Friday, December 6, 2013


by Katie Daniels

Influential. It's a tricky word. Influential on what? My life? My writing? Can I just skip the influential part and write about my favourites? The books I read first? How can I tell what books shaped my life and which ones were just fluff? 
It's a hard question. Really hard. So at a guess, I'd say that my answer is far from accurate. Here's to trying to answer anyway. 

1. Buried Alive for Christ
This is a weird one, but honestly, it's the first thing that jumped to mind when I thought "influential book." I read this book for the first time when I was very young, and I read it again when I was about ten, and a third time in my early teens. I was obsessed with this collection of martyr stories, and the gruesome depictions of torture. I probably would have felt the same way about Foxe's Book of Matyrs, but I didn't have Foxe's Book of Martyr's. I read this. 

My mom wouldn't read it. She started and couldn't finish. It was too awful. But I loved it. It influenced me both as a person and a writer. As a writer because I've always favoured a dark style of writing, and my earliest novel had multiple torture scenes. Buried Alive for Christ gave me plenty if insight into pain, the depravity of the human mind, and fed my imagination for the grimmer aspects of writing. But as a person it fed my desire to be the kind of person willing to suffer that way for another, for Christ, and to this day I still believe the greatest honour in life is to die a martyr, tortured or otherwise. 
2. Brothers Karamazov
The Brothers Karamazov is arguably the greatest work of Russian author Fyoder Doestoevsky. I read it for the first time when I was about sixteen, at the same time my dad was finally finishing. He'd abandoned it halfway through out of boredom--it's over 800 pages long! I was fascinated and couldn't put it down, but he didn't want me finishing it before he did so we played tag for the last three hundred pages or so. 
Brothers Karamazov follows the lives of the four Karamazov brothers, who are as different as they are alike. Dimitri, the eldest, is like their father--degenerate, a poor decision maker, and a blundering fool. But his young brother helps bring him around to an extent, so by the end of the book he has something he loves enough to fight for and intends to make a new life. Ivan is an atheist, and his prove poem "The Grand Inquisitor" is the most amazing, true, and horrifying things I've ever read. The third brother, Alyosha, is a novice in a monastery, He is pure and innocent and his love for God serves as a lesson to us all, as well as to his siblings. The youngest is an illegitimate child, and the devil incarnate. His appearances herald only further grief for the siblings, and he meets a just end. 
Brothers Karamazov is typically dark in a Russian style, but the ending holds out a bit of hope. The theological and moral dilemmas posed and discussed by the characters are worthy of a philosophical treatise, but the plot is engaging and even more compelling because of it. Dostoevsky is a shining example of how Christianity can enhance, rather than detract from, a good story.

3. Worlds in Collision
Worlds in Collision was not my introduction to the electric universe theory, but it is the defining work of the project, so it gets the spot. I'd wanted to read this book for about three years before I finally got my hands on a copy earlier this year. Immanuel Velikovsky proposes theories so radical that he's considered a threat to science, branded a heretic, and labelled a fool. But his book is a brilliant study of the history of the world, including ancient mythology and old testament miracles alike. He brings together cosmology, geography, archaeology, and history to construct a new version of the ancient past--one that doesn't rely on our ancestors being superstitious fools. He proposes that the earth was formed, not through millions of years of slow change, but suddenly, violently, through cataclysmic events that we, as a race, still harbour memories of. 
Velikovsky's work has been a huge influence on both my life and writing. He's an inspiration to think outside the box, and try new things no matter the cost. His life serves as an example of the price you can pay for breaking away from the system, but the movement he sparked shows how that cost can be worth his. His alternative models of the universe open up new worlds of science, and science fiction, that no one has previously considered. The idea that the skies our ancestors saw looked nothing like the sky we see now is an idea I'm still toying with writing someday. 
4. Quo Vadis
This Historical Fiction novel set shortly after the death and resurrection is the novel to end all historical novels set during or around the life of Christ. And I've read enough to know. In highschool, all within a few years of each other, I read Ben Hur, The Robe, The Bronze Arrow--pretty much all the classics. And then I read Quo Vadis and nothing else bears comparison. 

Part fiction, part history, and part social commentary it follow the life of Nero, and the fall of Rome. It deals extensively with the persecution of the early Christians, and ends with the Apostle Peter's decision to stay in Rome and preach the gospel to those who wanted it least. Unlike so many other novels set in this era it does not romanise or downplay the horrors imposed by Nero on those who claimed Christ. there are no long agonizing moments by characters trying to decide whether to choose Christ and die or renounce him and live. Instead there is the brutality of their deaths, and the disregard with which the Romans viewed it. As a cynical teenager there was little in the way of torture or tragedy that could phase me, and this is one book that no only made me cry--it left me shocked for days. It wasn't the graphic violence, it was the desperate realism with which is was portrayed. Horrifying in all the right ways it also holds out plenty of hope, and the ending pays of satisfactorily. 
5. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Anyone who thinks they are a good writer but hasn't read or has no respect for good old Willy Shakes is full of themselves, out of their mind, and dead wrong. William Shakespeare is the Wordsmith of all time, the coiner of words and idioms we use today, second in the English Language only to its forger, William Tyndale. His plots are accused of being cliché, but that's because he's the original archetype. His content may not always be the most uplifting, but his languages is sheer poetry. His ingenuity and grasp of metre and metaphor is without comparison. 
I've read everything Shakespeare ever wrote at least twice. I started with Julius Ceaser when I was fourteen, and my earliest writings were patterned after the five-act drama style. Beginning writers copy their favourite authors, Lewis or Tolkien or Rowling. I copied Shakespeare. Shakespeare was also influential in my life for giving me my love of drama and theatre and classics and English; something I'll never part with. 
6. The Lighthouse at the End of the World
Ah yes, good old Jules Verne. Can't get a start in literature without mentioning him. Unlike most kids, though, I didn't start with the classic. (20,000 Leagues, Centre of the Earth, Around the World, etc.) No, what I started with was a tattered, very old copy of The Lighthouse at the End of the World. Just looking at the book makes you think epic thoughts, and the tale is one of Verne's best. (So good, in fact, that it's the book I chose to offer in a giveaway on a blog post about Verne. But I digress.) It's the story of three lighthouse keepers, two of whom are murdered and the third is left to fend off the pirates who have taken over and relight the lamp before their supply ship arrives--and is crushed upon the rocks. 

Jules Verne is best known for his science fiction, but his tales of adventure and romance are just as good, if not better. The Lighthouse at the End of the World is a thrilling tale of survival, of one man fighting against impossible odds. This is the book that taught me about pirates, and that even "real" men can sometimes cry. And the language of the old translations of Verne is beyond compare. Imitated by a 12-year-old it's laughable, but the deeper understanding of the language is what helped me become a writer today. 
7. Little Women

Jo March has and always will be a role model for me. I devoured Little Men and Jo's Boys alike, simply because I wanted more of Jo. The story of the March sisters is a timeless tale. Seen objectively some might take issue with the strong tone of morality and those who are of a feminist bent might consider the role models portrayed as too restricting, but if you actually read the book there's none of that there. Describing the story does nothing. Read the book if you haven't. Read it again if you have. And be inspired to do great things. 

8. Lancelot
From an early age I loved King Arthur, Knights, princess, jousting, the whole works. Now I've read almost every King Arthur book in existence (Except TH White, which is still sitting on my shelf, inexplicably.) As a child my options were more limited to Usborne and "Knights and Castles" picture books. As a teen I had reader's digest versions of Hugo Pyle's "Arthur and His Knights." But my favorite rendition of the story always has and always will be Christine Chaundler's retelling "Lancelot." It follows the story from the point of view of the most important knight in Arthur's court, explaining the romance between him and Guinevere in terms a child can understand, even touching on the controversy that said romance often brings about. It's beautifully illustrated and portrays the best of Arthurian legends--honour, nobility, chivalry, and Christ. 
9. Thunder Rolling in the Mountains
The greatest work of the greatest author in YA Historical Fiction, Thunder Rolling in the Mountains follows the story of the Nez Perce and their flight north to escape the US army. What struck me with this novel that sticks with me to this day is the speech given by Cheif Joseph when he surrenders himself and his people. I'd read the speech many years earlier in a history book and my eyes glazed over and I moved on to something else. I read it again in the context of Scott O'Dell's narrative and I cried. When it comes to history context is everything. 
10. The Riddle Master of Hed
Last but not least, my favorite book ever. Most of the time, when someone asks you what your favorite book is, the cue is to freeze up and go "Uh, I can't make that choice..." 
That all changed for me at a library book sale where I picked up a fantasy novel I'd never heard of because I couldn't resist a title with "riddle" in it. You know that one book you have that you can't read when you're trying to write because it's so awe-strikingly wonderful that you'll be depressed about your own ability for days? That's what Riddlemaster does to me. I've read it a dozen times, and it's still beautiful. I wrote a song (Previewbased on the third book in the trilogy. I went years only having the first book, and I read it three of four times trying to guess the ending. There is no guessing. It's perfect and beautiful and subtle in ways that defy imagination. This is the book that should be studied in literature classes and parsed into tiny peices and examined under a microscope until you can find out exactly how it's possible to weave such a perfect masterpiece. Some consider Tolkien the grand master of fantasy but that title, for me, belongs to Patricia McKellip. 
In Conclusion
This is not a list of my favourite books. That list can be found on my personal blog. Most of these books are books I read in my childhood, since that was the time I was most influenced. You'll notice a dearth of contemporary work, and that's because contemporary authors, no matter how great, have got nothing on the great classics. They just don't make them how they used to.
About the Author

Katie Lynn Daniels is the author of Supervillain of the Day and the Tale of Pirate Shishkabob. She loves pirates, ninjas, outlaws, thieves, and knights in shining armour. She's been homeschooled since the day she was born and runs wild on 54 acres in Kentucky with eight younger brothers and sisters. When she's not writing she's reading, playing harp, singing, composing, milking cows, or trying to hold down a "regular" job. You can follow her on Twitter @danielskatie or stalk her on Facebook as authorkatielynn. 

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