First, my friend Mike Monaco showed me the amazing song Glorious Dawn, a remix of some stuff from Cosmos (also with Stephen Hawking). I couldn't stop listening to it, and made the slow, strange realization that this man has actually influenced a great deal of my thinking about the universe and science, and I wasn't even aware of it. I remember reading Contact on my mother's recommendation when quite small, but I don't know how the rest of his thinking managed to worm its way into my subconscious.
Then XKCD did this the very next day. He's following me.
The fact that I really, really need to read some of what he wrote (or watch Cosmos), however, was emphasized by one of the comments in the discussion thread on said comic:
"A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person – perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic."
That made me cry. That is why I want to be a writer. And the fact that this man somehow sums up exactly my feelings on any number of subjects so eloquently makes me tear up.
At least I know who I'll talk about when colleges ask me "who is your inspiration as a writer of nonfiction."