Wednesday, February 09, 2022

What novel or writer has influenced you the most?

 This question has been more difficult to formulate an answer to, than all the previous, because deciding on one book or author is like deciding which of your children is your favorite. I was immediately reminded of an Erma Bombeck column published in 1971, “I’ve always loved you best.” In 2006 I published Bombeck’s column on my blog; under the microscope (

As I began to peruse my memory bank of the many books I’ve read, trying to decide which influenced me the most, I came to the realization that just as my life itself has multidimensional aspects, so too then does my reading. Therefore, one book, which devotes itself to environmental issues, might standout but would not be more important than say a favorite book and author dealing with hypnosis, or anesthesia, or writing, acting, singing, kayaking, or physical fitness overall.

Before I get more organized here with my thoughts, here’s an example of the diversity in reading material that influenced my life while serving in Vietnam: 1. The King James Bible (various authors.) 2. King Rat by James Clavell, 1962. and 3. Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller by Burke Davis, 1962.

I’ve forgotten when I first learned to read. Sorta like trying to remember when I started walking, but I suspect it was early on. I have a vague recollection of the Dick and Jane series of books and the catechism booklet I tried to memorize for Sunday School. Of course, I was surrounded by books in my growing up home and raised by avid reading parents. However, I don’t remember my parents ever reading stories to me like is so common today, that’s not to say that they didn’t, just that I have forgotten if they did.

During my school years, mom didn’t get up to fix my breakfast. That was my responsibility. Not that pouring cereal, milk and sugar into a bowl was a difficult task. I mention it only to relate the fact that this time of my day was always devoted to reading while eating my breakfast in the quiet of our kitchen while mom and dad slept.

Let’s start detailing my reading experience with novels of fiction since they were my escape from the stressful world of learning reading, writing and ‘rithmatic. In order of remembered importance: Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan series. “Roy Rockwood’s” Bomba the Jungle Boy series. And Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Then came Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (reread numerous times even in adulthood.) These stories fueled my fantasies and provided respite during my growing up struggles even into today. RLS’s Ivanhoe has been read many times also. In the same vein and not to be forgotten is Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robinhood, and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

Of course, I was introduced early on to the genre of science fiction by Jules Verne’s, 1870, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. Followed later in my life by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series. Which led into the fantasy genre with Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Not a complete list, by any means, of my taste in fictional escapism but a sampler of my areas of interest. The list could easily include the authors; Diane Gabaldon, Ken Follett, Ian Flemming, and a few Stephen King novels. Perhaps I should include Shakespear here, whom I was introduced to in high school, but more about him when I get to books about writing and literature in general.

Next let’s make a transition of sorts from the realm of Fantasy and science fiction via King Arthur and the knights of the round table by Roger Lancelyn Green and Mary Stewart’s “The Crystal Cave;” one book in her trilogy dealing with Merlin the magician, to the clairvoyant Edgar Cayce. In the late 1960s my mother lent me a book, “The Sleeping Prophet,” by Thomas Sugrue. I was so intrigued and captivated by this biography of Edgar Cayce that I read 6 or more books either by or about Cayce. In addition, I read “Search for the girl with the Blue Eyes,” by Jess Stearn which is also predicated on our past lives communicating with our present lives. My fascination with this concept of regression and clairvoyance served as a transition/ motivator, some 10 years later, into becoming a hypnotist.

Reading for entertainment, escapism and enlightenment took a hiatus in the early 70s when I undertook intense study to become a nurse anesthetist. You may have surmised by the preceding list of literary preferences that I’m first and foremost a dreamer. To that end, I admit that academic pursuits in middle school and throughout high school came in a distant 3rd in my priorities. That, just to say, I had extremely poor study habits. Although I studied seriously enough in registered nurse school to graduate valedictorian of my class, I must confess that nursing school came fairly easy to me as a result of my hospital corpsman training in the Navy and Marine Corps. Fortune smiled broadly on me by leading me into the healthcare field.

Anesthesia school, on the other hand was, and remains the biggest learning challenge of my life and my desire to be successful drove me into the books with a fervor never before or since to be demonstrated by me. I lived, breathed and slept anesthesia literature. I won’t list any of the texts that I poured over on my way to graduating valedictorian of my anesthesia class, but if I must provide a definitive answer to your question, “What novel or writer has influenced you the most? ” I would say, Dripps/Eckenhoff/Vandam: Introduction to Anesthesia. I know, it’s not a novel but it was the door to the longest portion of my life thus far.

Move along now to the late 70s, I’m employed as a CRNA (certified registered nurse anesthetist) by my hometown hospital. A fellow CRNA asked me if I would be interested in attending a conference on hypnosis as an opportunity to earn required continuing education credits. I replied that I didn’t believe in that hocus pocus malarky and was wondering how such a conference ever got approved by our parent association, AANA. As a way to convince me otherwise he told of an anesthesia school classmate of his who was currently working only as a hypnotist in Philadelphia, Pa. and not doing anesthesia at all. My friend showed me the course curriculum in hypnosis that his friend had given to him. As I read it over my concept/bias was challenged and I thought, “this is just a course in verbology and semantics that has been significantly researched as a way to use one’s own mind and thoughts to bring about behavioral change. I was intrigued enough to take a trip down to our local library and borrow some books on hypnosis. After reading these books I became a believer and agreed to sign up for the course. I let my friend borrow the library books that I had read. A week or so later when I inquired of my friend whether he had sent in his registration, I had already submitted my own, he said no, he decided he wasn’t going to go. Flabbergasted, since it was his idea for us to go initially, I asked him to explain. He said something like; “after I read those books you borrowed from the library, I realized that hypnosis was all about talking to the patient. I went into anesthesia so I wouldn’t have to talk to patients!” I went; three different times over three years and to different courses as a matter of fact. And I incorporated hypnosis into my practice quite successfully.

We’re talking books here Bob!! Right. I have read and utilized numerous books on, about, relating to hypnosis over 40 years. The two most influential books in this genre, for me, are “Hypnotherapy,” by Dave Elman and “Neuro-linguistic programing” by Bandler and Grinder. (Erikson’s literature relating to hypnosis was and is invaluable.) actually, Bandler and Grinder had 2 books out; I’m referring to “Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programing.”

Attempting to stay somewhat chronological here, or not, I’ll go back to 1972. While stationed at Fort Campbell Kentucky, in the U.S. Army as a CRNA I continued my lifelong habit of visiting libraries. On one such occasion while aimlessly browsing I picked up a magazine titled Organic Gardening and farming by Robert Rodale. Bingo, hook line and sinker, I was an instant, and remain to this day an organic gardener. Believe me, you do not have enough years left in your life to read all the books, pamphlets, magazines and gardening related literature that I have consumed. In conjunction I also stumbled across Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” Again, I became an advocate of sustainable lifestyle committed to making as little negative impact on my postage stamp area of planet earth as possible. Another book you may want to read, if this Organic, sustainable living lifestyle appeals to you, is “Living the Good Life how to Live Sanely and Simply in a troubled World.” I can’t say this book was “influential”, but it was sure a pleasure to read again and again. A more recent novel I finished that will steep you into the heart of that 60s generational desire to save the planet, read Richard Power’s “The Overstory.” I recommend this story to the highest degree I can; I actually told my physical therapy aide at the time that this is the greatest book I’ve ever read. Upon reflection that may be a little overboard but still, I loved that story. And if you really get interested in that time, culture and lifestyle then James Michner’s “The Drifters” is a must read.

I know I said I’d stick to chronological format but the next two areas I want to cover will diverge because I want to deal with war last.

Writing, since you’re this far into this novel I want to tell a little anecdote relating to my career and an avocation.
In 7th or 8th grade we were administered a series of aptitude test with the purpose of directing our curriculum courses, in our high school years, towards areas of interest/competence. When my mother received a communication from the school with the results of my testing and read me the results I was not pleased. It said that my test results indicated that I would make a good journalist or nurse. I’ll save that story for another time, using it here as a semi-comical way of segueing into my writing avocation.

In May of 2006 I started blogging as a way to hone my writing skills and perhaps launch me onto a path to write a memoir/novel about me and my great-grandfather’s wartime experiences. At that time blogging was just a precursor for today’s Facebook; people of common interests coming together and sharing their commonality by writing, submitting and critiquing each other’s submissions. As an offshoot of that endeavor, I was lured into the world of poetry and poetry writing. Any success I may be credited with as pertains to my blog writing can be attributed to suggestions of two authors; “The Ode Less Traveled,” by Stephen Fry, and Stephen King’s, “On Writing: A memoir of the craft.” Since the word memoir popped up here, I’ll plug Mary Karr’s “The Art of Memoir.” and while we’re here she also wrote a personal 3 volume memoir: “the Liar’s Club,” “Cherry,” and “Lit.”
A superb novel about writing is, again, James Michner’s “The Novel.”

If I list a book here, be assured I’ve read it a least once and it made a profound impact on me.

I’m almost done, I promise. Before I get to war literature, here’s a list of influential writers and perhaps an example of their writing in no particular order, that had profound influence on the way I’ve come to interpret my world:1. George Orwell’s “1984.”
2. John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”
3. Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol
4. Edgar Allen Poe
5. Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince.”
6. Ernest Hemmingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.”
7. Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.”
8. Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose.”
9. Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.”
10. Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles” and “A Jury of her Peers.”
11. Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild.”
12.James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans.”

The most profound influence, if only short lived, on my life was and is the Viet Nam War. If you want to know about war, read Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage.” The way to experience the Viet Nam war without having been there or even if you have is to read Tim O’Briens’s “The things they carried.” and Fred Tomasello Jr.’s “Walking Wounded. A Memoir of a Combat Veteran.”

This is an infinitesimally small sliver of a list of books I’ve read. Suffice it to say that if I finish a book, and it’s rare that I don’t, it has influenced how I view and interact with my world. Even if its value was but to carry me away and rest my soul.

And Shakespear? Well leave it as this; I’m a thespian at heart and all 


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