THE BFG by Roald Dahl
Perhaps not surprisingly, more than one book on this list is a children's book. Roald Dahl was the first author that made me want to read books on my own terms rather than because I had to. I loved all of his books, but for some reason, the BFG stands out, possibly because it was the first I read. There is something about how he simultaneously made his world seem so big, and so small and so utterly engaging that drew me in, and sparked in me a love of storytelling.
BAD TEMPERED LADYBIRD by Eric Carle
One of the very first times I remember being totally saturated by an image was in this book, where, in one composition, a ladybird is seen trying to pick a fight with a blue whale. The sense of scale staggered me. I remember it now, wondering why the whale seemed so big when it was inside a book the same size as all the rest of them, when I realized it was because of the ladybird. It was the contrast between the two. I felt like I'd learned a new trick, been let in on some kind of magic secret, and for about a year afterwards I drew pictures of whales and waves, making them massive by placing a small boat or a house somewhere on the page. This game continued for a while. There I'd be, drawing a normal sized person standing on some grass. But wait, no! He'd become a giant person the second I drew a bus coming up to his ankle. This fascination with sense of scale, and the negative space that it naturally provides, is still a major defining characteristic in my work. It probably always will be.
TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD by Harper Lee
Not necessarily a children's book, but one of the first 'proper' books I read as a young adult. Suddenly for the first time very adult themes were thrust into my mind about justice and equality, and I wasn't sure entirely how to react and interact with them. Beautifully written, almost every book I read after that had to stand up to the 'Mocking Bird Affect', in other words, I was disappointed when they didn't absorb me quite as much.
CATCH 22 by Joseph Heller
I read this book later in life than I should have, only a few years ago, and it punched me right in the stomach. I draw a parallel between the effect this book had on me and that of those really tremendous pieces of music were everything begins in terrible discord, a cacophony of different instruments that slowly builds into a tremendous lucid climax. The book begins as insanity, totally non sequitur, with nothing really relating to anything else, until it builds to an incredible crescendo that actually changed the way I thought about certain things, and affected the way I make art. I recommend everyone pick it up and stick with it past the bizarre beginning. It all starts to form a language that you can not only understand, but serves to heighten the finale.
A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING by Bill Bryson
Really there were a number of books contending for this final spot, and this is not the best of them, but as far as beginning a revolution in my head, this is the one that was most important. Having studied art pretty exclusively from the age of around 15, my scientific awareness of the world was not as it should have been until around the time of reading this book. I had recently met someone who studied engineering, and we were discussing how in what I did there was never really a right and a wrong answer, while in their profession, everything had a right and wrong answer. My interest between the gulf between art and science had been sparked and I read this book. I was quoting it to everyone as I read it, and for quite some time afterward. Bryson has an incredible talent for describing very difficult things in a very clear way, for writing in the same way as people think. It was the subject matter itself that was inspirational... how we know what we know. Information, and the methods we have for communicating it. This was the moment I began making figurative paintings about mathematics and science. Suddenly thinking about these process from the standpoint of art, I begin to see things in a very interesting way, and immediately began to make art about it. I still am.