Laundry lists of book-titles—either in our heads or jotted down in notebooks, we all have them somewhere. Books to read, books to re-read, favorite books: all of these lists are ever-evolving, ever-growing, but there are always a handful of titles that keep their spots, particularly on the favorite books list.
This list is especially meaningful to those of us who aspire to write, as the books we read are usually the motivators behind our decision to write. In the post-Thanksgiving spirit, here are three books I’m thankful to have read, because these are the three books that made me decide that I wanted to write.
The Call of the Wild - Jack London
Jack London’s most renowned work was the first book I read that made me consider writing. I was in elementary school and chose the book for a book report. It was the first time I’d ventured out of my own head while reading, if that makes sense. The Yukon became so real to me, and the book ignited a childhood obsession in me. Frontier life yielded such fantastic stories and such unique characters. The Yukon was “where” I started—I began writing my own stories based on the gold rush, Yukon life, and The Iditarod.
Also, The Call of the Wild made me see that it’s possible to write about a nonhuman protagonist and still level with the human brain. The story follows Buck through his journey from California to the wild, and along the way he evolves into a toughened animal from the house-pet he once was. To me, a young boy at the time, this was an amazing concept—to jump inside the mind of a dog and hear a story told about his journey through the world (Dave Eggers’ short story “After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned” is a marvelous example of writing from a dog’s perspective, also).
London’s The Call of the Wild, in a nutshell, provided me with an example of the adventure that can be had through reading, and it made me long to find the same adventure through writing my own stories.
Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse
This book became somewhat of my bible after I first read it in high school. I took it on every plane-ride and read as much of it as I could.
What London taught me about looking out in the world for stories to write, Hesse taught me about looking into the individual. Sometimes the changes that occur within oneself are just as riveting as Buck and Spitz fighting to the death.
Having read Siddhartha at around seventeen years of age, I’d become more aware of my own interiority, and it was encouraging to see that writing about one’s interior life can be interesting enough for somebody else to read. Dozens of times, even.
Animal Farm - George Orwell
We read this in my English class when I was a freshman in high school, and it was my first exposure to a political satire. Learning about history through fiction was something I’d never even considered before, but I also realized that I could write stories by taking things from my world, contemporary events, and inserting them into a narrative under a name like “Squealer” or “Snowball.”
I also learned to appreciate the meticulous work that goes into writing—the research, the knowledge, the refining from draft to draft. So many of the small details in this book had significance in regard to the allegory, every bit represents something else, something real. To take the time to do that made me want to try it myself (I’ve yet to succeed in any attempts), and opened my eyes to the fact that there’s more to fiction writing than just writing fiction.