Books that define us teach us or send us on journeys. Here are some of mine

After reading a great post from K.M. Weiland about books she thought were the best she’d read for writers this year, I thought, well, what about some of the books I’ve read that have defined my life. Some have even sent me on journeys…and I thought I’d share a few in this blog.

I grew up reading books. My father was an avid reader and so was my mother. My dad, as a Canadian of Scottish heritage read the collected poems of Robert Service. From him I learned of Canada’s harsh north and ballads of the World War I.

The poems were both beautiful and gruesome in their nature. Robert Service was the first “Cowboy Poet,” and his poetry spoke of both the beauty of life, and how life could be cruel.

His best-selling poems were, “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” and the “Shooting of Dan McGrew.”

I perhaps attainted a taste for black or gallows humor at an early age. My father died when I was 15, and I would find my own books. I embarked into the world of books, not as entertainment, but to taste the world. You can do that through books, even more so than through television.

I would read the books of Leon Uris and his Mila 18, and Exodus. I have no idea why I’d read books on the struggle of Jews. I’m not Jewish, had only two Jewish friends, but their struggle spoke to me.

At the age of 18, in 1971 I’d taken planes trains and automobiles to Tel Aviv, and lived on a Kibbutz, (collective farm) and would work in the orchards, the chicken houses, and would fall in love and have my heart-broken by several Israeli girls.

I doubt if that was the intention of Leon Uris in writing his books, but that’s how it worked out for me. The struggle of Israel was very real when I was there. The Egyptians threatened to “have Israel in the ocean,” by New Years, and the Israelis said, “Let them come, this time we’ll march to Cairo!”

I got to see all of this first hand, just by being inspired to go on a journey of exploration from reading books. I wouldn’t have another great inspiration until I returned home and went to College.

My time in College was brief. A total of 18 months, but it was awash in books and ideas. In the early 70’s Marshal McCluen was telling us, “The Medium was the Message,” in his books, and Leonard Cohen had come out with his book, Beautiful Losers.

There were also numerous books regarding spiritualism. Herman Hessee had written Siddartha, about the journey of Buddha. I read that and numerous other books and would take another journey, but this one only had me closing my eyes to look inside, to the world of meditation.

I would spend 5 years in an Ashram, also know as a Monastery from 1973 until 1977. Great years of studying silence, and also of reading the Bible, the Koran, the Bahagavita, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the works of Lau Tzu. What did I find? They all seemed to point to the silence within.

Some would think I was sidelined, or went on a detour for all those years, but really, I spent time that many will pay great sums of money to go to retreats and sit in silence, and try to achieve a quiet mind.  Okay, I have to admit there was no sex, which can put a damper on things and is probably the reason I left after 5 years and got married.

I would then enter the world of business and sales. Yes, I think I was called the “talkative Monk,” in my Monastery days. A trait that would serve me well as I delved into a career in sales and marketing.

I’d read books like the One Minute Salesman, and realized that  you only have seconds to get someones attention when talking to them. I actually became a good salesman.

My sales business made money, and then I read books on investing in real estate. I made money at that to. Funny how some knowledge when applied can work.

Then somewhere in all of my selling, and business of investing and working with real estate, I got back to the world of fiction. Who knows why. I think the real world is wonderful, but the world of fiction tugs at the outer edges of our imagination, and makes us dream bigger.

I started to read writers like Kurt Vonnegut Jr.. I was actually reading him again. He was one of the writers I read extensively in my brief College career.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. reminded me of Robert Service, the Cowboy Poet of Canada, the man with the gallows humor. Vonnegut was also spoke openly against war, against governments who sent people to war, and his books detailed a world were people went off into other existences, like Slaughterhouse Five.

My wife introduced me to Douglas Adams. His books were the HitchHikers Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life the Universe and Everything, and So Long and Thanks for all the Fish.

Why was I so enthralled with these books that many thought were almost slapstick? I really couldn’t tell you. But I do know from my 62 years on this planet, that we are the sum of all of our experiences.

It could have been my father’s cowboy poetry, my four months in Israel, (wandering on the Kibbutz to look for bomb shelters, and find they’d been made into photography dark rooms,) or my years in silence in the Ashram. Who knows?

I now write my own books. And strangely enough, they are dark humor. I tell my readers that,”People die, but only those that deserve it, or didn’t see it coming.”

Am I trying to emulate Kurt Vonnegut or Douglas Adams? I don’t think so, I think they were such unique individuals that no one will ever perfect their style. I believe all writers can develop a unique style if they allow themselves to delve into what makes them individuals.

I wish all writers great writing, and all readers great reading. May your reading take you on journeys of discovery or just provide you an adventure from your armchair.







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Lyle Nicholson is the author of four novels, two novellas and a short story, as well as several articles published in Canadian Magazines and Newspapers. His path to his writing was first as a terrible actor in a Johnny Cash movie, called Gospel Road. He played Andrew the Apostle and apologizes to all who see him in the movie.
He was also a disobedient monk for several years and left the monastery to work at several jobs he’d was highly unsuccessful at until he started his own sales agency, where he finally had success. This was to the delight of his wife and his mother.
He retired in 2011 and took up writing full time. He now lives with his lovely wife in Kelowna, where he writes, cooks and indulges in fine wines.

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