Cameron Chapman

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Books That Have Influenced Me

As a writer, I read a lot. Not as much as I’d like, but not a day goes by that I’m not reading some book or other (not to mention everything I read online). I have varied reading tastes, too. On my bookshelf (okay, bookshelves) is everything from chick lit to Stephen King to Ayn Rand to fantasy to sci-fi. I think there’s even a mystery or two in there somewhere. It’s easy to see who my favorite authors are by the number of books I have by each. (Neil Gaiman: 5; Stephen King: 9, though I’ve misplaced a few; Sophie Kinsella: 4; etc.)

But some books have been much more influential for me than others. Here’s a list.

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged really, literally changed my life and my outlook on things. I read it during the summer before the 2008 U.S. Presidential elections, when I was campaigning for Ron Paul. And it just solidified so many things in my head that I’d always kind of felt but could never put into words. It’s my favorite book, though I still honestly think it could have been written in about 1/3 of the number of words and had just as much, if not more, impact. A lot of people don’t read it because it’s 1200 pages. Of incredibly tiny type.

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere was the first Neil Gaiman book I read, and it’s still one of my favorites. I read it in high school, maybe 9th or 10th grade, and I absolutely fell in love with it. It reinforced my passion for writing, and I think it’s one of the main reasons I’m interested in both reading and writing fantasy.

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

While we’re on the topic of Neil Gaiman, American Gods is probably my favorite out of his books. I know he’s said Anansi Boys is what he considers his best adult novel, but I think it pales in comparison to American Gods. And American Gods has been a big influence on one of the novels I’m currently planning and thinking about.

Confessions of a Shopaholic, by Sophie Kinsella

I’m pretty sure that Confessions of a Shopaholic was my introduction to the chick lit genre. I have a great appreciation for chick lit, and it’s something I’d like to attempt writing at some point. I’m just not sure I could master the chatty/conversational tone necessary. And I like to torture my characters a bit too much, I think.

A Peculiar Grace, by Jeffrey Lent

Jeffrey Lent is the master of the run-on sentence. I bought A Peculiar Grace based on the recommendation of a bookseller, and I have to say that I almost put it back down half-way through the first paragraph. But I’m glad I persisted, because it’s really one of the most beautifully-written books I’ve ever read. I can’t even do it justice.

The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King

I’m actually still reading the Dark Tower series (currently on book 6, Song of Susannah), but I have to say it’s definitely up there among my favorites. I admire how Stephen King can write these incredibly long, incredibly epic stories. I have a tendency to be very brief in my writing, so I admire people who can tell a story in a much longer format without losing my interest.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

I’m big on post-apocalyptic fiction. I love it. The destruction, the desolation, the complete hopelessness of it all. The Road is one of my favorite books in this genre. McCarthy captured it all so perfectly, right down to his…unique…use of punctuation and formatting. It’s a beautiful story, told in a way that only enhances the overall effect. This book also taught me that it’s okay to take risks and that anything is possible as long as it works for the story you’re trying to tell.

His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials is another series that I really loved. One of the biggest compliments I ever received on a book I was working on (actually the first version of the novel I’m writing for NaNoWriMo this year) was that it was reminiscent of these books. That sent me over the moon. I love the worlds created in these books, and the characters. They come alive.

The Twilight Series, by Stephenie Meyer

Okay, I almost didn’t include the Twilight books on this list. I’ve read the first three (I have the 4th but haven’t read it yet), and I can’t honestly say that I like these books. In fact, I sort of hate them. The third book left me in a funk for weeks. Not because I was upset by the books themselves, but because the ending was just so sadistic. When I read, most of the time, I try to read as a reader, and not as a writer. I want to enjoy the books I’m reading, and get lost in the worlds the authors are creating. But I went into the Twilight books specifically as a writer. After all, these are some of the most popular books in the world, selling millions of copies. I considered it market research. In any other business, you research your competition, and you research the leaders in your field. The same should be done with writing. And these books taught me a lot about what a lot of female readers are looking for. Story trumps writing. Sometimes it’s okay to slow the story to a crawl, to the point that your readers are tearing their hair out. Because they’ll keep reading if they’re invested enough. Oh, and werewolves are totally hotter than vampires.

What books have influenced your writing and the way you tell stories? Share in the comments!

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