(To a 23yo college student who asked.)
What's actually hard to believe is that I still don't have a good answer. I figured once I got all my books onto the bookshelves and properly sorted, I would easily be able to make the list. Seven years later and I just bought bookshelves this weekend, so... This is off the top of my head. These are the things that come into play when I write about [the super-intense stuff she was talking about], off the bat. I should really make additions to this list and make it a blog entry so I won't feel so guilty about leaving the emails unanswered.
- My favorite fiction writers/essayists are David Foster Wallace (essays, short stories, Infinite Jest), George Saunders (everything), Douglas Coupland (most everything), Ursula LeGuin (particularly The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed), Gregory Maguire (particularly every single one of his YA and childrens' books, Wicked, Stepsister, Mirror Mirror and the newest one), Margaret Atwood (everything including poetry), and everything available from Erika Lopez, Philip Pullman, Anne Tyler, EF Benson, and Jane Austen. I steal liberally from the language and style of all of them about equally.
Girl by Blake Nelson and Harriet the Spy by Fitzhugh are two books I constantly revisit. There is a four-year intensive course in philosophy and sociology contained in that book, it's effing brilliant. Also The Secret History by Donna Tartt and anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald: they teach you secrets about the world that are true and will always be true. Oh, and you have to read something (or everything) by Walker Percy. Nobody knows his name except the people who do, and they light up all insane if you say it to them, because they know what transcendent literature is actually like. And John Barth andDon DeLillo if you like word games.
- Ninety percent of what I know, what I think I know, and the rest of the language comes from comics. If you can handle that, check these people out. Lynda Barry (all), Grant Morrison (Doom Patrol, Invisibles and, weirdly, New X-Men), Neil Gaiman (practically everything), Peter Milligan (Shade, Girl and Enigma all changed my life completely), Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan and The Authority), Jaime and Gilberto Hernandez, and of course Alan Moore. As weird as it sounds, most of my religious and philosophical beliefs come from these people. There were all these studies done in the '60s about how they tried to teach soldiers things in all these different ways and the best way they could remember complicated things (such as philosophy) was through reading words plus images: comics. Comics about killing people, taking over countries, etc. Point being that it worked. If you're completely weirded out by the world of comics, I would suggest Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, which is like a recap of the history of the form. I'm not so much a fan of comics as a fan of particular people who happen to write comics, I guess. (As you can see, I'm really defensive about this, which is one of the reasons I don't answer your question very often, but comic book writers tend to be closer to and shape my mindset, beliefs, etc than anything else -- and most of them are operating from being turned on by previous comic writers.)
- Actual nonfiction... You must immediately read three things. If you can't get through them, put them aside and try again soon: Ego & Archetype by Edinger (it's a fun read, actually), Writing Down The Bones/Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg, and Ursula LeGuin's translation of the Tao Te Ching.
- Subversive stuff: Anything by Disinformation Press, anything by Jason Louv if you can find it, Steal This Book by Hoffman; The Good Terrorist (Lessing) and Kathy Acker's fiction; Burroughs and Ginsberg; the movies V For Vendetta and The Nines;
- Know your mythology, that's a huge one if you don't already. It's not all Ren Faire dorks, it's actually the secret codes of the universe. First Greek, then Roman, then fairytales (Grimm -- originals, mind, the effed-up ones -- Han Christian Andersen, and Oscar Wilde), then everything else.
- Psychology/Sociology/Literary Theory: Joseph Campbell, obviously! Try to get through at least one Carl Jung and one Marie-Louise Von Franz anthology/easy-reader introductory survey; Robert Scholes is the greatest Reading teacher of all time, even better than Harold Bloom; Helene Cixous is a good adjunct on your way to Derrida, Foucault and the post-structuralists (Barthes, Kristeva and Lacan, but really Barthes is enough), but you can stop at any time after Scholes if you don't care about that stuff.
Then there's Goddesses In Everywoman by Jean Shinoda Bolen, King Warrior Magician Lover by Moore/Gillette, Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Estes and Iron John by Robert Bly, which are all part of this '90s pop psych movement that people laugh at now, but they honestly do give you a good way into the thornier parts of that ... place where stories matter. The Men's Movement/Women's Spirituality time of the mid-'90s was huge, but we don't talk about it anymore. Oh, and if you can EVER find anything by James Hillman or Michael Ventura, grab it.
Til We Have Faces by CS Lewis and The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie are -- besides the shows we're watching on TV! -- the two best ways of demonstrating what mythical truth looks like in other clothes. Basically, anything that makes over myth or fairytales for our brave new world is good news, because it shows you other ways of making the connection to the enternal stories that have shaped your life -- like how Devil Wears Prada is a retelling of the myth of Aphrodite. Once you are able to see these echoes the stories give you a guide to what happens next, what will work and won't, etc.
I think that's it, actually. Those things plus experience and intuition, but yeah. Well actually that looks like a lot. But I would say those are all the things in my head when I sit down to write, which is what you asked, so... The rest is lyrics and music and interviews with musicians: Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, The Killers' Sam's Town, Radiohead, Metric, Imogen Heap/Frou Frou, Sufjan Stevens and the Britpop band Sleeper are the biggest ones off the top of my head that have made me think differently (separate from liking the music or not, which obviously I do anyway).
...Wow. That's way longer than I thought. Bored yet?
Edit one: Lipstick Traces (before the littleblackcats beat me to it) and Rabelais & His World, duh.
Angela Carter's fairytales and either Wise Children or Nights At The Circus.
I don't live in Britain in the 80s and as far as I remember I never did. I live on Earth, now, and that movie rocks way harder than the comic, as far as my life goes. I mean, I loved the comic when I was a fetus, and I still love it like I love things from fetus times, but that movie is about now. I could lay it out scene by scene why, but you'd just get bored because it's really personal shit.
Suffice to say that Alan Moore would NEVER have thought to contrast Evie's awakening in water with V's awakening in fire, which speaks to our political system and the way we are evolving WAY better than it ever could apply to Thatcher's UK.
I don't know. I kind of agree with Alan Moore's take about the comic being about anarchy vs. fascism while the movie is about american neo-liberalism vs. american neo-conservatism.
I also kind of feel the same way I feel about the film A Scanner Darkly, it's like, look, if you want to make your government conspiracy paranoia film, make it, but leave A Scanner Darkly alone, same with V, if you want to make your dystopian, fascist future movie, go ahead and make it, but leave v alone, no reason to rape the comic to make your film, just make your own thing.
On the other hand, I love comics for opposite reasons than movies. I love comics because serial hits of images + words, as above, go straight to your brain like nothing else. I love movies because they're one beautiful thing, hopefully, contained in a single 2-hour experience.
No matter how many times I watch V For Vendetta the movie, V For Vendetta the comic remains on my bookshelf as it has for the last fifteen years, completely unraped.
In this case, I prefer the movie, for personal reasons. Reading the comic is something I do to read a comic. I don't really see the connection.
Comics + Mythology = Samurai Jack. I think you would like this a lot. I mean, a lot a lot. Really. It's probably the best thing that's ever been on TV, and I'm including "Hill Street Blues" and "Buffy" in that evaluation.
Also, for those of us who frivolled our college years away in the math department, can you recommend a primer for Greek & Roman mythology?
Thank you for being you!
I loved what little SJ I saw, but good eye.
Primer? Well, Edith Hamilton is the go-to for collecting and transcribing various myths, but I think Joseph Campbell probably gives a more current-feeling overview. I grew up with various storybooks and whatnot so I don't have one source to give, but I think a single Campbell book and a strong Wikipedia habit would fill in better blanks than anybody else.
It really kinda scares me how much of this stuff I own and/or have tattooed on my brain. And I want to check out the rest! (Meaning, I don't have any recommendations off the top of my head, but I enjoy seeing your personal sources.)
Edited at 2008-11-26 06:38 am (UTC)
Hah. Well-played, sir.
For that, I'll ask if you've seen the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion because I don't remember. A fellow Pullman lover recommended it to me, rightly claiming that you can never have too much Gnosticism in your life. I dislike the main character, but others make up for the lack, and its delightful intersecting weirdnesses of family, religion, friendship, and the end(s) of the world(s) are awesome. (Except for the final episode, which I hated. But the movie was great!)
There's also a broken Phoenix character. Who is Lilith. So!
Jacob! If you have not seen NGE, here is my pimping post to whet your interest. I agree that it's up your alley.
By its conclusion, Eva touches on sense of self, the very concept of personal identity, the importance of individuality, the nature of the soul, the evolution of humanity, the quest for parental acceptance, teenage sexual awakening, the evaluation of self-worth, complex psychoanalysis of one's actions, and the personal apocalypse.Damn, that's like all of your favorite things in one show, right? Also, I am fairly certain I stole the phrase "personal apocalypse" from you.
(Except for the final episode, which I hated. But the movie was great!)
I think I like some bits of the final episode, but I would probably dislike it more if I didn't have the movie. They both have merit.
Edited at 2008-11-26 11:30 pm (UTC)
There's a lot of stuff on this list that I'm a big fan of, especially in the comics part of the list, though I've never heard of this Milligan fellow somehow so I'll have to look him up.
Mostly this list just makes me think I ought to have a nice long-ranging book discussion with you one of these days. But for now I'll just say if you haven't read any Angela Carter, you should do so ASAP. My favorite of hers is Nights at the Circus.
On June 11th, 2010 03:37 am (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
I am super late to this party, but I have to say something because, I feel happy reading that there are people like me out there. Or people like I perceive myself. Margaret Atwood, Ursula Leguin (especially The Dispossessed) and comic books or graphic novels like Cruddy I had Ali Liebegott as a professor, who shoved Lynda Barry down my throat and I'm very grateful. I'm going to go through those I'm not familiar with and familiarize myself. I also love that you included song lyrics; can I suggest "the national" as inspiring lyrics? Thank you so much for this post.