Here are six books that changed my view of the world. These are not in any particular order of influence. Each one worked its magic in my life in different ways. They are the reasons I love books.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The story sums up my early years. I came to realize that the legacies I received were not the legacies I expected. The plot is a polished gem.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
The book made me look at life from a different perspective and jump-started my spiritual journey.
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. Tolkein
My life growing up was in constant flux, and this book was a solitary piece of stability. I found one of the rare single volume editions in London. It travelled in my suitcase wherever I went. The story is timeless. I always wanted an elven ring. I still do.
The Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu (Stephen Mitchell translation)
I keep a copy of this book with me now wherever I go. It is a surprising source of calm and wisdom. Karen Armstrong pointed out that it’s a treatise for rulers similar to Machiavelli’s The Prince. Nonetheless, I find it a useful personal volume for insight and reflection.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
I was so surprised by the ending. I read the novel in my senior year of high school. I came away wanting to be able to write and craft a story like that. It took me years and years to work up the necessary courage to start on such a project. Eye of the Moon was the result. Growing up, I was always falling in and out of love. Any sensation that heady and powerful can be just as perilous as it is sublime.
Emma by Jane Austen
It was required reading for A levels in the UK in 1971. Austen was a social genius and a master of the happy ending. I wanted to write dialogue like she did. She was the first author who I felt was able to describe social pressure, the bane of my early existence, without saying it out loud.
That’s a good list of books to put on my reading list. Since I’m more of a movie guy I’ll share six movies (certainly not the only six, just the six that come to mind now) that have inspired me and changed my world view. Also in no particular order.
1. Tender Mercies. A beautiful film written by Horton Foote, directed by Bruce Beresford, and starring Robert Duvall in possibly his best role. It taught me about the poignancy and pain of people desperately trying to connect but unable to. My favorite scene is between Robert Duvall and his long-estranged daughter. She asks him if remembers singing a song to her when she was little. She hums a few bars, remembers a few words. He listens to her, then simply shakes his head and says he doesn’t remember. After she leaves, he stands by the window and sadly sings the song she was asking about. He remembers every word. That scene still tears me up.
2. The Sound of Music. Because it’s awesome. Period. I love all of it, but I particularly love the scene during the music festival, right before the Von Trapps escape. The scene showed me what nobility, and courage, and deep love of country, and unwavering belief in honorable ideals looks like. Capt. Von Trapp is singing Edlweiss (Rogers & Hammerstein wrote it for the musical but it’s supposed to be like an old folk song that everyone knows) but he becomes so choked up while singing that he can’t go on, so Maria, Julie Andrews, joins him and then the entire audience joins him. It’s like their own small rebellion against the Nazis in song. I’m crying not just thinking about it.
3. The Cowboys. A John Wayne western where he is forced to hire a bunch of school boys to drive his cattle. They become men along the trail. But the most powerful thing was seeing John Wayne, this icon, get killed by the bad guys. It was the first time I had ever seen him die in film and it had a huge impact on me and I learned how powerful and poignant a surprising on-screen death could be.
4. Dog Day Afternoon. Directed by Sydney Lumet. Simply magnificent. Pacino was never better. That film taught me about the power of naturalistic acting. All of the performances feel so real and honest.
5. Charade. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. It’s a wonderful romantic thriller with twists and humor and danger and romance and a great Henry Mancini theme song. It showed me how humor and danger can work so well together.
6. Apocalypse Now. The Vietnam war on acid and some of the most audacious imagery ever to be put into a studio film. The first three-quarters of the film are near perfect. It collapses into madness toward the end, but then, I think that might be the point. One scene in particular taught me about the power of NOT showing the audience something. In the film, our hero and a small boat of sailors is heading up a river when they are attacked from the shore. Bullets are flying everywhere. It’s chaos. We see one quick shot of a nice young kid manning the machine gun. He’s hit and Coppola immediately cuts away from him and doesn’t come back until the fight is over, but all I could think about was ‘Oh, shit! Is he alright? What happened to him?’ The boat eventually gets through the gauntlet and everyone calms down and starts to assess the damage – and that’s when you hear it. A tape player that the kid was listening to right before the attack. It’s a recorded letter from his mom and her voice fills the silence as we finally cut back to the kid and find him dead. The only casualty in the fire fight. And it’s a devastating moment.
Ah so much art, so little time.
That is wonderful, Craig. Thanks for sharing from the film perspective.