"Which books, above all others, have influenced your imagination more than anything else?"
This question was posed at a forum I go to, and I posted a fairly long answer there. I figure it would be interesting BlookityBlook fodder, so I'll repost it here.
When you say "influenced your imagination", I'm takin' it to mean how have they inspired me to view ways of writing and storytelling in new outlooks. Or something like that. For me, everything comes back to writing.
To Kill A Mockingbird, Peace Like A River, An American Childhood, and Rascal - These four paint an idyllic picture of American life in times past, the sort you yearn for and believe life was better in. It's not a genre I dabble in, but all the same, such books give inspiration for a type of ambience I can only dream of achieving.
Green Rider was the book that really showed me just how awesome high fantasy can be. It showed me that fantasy novels can have a sense of humor and don't have to be grim, that they can wrap up their plots in a single book and still leave broader storylines open, and that a world in a fantasy story can be richly developed and not stereotypical.
Airborn was my first foray into steampunk, basically, and it was a lush world that seemed familiar and exotic at the same time. It brought me to realize that adventures can happen to anyone and anywhere, even in our own world.
The Dark Side of Nowhere - Another book that got me interested in sort of urban fantasy/sci-fi stuff. This also gave me some good insight on male characters and, again, how adventure can happen even in our own backyard (or in the middle of nowhere).
The Goose Girl- No, wait, I read Shannon Hale's Princess Academy first, but both struck me with the way that character development is handled and balanced with genuine action. Heroines who have common sense rock my socks, and it's a joy to read about them in various stories. The worlds Hale develops are also very vibrant, but they have hints of fairy tale familiarity mixed in, and I have to say that I greatly enjoy fairy tale retellings.
Which brings me to Ella Enchanted, which long occupied my favorite book slot. This book brought life to the old story of Cinderella. Suddenly she wasn't a wimp pushed around by stepmothers, given help by some random fairy godmother, and then married to a prince she'd known for all of one night. Ella turned out to be a spunky heroine who takes action for herself, has her own flaws and creates problems, is both strong and weak in different ways at different times, and experiences an actual romantic relationship with her prince before getting her happy ending. What a revelation to me as a beginning storyteller.
I also have to throw a bone to Catch-22 as a stylistic inspiration, if not an imaginative one.
And Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles played with the world of possibilities in fairy tale spoofs, which in turn caused me to wonder how I could play with such things, too.
We also can't forget Diana Wynne Jones. Hexwood really stuck with me as a book that isn't afraid of complexity and as an example of just superb craftsmanship in plotting. Her characters, too, must be mentioned. So many of them, but with a lot of depth crammed in.
Of course, I take tons of inspiration and imaginative influence from other sources, including my favorite movies, games, and television shows. But being a reader is my primary occupation, and it's all the books I've read that have given me fodder for the many stories I love to create. Also, this feels way too much like I'm concluding a paper. Dude.