The Reluctant Traveler Thinks about Books

I’ve just re-read Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”. I’ve probably read it ten or more times over the years. Probably seen the movie five times or so. Who wouldn’t as a teenager be obsessed with Julie Christie and Oskar Werner?

My reading choices growing up were essentially popular fiction, so Ray Bradbury fit right in. I browsed the science fiction shelves of our public library, and pulled out books that I later learned, when I wanted to care about authors, were written by Fritz Lieber and Robert Silverberg.

So I want to ask the question of my one reader, and beg for an answer.

What books really, truly, influenced you the most? And be honest; if it was Judith Krantz’s “Scruples” or William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” (I read both), I want to know!

And if you, my one reader, have a teenager in the house, ask them what they love to read? Graphic novels? Poetry? Young adult fantasy? Or anything they can get their hands on?

And, dear reader, what was the first book you remember reading all the way through? Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books, or J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series? Or Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”?

And a book can influence us in different ways. Inspire us to write our own—Mary Stewart’s “The Moon-Spinners”. (It’s painful to confess that one.) Goad us into social and political activism—Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale”. Stir up feelings we’d never felt before—Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”.



Inspire us to study art–”The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam” illustrated by Edmund Dulac.

Ray Bradbury wrote about a world of banned books, where possession of books was likened to possessing Schedule I Controlled Substances. People stuffed “sea shells” into their ears and lived in virtual worlds, oblivious to everything around them except what was not real, forgot what compassion and hope and inspiration meant. Sounds eerily familiar, IMO.

I don’t see that happening here, any time soon. Story-telling—painting, music, tele-series—are part of our genetics by now. And those who want those stories are out there, eagerly waiting.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


The Reluctant Traveler Thinks about Books — 4 Comments

  1. I read Moonspinners at thirteen, and adored it, but my favorite of Stewart’s books was Madam Will You Talk, also read at thirteen; I was profoundly impressed by the descriptions of the countryside of southern France (which still read quite well) and by the overlay of history. I read Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 at twelve, and found it resonating deeply, but I didn’t reread it–by then we were in walking distance of a library, and I had tons of catching up to do.

    Book that woke up activism, again, read as a young teen, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

    First book read all the way through was the first book I was given (books were very rare in my house), Black Beauty. I loved it, most of it, and I learned that my parents could not be relied on as dictionaries. First, they got impatient with too many “what does this mean?” and second, they had no idea what “humbug” meant, and since we did not have a dictionary in the house, I learned to do very close reading to suss out meaning if I could. It was such a relief when I began reading widely in old literature and began putting together an internal dictionary of outmoded words, phrases, and meanings.

    It was a relief to get to the library (rarely, as it was a drive until we moved); the books with the most influence were the Adventure series by Enid Blyton, as I read them over and over, and decades later I still found myself picking a lot of Blyton’s abysmal prose out of my own. Ditto Georgette Heyer, read and reread as a teen.

    Most influential book on my daughter as a teen, L.M. Montgomery’s Journals. She read those over and over. (She read a lot, but no fiction, outside of a graphic novel series called Strangers in Paradise; she still reads only non-fiction in her mid-thirties.) Son, more difficult to say,. as he has always hated reading; he has a form of dyslexia that makes processing text painful, whereas visual media he processes and remembers every detail. (Most influential graphic novel, Sandman.)

  2. I started with Little Golden Books when I was five. Quickly graduated to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. Never had much use for Trixie Beldon or the Bobsey Twins.

    In fifth grade I discovered “Queen Elizabeth and the Spanish Armada.” Don’t remember the author. Checked it out of the school library about every other week. I don’t think anyone else in the entire school even read it. And there were a whole slew of biographies in a blue binding. My unimaginative father steered me away from fiction.

    And then I found Mitchner in 8th grade and read and re-read every one of his big fat histories. Only in college did I find Mary Stewart, but I read everything she wrote back to back in one summer.

    I wish now that I had read science fiction in school. Didn’t discover SF/F until after I married, now I’m addicted.

    • I was always an avid reader. One of my parent’s friends worked in a bookstore, and we would always get a selection of books – any genre, any topic. My brother and I read them all. The book series that I particularly loved was The Three Investigators (the original series – they tried to revive it and had no clue what made it work). Alfred Hitchcock did the introductions and the epilogues. Three boys came together to logically solve mysteries – and every so often there was something strange that couldn’t be explained. Also loved Bellair’s The House With A Clock in its Walls.
      Seventh grade was a banner year for me. I met some of my favorite books at that library – Nancy Willard’s Things Invisible to See the clear standout. It was my introduction (although I didn’t realize it at the time) to magical realism. Happily the book is now available as an ebook so others can read it. Seventh grade was also the year I became addicted to JRR Tolkien after reading The Hobbit at school. I also met Ellen Raskin through the wonderful The Westing Game.
      There are so many others… (I loved Mary Stewart, and I blame her love of quoting Shakespeare for my love of the Bard – and the novel I wrote in high school. A particular favorite – perhaps because I own it, so rereading was easy – was This Rough Magic.)
      And this is an essay in itself, for which I apologize

  3. Wow, so many to remember! Not sure what book I first read completely, but I was raiding the local library at an early age. One I remember was an SF novel about kids who took a spaceship to a planet with fragile mushroom people. Also one I really liked was “Mara, Daughter of the Nile.” Nancy Drew was big. And, of course, “A Wrinkle in Time” was gripping and influential.
    Later, I loved LeGuin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness” as well as Roger Zelasny’s Amber series. (I think the smart-ass tone of my heroine in my first novel was influenced by Zelasny’s Corwin character.)
    “To Kill a Mockingbird” really blew me away (several times).
    I also enjoyed Mary Stewart, especially the ones set in Greece, and her Merlin series. Around high school, I got into Albert Camus and other French and German authors (in translation).