Ten Influential Books

I have been tagged to list ten books that have influenced me. My knee-jerk reaction was not to do it, because my list would look nothing like others’ lists that are popping up on Facebook. I started to get a complex, reading these erudite lists.

Mine would have no Virginia Woolf or Doris Lessing or Octavia Butler or anything that makes me look or feel wise and smart. In my girlhood, I was touched by the Brontes and Mary Stewart and Daphne duMaurier and Laura Ingalls Wilder…books that had nothing to do with “literaryness” and everything to do with my yearning for a bigger world from my little rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where there were no prairies, no moors, no snow, no castles, no moody atmosphere, no seasons. Where I didn’t look like anyone else at my school. Where I was privileged but felt something was missing. I was different (what young person doesn’t feel different, I now wonder?).

I could have included Woolf’s Room of One’s Own on my list, because it gave me an early high horse upon which to stand when demanding my own sacred space in which to write, whether it was an IBM Selectric that took up a significant amount of space in the corner of our first bedroom, a closet-sized room in our first house, or this lovely room I now have. But putting Room of One’s Own on a list is kind of cheating, isn’t it?

So my list is largely made up of books that became important to me in my 30s and 40s, or books from my youth that I continue to think about as I creep up on spitting distance of 50.

Che Guevara kick-starting a bike and a new way of thinking.
Che Guevara kick-starting his bike and a new way of thinking.

The Motorcyle Diaries, Che Guevara. Because when I finished reading this library book, which I can’t begin to fathom why I picked up in the first place, I said to MIM, “Let’s buy a motorcycle.” And we did. And we rode it. Which probably saved my marriage. And because it showed me how much difference one person in the world can make. What a guy. A young, good-looking, well-to-do guy travelled to visit lepers when few would go near them, and he gained empathy for the native people of his continent as he journeyed. He could have spent his summer going to the beach, frolicking with his fiancée. Whatever your views about what he did later and who he became, it’s a stunning thing to witness a young person’s consciousness expanding on the page.Read More »

Zen and the Art of Not Falling Asleep While Reading about Motorcycles

I’m halfway through five different motorcycle memoirs right now: two by men, two by women, and one by a philosopher. I can’t seem to finish any of them. They’re scattered about my room, rather like the tools and parts you see strewn around a Harley. My writing-teacher friend Wendy says I’m going about market research for my own motorcycle memoir the wrong way. “You don’t actually read the whole thing!” she tsks to me. But I’m compelled to get to the end, like any book I read, though these motorcycle books don’t at all grab me and suck me in like a jeans hem caught in a bike chain.

Monocoque (external props, not internal support)

I expressed my dissatisfaction with Charley Boorman’s Race to Dakar by blowing a strawberry in bed one night and turning off the reading light, then explaining to the Man I Married, “I just read two pages about the modifications to a BMW X5, which isn’t even a motorcycle. Who would want to read that boring tripe?”

MIM’s voice floated up out of the darkness, “Someone like Alan might cream his jeans reading those two pages. It’s all about audience.”

Too true about knowing your reader. But cream his jeans? So the male brain contains a switch in which he thinks he’s in a garage with his buddies and a can of Bud just by the mere mention of re-outfitting something with an engine. I wonder what I could hypnotize him into blurting out with juicy enchantments like the slow enunciation of double clutch or carburetor flush? Once this “classic” car is parked for the night, it usually stays put in the garage, but I might trick his reptilian brain into hot-wiring the ignition and getting some sparks flying by murmuring, “Cowl and chassis conversion.”

I'd rather ride with her

The fact of the matter is that there are very few motorcycle memoirs by women. Search “motorcycle women” on the internet and find mostly women sporting a silicone rack and not much else. Search “motorcycle women” on Amazon and find books like Wicked Women: Black Widows, Child Killers, And Other Women In Crime. Well, at least that would be way more interesting than reading about the monocoque construction of an X5. I know quite enough about monococks, thanks much.