The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, May 19, 2008

What Books Have Changed Your Life?

John McCain was quite funny on SNL Saturday. And the Clinton-Obama piece was great: Obama played as an empty cipher, Clinton as quasi-demonic. Ah, SNL is starting to feel familiar again. Welcome back!


In your daily Tibetans exercises (those of you trying them) remember that if you can't do three reps, there is nothing wrong with changing the leverage. Have stairs in your home? Experiment with putting either your hands or feet on the first or second stair. Takes weight off, and can make them much easier.

Then, of course, there's the matter that strength is not, primarily a matter of the body. It is more a matter the mind: how many muscle fibers fire, in what relation, how the skeletal structure is aligned, etc. There is a phenomenon called "Sensory Motor Amnesia" in which we literally forget how to communicate with our own bodies. From this perspective, most exercise is a matter of LEARNING HOW TO DO IT more than your body becoming "stronger." Every day, you should be concentrating on HOW to do it--make the assumption, if you cannot perform three of each, that there is a lack of understanding, rather than a lack of strength.

We are working on the CONNECTION between mind and body, not either mind or body alone.


"Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian." Went to see that on Saturday, and it felt like a kiddie version of "Lord of the Rings." Fun, but nothing mind-blowing. I never got that far into C.S. Lewis, except for "That Hideous Strength" and "Peralandra." Actually, I never read "Lord of the Rings" either. High fantasy just never appealed to me too much. I wonder how much of that is because it's all about white people, and the only dark-skinned folk are evil. Yeah, I bet there's some of that.


Jo Anne was right to remind me that it doesn't matter how little Tananarive and I interact during the day. It matters where we go to sleep at night, and awaken in the morning. I complain because I want what I want, darn it. We are working our hearts out right now, and it's bearing fruit. I just don't want to hurt our relationship in the process. No, there's not really any strain there, but having blown one marriage, I really really don' t want to risk this one as well.


I now have my Kindle righteously loaded. I couple of contemporary novels, but that's not the point. I have the complete Shakespeare, Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mark Twain. Complete. Every word. Total cost of the works? Thirty bucks. Now THAT is entertainment: a lifetime of reading in my backpack. This is incredible fun.


Thinking back over the books that have made a difference in my life, one that stands out clearly is a minor novel by Martin Caidan, who wrote the novel that birthed "The Six Million Dollar Man." It was called "The God Machine" and dealt with that hokey old device, the super-computer that takes over the world. But the computer made one mistake: it based its defense system on the assumption that no human being would deliberately sacrifice his life to stop the machine. I remember a great scene where the hero is playing poker and an old-timer explains the real rules of life: that a man who is willing to die can do anything. That sentiment, even though it is ultimately waffled-upon by the unreasonably upbeat ending of the book, changed my life.

The question of the day is: have any of you ever read a book that changed your life? What, how, and why?


Mike Ralls said...

> The question of the day is: have any of you ever read a book that changed your life? What, how, and why?<

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan.

It was an incredibly powerful read to me as an adolescent and really helped turn me into a fervent atheist for ten years before I began doubting my atheist faith around six years ago or so. But even now I regard it as a great work and a significant part of my world view.

L.R. Giles said...

Have I ever read a book that changed my life? Yes sir. You wrote it. I remember sitting in an armchair for seven hours straight reading BLOOD BROTHERS cover to cover when I was 17 (and I still read it at least once a year). I read your blog (and others) daily, but rarely comment. I'm a bit shy and that shyness tends to transcend to the virtual world, but I couldn't resist answering your question. BB touched me because, for the first time, in all the fantasy and horror novels I'd read since childhood, I saw a character in Derek Waites that felt like me (not that i have much in common with him other than being a professional black male . . .but that's my point). Prior to BB, my favorite novel was IT by Stephen King. But, in that book, I never could get over how all the white members of the Losers Club went out into the world and got rich while the sole black character stayed in a town that never cared for him just to alert the others when trouble rose, thus remaining a loser . . .but I digress. BB made me want to write novels and I've been striving ever since to create something as powerful (and fun). Thank you for all you do, Mr. Barnes.

Strength/Courage/Wisdom said...

I'd have to say "Lion's Blood" changed my life. Made me rethink all issues dealing with race and history and how it impacts generation after generation. Excellent job!

Dan Moran said...

"The Perfect Thief," by Ronald J. Bass.

I was 15 when I read that book, and shortly thereafter I was homeless and no longer remembered the author's name. But the book stayed with me ... I forgot the author's name but never forgot the book's title, and I spent the next decade looking for a copy. It wasn't listed in any copy of "Books in Print" -- I finally found it in a books out of print listing, back in those long-ago days before the internet, and wrote to Ron Bass and told him what a huge impact that novel had had on my life --

"The Perfect Thief" told me that I was responsible for my own deciions, for the life I was living, and that if I were brave and worked as hard as I possibly could, I could build the world I wanted to live in.

It's still one of my favorite novels. Some things I deeply loved as a kid or teenager or young adult no longer speak to me, but "Perfect Thief" still does, and probably always will. Fight the good fight.

Elzabet said...

"Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia: New Martyr of the Communist Yoke" by Lubov Millar

The life of St. Elizabeth exemplified forgiveness for me. I needed to learn how to live a life of forgiveness after significant betrayal on two fronts in recent months. Hatred and bitterness would have consumed me if not for the example of this woman who sought to forgive not only the people who murdered her husband ((whether their reasons were "justified" or not)) and, subsequently her family and herself.

The book of her life made me realize that I did not have to be angry and bitter as a result of an unexpected attack and that, perhaps, the energy of those feelings could be used for something positive and could turn to joy.

Steve Perry said...

Well, technically-speaking, every book I've ever read has changed my life -- if only, in some cases, to subtract time from my life's total ...

Anonymous said...

For me it is not a book, but a single famous line from Shakespeare's Hamlet that has most affected my life.

"This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."

Marty S

Michael E. Johnson said...

I think there are two books, among many, that I keep going back to are Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler and Guns, Germs and Steel by Jarred Diamond. Both books move me intellectually as well as emotionally. These books I badger all my friends to read and discuss. Damn now that I think about it I haven't read them in about a year. Time to pull them off the shelf

Mark Jones said...

A book that changed my life?

"How I Found Freedom In An Unfree World" by Harry Browne. He wrote about boxes--all the various limitations you placed on yourself, the limits you accepted on what you could or should do or say or think or be...and how most of those were self-imposed. His advice boiled down to: figure out what YOU want and what you'll have to pay to get it, and then decide whether it's worth the price, and if it is then pay it gladly.

Not a terribly new or profound message, I suppose, but presented in a way that really got through to me. He talked about relationships and his message tied in to your (Steve's) metaphor of making the best hand of cards you can. He advised flying your own flag proudly and to hell with what other people thought. If you like country music, don't pretend you like opera because your peers do--that's a recipe for finding more people whose tastes differ from yours. Be who you are; you'll find people who who share your tastes and they're the ones you want to find.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Gandhi's autobiography; it converted me to the practice of nonviolence.

Scott Masterton said...

I like Mr. Perry's viewpoint that every book changed his life in some way. But if I were to pick a few life changing books that created "Aha," moments I would say:

"Living the Martial Way" by Col. Forest Morgan.
"Legend" by David Gemmell
"Seven Spiritual Laws of Success" by Dr. Deepak Chopra.


Steven Barnes said...

I think Steven King is a good man, and phenomenally talented. But he definitely sees black people as exotic "others"--by the time we got to "Cell" and the only black character in a cast of thousands is a zombie...well, I'm afraid I've gone as far as I can with Stevie K.

Mike Ralls said...

>I think Steven King is a good man, and phenomenally talented. But he definitely sees black people as exotic "others"<

Do you think that's less or more common in places like Maine, where the black population is less than one in a hundred?

Anonymous said...

The works of Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke have been instrumental in countless aspects of my life. Sagan's Cosmos, Dragons of Eden, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors and Pale Blue Dot, and Clarke's Space Odyssey novelizations nurtured my passion for science and space and my commitment to rationality, while also cultivating an appreciation for powerful writing at once lyrically poetic and profound in its explanatory power. Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror and The March of Folly nourished my parallel passion for history, while again exposing me to hypnotically powerful prose. Far more that the oft dreary reading and writing assignments mandated by the grade-school curriculum, I learned the art of prose and the discipline of reason from Clarke, Sagan and Tuchman.
More recently, the works of the so-called New Atheists, in particular Sam Harris' The End of Faith, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali's memoirs, Infidel, have wrought a major transformation in my political views and attitudes towards Islam. Hirsi Ali's account of her struggles against barbaric cultural practices, racism and Islam have further affirmed my already solid rationalist and Atheist convictions. I'm also indebted to her works for introducing me to the richness of East African culture. I now enjoy listening to Ethiopian, Somali and Eritrean music, courtesy of Ayaan’s influence.

Steve Perry said...

Mike --

King grew up in Maine and probably didn't know many black folks when he did -- Kind of like George Lucas growing up in Modesto during the same period. You tend to write what you know.

But that was two score and and some years ago.

Last time I looked, the black population in Oregon was greater than one, but less than two in a hundred, and Oregon went for Obama -- sixteen points over Clinton in the primary that ended yesterday.

Vermont, 0.7% black, went for Obama over Clinton by nineteen points.

Not so in Kentucky, where Clinton took some the rural districts nine-to-one.

It is less about percentages than it is about education. The better educated and well-off a populace, the less likely they are to be racist. At least in this country.

Within a couple weeks, unless there is a major catastrophe, we are going to have a black man as the Democratic nominee for President.

The times, they are a'changin ...

Pagan Topologist said...

Books that have changed my life...

First, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land which started the process of my escape from what seems to me to have been a most psychically destructive form of Christianity by challenging my attitudes towards belief, myth, and ritual in life. It was a slow process, but this book was the single most important step. A lesser step was Diary of a Witch by Sybil Leek. This book seems a bit silly to me now, but it was something else I needed at the time. Also important were the Maxwell Maltz Psycho-Cybernetics books that you often mention here.

David Bellamy