Most Influential Books … Which Shaped Me As a Writer

 An Inspirational Series, a Famous Hometown Author,
and a Writer Who Made me Laugh
                    By Jeff Salter

            Wow.  So many possibilities.  No way I can limit this to a single title.  So I’ll talk about a series and two authors … who greatly helped shape me as a writer.

‘Cloud’ Books
            Beginning in the 1940s (before my time), the Bobbs-Merrill Company published a series called ‘Childhood of Famous Americans’.  They were biographical treatments, but instead of focusing on the subjects’ notable adult achievements and providing brief back-story of their younger years, these books merely mentioned their mature accomplishments and spent probably 80% of the pages detailing their childhoods.  [Similar to Paul Harvey’s ‘the rest of the story’ radio series — we learn which childhood experiences shaped a famous person’s later years.] 
            Were these treatments 100% fact?  Uh, no.  Some built on unsubstantiated legends and nearly all the youthful dialog was likely fabricated.  But these books did capture the essence of those young people … and that’s what I enjoyed reading.  Some of those pre-fame kids were a lot like ME.
            There were probably about 250 titles in the series at the time I was immersed … and I read nearly every one in our school and public libraries.  Just now looking over an updated list of titles, I recognized nearly six dozen that I read … mainly in 4th and 5th grades.  
            I called them ‘cloud’ books because of their distinctive covers.  In later years, the covers changed, of course, but the inspiring content was the same.
            It was fascinating to see the world (those very different time periods) through the young eyes of people who later became famous.  The realization that nearly all of those celebrated individuals were born / raised in very ordinary circumstances affirmed a sense that I, too, could achieve wonderful things.  If I put my mind to it and invested the requisite time and labor, I could be an inventor, athlete, statesman, explorer, or … yes, even a writer!

Walker Percy
            I love The Moviegoer (1961) because Percy’s first published novel was composed (at least partly) while he was in the same local writing group as my Dad … and they rotated location of the meetings among the residences of the members.
            But my favorite of Percy’s six novels is probably still The Last Gentleman (1966).  Can’t exactly put my finger on it, but possibly because his characters had such depth.
            Percy inspired me because we lived in the same small town and I knew him.  He was a good friend of my parents and our families had considerable interaction.  [One example:  my mom drove my sister and Percy’s daughter to ballet practice … and Mrs. Percy drove them both home.]
            From Percy, I learned the way an acclaimed, award-winning, best-selling author could and should conduct himself.  He was friendly, down-to-earth, and interested in other people and his community.  He was NOT an arrogant, selfish, ego-maniac … like some writers who have accomplished a lot less than Percy did over his 30 year career.

Bill Bryson
            Bryson is certainly not the only writer who has made me laugh so hard and so long that my belly ached.  But he’s the most recent author to do so.
            From Bryson, I learned that humor can be found in the most ordinary things.  Other people could observe the precise same circumstances or incidents (obviously, though, from vastly different perspectives) and would describe them in such completely different terms … that their accounts would be deadly dull and dry.
            My two favorites of Bryson’s are A Walk in the Woods (1998) and The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (2006).
            ‘Hearing’ Bryson’s voice – in his prose – reminded me of some autobiographical chapters I had written nearly 25 years earlier.  And it was shortly after reading Bryson that I returned to writing humor after that long absence.

            Who are the authors (or, what are the titles) which shaped YOU as a writer? 

            I’m the Hound and I blog on Thursdays — hope you can join me here each week.  On all the other weekdays, stop by for blogs by one of the Four Foxes.

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About jeff7salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Twelve completed novels and five completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015, "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015, "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015, "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014, "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014, "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014, "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014, "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013, "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013, "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013, "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012, "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012. Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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50 Responses to Most Influential Books … Which Shaped Me As a Writer

  1. tonya kappes says:

    Very cool, Jeff. I’ve never heard of those books. Do you still have them? I love the simplicity of them. Of course as a girl I read the Sweet Valley High books, but Jane Porter (who is a friend of mine now!) is the one who really shaped my desires to write a book. YES! I was much older. I didn’t come out of the womb dieing to write a book.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      My daughter read those Sweet Valley books and loved them. This Bobbs-Merrill series had nearly as many books about famous women (as children) as they did about famous men as kids. After I read all the available books about the guys, I started on the girls. The ones I remember best were Susan Anthony, Betsy Ross, Sacajwea, Clara Barton, Dolly Madison, Pocahuntas, etc.
      I recently bought two of Jane Porter’s books, but haven’t gotten to them yet.
      Thanks for visiting, Tonya!

      Like

  2. Jillian says:

    These sound great. I’ll be sure to check some of them out- I think it’s great that Percy was so inspiring and down to earth was well. I haven’t read any of his but he sounds awesome. I love humor in writing (and anywhere else, for that matter) and if those books made you double over in laughter, I definitely will have to read them. Great post as usual.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Jillian. If you plan to read Bryson’s “Walk in the Woods”, you’d better have some tissue handy. I laughed so hard in spots that it made tears come out! It’s a longer book than I’d normally tackle, but once he had me hooked — which was about the point he and Katz actually began their hike — there was no turning back.

      Like

  3. danicaavet says:

    I love the idea of the Cloud books…it’s so easy for us to imagine some of the most influential people in our world as springing from their father’s forehead, fully formed and ready to take on challenges. Okay, so maybe not everyone thinks that, but you know what I mean.

    I already mentioned The Hitchhiker’s Guide, but I’d have to throw Dark Lover and A Hunger Like No Other (paranormal romances) in there because they’re what motivated me to write. Not that I wanted to write stories exactly like them, but because I saw there were other people out there with ideas that weren’t the “norm” for romances. When I read those books, I had an epiphany about my own writing and the rest, as they say, is history….very recent history, but still.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Danica, you have very eclectic tastes in reading. Mine are more traditional, I guess.
      It reminds me of that great line in “The Blues Brothers” movie when the BAND shows up at that bar pretending to be the “Good Ole Boys”. Jake asks the owner’s wife what kind of music they usually have out there.
      “Oh, we have both kinds: country AND western.”
      Well, I guess you had to be there.

      Like

      • danicaavet says:

        Hello! That’s one of my favorite movies! Not to mention when I was in college, we actually played Rawhide for half-time…well, nearly the entire Blues Brothers soundtrack. Ah, memories.

        Like

      • jeff7salter says:

        There are so many TERRIFIC scenes in that movie, Danica. I loved their rendition of Rawhide, and when that was a TV show (with a very young Clint Eastwood), I loved the show.
        BTW, I never understood why they threw their beer bottles AT the band … when they were enjoying the music.
        And I never understood why the gorgeous (though clearly psycho) Carrie Fisher was such a sucker for Jake.
        That aside, Blues Brothers is one of the all-time funny movies.

        Like

  4. Judy Blume inspired me as a reader as a pre-teen – sometimes I felt like she read my mind. When I first began writing, I wanted to be “the next Judy Blume” but I decided that YA was not really for me. I’m pretty inspired by Emily Giffin because she writes light Women’s Fiction that I find relatable as opposed to whimsical and unrealistic. Yet she does so in a light, easy breezy style. That is the way I write – only I have a ways to go before I can truly compare myself to Emily Giffin!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      As a librarian in public libraries, I was very aware of Judy Blume. She was vastly popular with young readers because she wrote about topics relevant to them. But she was a lightning rod for censors because they felt kids needed protection from certain words (or topics). I’ve often wondered if Blume’s books would have made much impact had they been initially published during the internet era, when the forbidden words and topics are already being tweeted by the kids.
      My view as a librarian, by the way, was that books like Blume’s SHOULD be accessible to kids about jr. hi. age and I always hoped the parents would talk to their kids about those topics. Of course, many wouldn’t … and I believe their voices were the loudest when Blume (and others) were vilified.
      Emily Griffin? I’ll have to look her up.
      Thanks for visiting, Meredith!

      Like

  5. Jane says:

    Jeff,
    Cool blog! I totally enjoyed it.
    Jane

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Jane. Glad you could visit. Come back any weekday for one of the Foxes. I’m here on Thursdays.

      Like

      • Jane says:

        I especially liked what you had to say about Walker Percy. I’m glad you also want to maintain a friendly, sociable attitude and still strive as a writer. I want that for myself.
        Wanted to comment more this morning, but I was already late for work.

        Like

      • jeff7salter says:

        Walker Percy was a fine gentleman and was kind enough to correspond with me as he was in his final decades and I was a librarian. I have inscribed copies of all his books and they are among my treasures.

        Like

  6. Chris Bailey says:

    Jeff, what great memories! I read an entire series of bios, too, but the ones in our library had plain orange covers. Stuff like, “Benjamin Franklin, Boy of Old Philadelphia.” So many books like those shaped me as a person. When it came time to think of the future generation, I bought my unborn baby boxed sets of works I consider very important: C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Trilogy. But shaping me as a writer? I never had a longing to write fantasy or science fiction. So I’d say John Cheever, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee–and then moving into the present day, Janet Evanovich, Ken Follett and Helen Fielding.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Chris. Yes, this series at one time had orange covers … so we were reading the same texts. Later, when I was buying books for my first public library the covers were illustrated with scenes from the book. Currently they’re even more visually enhanced. But to me, the ‘cloud’ was a perfect image.
      Some of your favorite authors are also mine: especially Harper Lee and Ken Follett.

      Like

  7. Laurie Ryan says:

    Cloud books. I love it! 🙂 And how cool that your fatuer was a writer, also. As far as influential books, I’ve always gone for the emotional ones. Do you remember the story of Elsa, the lion released back into the wild in Africa? Read that trilogy over and over and over again as a kid. I think I wore out the books at the library. I’m also a huge fan of Kathleen Woodiwiss and J.R.R. Tolkien. All of which completely explains why I write contemporary romance, right? Not. 🙂 Great post, Jeff!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Yes, I definitely recall the movies ‘Born Free’ and ‘Living Free’ — though I never read the books.
      Woodiwiss got a LOT of readership in the library where I worked, though I never took time to get acquainted with her.
      As for Tolkien: I read ‘the Hobbit’ (back in the early 70s) and it was a bit of a struggle. Consequently I never read the Rings trilogy.
      Yes, my Dad wrote a lot, though very little was ever published. Of course, he did not do very much in the query / submission department either. He was always VERY encouraging of my writing efforts, from my very young age writting little rhymes and ‘essays’. He would have been my number one fan for these six novel manuscripts and it makes me sad that he died before I switched to long fiction.

      Like

  8. melissa says:

    These sound like great books. I need to check out those by Bill Bryson, haven’t laughed like that over a book in a long time. 🙂 Jane Porter is great for laughs too though. I think you’ll enjoy her books. “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier is the reason I write today. Something about that story sparked my imagination and made me want to create my own. I stumbled across it back in middle school and it’s still my favorite today.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Melissa, it amazes me how well DuMaurier has stood the test of time. I see a lot of writers also citing Emily Bronte. I confess I have read neither, except whatever was in the H.S. curriculum.
      Yeah, I’m eager to begin the two Jane Porter books I bought. It was her participation in a writers’ retreat that Tonya Kappes hosted which convinced me I needed to read Jane Porter.
      I hope you like Bryson as much as I did. But, beware, he’s also written some pretty ordinary stuff.

      Like

  9. Rereading the books I grew up with is the best time travel device I’ve ever found. I’ve since collected sets of The Three Investigators, Trixie Belden, and Connie Blair. They’re most likely the reason I love mysteries so much (and why my own mysteries feel a little like “grown up” versions of them). Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary both nailed the YA stuff for me. And as far as the classics go, I reread The Count of Monte Cristo every once in awhile, because it’s such a great story.

    Fun to think about those titles! Maybe I’ll reread one today.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Diane, it was just a few years ago that I re-read several of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew stories. Yep, the original versions … before they were diluted, condensed, and ‘updated’. I found them delightful. And perhaps even more enjoyable as an adult than as a kid when I first accessed them.
      I recall reading (as a youngster) one or two Trixie Belden’s … but don’t recall which ones.

      Like

  10. Bethany says:

    I don’t think I’ve heard of those books, Jeff.

    I was brought up on the Narnia books (still great stuff to this day). I read a lot of Beverly Cleary. Also, the “Betsy-Tacy” books by Maud Hart Lovelace (still read those from time to time) Like another poster, I read some of the Sweet Valley Twins/High books, but really, the ones that really got me inspired were fairytales. Grimms and Hans Christian Anderson; plus other adaptations like Disney, and Faerie Tale Theatre. “Cheaper By The Dozen” by the Gilbreth children (Frank Jr. and Ernestine).

    I know the Grimm’s version of “Cinderella”, but I like some of the other adaptations better than the original story. Big fan of “Beauty & The Beast” (in fact, I did two different re-tellings of “Beauty & The Beast”, but I don’t have them anymore…losing my second retelling trigged a series of events that led to where I am now as a writer).

    I remember I could spend upwards of 2 hours in a bookstore when I was growing up. The smell of new books, the feel of their covers and pages…oh my gosh it was like I had come home! I realized in high school that books were some of my best friends; but I knew that before high school, I just understood it more in high school.

    Great post!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      The original versions of some of those ‘fairy tales’ were gruesome and gory. The Anderson boys sanitized them a bit. I’m like you, I like some of the modern re-tellings.
      As a youngster, we didn’t have a ‘bookstore’ nearby, but there were plenty in New Orleans when we went across the lake.
      But I always loved my local library branch and books were highly prized in my household. No doubt, that contributed to my career decision to become a librarian.
      Thanks for visiting, Bethany.

      Like

  11. Daisy Harris says:

    Nice post, Jeff!

    I never read all that many tween-type books when I was a kid. My favorite book in 5th grade was Exodus by Leon Uris. So yeah- I had kinda mature tastes. 🙂

    But I do remember loving Encyclopedia Brown. I liked solving mysteries and I liked that his parents were progressive for their era. Given that I grew up in NYC in the 70’s, I really related to the idea of having your home life reflect one set of ideals while seemingly the rest of the world lives a different way.

    I tried Judy Blume- but by the time my friends were reading them they seemed too young. I developed early, so was actually really jealous of that girl in “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret.” Plus, by seventh grade I was addicted to the Flowers in the Attic books and was all about Jane Austen.

    Wow, Flowers in the Attic- those were some messed up books!

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

    Daisy

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Gosh, Daisy, you cut your teeth on Leon Uris? Yikes. Are you one of those MENSA folks?
      Though I didn’t read them, I remember the VC Andrews books being controversial also.
      I like a few chills, but I don’t want to be terrified.

      Like

    • Daisy Harris says:

      Hermione Granger is one of Harry Potter’s best friends. It’s Harry, Ron and Hermione. (Come on. It’s not *that* much of a pop-culture reference!)

      Like

      • jeff7salter says:

        I have to admit I have purposefully boycotted the H. Potter empire — books, movies, and merchandizing.
        One of my stubborn streaks, I guess.

        Like

  12. I just had to pipe in about the Flowers in The Attic books (“If there be thorns”, “Seeds of Yesterday” etc.) by VC Andrews. I was addicted to those books! Thinking back, I can’t believe I was reading books about incest and mothers locking their children in attics as a teenager – kind of sicko!! But, boy oh boy, I loved those books!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Sure, some of those themes are way ‘out there’ but it shows the craft of the writer to take readers on such a ride.
      Thanks for stopping by, Meredith.

      Like

  13. Great memories here! I think I was shaped early by the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books. Also, A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorites! 🙂

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      So many good books for growing kids were formula-based … but that’s part of their success. It was a proven formula with the correct ingredients … and kids of all ages just ate them up.
      As parents, we knew what our kids were reading. As a librarian, I liked the ‘security’ of formula stories.
      Thanks for visiting today, Rebecca.

      Like

  14. Oooh, I want the “cloud” books for my kids! Although I read a LOT as a kid, I think my biggest influence must be the Nancy Drew Case Files. I am a fiend for writing suspense, and I used to devour those books. (Devour = reading two or three a day). I used to have a love/hate relationship with the end of a chapter. Sometimes I’d be too tired to keep my eyes open, but no way I could stop on a cliffhanger! Hadn’t even thought of it until now, though. What a great post!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Sarah, I don’t recall whether (as a Kid) I read at bedtime or not. I’m kinda thinking I mostly read during the daytime … but can’t be certain now.
      In any case I was an early reader and a voracious one. In my third grade, the only ‘library’ we had was a single row of books along the back wall on top of some cabinets. You had to be in 4th or 5th grade to go to the ‘big kid’ library in the other wing of our school.
      But my third grade teacher took me — and a couple of other students who read a lot — to that big library. It was so cool to be selected for such an honor. I felt like I’d gained access to a secret clubhouse or something. Ha.
      Thanks for stopping by.

      Like

  15. jbrayweber says:

    Great post, jeff!
    Because of my reading comprehensive deficiency, I didn’t read for enjoyment as a child. It was until I read Stephen King’s PET CEMETERY in my twenties did I began my love affair for books. I love dark, but I love humor, too. Pat McManus opened my eyes to just how funny storytelling can be. He had me belly laughing in the first few sentences.
    But it was Dean Koontz and Ann Rice that I think planted the first seeds. Yeah, I know, strange that I write romance, huh? LOL!

    Jenn!

    Jenn!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Jenn, I’m not remembering the name Pat McManus. What did she/he write?
      I read one of Anne Rice’s books, but don’t recall the title. I think it was made into a movie with Dana Delany and Rosie O’Donnell.
      My son-in-law read one of Koontz’s books and raved about it. That meant it was a super book, but my S-I-L doesn’t read all that many books.
      Thanks for returning to our group blog, Jenn.

      Like

      • jbrayweber says:

        Patrick McManus http://patrickfmcmanus.com/
        My first of his books that I read was A FINE AND PLEASANT MISERY. He’ll make you pee in your britches.

        Exit to Eden is the movie you are thinking of with Dana DeLaney, Dan Aykoryd, & Rosie what’s her face. Though I’ve read that book, it was the Vampire Chronicle and the Mayfair Witches series of books that I read by Anne Rice.

        You should give Koontz a try. I recommend his earlier writings.

        Like

      • jeff7salter says:

        Uh, not really sure I want to laugh quite that hard — but what a graphic recommendation! Ha.
        I’ll check out his site … thanks, Jenn.

        Like

  16. Thanks for your post, Jeff. I’ve been a bookworm ever since I could read, and I can cite plenty of titles and authors I love.

    But as for naming those who have influenced me as a writer—hoo boy, wish I could help you. But I can’t. In the final analysis, the only real influence has been my actual experience in the real world.

    Keep up the good work.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Glad you could visit, Mary Anne.
      Yeah, it’s the real world that we write about … one way or the other.
      And it’s impossible to list every author who has influenced me — there are so many … and for very different reasons.

      Like

  17. Llewelyn Tucker says:

    Jeff, that’s a thought provoking post. Nice job.
    I’ve been trying to recall enough of what I read in my early years to determine if something popped up. The great comments here helped some- Trixie Belden, wow, I hadn’t thought of those books in eons! Nancy Drew was loads of fun. I must have run across some of the “Cloud” books you mentioned because I recall going through a period of reading biographies- Luther Burbank was my most memorable one. But when I think of influence I keep coming back to one of my dad’s old college textbooks- Century Readings in American Literature. I was exposed to many authors writing poetry, short stories, essays and full length stories which were excerpted. I enjoyed so much of it, the Bret Hart “The Luck of Roaring Camp”, a Samuel L. Clemens story or two, some Poe, Emerson and Longfellow. But having seen Mickey Rooney’s Puck in the movie “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on TV, at the age of thirteen I asked for “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” for Christmas and got it. I didn’t understand SO much of what I read but it felt good to the inner ear. I didn’t read the tween stuff. I went for Moby Dick, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The Bounty Trilogy, and Kon-Tiki. (But I was also listening to John Davidson, Perry Como and the Brothers Four when my friends were listening to the Beatles! always a little out of step) I remember once I had been to the library during the summer in Cov. and came home with “The Last Tango in Paris”. My dad asked what I had brought home to read and when I told him I thought it was about dancing, he said he thought that might be a bit risque’ for me and he would rather I waited for a few years to read it. I wonder if 46 years is enough? I have still never read it. (!)
    So, after thinking about it, I would say I have had lots of influence, a trickle over many years, but I can not point to one or two that gave me that kick-start. Journaling, on the other hand I can point directly to May Sarton’s “Journal of a Solitude” as a validation that I could write the little daily things that passed through my mind. I had tried for years unsuccessfully but reading that book got me going. I read it first in 2001 and several times since.
    My reading list has grown due to the postings. Thanks to all!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Glad you had time to post, Llew! I read and remember the Luther Burbank ‘cloud’ biography! You must have been a very precocious youngster to request Shakespeare for Christmas and bring home ‘Last Tango’ from the library. And you got that from the Cov. Lib.? I’m shocked! ha.
      Julia Cameron’s “The Writers’ Way” finally got me to dedicated journaling. Prior to that point, I’d write about something that happened if I could find time and could remember. Journaling gets the raw stuff right down on paper.
      Did May Sarton write about cats? There’s some connection in the back of my mind.

      Like

  18. Jeff: Hermione Granger is the chick in the Harry Potter novels, his fellow classmate at Hogwarts. But you already knew that, didn’t you? You must have been just pretending you didn’t!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      No, I wasn’t kidding. I remember a British actress named Hermione [something] but I have almost NO familiarity with the Potter books or movies. [except awareness that they have taken over the publishing and movie industries … as well as product marketing].

      Like

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