. Also, I loved Shel's poetry books like Where the Sidewalk Ends--they're like The Giving Tree, but the tree gets even. "Are wild strawberries really wild? Will they bite an adult? Will they snap at a child?"

Claven said...

I think the Lorax led me to my first job out of school. It was only years later in San Diego that I saw the real-world trees in La Jolla that inspired the truffaluffa trees.

As to childhood literature and drugs...a couple of my friends in San Diego used to go up to Disneyland once a year. To relive childhood fun? No, it was to hang around Disney kookyness under the influence of mushrooms. Never partook, but I could see how it could have been fun.

Girl on the Verge said...

Two books immediately come to mind for me.

Are you there god? It's me, Margaret by Judy Blume. I think as a preteen I read all her books but this one stands out for me. I think I must have said "I must increase my bust" about 3,241 times too many....

and then in high school the first book that was a real turning point for me would be Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. That was the book that trasported me to a place so different from my own life but something about it resonated in me.

Grad School Reject said...

Chimmy - I missed out on Babar. I remember picking up a copy at school and it was in French. Since I was new to independent reading I remember getting really frustrated when I couldn't understand the book, and I think I classified it as "too hard."

Sir - True story: My wife and I named our cats Beezus and Ramona. Henry Huggins was a favorite of mine too.

Megarita - I love Shel's poetry too. I've never read the book about the bunny.

Claven - You and Jill may not believe this, but I've never read The Lorax. I'll have to check it out next time in a bookstore.

Girl on the Verge - I actually read "Are you there God..." when I was in 5th grade. My teacher (a guy) saw me reading it, and he loved reading so much he refused to take it away. He did call my mom though and say, "This is what he is reading, and you may want to have a conversation with him around page 127."

heather said...

gsr, thank you for doing this. i haven't read the lorax yet either. i'll have to check the library for it. all of the rest of the books listed i've read. either for myself as a child or more recently to cheeks.

Lawson Copywrite & Co. said...

What about Harold and the Purple Crayon?

Darren said...

When I was in 5th grade the teacher read "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" to us by Judy Blume and it ruled. In earlier grades I really enjoyed Curious George and the man in the yellow hat. I also enjoyed the Nancy Drew books I think I read them all. Also enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia, we used to fight over those books. Man, good times thinking back to those simpler days when you could read stuff like this, and mom and dad paid the bills.