I need to know what makes me tick so I can exploit it.
Understanding what makes me tick, and what makes for tics, requires nostalgia. Nostalgia is both pleasurable and upsetting. You want to go back to the rawness, of delighting in the new joys of reading, exploring, climbing trees, being foolishly dreamy. Books read and forgotten. Gardens uncovered. Ruins invaded. Sensations realized at their origins. Sometimes, and maybe mostly, you're nostalgic for things that never existed like you want to remember them. Or you're nostalgic for things that never existed in the first place. Then, you're a writer.
I like exercises to strengthen the memory and follow the thread of inspiration back to its primal coil.
The following is a list of books I read once, years ago, books that shifted my perceptions in beneficial ways. I guess these are the books of my so-called early youth. Maybe I'll talk about adolescence later.
These are what first excited me at the thought of being a writer, of being so acutely sensitive to both implausible possibilities and jarring realities that I couldn't help but write everything down manically and maniacally.
Random List Of Early Reading
Encylopedia Brown. A young private detective? Everyone's hero when you're 11.
The Hardy Boys. I remember the ones about the swamps the most.
The Three Investigators. I remember these guys had a secret junkyard hideout. A totally formative image for me.
Harriet The Spy. A sort of pre-teen, harmless novel of voyeurism, eavesdropping, espionage and all manners of covert reconnaissance which are all terrific activities for a would-be writer.
The Curse Of The Blue Figurine, The Chessmen Of Doom, The House With A Clock In Its Walls, etc., by John Bellairs, covers illustrated by Edward Gorey.
Gothic, young adult metaphysical horror/terror. First time I saw Gorey drawings too. Absorbed the imagery of genteel decay, rotting gazebos, statues, old mansions and warlocks. Check out the visual bibliography of his many works with the original Gorey illustrations.
A Wrinkle In Time, A Swiftly-Tilting Planet, etc., by Madeline L'Engle. I remember learning about mitochondria from these books. Quite captivating and spiritual.
21 Balloons by William Pene Dubois. Learned about Krakatoa.
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. Totally made me an American Revolution history junkie.
The Hound Of The Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Instigated a life-long obsession with the "evocatory" images of mist-drenched moors and homicidal botanists.
The Halloween Tree, Dandelion Wine, The October Country, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Death Is A Lonely Business, A Graveyard For Lunatics, Green Shadows White Whale, etc. by Ray Bradbury.
Basically, without the eminent autumnal imagination of Bradbury, there is no need for nostalgia. Undifferentiated intrigue, exciting/haunting moods sustained indefinitely and firefly/carnival/endless meadow childhoods that can only exist on paper makes for very formative reading.
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Read it in a log cabin. There was snow and an earthquake and a puzzle. I enjoyed it immensely, especially the underground people, Morlocks?
Lord Of The Flies, Catcher In The Rye and A Separate Peace. I read all of these many times, but Catcher the most because I thought it was so laugh-out-loud funny. Lord Of The Flies, if I remember is an extremely sensual novel, at least in terms of physical description, of rendering the island, of feeling, as an old teacher explained, the burning sand under your feet every time he read it which was once a year.
The Great And Secret Show, Everville, Weaveworld, Books Of Blood
by Clive Barker
It's too bad, really, that writers in "paraliterary" genres, like horror, the "dark fantastic", mystery, and science fiction can never really impress high-brow literary arbiters. Barker really articulated some of my early obsessions for dark mysticism, secret histories, carnal complexities, and hyper-dimensional worlds; plus he scared the crap out of me and turned my stomach in glorious ways by bringing spiritual, metaphysical and corporeal themes back into the genre.
The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. This book is fantastic. Multi-dimensional epic featuring a friendly werewolf. Read this during a major house renovation when I suffered sickness and fever.
Shadowland by Peter Straub. Also fantastic. Magical apprentices at an Uncle's old mansion. Like Bellairs meets Barker.
Foundation Trilogy and Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov. Really fascinating stuff about encyclopedias, evil music and the Gaia hypothesis.
to be continued.