Stream Series: The Books That Formed Me, From SciFi to Buckley
I’m joining other writers at The Stream to compile a list of the books that influenced me growing up. I’ve seen what several of my colleagues have written so far, and I can assure you that my experience was quite different. I started reading science fiction at a young age, and it steered my interests in that direction for years.
It all started in third grade, when I was introduced to A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. A young girl starts to look for her missing father, who is being held hostage on a faraway planet by a powerful evil being known as The IT. With the help of three unusual women who have traveled across the universe, young Meg is able to find and rescue her father. The IT terrified me, but the thought of life on other planets fascinated me.
This is the fourth in The Stream’s summer 2019 “Books That Formed Me” series. Editors, writers, and friends of The Stream will share the books that helped make them who they are. See managing editor Al Perrotta’s list here, associate editor Nancy Flory’s list here, staff writer Aliya Kuykendall’s list here, and Michael Brown’s list here.
A Wrinkle in Time was made into a movie last year, but was so poorly done I turned it off after 20 minutes. It failed to capture the essence of the book. It focused on gaudy, obnoxious characters instead.
C.S. Lewis, of Course
My interest in scifi increased when I discovered C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series. Dad started us on them by reading a few books in the series to us kids, one chapter a night. When he finished, we’d beg him to keep going onto another chapter instead of going to bed. I think he gave in a few times. I read the rest of the series on my own, fascinated by the concept of other worlds.
That led to reading Lewis’s adult scifi books, The Space Trilogy. The first two took place on Mars and Venus, further feeding my interest in life on other planets.
I loved Lewis’s style of writing so much that it was easy to move next to his Christian works. Mere Christianity was divinely inspired it was so well-written. It was a great reinforcement of my faith. But his Screwtape Letters freaked me out. The book consists of letters written by a senior demon named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a less experienced demon, on how to guide a man toward Satan and away from Jesus, who is considered the enemy.
The letters address Christian theology, bringing up arguments against it. The arguments are weasily and deceptively done. It left a bad taste in my mouth to hear the sneaky undermining of Christianity. It reminded me of arguments those on the left use against the right, not just against the Christian religion, but about politics in general. Lewis did not enjoy writing the book due to the content. It was a dark time for him.
My Favorite SciFi Writer, Ray Bradbury
I discovered scifi author Ray Bradbury in grade school. He wrote a lot of stories about life on Mars. Probably my two favorite books by him were collections of stories: The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man. I felt like I was escaping to another world when I read his books.
My love of scifi influenced me later in life when it came to movies. I watched every scifi movie I could, even the B-rated ones. I stayed up late watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the middle of the night while in college. That show featured a guy and two robots who watch really bad old scifi movies and make fun of them. I watched scifi movies to the exclusion of other types of movies. It took years for me finally to start enjoying regular movies too!
I read 1984 by George Orwell in junior high or high school. It had a profound influence on me. It impressed on me the dangers of government becoming too big and powerful. This stayed with me as I formed my political views, and I believe is part of the reason I turned out conservative.
And the Most Important WFB
Lastly, a list of my formative books would not be complete without the books of William F. Buckley, Jr. My parents subscribed to his magazine, National Review, while I was growing up, and I read every issue cover to cover. His writing style grew on me, the way he would question and analyze things from different perspectives, then leave you hanging wondering what the outcome should be. I loved his polite and erudite manner. He was a cut above your average conservative. A high quality, intellectual giant.
Buckley wrote numerous books, including many compilations of his articles. I remember enjoying Happy Days Were Here Again, his columns from the 1980s and 1990s, including some back and forth letter exchanges. I also liked Nearer, My God, a book about his Catholic faith.
Buckley’s Legacy with Me
Buckley influenced me so much I started a website in 2002 emulating his National Review, called Intellectual Conservative. I was frustrated with the direction the magazine was going after Buckley left as editor in chief. I thought they deserted the old Reagan coalition that brought together factions on the right. Instead, the magazine seemed to be eliminating debate over issues like foreign intervention.
My site never became very big. Lack of resources and years of being targeted by hackers kept it from expanding. But it has become a great proving ground for budding writers, many who have gone on to write for bigger publications. I’m proud of them. And like the old National Review, my site carries a wide range of viewpoints on the right. I like to think my own writing reflects a little of Buckley. I try not to be too knee-jerk or crass in my articles, but try to keep the level of discourse at a higher level. It has served me well, and in recent years I’m sure has kept me from ever being suspended on Facebook or Twitter.
Buckley died in 2008. To remember him, I named my cat Buckley.