Books that Matter: Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian

Books that Matter

Where would this list be without at least one mention of Patrick O’Brian? For a long time, I considered O’Brian to be my favorite author. Growing up, his name was one that I knew as well as Dr Seuss. For as long as I can remember, my father read O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series. I came to recognize the titles, the author, and the book covers painted by Geoff Hunt.

When O’Brian died in 2000, I remember reading the article in the paper and being a bit sad myself. I grew up around his books, even if I hadn’t read any at the time. I knew that there wouldn’t be any more of his books coming into the house.

As with The Lord of the Rings, I was motivated to read O’Brian’s books because of the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (even as a die-hard LotR fan, I still think this movie should have won best picture).  But let me return to the subject at hand before I lapse into a Hug0-esque digression.

2003. My father and I went to the movies (as no one else would join him to see the film). I went it expecting to be entertained for a few hours. What I emerged with was an obsession with the Napoleonic era, and with a need to read all of O’Brian’s works. I still haven’t accomplished this, but I have read the entirety of the Aubrey-Maturin series.

Already a fan of historical fiction, this series prompted my first serious attempts at writing historical fiction. My own stories, as impeccably researched as a high school student in suburban New England could manage, focused on, naturally, the British Navy during the Napoleonic wars. I had a great time writing these stories, and one day would love to revisit them. One of them in particular is a favorite of mine.

Not only inspiring me to write historical fiction, O’Brian’s books really inspired me to focus on the personal relationships, regardless of the genre. People are the driving force, their friendships, interests, loves. Character, to me, drives the story–at least in my own work. The friendship between Jack and Stephen is marvelous. It adapts, changes, strengthens through the series.

Plus, the books are just awesome. They are funny, action packed, suspenseful, emotional. What more could I want in a book series?

Books that Matter: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Books that Matter

I remember the day I started The Fellowship of the Rings. I was thirteen years old, in the seventh grade. It was mid-December, just before winter break. The first Lord of the Rings movie had just been released, and my family planned on going to see it on Christmas Even.

I had just over a week to read it. I finished The Hobbit the day before. I couldn’t wait to start.

My Language Arts teacher lent me the book. That afternoon, I started to read. The book was dense, but I devoured every word. I finished on December 23, 2001. For Christmas that year, my parents gave me the trilogy. Those copies are dog-eared now, the covers ripped and peeling, the pages still in tact (somehow). I am not certain how many times I read them, but the number is probably close to 20.

The stories captivated me. They entranced me. The elves, the hobbits, the orcs and the men of the West. Gollum. Gandalf. After many readings, my favorite characters have changed. These days, I am very fond of Faramir and Eomer, and Eowyn as well. I will always be fond of Sam as well.

The Lord of the Rings inspired my writing. I discovered it about the time when I determined that I could write novels if I really wanted to. Naturally, my first attempts were blatant rip-offs as I attempted world building, but I soon realized that I could take inspiration from the world. Already a mythology nut, I delved deeper into the Nordic, Irish and Welsh stories, learning and reading.

I also realized, importantly, that making up a language is tough. It wasn’t just random words thrown together. There needed to be continuity, traceable roots, rules, etc. You can’t just chuck vowels together and call it a day. At this time, I also began learning German, followed by Spanish. Seeing how these languages worked gave me great respect for Tolkien’s linguistic capabilities; I’ve resolved to stay away from creating my own languages.

It’s been years since I have read the trilogy, must be senior year of high school. The stories, the characters, stay with me fondly. I look forward to reading them again some day, to bask in the epicness of it all.

Books that Matter: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Books that Matter

The first of my “Books that Matter” series of essays.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones remains one of my favorite books, close to ten years after I first read it.

The main characters, from Sophie to Howl to Calcifer to Michael feel like people I know. I care about them, I laugh at their comments, and delight in their flaws. They grow and progress as characters over the course of the book and do so organically. Their actions make sense, and above all, are believable.

Secondly, Ms Wynne Jones’s writing style. The pacing is good, and the book is genuinely funny. Like classic Disney movies and Pixar films, the book operates on two levels–the “ooh, this is fun! I like this!” level I first enjoyed as a young teen–and a different, can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it level I appreciate now that I’m older. I’m close to Sophie’s age (I think I’m actually a little older than she is), but I can relate to her.

The humor. The characters. As a writer, I hope to infuse my own work with a clearly humorous note, and have characters that shine, and are memorable. Her humor is traceable back to the characters, capitalizing on their flaws and little tics, such as when the terribly vain Howl fills the castle with green slime because his hair has turned ever-so-slightly ginger. While not a realistic situation, I’m sure that many of us have known a vain person in our lives or wanted to cover stuff in slime when having a bad day.

Ms Wynne Jones, you were a fantastic writer. I had always dreamed of meeting you, of telling you how much your books mattered to me when I was younger, and how much I still enjoy them today. When I have children of my own, I will be certain to share my love of your books with them. Rest in peace.

Books that Matter

Books that Matter

An idea came to me the other day I thought about the “15 Books that Changed My Life” meme I filled out a couple of years ago, listing books that had piqued my interest and had shaped who I was as a reader and a writer.

As I dried my hair, I realized that this list had changed in the year-and-a-half since I wrote it, and that the list of books was never really stuck on 15. Also, I couldn’t describe what, exactly, made this book so important to me.

Hence this new feature. I’m not sure how frequently I’ll be updating it (I’d love to write it weekly and have it appear on Saturdays).