Note: This blog originally appeared on tobinelliott.com.
This is the fourth in a series of blogs where I go back and examine the books that deeply affected me and became part of the foundation of the person I am now.
Click on the titles to read the others
After discovering both Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury, it felt like someone had applied the jaws of life to my brain, cracking it open and filling it with all sorts of science fictiony goodness. It didn’t take long to start discovering other SF geniuses.
And the next one was a doozy. Arthur C. Clarke. Though I hadn’t realized it, I was already slightly aware of Clarke’s works, through the 2001: A Space Odyssey movie, that infamous Kubrick/Clarke collaboration. My father had taken me to see it at the Regent Theatre in Oshawa on one of our weekend visits. I would have been a hair over five years old at the time…which shows you how much my father’s decision-making skills were impaired by that time. Who the hell takes a five-year-old to 2001?
Still, he did. I kinda didn’t get the whole monkeys part at the time, and the ending completely eluded me (still does). But that middle hour? Hell, that was cool. Spaceships!
So, now, about six years after that, I stumbled on a battered paperback copy of Childhood’s End and, I looked through the first few pages to see if he’d written anything else–the best resource a pre-teen had to look for additional works, because I always hated those funky little library drawers filled with books all catalogued by the Dewey Decimal System. Back then, I counted myself lucky if I found the SF section. The Dewey Decimal System was as much a mystery as…well, as the ending to 2001.
Glancing through the list of the author’s other works, I saw 2001. Well, that was enough for me. This would be my next brain-blaster.
Childhood’s End had all the earmarks of what I would consider a classic story at the time: Aliens (and, though they were somewhat menacing, overall, they were here to help us. And that was cool in its own right), and kids who changed, who evolved, who became greater than their parents and greater than the sum of their parts. Oh, and the end of the human race as we knew it.
Now, I’ll admit that my first reading of the novel left me more than a little confused. It had some racially-charged moments when the Overlords stepped in to stop the reverse Apartheid in South Africa. And there was the whole Ouija board thing that signaled the change of the children was coming. As well, the entire end where the children transformed and left the earth on a burning column to join the Overmind confused the hell out of me.
Still, I knew I was reading something important. Something fantastic.
How did this book change my life?
Unlike Bradbury, Clarke dealt a little less with the people and a lot more with the big concepts Extraterrestrial beings that oversaw the evolution of entire planets’ civilizations. Travel not to the Moon or Mars, but to planets 40 light-years away.
Hell, this was when I figured out what a light-year was (the distance one travels over the course of a year while traveling at the speed of light. It works out to about 6 trillion miles or a hair under 10 trillion kilometers).
He also dealt with the end of the world. The end of mankind and its ascension to the stars. This was big stuff.
So, for those keeping score, Erich Von Däniken gave me a good bullshit radar, more of a life skill than anything, but still… Then Robert A. Heinlein gave me adventure. Ray Bradbury helped me understand the deeper emotions and the human condition. Each one gave me a sense of wonder, but each one kept it mostly relegated to our solar system.
But Clarke gave me the universe. He gave me aliens that were actually alien, not human-like people that came from another planet. Later on, he fired my mind again when I read one of his many famous quotes: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
He stretched my mind. He actually stretched it more than it could actually go, because, as I said, I simply didn’t get all of what he was saying. But it didn’t stop me from trying, and it just made me go to other areas of the library to look some of the stuff up. Like what a light year was. But he’d stretched my mind, my imagination so wide that it never came back to its original shape. I was now open to a hell of a lot more and wanted to learn more so I could understand more.
So, he also gave me a real thirst for knowledge. Knowledge of any sort.
Thank you, Arthur.
Did you ever read something that changed your life?
Did you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you hadn’t been able to read those words?
What if you couldn’t read? How different would your life be?
What if you couldn’t read Facebook status updates? What if you couldn’t read well enough to Google whatever you need to know? What if you couldn’t read to your kids? What if you couldn’t read a street sign? What if you couldn’t read the instructions on the pill bottle? What if you couldn’t fill out that job application?
What if you couldn’t read?
I’m the person I am now because I can read. I couldn’t imagine a life without a constant influx of words to entertain me, to irritate me, to make me laugh and make me cry.
But I know there’s many out there, and I’m trying to help them. Please, if you read and enjoyed this blog, or if it made you think back to a book that changed your life, please consider helping me help those who are trying to read.
I’m participating in the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour event where 40 writers try and write as much as they can, while raising money to fund Literacy and Numeracy programs for adults in the Simcoe/Muskoka area. And the program works. One of the lucky people who went through their literacy program has now joined our group as a writer. How often can you donate money and look at the walking, talking, reading and writing result?
Any amount is sincerely appreciated.
Please. Help me change someone’s life through reading.