As I walk down this path of writing my own books, I have been reflecting on the books that have influenced me the most throughout my life. This week, we discuss what books were interesting to a teen in the 80s as he listened to all that amazing pop and rock music. What stories kept this nerdy teenager reading and visiting the school library whenever he could?
Homework required a lot more reading in junior high and high school, so I didn’t have as much free time to read for pleasure as I did when I was younger, but I still read quite a bit when I could find time, like while riding on the bus. But what reading really grabbed my attention and stuck with me all the way into adulthood?
Choose Your Own Adventure and Lone Wolf Books
I found the Choose Your Own Adventure books at the local public library late in my childhood, enjoying them into my early teenage years. Inside UFO 54-40 was my favorite. I was fascinated by the ability to experience a story that you chose the outcome. Admittedly, as I got older I would mark my pages and go back and try alternate paths when I didn’t like the results of my first choice. But this concept of reader influence on a story had a huge impact on me. In high school, I found the Lone Wolf books. which mixed a choose your own adventure style of writing with a character who grew and changed throughout the book and you could take with you to the next book! This was like a video game and personal rpg all rolled into a very portable book, and I was fascinated. Being able to develop my own stories and characters continues to be a passion of mine.
One fateful library visit during junior high, I was wandering around looking for a book to read and just couldn’t find one that interested me. The librarian noticed my ponderings and asked if I was looking for something for class or to just enjoy. I said I was done with my homework and looking for something fun to read. She walked over to a shelf in the high school section and brought me this book called The Hobbit. She said give this a try and if I liked it she had other books to recommend. I hadn’t read any fantasy books at that point other than mythology and some Arthurian books for kids. Not sure why that book was cataloged high school but so glad the librarian knew I had a passion for reading and that this book could inspire a nerdy teenager. I was drawn into the world within a few pages then took the book home and devoured it in one night. What had I just read?! The story was epic! Dwarves and hobbits were my people (still have a huge passion for stories and myths about dwarves to this day). And Tolkien’s writing just opened my eyes to a while new genre of fiction and depth of storytelling. I quickly went on to read the Lord of the Rings, though The Hobbit remains my favorite book of all time. Over the decades, my passion for Tolkien and his writings has blossomed into a hobby scholarship for me. I have read nearly all of Tolkien’s books, papers, and letters and other writings inspired by Tolkien and his creations. I have played so many games inspired by Tolkien’s world of Middle-earth. I have studied the Inklings and visited the Eagle and Child to pay homage. I have done research and given presentations on the works of Tolkien. From reading that one book recommended by a librarian, I have had a lifetime of joy, scholarship, and creativity. Never underestimate the important of librarians!
Typical of many teenage boys at the time, I was really into comic books and would pick up random issues when I could afford them at the local Hook’s drugstore. I also was a huge fan of the early superhero TV shows like the Super Friends cartoon (my all time favorite cartoon), Spiderman and his Amazing Friends cartoon, Batman, Wonder Woman, Shazam!, and The Incredible Hulk. So it would be no surprise that I would notice and be interested when a fellow student on the bus to school was flipping through a book with pictures of superheroes while making notes. I leaned over the seat and asked what comic that was that had so much text to read in it and he said it was a game that let you create and play your own superheroes, called Villains & Vigilantes. What?! I could make up my own costume clad heroes and fight supervillains? He invited me over that weekend to play a game. This was also my introduction to the world of roleplaying games, and I was hooked for life. The creative elements and impromptu storytelling of rpgs have influenced so much of my life. Over the decades playing and running rpgs, I have developed public speaking confidence, research and writing skills, group leadership and organization, and more! I have also seen this passion for rpgs open up opportunities for a freelancing career as an tabletop game editor and writer, to work for tabletop game publishers at Gen Con, and to teach game development and writing courses at the university.
That gives you a glimpse into the #TeenageKnight’s reading that continues to influence me today. What books influenced you as a teenager?
Check back next week as we ponder the intellectual readings of #CollegeKnight.