Writers write for different reasons. Some aim for the big bucks, Grisham-style, but others simply have something they’re compelled to say, a message they have to send, a lesson they need to teach. The latter isn’t always the most lucrative option, but authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain, Aldous Huxley and even (sigh) Ayn Rand made careers via that route, and in the process influenced millions.
So we got to wondering: Which books have had the biggest influence on Tampa Bay’s own influencers? Which books have particular resonance in the current social/political/what-have-you climate? And what are these folks reading — or e-Reading — right now? Here are their answers, submitted via email.
WMNF volunteer coordinator, “Art in your Ear” host, former owner of the Globe Coffee Lounge
Currently reading? “I always read several books at once. I am reading Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer right now. Lila by Marilynne Robinson is what I am about to start.”
Hard copy or e-Reader? “Reading on both a Kindle and books.”
What book had the biggest influence for you? “The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene shapes my understanding of systems, physics, and Buddhism.”
Which has particular resonance today? “How to Cook a Wolf, by MFK Fisher, which is about hunger, desire, desperation and comfort. Pretty pertinent to so many these days.”
Pinellas County Commissioner
Currently reading? Blogs (Creative Loafing, SaintPetersBlog); Twitter feeds (@MarksSharpe, @marcacaputo, @thereidreport, @mitcheperry, @politicstbtimes, @bobbuckorn, @Kriseman, @VoteJustice, many more). Books: You Can, You Will by Joel Osteen, Innovative State by Aneesh Chopra.
Most influential? The Bible. “It has been a source of guidance, comfort and inspiration all of my life. That’s also why for me it is the most relevant to me personally, even in 2014.”
Beyond Coal organizer, Sierra Club
Currently reading? Ira Shapiro’s The Last Great Senate and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
Most influential book and why? The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL by Eric Greitens is a great book on leadership and service. I believe that for each of us, there is a place on the frontlines. Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan explains the intricate connection between our food and the rest of the world. It compelled my wife and I to give up meat (and have since lapsed, but we’ve drastically cut down). George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984 was a favorite of mine in high school as a critique of government. The Lord of the Rings (by J.R.R. Tolkien) was the book that started my love of reading.”
Book that has most resonance in current times? “Ed Shane’s Disconnected America critiques mass media and how it is consumed in our individualistic society. The book examines the morality and personal responsibility between mass media and the consumer. Another is The Global Warming Survival Handbook which I received as a gift, before I worked on environmental issues. Get it, learn it, do it.”
e-Reader or hard copy? “I prefer hard copy, but I’m slowly being converted by my tablet.”
Hillsborough County School Board
Currently reading? I just finished reading Effective Crisis Communication by Ulmer, et. al. and The Heart of Change by Kotter, et. al. For local news I read the Tribune, the Times, SaintPetersBlog, and Creative Loafing (for real, not kissing up). I read CNN and BBC for national and international news. I also love Epoch Times blog.
e-Reader or hard copy? I prefer e-readers because of the convenience. I have always been a voracious reader and to be able to download a book and immediately start reading it at midnight is a dream come true.
Favorite/most influential? I haven’t had a whole lot of time for pleasure reading for many years. Now that I am through with school, I am really looking forward to reading the Wicked series. I love fantasy and horror fiction. One of my favorite book series is Clan of the Cave Bear. I read this as a young girl and the heroine was one I really related to. As for one of the most influential books I have read, I would have to say 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I have recommended this book to many people including my children, who have both told me they learned a lot from it and are applying the lessons learned to their daily lives.
Book that has most resonance in current times? Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age by Bill McKibben. The author’s musings are sometimes farfetched, but really make you think about our rush to let technology take over our daily lives.
Music promoter, musician, historic preservation advocate
Currently reading? “The Making of St. Petersburg by Will Michaels. If you want to know how this amazing city came to be, and learn more about the rich cultural history of the Sunshine City, this book is a great starting point.”
e-Reader or hard copy? “All hard copy. Hurts my eyes to read a book any other way.”
Most influential? “Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told to Alex Haley. I am inspired by true stories and the power of the individual to institute positive change for the world, some in larger ways than others, but everyone can play the part of innovator, creator, and sometimes when necessary the instigator. Be the catalyst for good; you have a choice!”
Most applicable in current times? “The Holy Bible/New Testament, by God. Oh, the drama the mere mention of this choice and author can bring in today’s literary circles, but I am fine with that, and more importantly, Jesus is just all right with me. If we all loved a little more, gave a little more and thought about others a little more (than ourselves) our world would definitely be a better place.”
Attorney and political consultant
Currently reading? “Could be blogs, books, newspapers, anything. I just started reading The Grandfather Clock, by my friend and local author Jon Kile. It’s really wonderful so far.”
e-Reader or hard copy? “Both. Read everything all the time, any way you can.”
Most influential? “Doubtlessly, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. It has the best last line of any book I have ever read. When I read it I was living abroad and feeling directionless; this book was instrumental in getting me through that period.”
Most applicable in current times? “Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, et al, have me thinking of To Kill A Mockingbird (by Harper Lee) quite a bit lately and about how we are still fighting the same battles in this country over 50 years since that book was published. But the only way to get real progress is to keep fighting against those injustices and to keep speaking the truth. Like Atticus Finch said, ‘Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.’”
CHRISTEN PETITT HAILEY
Yoga teacher & playwright
Currently reading? Myths of the Norsemen by Helene Guerber, Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz, and political satire on Wonkette.com.
e-reader or hard copy? I have both, but I prefer an actual book. I love the weight of a book in my lap and the act of turning pages. My Kindle app is convenient on the go but it’s not as satisfying as a full bookcase.
Most influential? The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson, and The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice. I discovered those books in the library one summer in middle school, and made the transition from young adult fiction to reading whatever the hell I wanted for fun. Everything I write has a tiny tribute to one of those books somewhere inside it.
Most applicable in current times? I think what has the most resonance in current times is just mindfully taking the time to read, and reading everything that interests you. Get to know other people, issues, new developments. Books, articles, news, websites, anything other than people bitching about their lives on social media or cat videos... not that I don’t bitch about my life or watch the occasional cat video.
Owner, Craftsman House Gallery; arts advocate
e-Reader or hard copy? “Hard copy so that I don’t get distracted and hop onto something else.”
Most influential? “One book that has influenced me quite a bit is Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses, by Stacey Mitchell. At Craftsman House, I see the benefits of shopping local every day. A big part of St. Petersburg’s recent renaissance is its locally owned shops and restaurants.”
Most applicable in current times? “Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, by Ralph Nader. Whether the subject is genetically engineered food or this left-right alliance, many of Nader’s books just seem to make sense. Left & the right working together for some good.”
Currently reading? “Revisiting Richard Adams’ classic allegory/adventure Watership Down, a formative staple from my early teens that I’d recommend to any and all.”
e-Reader or hard copy? “The pseudo-luddite crank in me prefers a hard copy. “
Most influential? “I’ve spent almost my whole adult life earnestly defending this from the deludedly arrogant and dismissive literary cognoscenti (and more recently the hyper-urbane and woefully pretentious wannabe indie-hipster cynic set), but Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet. It shattered the hard shell of my growing 15-year-old cynicism and anger with its gentle beauty and deceptively simple wisdom, teaching me that the single greatest pillar of human strength
Most applicable in current times? “My easy default would be anything by Chomsky, but as there are so many excellent and insightful titles out there right now, I’d say either Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything or Matt Taibbi’s The Great Derangement; highly eloquent and impactful stuff (and in Taibbi’s case, brilliant Thompson-esque bite and snark). Oh, damn! and Sarah Vowell.”