Are there lessons lurking in what we love? What we really love to read, to watch, to listen to? George Saunders thinks so.
In his excellent newsletter/community/gift to the world, Story Club, he recently wrote a post on influences. Not the influences that make us sound literary and educated and subtle, but our real influences. He says: “When you were between the ages of 5 and 10, what did you read/view/experience that made you crazy with delight?”
He invited everyone following his newsletter to note what we loved as a child, a teenager, as we became adults, in five-year increments. OK George, I’m in! Here goes:
Between 5 – 10 I loved Little Women, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Little Princess, Johnny Tremain, Josie and the Pussycats, Robin Hood (the Erroll Flynn and Olivia de Havilland version) Gilligan’s Island and The Flintstones (obv).
Between 10 – 15 I moved on to The Princess Bride (the book), Star Wars, Starksy and Hutch. Between 15 – 20 War and Peace, Catch-22, the Eagles, Local Hero, My Brilliant Career, Ghostbusters, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Hill Street Blues took up a ton of space in my head.
In my twenties I discovered the great Donald Barthelme, saw A Room with a View, La Femme Nikita and Dangerous Liaisons, listened to the Ella Fitzgerald Verve catalogue, Buddy Guy, Guns N’ Roses and obsessively read Winter’s Tale.
In my thirties I loved The God of Small Things, Atonement, Et Tu, Babe, Like Water for Chocolate, Gladiator, Monsoon Wedding and Alias. I also got my start on country music. Thank you Vince Gill, Patty Loveless and Faith Hill for opening up a whole world to me. And the Fast & Furious franchise was born! Yay! Love them all. Favorites of my 40s include Goon, Burlesque, The Lives of Others, Veronica Mars.
In my fifties, especially during the pandemic, I’ve loved Crash Landing on You (best K-Drama ever) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which got me through the spring of 2020), magnificent singers like Lizz Wright and a gazillion books.
Compiling and reviewing this list (I’ve only given you highlights) was indeed both hilarious and illuminating. I DO like classic hero’s journey stories delivered without irony. I DO like a bit of absurdism, but on the page much more than on the screen. Not so much on the romance, but almost every one of these stories is also about love.
This exercise delivered a delicious scatterplot of data that helps me see my way forward in my own writing. Even though I often don’t know what to do, thanks to George Saunders and his exercise, I know what universe I’m in.
I hope that thinking about what you’ve loved and why will show you some great things about your own mind and heart too!