Literary Influences

Stack of paperbacks from high school.Count up 12 books from the bottom in the pic to the left (a stack of books mostly from the mid-60s) and you’ll find “The Fall of the House of Usher,” a book of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. I spent a 9th grade weekend copying out longhand Poe’s tale “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Never mind why, but it was a punishment I rather enjoyed.

Six books from the bottom is “The Time Machine,” H. G. Wells’s forecast for long term care for the human race.

Eight books up you’ll find Jerzy Kosinski’s “The Painted Bird.” I was in 10th grade Home Room class sitting behind a friend who was reading furtively in a paperback I didn’t recognize. I asked him what he was reading. He gave me the book, but asked that if caught with it I would not tell where I got it. We didn’t know one another that well, though later we became good friends. He had substantially more stock with the authorities, was a genius. But he seemed concerned that I might be traumatized by the reading experience. Some critics now suspect that Kosinski was traumatized by the writing experience.

I wrote a paper in 10th grade arguing that Melville’s “Pierre, Or the Ambiguities” contained more social insight than “Moby Dick.” Unfortunately, I can’t fine my 10th grade copy of “Moby Dick”; fortunately, though, I can’t find the 10th grade paper I wrote, either. I still have the Rhinehart edition of “Moby Dick” we used at Dominguez Hills.

That Sherlock Holmes “Memoirs” used to have a partner, “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” It’s a mystery what happened to it.

I remember first reading “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” in high school, but I can’t remember what grade. But I remember wondering about a scene where Leamas is shaken by a near miss on the highway. Is he less shaken by the near miss than by the recognition that the near miss has shaken him?

I can’t find my 9th grade copy of “Two Years Before the Mast.” I can’t imagine anyone wanting to borrow it. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, we were moving some things around, sort of spring cleaning, impatient for spring, and we wound up with a couple of bags of used books we decided to take down to Powell’s. They took about half of them, but I was surprised they took as many as they did. Do literary influences wane over time? What else can’t I find? All the Steinbeck books gone, but I know where they went. All four original Salinger books not to be found, though three have been replaced. The early “Walden,” “On the Road,” but also replaced.

I don’t suppose anyone reads Asimov’s “The Human Body: Its Structure and Operation” anymore. If we want to know something about the human body, we google it. But who thinks of the body as an operating system? It’s like talking about books as physical objects, and as if their mere presence might have an effect on us, like a gravity, the experience of influence.

Related Posts: Reading influences and Henry Miller: more on reading influences.