My Top 10 Literary Influences

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I promised I’d make things up to you, and I think this list might just do the trick. Also I have a terrible habit of coming up with great things to write about right before something (or in this case, lots of things) is (or in this case, are) due.
But I am a huge literature nerd, so I think this is appropriate. I rave about books all the time anyway, so I think I should share the pieces of literature that influenced me the most.


10. The Inferno, by Dante Alighieri

I skimmed through The Inferno in high school (I was a senior. Can you blame me?), but put in a much greater effort when it was assigned in my super-hard-and-intimidating-mythology-class-that-a-valedictorian-from-my-high-school-was-in. It paid off. If I hadn’t thoroughly read The Inferno, I might have not decided to emphasize my English major in radical religious literature.

This book also influenced me because Dante had nerve. Even though his majorly unrequited crush on Beatrice was unrequited and kind of creepy, Dante was gutsy as hell (ha!), and I really admire that. It takes a lot to criticize your own religion.

9. The Natural Order of Things, by Antonio Lobo Antunes

If you know me in real life and have ever heard me rave about Portugal, this book is why (this book is Portuguese). I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with Portugal, and I’m really hoping to go there in the near future.

This book isn’t exactly famous (at least not here), so I guess I should explain it a little. From what I remember, the story spans over several decades and has about eight narrators. It’s also one of the only postmodern books I actually like.

You should read this book – I’m not very fond of the ending, but this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Top five, definitely. It’s brilliant. Look at it, at least.

8. Ulysses, by James Joyce

This book was… an experience. I hate it and love it at the same time – it’s brilliant, but it’s just not fun to read. If you know me, then you’ve probably suffered at least 10 doses of my complaining about it. I once had a teacher who said Ulysses is a book that nobody should have to read for the first time. Now I can say that I agree with him on the whole concept of losing my Ulysses virginity. But it would be wrong of me to say it isn’t incredible. I’ll read it again later in life. I don’t think I was developed enough this go around. Joyce put an incredible amount of thought into Ulysses – nearly every word is an allusion. I hope I can have a pinch’s worth of that talent one day.

7. Cathedral, by Raymond Carver
This isn’t my absolute favorite Carver story – “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” has that spot – it was a close race, though), but it is the very first one I read. There are some works that just strike you and have so much power. For me, Cathedral is one of those pieces. Carver’s realism is just so good – if I didn’t enjoy it so much, I wouldn’t have purchased a complete anthology of his work which happens to be over 1,000 pages. Yeah… I kind of have a long way to go with that one. But I love his work! I actually tried to be Carveresque with the last short story I wrote, and it actually happens to be my best. Thanks for inspiring me, Ray.

6. The Oven Bird, by Robert Frost

I have a huge fascination with the Fall. *See numbers 5, 2, and 1 for further explanation* But this poem actually influenced me in another way too. On the day I toured UGA, I sat in on an English class that happened to be taught by my current poetry teacher (I did this on purpose). Want to take a stab at the poem we learned about that day? Yes, that’s right, The Oven Bird. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but that poem is part of the reason why I took the Milton class and most of the reason I am in the poetry class I’m taking. Robert and Susan shaped my life, guys.

And that is why I am going to be my poetry teacher when I grow up.

5. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

When I was 16, I went to Iran to the first, and as of now, only time. I found this book on my mother’s shelf and brought it to read on the plane. I had read and loved Steinbeck before (The Grapes of Wrath actually almost made this list), so I thought it would be a good choice. I was actually thrilled to find this, even though it’s a giant book. I ended up depending on this book while I was on vacation because I was parched for contact with the English language. I read it feverishly.
And oh, how I loved this book. It got me into the Fall before I even realized it!

It’s kind of funny how my taste in literature has worked out.

4. Howl, by Allen Ginsberg

I can’t think of a writer more irate and pissed than Ginsberg was, and I love him for it. Now obviously, I love this poem. I’ve seen the movie, and I’m a little obsessed with it. I listen to Ginsberg on Spotify. I have a book of essays on the poem, for god’s sake. I would have written a huge essay on Howl, but we didn’t even cover it this semester. I’m actually really upset about it. I hope that one day when I’m really pissed, I’ll remember to think like Ginsberg and just spin a beautiful web of poetry out of my anger.

3. It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini

I was in a pretty dark place when I stumbled upon this book – and the cover art is what caught my attention, so that’s why I hate the phrase “never judge a book by it’s cover.” Covers are meant to attract readers! That’s how it works!
You probably think I’m lame since there’s a movie of this book, and it’s pretty cheesy. Well I read this book years before news of a movie reached me (I’m so goddamn indie, I know).
The reason I like It’s Kind of a Funny Story so much is because I relate to Craig so much – not just because of depression, but also because of the crazy expectations he puts on himself and his masochistic thought process. And once I realized that Craig could become better, I decided that I could overcome my mental instability too.

2. Paradise Lost, by John Milton

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that Milton is my homeboy. A semester ago, all I blogged about was this poem. I have a fish named Lycidas. I’m referencing Paradise Lost in a paper that’s due next Tuesday.
But I really do love Paradise Lost. Once you read it, everything changes. I can see a Miltonian interpretation of almost everything I read because of it. Ulysses, Portrait of the Artist, the huge amount of poems I’ve had to read this semester, you name it. Oh, and Paradise Lost solidified my decision to emphasize in religious literature, so there’s that too. And it’s beautiful. Don’t forget that.

My nerd is coming out. Sorry, guys.


1. His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman

These books, guys. Yes, my top choice is a trilogy. I can explain.
Three years ago, when I was taking adolescent literature at Harvard nerd camp, I had no idea how much these books were going to shape me. I came to these books much later than I should have – by this I mean “I saw the Golden Compass movie months before I ever read the book.” And I didn’t think the film was that great, because I don’t think anybody did, but I really loved the story. I’d still watch the movie today even though it’s disappointing, out of order, and inaccurate just because I’m such a huge Philip Pullman nerd.
These books have shaped me tremendously. They have made me laugh, fawn, smile, throw The Subtle Knife at a wall, and shed some of my hardest tears. Although I didn’t know it until a few years later, they sparked my interest that turned into my major concentration. In the years since I read them, I’ve made efforts to get other people to read them in the hopes that they would be as struck as I was. I got The Golden Compass on a class curriculum in my very Catholic high school. I lent copies of the trilogy to friends – and sadly, lost a book or two in the process. I took that Milton class just so I could understand the books better. I even read these books and Paradise Lost at the same time. I think it’s safe to say that these books influenced me more than any other pieces of literature.

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Praise for Paradise

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To be honest, I signed up for the Milton class I’m taking on a whim. I had originally signed up for English 4000, because it was mandatory at the time, and Poetry, well, because I love it.
Then came the announcement that frustrated the university’s older English majors: English 4000 was no longer a required course for an AB English degree. I was ecstatic: my grade wasn’t going to go down the toilet this semester!
With English 4000 dropped from my class schedule, I glanced through the roster of English classes online. Then I thought, “Hey, why not Milton?” It was still a 4000-level English class, but the number wasn’t really what caught my attention. No, it was my obsession with His Dark Materials. I’m going to have to save my post concerning that said obsession for another time, because if I mention it now, it will overtake this post, which is obviously supposed to be about Milton and the Paradise poems.
On the first day of the semester, I learned that there was an available spot in a photojournalism class I really wanted to take. I’m lazy and get stressed incredibly easily (oh, and I have to limit my course hours so I don’t have to graduate early), so I didn’t want to take five classes this semester. Or any semester, for that matter. I did that my very first semester of college, and I was a little overwhelmed. I would have to drop Poetry or Milton.
I went to the bookstore, because, like the model student I am, I didn’t have my textbooks. Plus I wouldn’t have time to pick up the photojournalism textbook later that day. Obviously, I used this bookstore trip to examine my course loads for the Milton and poetry classes. The poetry class required that I buy nine books; the Milton class only required one. I was taking Milton.
I’m sure I would have adored the poetry class, but I’m really glad with the choice I made. I immediately decided to stay in the class when I walked into the room and saw one of my friends sitting in a desk. That meant I wouldn’t be the only sophomore in a 4000-level English class. We younger English majors who are a year ahead in our classes have to stick together. Will and I make great study partners. We are killing that class. Also we’re making the same scores on everything, which I think is funny. I think everything is funny, though.
There are a number of other reasons I like Milton. Firstly, we have a similar mindset. There is evidence in Milton’s earlier work, which he wrote when he was around my age, that he didn’t feel like he was doing enough with his life and work. Milton was a perfectionist and a worrywart, just like me! His environment was extremely competitive: He was surrounded by scholars and writers, and I think it terrified him a little. He must have put himself under a tremendous amount of pressure. I just liked that we have similar mentalities. It makes me feel a lot better about being in a huge creative slump (which is disappearing, by the way, if you haven’t noticed – I’m writing something every day now!).
I also have this thing for religious literature. I guess it’s because I wasn’t raised with any particular religious background. With an Iranian dad and an American mom, it’s pretty obvious that my parents didn’t have a similar religious background. I did go to Catholic school, but the only religious literature I was really exposed to was a little bit of the New Testament, books in the religion and literature class I took (and everybody in the class got to pick a book, and that’s how I got a Catholic teacher to assign The Golden Compass to his class.). Oh, and the songs I sang in mass for chorus. Aside from the New Testament class I had to take in the 10th grade, my other exposures to religious literature were optional.
I haven’t read much Puritan literature. My AP American Lit class read a few Puritan poems before we had to read The Scarlet Letter when I was in the 11th grade, but that was American Puritan literature (again, that exposure was completely optional since I chose to take the AP English class). Milton was a Puritan, and obviously he wasn’t an American Puritan. And reading an English Puritan’s literature is nice because I can read it without having to discuss the Salem Witch Trials or anything of the sort. It was a nice spin on things. I just really like reading religious literature because I’m free to make an interpretation without anybody telling me how to think or judging me. People don’t know what I’m up to because I’m just reading! Isn’t literature wonderful?

Evidence suggests that Satan was the original troll.

Okay, point number three. I love Paradise Lost. I made Paradise Lost my bitch this semester. Paradise Regain’d can be my little bitch. Or would that be my bottom bitch? I’m not sure. I can’t speak pimp. I’ve assigned myself all this supplementary reading material, like Utopia, His Dark Materials (of course), and the Old Testament, so I can research Paradise Lost and appreciate it even more. Paradise Lost actually helped inspire me to create my own concentration within my English major. Well, reading Dante’s Inferno and Pullman helped with that too.
Paradise Lost is one rich text. Sure, there are the obvious themes of knowledge, obedience, and disguises, but there is so much more. There’s history, sociability, fertility, heroism (well, atypical heroism), teaching, the power of words, and of course, blindness (these are all topics for the essay I have to write during my exam tomorrow, by the way). And there are allusions all over the place. There are geographical allusions, biblical allusions (well, obviously), mythological allusions, even allusions to Milton’s other poems. I read one in Paradise Regain’d today, for example. Milton’s texts are so rich! I’m rolling in literary dough! I just love literature so much!
I’m not so sure if writing about how much I like Paradise Lost helps me study for my exam at all, but at least it makes me eager. I have already planned out my essay, after all (I’m writing about the roles of sociability in Paradise Lost, Paradise Regain’d, and Comus). I’m actually kind of excited to write this essay, because I know I’m going to kill it. Since when do I feel this way about finals? I suppose I did feel this way yesterday.
I have a new theory! Milton’s work is slightly responsible for the route to happiness and stability that I’ve encountered. Yeah, why not? I’m sure I could argue it. At this point, I can argue anything.  And now I really need to end this post and actually do my work, so I’m going to end this as strongly as I can – so I’m going to use the end of Paradise Lost to close this up. Feast on this, lovers of literature.

            The World was all before them, where to choose
            Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
            They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
            Through Eden took thir solitarie way.