The book that inspired me to write is one of William Faulkner’s earliest, and worst, novels — Mosquitoes. Why?
Long story long, in an English class, the teacher made us memorize and recite Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. The biggest challenge to reciting it was the line:
“It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.”
First of all, good luck finding a teen who wouldn’t snicker at “last dingdong of doom”. After the innuendo, I couldn’t clear the image of a massive mini-cake mowing down skyscrapers. Second, how many clauses can you count? For years, my writing, shaped by reading a ton of Faulkner, had page long sentences with clauses nested within clauses.
My teacher recommended we read more Faulkner, though he specifically warned us against The Sound and the Fury as he thought we were not ready for it. Naturally I went out and read it almost immediately, and of course, it was barely comprehensible to me.
Admit it, teens, you hate, hate, hate it when adults who are right about your limitations.
OK, I figured. Maybe I can handle some “lighter” Faulkner. I tried Mosquitoes.
It’s not a very good novel. It wanders. There’s no consistent theme. It’s full of stereotypical characters (even at that time). The setting isn’t terribly evocative (most of it takes place on a boat). Plot is haphazard. The attempts at humor fall flat (Faulkner is not exactly known as a humorist). But the characters rip on each other a lot, the dialogue is snappy, and there’s a really cool, hot girl in it.
In short it was everything my aspiring teen author self thought was awesome writing that I could do. I could be the next William Faulkner!
So, the American James Joyce launched an obsession that’s still going strong. I’m more and more hesitant to go back and read the crap I wrote back then. There are some diamonds (OK, cubic zirconium) in the rough, but overall, it gets worse by the year. Oh, and a few years ago I re-read Mosquitoes. It actually isn’t as bad as I once thought.
But no way, no how would it have been published today. Other than the mosquitoes, no vampires.
That book may have encouraged me to write, but it was another embarrassingly pulpy book that drove my lifelong alpha geek genre crush on science fiction and fantasy — Passage to Pluto. I’m too embarrassed to re-read that, but I would never have been motivated to start reading Asimov, Clarke, etc. without it.
As I think back to these reading catalysts, I realize my son’s reading has come a long way. At first, as snobbish parents, we discouraged him from reading too many comics and graphic “novels”. His teachers, thankfully, encouraged patience, encouraging us to just keep encouraging him to read more, regardless of what he read. But now, as we see that they did lead him to read more, we’ve eased up. Who knows, maybe Big Nate will inspire my son to become the next Faulkner.