Thursday, 3 September 2015

On Books #1

Ursula K. LeGuin, cat caretaker and author of such wonderful novels as A Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Lathe of Heaven, was once asked by some magazine to write an essay about her favorite fifty books. As she was writing, according to her blog, she realized that the question the magazine was really asking was "what books have influenced you?" and that that was a really bland and boring question. She's been waiting for years, she says, for someone to ask the opposite: What books didn't influence her?

This is the question I'm going to set out to answer today. I have been reading voraciously for nearly all of my life. There have to be some books out there (or in there, in my memory) that didn't influence me.

Let's start with the one author LeGuin says didn't influence her at all: Ayn Rand. LeGuin read Atlas Shrugged and found it terribly boring. I got the condensed version--I read Anthem in high school. It was actually pretty compelling, but I realized when I finished it that I hated the characters, hated the society they came from and the new one they were planning to build. Ayn Rand didn't not influence me. In fact, reading Anthem convinced me that I should not read any more Ayn Rand, and probably influenced my opinion of right-wingers to this day.

The Novel by James Michener was so bland and dragged so much that when I finally reached the end I threw it across the room, glad to be free of it. It made a satisfying thunk against the wall and fell straight into my recycling bin. The Novel didn't not influence me: it discouraged me from reading any more James Michener and reminded me that it was okay to not like a book.

I disliked the protagonist of Twilight intensely and stopped reading after five chapters. But even Twilight didn't not influence me: it made me a serious fandom snob, a condition I'm even now struggling to get over. *mutters* It's okay to like poorly written fantasy novels with weak female protagonists. It's okay to like what you like. I won't judge you if you don't judge me.

*clears throat*

Moving on. Jonathan Livingston Seagull calmed me down after the emotional stress of reading 1984, but had no lasting effect. I think. It may have changed what my favorite Neil Diamond song is. John Grisham's novels have taught me I don't want to be a lawyer. The few Doctor Who novelizations I've read added depth to my understanding of the characters. I did come up with a book that had absolutely no influence on me, but I forgot what it was almost immediately.


Here's a book that definitely had no influence on my whatsofrikkin'ever: my high school chemistry textbook. Other textbooks have convinced me to like a subject (Intro to Linguistics) or to dislike one (third year Chinese), or just to make me laugh during an otherwise nondescript class (my high school calculus textbook had a number of functions defined as f(u)). Chemistry, though...I remember nothing about the book except the cover. It must have been as bland as the class, and yet I'm still watching chemistry videos in my spare time. It neither encouraged nor discouraged me. It hasn't changed any decisions I've made since reading it. I think.

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