This post came to mind after reading through some of Moonie’s latest offerings. She’s doing a series of guest posts, having avid readers of her blog give book reviews on the novels that have made the most impact on them... That got me to thinking about books that have touched me as a writer, which spiraled into another thought, which author has had the most impact on me as writer? If I was to go with which novel, it would be a thoroughly different answer, and the answer might change depending on my mood or point of view at the time because, honestly, I’ve read a lot of amazing literature that’s impacted me in some form or fashion.
But which author? Hands down, it’s Mark Twain. I did read Tom Sawyer when I was in middle school somewhere, maybe sixth grade or so, but I didn’t think much about it until far later in life and I’ve had a love affair with Twain’s voice for most of my literate life. I can remember reading the following passage as a kid:
“...Within two minutes, or even less, he had forgotten all his troubles. Not because his troubles were one whit less heavy and bitter to him than a man’s are to a man, but because a new and powerful interest bore them down and drove them out of his mind for the time – just as men’s misfortunes are forgotten in the excitement of new enterprises. This new interest was a valued novelty in whistling, which he had just acquired from a negro, and he was suffering to practice it undisturbed. It consisted in a peculiar bird-like turn, a sort of liquid warble, produced by touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth at short intervals in the midst of the music – the reader probably remembers how to do it, if he has ever been a boy. Diligence and attention soon gave him the knack of it, and he strode down the street with his mouth full of harmony and his soul full of gratitude...”
When I was in my early twenties, I was waiting for a few of my friends to get ready to go out carousing and I found a battered old copy of Tom Sawyer on the coffee table. I was never one to sit in the mirror fretting about makeup and hair, so while they were occupied in the bathroom, I sat on the couch and paged open the book... I realized I was audibly whistling when one of my friends peered around the corner and asked what the hell I was doing. Ten or twenty two, I couldn’t help but whistle when reading that passage.
This wasn’t even my favorite of Twain’s work and my reasons for loving him as a writer are long and winding. Huckleberry Finn offered some of the most amazing characters, yes, but it also offered a commentary on racial relations that was quite radical for the time, and still loudly applauded... here’s the thing, Twain had deep and powerful motives behind his storytelling, he had paramount messages to get across, but he didn’t sacrifice the entertainment of the story to do so. The most memorable scene to me is on the river raft, when the very young Huck decides he’d rather go to hell than turn Jim in. It’s more powerful than it looks, because he really believes it.
Twain went to great pains to capture his characters and is probably most often associated with his dialect – which is tremendous. It’s funny that he would be the author I love so much, because I’m trying very hard to be a more organized writer that plots thoroughly rather than writing by the seat of my pants... Twain was anything but organized. He often had multiple stories in progress at a time and when one called to him louder, he’d move on with that one and abandon all of the others. He never plotted. He set characters down on the page and let them run around until they told the story. I think the thing that speaks most to me in Twain is his lack of pretension. His characters didn’t need to be royalty or elite, as so many of the day were. He reveled in getting into the mindsets of a society that was often overlooked...
This could probably ramble on a lot longer, as I loved the man as well as his work... I’d planned on including some of his quotes, but then we’d be here all day. How about you, as a writer or a reader, which author’s made the most impact on you? Would it be the same answer if I asked which novel has made the biggest impact?