Literary Influences

Stack of paperbacks from high school.Count up 12 books from the bottom in the pic to the left (a stack of books mostly from the mid-60s) and you’ll find “The Fall of the House of Usher,” a book of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. I spent a 9th grade weekend copying out longhand Poe’s tale “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Never mind why, but it was a punishment I rather enjoyed.

Six books from the bottom is “The Time Machine,” H. G. Wells’s forecast for long term care for the human race.

Eight books up you’ll find Jerzy Kosinski’s “The Painted Bird.” I was in 10th grade Home Room class sitting behind a friend who was reading furtively in a paperback I didn’t recognize. I asked him what he was reading. He gave me the book, but asked that if caught with it I would not tell where I got it. We didn’t know one another that well, though later we became good friends. He had substantially more stock with the authorities, was a genius. But he seemed concerned that I might be traumatized by the reading experience. Some critics now suspect that Kosinski was traumatized by the writing experience.

I wrote a paper in 10th grade arguing that Melville’s “Pierre, Or the Ambiguities” contained more social insight than “Moby Dick.” Unfortunately, I can’t fine my 10th grade copy of “Moby Dick”; fortunately, though, I can’t find the 10th grade paper I wrote, either. I still have the Rhinehart edition of “Moby Dick” we used at Dominguez Hills.

That Sherlock Holmes “Memoirs” used to have a partner, “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” It’s a mystery what happened to it.

I remember first reading “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” in high school, but I can’t remember what grade. But I remember wondering about a scene where Leamas is shaken by a near miss on the highway. Is he less shaken by the near miss than by the recognition that the near miss has shaken him?

I can’t find my 9th grade copy of “Two Years Before the Mast.” I can’t imagine anyone wanting to borrow it. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, we were moving some things around, sort of spring cleaning, impatient for spring, and we wound up with a couple of bags of used books we decided to take down to Powell’s. They took about half of them, but I was surprised they took as many as they did. Do literary influences wane over time? What else can’t I find? All the Steinbeck books gone, but I know where they went. All four original Salinger books not to be found, though three have been replaced. The early “Walden,” “On the Road,” but also replaced.

I don’t suppose anyone reads Asimov’s “The Human Body: Its Structure and Operation” anymore. If we want to know something about the human body, we google it. But who thinks of the body as an operating system? It’s like talking about books as physical objects, and as if their mere presence might have an effect on us, like a gravity, the experience of influence.

Related Posts: Reading influences and Henry Miller: more on reading influences.


  1. Good post. One or two of my school books included: The Hobbit, Lord of the Flies and Great Expectations. Amazing how much those books you read at school stay with you.

    I will click to follow.

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Yes, just so. And there’s three more books I can’t find, now that you mention it! Thanks for reading.

  2. Emily says:

    Amazing! I want to make one of my own… What a great idea!

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Emily. Was taking a look at your bookshop blog, and remembering some shops I used to frequent that have now disappeared. You probably know this one, which has an interesting history and a current site.

      1. Emily says:

        Thanks! Yes, I love Shakespeare & Co.! I didn’t have this blog the last time I was in Paris, but next time I make it over there I’ll visit again for sure!!

  3. Especially fond of the Jack London,five down from the top. We share many other titles as well. Books tend to be like songs, they take us back to where we were when we first read/heard them. -Luke

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Visited Jack London’s ranch in the Valley of the Moon a few years ago. An amazing writer and an interesting life. I’ve not read all of his books, but one of my favorites is Martin Eden. But to your idea of songs like books, I get that, and at the same time sometimes it takes time for a song to grow on us, as with some books, too. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      1. No worries…I tracked down the local bar and ranch home of Hunter S Thompson a few years back. I sat exactly in his corner booth. The words that flowed there, must have been amazing. ;)

  4. Dan Hennessy says:

    Nice stack of well-worn books . I wonder if I have any from so long ago . I remember in school having to read a few of those in your stack . I should re-read a few , having had little interest or understanding way back then .

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Try the Lardner “Haircut” stories.

  5. Wow, I’m familiar with many titles in your stack, like meeting old friends, and I suddenly recalled a series of adventure stories I devoured early on, by Karl May, who introduced me to the Wild West, and whose crazy life is worth an epic

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Had not heard of May, but read the Wiki entry. Very interesting. Will look him up next time at Powell’s. What a struggle for his parents! But he seems to have successfully created a “livelihood” writing. … I was thinking about the missing books, when I was working on that post, gone missing like old friends borrowed away. Planning another stack post for later this week.

  6. I have not read any of these except Animal Farm.

    1. Joe Linker says:

      I have not read most of them either in a long time, and I’m not planning on returning to most of them. The library is like a garden: some plants grow old but look more and more interesting; others fade away. Anyway, maybe it’s better to read one book 100 times than 100 books once each. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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