A drunkard’s walk through my most influential reads

I wrote something like this in December 2004, so this is an update for that unsearchable part of my blog. Some of it is stolen from the earlier post, but condensified and tucked up.


Ann Landers.  When I was growing up, I read her column every chance I got.  She asked people to be honest and kind, and OWNED UP when she did or said something stupid.  I wanted every grownup to be like her.

Cynthia Heimel in Playboy.  When I was growing up, she wrote a column about being a mother in which she said that having the ability to drop the pretense of perfection in front of your children was precious, and I took it to heart.

Jane Goodall – In the Shadow of Man.  I came to understand what kind of primate I am, the importance of touch, the idea that no intelligence can be foreign to a truly self-aware person.  And chimp babies are adorable.

Harlan Ellison – at a stupidly impressionable age, I read I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.  His misogyny and manic self-promotion aside, he remains a very influential writer, and his stunt of writing in a storefront impressed me deeply.

The Time-Life book The Mind.  There were illustrations in that book I still refer to.  The science is now shot full of holes, but it started my life long belief that we’re everything we are physically, but mostly we are our brains.

C.P. Idyll’s Abyss.  I read every word of it, about the strange and remarkable deep sea creatures, and it permanently affected me.  When I write about Kima and the Oldest, I am thinking of that book as being on the shelf at my parents’ place, accessible forever in memory.

H B Liddell Hart’s History of the Second World War.  I reread the part on the Holocaust compulsively, and anything about Hitler.

David J Dowker’s Machine Language.  When I run out of things to do, I will memorize it. “Brain pan hammered into a pure sound butter melts across.” That takes me right into the National Geographic Gold issue, which is also a very important work to me, and contains a solid gold frying pan. Butter is gold! my brain has a pan!  I am trying, in an airy and insubstantial way, to show how my own brain works.  “Eat me if you dare”.

The mirror writing of Leonardo Da Vinci.  When he wrote of the wind, he called it the breathing of this terrestrial machine; when he wrote of the moon, he said, it has no light of itself and yet is luminous.  To stand in front of his words, as written in his own hand, from his own journal, was like going to a shrine.

Brief insert for recent humour. I was asked to write a seven word autobiography, and I came up with “Spectrum girl walks world banging her shins.”  Not bad for a thrown together affair.

Dorothy Dunnett OF COURSE.


M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie, and also his work on consensus.

The Lost Queen of Egypt by Lucile Morrison.  Someday I will hold a copy of this children’s classic in my hand again.  It’s about the tragedy of being happy and the glory of true friendship.

The Mary Poppins books.  Never mind the movie, which is good in the Hollywood way, if you ignore the classism and the ongoing travesty-cum-wincefest of Dick van Dyke’s accent. The books have racist and classist overtones as well, but they are also marvellously subversive and really imaginative.

The Kingdom of Carbonel, a wonderful children’s book.

The Vorkosigan novels by Lois McMaster Bujold – yet a new hero to worship. If you like humour, action, dastardly villains and I mean DASTARDLY and deeply flawed and brilliant heroes, look no further than any of the Vorkosigan novels. I started with Cordelia’s Honor and that’s not a bad place to start, as it has the single most memorable exchange between a happily married couple in all of English literature. Suffice it to say that the word “Shopping” is involved.

Wade Davis, One River.  Find it, read it.

Edward Shlain’s Sex, Time and Power. Some of it is just plain wrong, some wrongheaded. But where he got it right, he got it very right indeed.

Elaine Pagels’ the Gnostic Gospels. Poetry, Mystery, God.

Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand, Men and Women in Conversation. Hasn’t stopped being useful

First Things First by Stephen Covey and a couple of his acolytes.  Trenchant, useful, right end up in terms of moral compasses.

The Four Agreements.  It’s another self-help book, and in parts it’s psychologically rather cack-handed, but parts are pure poetry and singing with truth.

Kerri Hulme’s The Bone People. I don’t know what to say about this Booker Prize winning novel except that it is such a rare and crazy book with such deeply memorable characters, that the flimsy plot means nothing compared to how it’s written. Easily one of my top ten favourite books.  Started my love affair (long distance it will likely remain), with the people, history and landscape of New Zealand, whose former denizens keep finding their way into my life, much as Finns do.

Blind Voices by Tom Reamy. I remain alternately hopeful and terrified that it will become a movie; the rape scene is spectacularly gross, but the special effectsy stuff will be glorious.

Paul Blackburn Collected Poems. I dedicated the long poem In Colours Unsuspected to him.

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s the Mists of Avalon. The ultimate read in the bath book. Makes magic and myth and real life into something truly great.  It doesn’t dodge the grosser aspects of being female in an Iron Age culture.


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Born when atmospheric carbon was 316 PPM. Settled on MST country since 1997. Parent, grandparent.

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