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This started out as one of those “tag your friends” Facebook posts but I decided to expand on it here. The initial list was supposed to be a bit spur of the moment, though I put some thought into it because “spur of the moment” feels like it would result in too many false positives and be more of a “Favorite Books” list than am Influential books list.
I also wanted to consider what I was really looking for in an influential book as well as wanting to cover more of my life than “the last year or two. It’s probably not perfect but here is my list, with some short explanations of each choice. There is no particular order here for which is better or worse.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
I’ll admit this right up front. Fight Club is a very stereotypical movie and book for the “edgy twenty year old”. That really doesn’t make it any less influential. It also does present a lot of pretty good anti consumerism concepts and ideas.
If Fight Club has a real flaw it’s that Palahniuk’s writing style gets crazy repetitious. It also picks up a focus point, then drops it unceremoniously. I mostly enjoy Palahniuk’s rather bleak stories and have read many of them. Fight Club is probably the most successful because it manages to shake off many of the negative aspects of Palahniuk’s writing style. Honestly, I think Survivor is a better story with the same general message, but it’s less accessible and less streamlined in it’s prose.
Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman
If there is one book series that helped solidify my interest in Fantasy it was Dragonlance, and Dragons of Autumn Twilight is the start of this entire universe and the basis for a very large majority of everything else in the Dragonlance world. Really, i can’t mention this book without also throwing in it’s trilogy companions, Dragons of Winter Night and Dragons of Spring Dawn. These three books make up an epic trilogy that follows the adventures of 8 companions across the world of Krynn as they fight to save their world. The groups meets and splits up, heroes die, villains are turned, dragons are fought.
It also contains the Draconians, humanoid lizard warriors and probably my most favorite set of grunt type fantasy creatures ever. They all had these great gimmicks when they died too, many turned to stone, others would boil off into acid, others would even explode. I would go on to read many stories about Tanis, Sturm, Tasslehoff, Flint, Caramon and Rastlin.
These were also the books that really pushed me into reading “long form novels”. At the time, these books, which run something like 350 pages or so, were the longest books I had ever read. I also want to give an honorable mention to The Hobbit. It was on my original list but I decided to omit it from this list. The Hobbit really brings nothing new to the list that this trilogy of Books doesn’t bring to the list and the Dragonlance books are way more influential to me than the Lord of the Rings ever was.
Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson
There is just so much in this book that speaks to me on a more personal level. The idea of the internet essentially being represented by a cyberpunk hacker paradise of a Metaverse appeals to me on so many levels. While Daniel Suarez’s Daemon has surpassed Snow Crash as my favorite book, mostly for doing everything Snow Crash does only better, I still really enjoy Snow Crash and being “first” I’m giving it a slot on this list.
It’s a perfect representation of how the internet and the future could be, if the internet and future were totally awesome and we had car poons and internet goggles and junk.
Ralph S Mouse by Beverly Cleary
I almost want to just push this as “Beverly Cleary” since she also write the Ramona books. If Dragons of Autumn Twilight was a transition from “kids books” to “novels”, The books of Beverly Cleary where my transition from books with mostly pictures to books with mostly words.
I single out Ralph S Mouse because it’s probably the series I remember the most. I also read most if not all of the Ramona Quimby books as well. Honorable mention to Judy Blume though, I have about the same level of fondness and memory of many of her books as well. These are all stories I recall as really giving me some early enjoyment for reading.
HTML Complete by Sybex
This book may not be the best resource for learning HTML. It’s certainly not the most up to date these days, since it’s from the late 90s, Early 2000s era of the web. It is the book that completely catapulted my interest in Web Design and Programming in general.
When I first started making Web Pages I was using Microsoft’s Frontpage. Frontpage is an older WYSIWYG editor for static HTML Pages. I wanted to learn more though. I heard a lot of “purists” talking about bloated code that Frontpage produced. Back in those days, bandwidth was an extremely important concern. People are all worried about Net Neutrality and how well they can stream HD video these days. There was a time when crafting a webpage itself was a bit of an art. If you could shave your static HTML webpage down from 12kb to 6kb, it would load seconds faster, which was critical.
So I went out to the bookstore, and being the cheapass that I am, I bought this thick $25 HTML Complete book. The book is like 2/3rds glossary, but it taught me how to make basic HTML pages and manipulate tables to make some pretty nice layouts.
Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins
While I was already interested in politics before reading this book, it’s this book that really helped push the idea that much of the government really has it’s own sinister interests at heart when it comes to how it operates. I’m not even talking about the whole idea of companies buying politicians for internal needs, party line bull crap etc. I’m referring more to the ideas of media manipulation and the manipulation of wars and the affairs in other countries for the benefit of creating nations loyal to the US and it’s needs.
It really makes you question the truth behind a lot of what you see and hear in order to get people pumped up for invading yet another country in the Middle East in the name of “fighting terrorism” or “helping the local people.
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt
A nice compliment to Confessions of an Economic Hitman, Freakonomics and it’s related sequel(s) provide a lot f great examples of the absurdity behind a lot of human logic and how it can easily be manipulated by the media, often for advertising purposes. How even a little bit of incentive can make all the difference. It also puts a lot of light into why some things you may see seem insane on the surface but are an intentional manipulation of your choice and thought process. The example that comes to mind is when you see three similar items for sale, one priced very low, say $5, one with a few useless bonus items for $15 and one that is barely above the middle tier for $50. You see the $15 item as an exceptional value next to the $50 item, even though you only really need the $5 item. Thus, the $15 item becomes the best seller. The $50 item is never intended to sell in any meaningful manner, it only exists to drive you to the $15 price point.
This book is full of these sorts of studies and examples.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling
I originally didn’t include Harry Potter on the list I had replied with, but I was also short from the “List ten” and only thought of Potter later. While I enjoy the Harry Potter books, I initially didn’t really think of them as “influential”. I remembered something though later that certainly makes Harry Potter deserving of this list.
When I was in middle school, through 8th grade or so, I read a lot. Throughout High School, the extremely droll “required reading” of “classics” like The Scarlett Letter and The Great Gatsby, really dwindled my desire to read. Later, work and college helped to completely kill my reading motivation. If there is something that helped bring me back into the fold of wanting to read again, it was Harry Potter.