Jul 17

Books, Movies and More—Part 1

In Brief—The author lists some of the books, movies, music and more that have helped shape the person he is today. If this doesn’t put your mind into high gear and disturb your sleep, nothing will.

We Are the Sum Total of All Our Experiences—

Books wrapped in film“Wait a minute,” you say. “I hated that movie when I saw it.” Or, “That book was so bad I couldn’t finish it.” How many times have I heard that when I’ve told somebody they just have to see a particular film or read a book that grabbed me? This piece is about the films, books or whatever that spoke to me. You have your own list.

Before I launch into my lists, a bit of background is in order. As a child I was an asthmatic kid. Looking at my friends playing outside got old so I started reading books to pass the time. I hasten to add that it was a time before TV came along. Grade school, high school, university and post-grad each had their own list of books to keep me busy.

Then there were movies, teachers and music adding to the mix. They all helped shape the person I am today. Unfortunately, those Saturday matinees up the street are gone and the films with werewolves and vampires no longer haunt my dreams, but “Fantasia” and “Pinocchio” live in my memories yet.

Although this is just a partial list of the books, movies and more that have helped shape me, it is important, nay, essential, to remember that everything—EVERYTHING—a person experiences from late pregnancy to death adds to that person. The genes, environment, thoughts, pains, pleasures, people, travels and much more are part of the accretion.

Now, on with the show. No preference is implied.


A People’s History of the United States by historian and activist Howard Zinn. Everybody in America should read this book! It’s about the average people who built America rather than politicians and generals. Definitely not boring, it’s history as it should be taught.

Why I Am Not a Christian by Nobel Prize winner Bertrand Russell. This group of essays lifted the burden of belief from my shoulders. Solid, logical, humane and worthy of thought. Good follow-ups are Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens’ “God is Not Great.”

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. This beautifully written fantasy creates a world of Hobbits, wizards, dragons, good and evil into a tale that will entrance young and old. It’s a trip into a realm of magic.

West With the Night by Beryl Markham. Extraordinarily well written by an extraordinary woman who describes her life in early 20th century Kenya as well as her record-breaking flight from Europe to North America. Ernst Hemingway wished he could write as well. So do I.

One of Us by journalist Åsne Seierstad. Possibly the most powerful book I’ve ever read, it details the life of Anders Breivik from disturbed youth to his coldblooded murder of seventy-seven people—most of them vacationing teenagers—including his trial in Oslo. If this book doesn’t have tears coursing down your cheeks, you are more jaded than I.

The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. A brilliant exploration of the distant future by a brilliant man who has also written of the evolution of robots. It’s science fiction at its best.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. The author travels the world to awaken us to the threat of man-made extinction. Instead of the dinosaurs, it’s humanity that’s at risk. It’s the ”Silent Spring” of our generation. Add anthropogenic climate change, and extinction is just around the corner.

Dune by Frank Herbert. In the first of several Dune-related science fiction novels, the author creates an arid world ruled by a tyrant and peopled by the desert-dwelling Fremen. Into this mileu comes a man who takes the drug secreted by the dangerous sandworms that dwell beneath the planet’s sands. A complex society with unfamiliar customs promises an exciting adventure. A great book but a rotten film.

A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Unwelcome for her views, Atwood spins a cautionary tale about what can happen if fundamentalist Christians take over America. A dystopian novel by a master storyteller. One that warns of what could come to pass.

Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the Confederate prisoner-of-war camp during the Civil War. It is based on actual memoirs of the men who were imprisoned there. Death and man’s inhumanity to one’s fellow humans illustrate the horrors of war. This novel will shock even the hardest reader.

As an iceberg shows just a small amount above the surface, these are just a few of the hundreds of books I’ve read that have added to the person I am.

Your list presents some of the books that have influenced you. This is your chance to share those books. You also provide tips for the rest of us. If you’re not a reader, don’t worry, some of these may tempt you to try them.

Oh, and be sure to check out next week’s list of movies and overlooked books that have influenced me. After that, who knows what lists await? The Shadow knows.


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    • Alyson Stover on July 17, 2016 at 16:30

    Thanks!!!!! Looking forward to the movies 🙂

      • Don Bay on July 17, 2016 at 18:53

      Don’t wait for the movies. As I told Jim, I’m betting you have read books that have moved you and contributed to the wonderful person you are today. The fact that you haven’t mentioned those books here doesn’t mean that you can’t find some books flitting around in your mind that might entice readers to read them. And thanks for joining in the fun. P.S. I like the new avatar.

        • Alyson Stover on July 17, 2016 at 19:14

        Excellent, will do. Thanks, one of the best decisions was to stop coloring my hair and become a “silver sister”. xo

          • Don Bay on July 17, 2016 at 21:24

          The “Silver Sister” looks great. We all look forward to your selections.

  1. Thanks for your list. I’ve read about half of these and confirm that they all were good reads and had a positive effect on me. I sat and tried to call up books that I might list here. I do read a lot and have treasured books all my life. But when I try to think of books to list here my mind goes almost blank. But here are two:

    Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, about racism in the criminal justice system, particularly in Alabama
    Lamb by Christopher Moore, a fictional account of the life of Jesus from childhood to the time of his life preaching. This is not a religious book but rather a hilarious account of Joshua (Jesus) and his friend Biff who travel to spend years with the three wise men to seek their wisdom.

      • Don Bay on July 17, 2016 at 18:44

      I read “Just Mercy” by Brian Stevenson and found it a powerful book. When I finished, I thought how lucky we are that there are people like Stevenson and his colleagues fighting for a measure of justice in an unjust society which Alabama was and still is. Until prosecutors everywhere are more committed to justice than convictions, America will have to rely on lawyers like Stevenson to fight for justice.

      I haven’t read Christopher Moore’s “Lamb,” so it’s up to readers to tell us if they’ve read it, what they think of it or perhaps be enticed into reading it.

      Thanks for your suggestions. Put your mind to other books you’ve read that deserve mention. Makes no difference if they’re not mentioned today, but I’m betting that there are other books that have shaped the giving person you are today.

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