Books make up an important part of my life. This is not just because I write. In fact, well before I ever tried to write anything, I was an avid reader. One of those people capable of staying at home on New Year’s Eve to finish a book they have just started reading. Because it seems promising. And the thrill of knowing how it all ends is as irresistible as Ulysses’ sirens’ song.
In particular, I remember a New Year’s Eve of almost thirty years ago. The book I had just started was Red Dragon by Tomas Harris. And–you know what?–afterward, I was glad of the decision I had made.
Because Red Dragon rocks. It’s one of those fine books where the author plays hard but fairly with his readers.
In fact all the elements to find the killer are in there. And they’re not disguised beyond recognition. They’re not too abstruse or far fetched. Really, in Red Dragon Harris puts himself on the line, and I appreciate him even more for this.
But I’m digressing.
I was saying books make up an important part of my life. So I thought I would write a post to explain why. And to explain how they shaped my character.
First of all a big thank you goes to all those bad books I read—no, I’m not going to give any name here. I don’t believe in pillory.
Bad books, I was saying. They were as boring as writing two hundred times I must not punch my classmates in the face when I was in elementary school. They were so badly written their prose (if it can still be called that) resembled a knot of spaghetti thrown against a wall. Their plots had more holes than a dirt road sneaking up a mountain. Finally they were populated with such flimsy characters that when I blundered into a cardboard character I had almost the impression of encountering an actual human being!
Those books are the books we all try as hard as possible to avoid. But for all their faults they taught me one important lesson. Namely, that I could do better than that. Maybe only marginally. But still, they represented an important injection of confidence.
Bad books also offered me a long and exhaustive list of don’ts when it comes to writing fiction. And they work way better than any handbook. In fact when the examples turn your reading into sheer torture you’re bound to understand on a deeper and more visceral level the reasons behind certain rules of thumb.
A big thank you also goes to all those great books I read. They are books like: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R Tolkien, The Stand by Stephen King, or Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.
The list goes on and on, genre-hopping shamelessly. But, really, the only genre that really matters to me is Great.
I mean, if a book is worth of such a label then I don’t care if the story is about Scarlett O’Hara discovering she has an alien bun in the oven, ready to rip her abdomen apart.
Great books are invaluable because they set incredibly high standards. Besides, they fill my life with interesting thoughts and people. And always show me the way in the most direct manner: with examples.
The first book is like the first time you have sex–probably not exactly a stellar experience.
Luckily, the first book I read represented an amazing experience. Instead, if you are curious about my first time with a girl. Well, that was unbelievable. Just know that…
Now that I’m writing this I realize that maybe also my first book wasn’t anything special. That may well have been the case. But the essential difference between a book and your partner is that you cannot put down the latter. Can you? (lame joke intended, of course.)
For the record the first book I read was The Secret of Saturn’s Rings by Donald A Wollheim.
My thank you goes also to my mother, who taught me to love books. She didn’t put a book into my hands and ordered me to read it because it’s good for your brain. No, she taught me using the simplest and more powerful form of teaching, that of setting an example.
I mean, every time she sat in her preferred armchair reading away, to me she seemed so engrossed and perfectly content I was too curious not to try out that strange activity of hers.
Monkey sees monkey does can lead to interesting outcomes. Provided the monkey in question is surrounded by good stuff.
A final thank you I owe to my beloved mountains. In fact, among many other things, they taught me that humility and ambition can go hand in hand, and that indeed they are the only way to conquer a peak.
In fact, humility prevents you from acting like a fool, and get killed in some stupid manner, then ambition helps you to take a step after the other nonetheless.
Sure, each step you take you feel like you might fall. But then, as soon as you set your eyes on the peak, you also feel that your destination isn’t too far away and you may sooner or later reach it.
Mountains also taught me that even if you are a minuscule human you don’t have to build a whole mountain every time. In fact you can get to enjoy a pretty grandiose view once you are up there. Even if you use the paths and the trails other have already opened up.
On the giants’ shoulders. That’s how it works.