I’m a terrible blogger who has let life get in the way of blogging, so I’m a day behind on the book challenge. This just means one post this morning and one tonight, so I’ll be back on schedule. No problem, because I have jack shit to do today. Apparently for Day Ten I’m supposed to whittle my list of every book that’s ever had an affect* on me down to one. Damn, but we’re playing the Impossible Questions game again!
If I really had to pick one book that completely altered my life, I’d have to go with D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. This is one of the books that I literally read to pieces as a child – I think the last 25 pages or so of my childhood copy have gone completely missing, along with the cover. Anyway, a big old book of Greek mythology written for kids – how exactly has this had a huge affect on me? First of all it got me reading obsessively, and re-reading obsessively, and deriving as much meaning from the written word as possible. Second, it inspired a life-long love of all kinds of stories, which has lead to me being the erudite reader of Great Literature** you know and love today. Third, I majored in Classical history entirely because of this book, so it’s responsible if I wind up a fry cook at McDonald’s.
But the biggest influence of all has nothing to do with Classical Greece and its Pantheon of characters straight out of Men Behaving Badly, reading, or my future lack of career. This book introduced me to the concept of using stories to explain the world around you and the way those stories can, in turn, shape your view of the world. This has done more to help me understand human nature, religion, and the very human need to constantly feel reassured of our place in the world (both as a species and as individuals) than anything else in my life. I mean, you can probably trace my atheism back to me reading this book and then attending church with a friend, wondering why, exactly, people thought Noah and the Great Flood was totally reasonable but Odysseus was clearly just made up by some hacks who believed in a lightning god, the gullible fools.***
As I got older and started reading other Greek myths (Bullfinch, I heart you!), I learned how stories were warped and changed to impose certain belief systems on people, how moral tales were used to control behaviors of not only children but entire societies, and how those stories changed based on the place, the time, and those doing the telling. This book led to me reading what I could on the post-Classical period, the rise of Christianity, how Christian holidays, saints, and myths are intertwined so tightly with paganism that they’re almost inseparable, and why the missionaries and the priests slowly incorporated all the pagan beliefs. It started a chain reaction which is really responsible for exactly how I view the world today: the most important thing this book ever did for me was inspire me to look past words and try to figure out the meaning instead.
I know that sounds weird and paranoid, and you’re probably thinking that, unless I’m watching Glenn Beck**** or some other political idiots on the regular, I have no reason to be distrustful and examine everything people say or do. But I think it’s not paranoid at all, but rather a good thing to be in the habit of. Because everyone, everywhere, is telling a story and it’s not one hundred percent true.***** They’re selling you something – it may be harmless, it may even be good, but it’s still there – beneath the surface, hidden in the words. The more aware you are of what they’re actually getting at, the better off you’ll be.
*Am I the only person whose brain shudders and dies when faced with the choice of “affect” and “effect”?
** Because OMG-dragons-and-elves-fiction is so highbrow.
*** Yes I know most Christians don’t think many of the miracles are literally true, but I was all of seven or eight. Give me credit for even having the thought.
**** OH GOD DON’T SAY HIS NAME AGAIN, or like Bloody Mary he will appear in my living room and be conservative at me.
***** Except for me, of course.