Friday, March 13, 2009

25 Most Influential Authors

I see the book blogosphere has taken an idea from Facebook and turned it into yet another worthy meme (or maybe this version is floating around out on FB, too, but I'm choosing to believe that isn't the case, that we are doing far better memes here in blogland). Not long ago, Zoe's Mom was tagged for a note on FB (by the way, why does Facebook insist on saying you were "mentioned in a note" instead of "tagged?") of her 25 most influential albums. I was tempted to pick it up but then realized she'd uncannily mentioned so many of the same albums I would put on my list, there was no point, and I didn't particularly feel like going into the details of why certain albums had influenced me. The meme didn't require that, but I always feel what's the point in doing these things if you're going to leave your readers thinking, "I wonder how that piece of crap could possibly have been so influential in her life."

Then today, I wander over to Dorr's place to discover the meme has been turned into authors. Well, even though Dorr and I have a few in common, who can possibly resist talking about authors? And I have absolutely no problem explaining why authors influence me. I love this one so much, I'm even (obnoxiously) going to tag 25 of you to do it, instead of doing the polite thing, as Dorr has done and just asking if anyone's interested. (Of course, I hope you realize that as soon as I post this, I will find myself thinking, "Damn! I forgot to include ______." Thus, this is really the list of most influential authors I can think of off the top of my head at this moment.)

Here are the instructions:

"Name 25 writers who have influenced you. These are not necessarily your favorite writers or those you most admire, but writers who have influenced you. [Silly bolded disclaimer. I can't possibly admire an author without being influenced, at least in some way, by him/her, and very few -- although I have to admit, some do spring to mind, like Thomas Pynchon -- authors I admire are missing from the pages of The Big Book of Emily's Favorites.] Then you tag 25 people.”

Authors for "Children"

(I could probably fill this whole list with nothing but children's authors. I won't. Suffice it to say that many children's authors are missing in order to make room for other influential authors.)

1. Louisa May Alcott -- both my mother and father read to me long past the age at which I "needed" it. It was a great way for them to share favorite books with me and a nice way to get time alone with them (something for which children with three siblings long). I most remember my father reading me The Wind in the Willows and his favorite stories by Rudyard Kipling (who probably ought to be on this list) . My favorite read with my mother was Little Women. We read through that together and Little Men, and then I went on to read and re-read everything else by Alcott on which I could lay my hands. Interestingly enough, she didn't influence my own writing much, I think because I considered her to be too "old-fashioned."

2. Beverly Cleary -- the first "chapter book" I ever read was Ramona the Pest, which my aunt gave me as a Christmas present when I was in first grade. The first go-around, my mother actually read it to me, but I went on to read it countless numbers of times throughout my childhood (and once as an adult), as well as everything else Cleary had written when I was between the ages of 7 and 13. When I began to write my own "chapter books," they were heavily influenced by Cleary, as well as Enright, Nesbit, and Eager (see below).

3. Edward Eager -- He did what I wanted to do: brought E. Nesbit into the modern day (well, what was "modern day" when I was reading him). His characters even read her books. And I couldn't believe it, but he was actually funnier than Nesbit. I could have been sued for plagiarism when I wrote my first "magic book."

4. Elizabeth Enright -- we had this fabulous family friend named Rosalie when I was growing up, who lived in Chapel Hill, NC and who had a house full of books. We'd visit her every so often, and we kids would each vie to be the one who got to sit on her lap while she read to us (I particularly remember being read Johnny Crow's Garden). When we were a little older, she'd let us choose books from her shelves to keep. I'd been sick one day, and my mother had brought home from the library The Saturdays, a book with which I immediately fell in love. Shortly after that, we went to visit Rosalie, and she had a great big 3-book-in-one edition of The Melendy Family that she let me have. I treasured that book until it fell apart and wish I could get another copy.

5. Norton Juster -- if you put a gun to my head and said, you must name your favorite book from childhood, I would say The Phantom Tollbooth. It took me forever to get around to reading it, because as a child, I was not impressed by Jules Feiffer's illustrations (don't worry, I got over that mysterious plague), and illustrations were very important to me. I couldn't get past the cover. But my sisters loved the book, so I eventually read it, and when I did, I decided it was the best book I'd ever read. I've read it twice as an adult and marvel at what great taste I had as a child (at least for the written word, if not for illustrations).

6. E. Nesbit -- I feel very sorry for those children who have had to grow up with the very inferior J.K. Rowling, when I was fortunate enough to have had E. Nesbit. She was brilliant: knew children, knew her mythology/magic/folktales, had a great sense of humor, and created the best children's literature character ever in The Phoenix. I played "Magic Carpet" and "Enchanted Castle" for hours on end when I was a child (when I wasn't busy reading and re-reading the books).

7. Laura Ingalls Wilder -- I started with Little House in the Big Woods, of course, read my way through the whole series, and was surprised that none of my school friends seemed to know about the books until the TV show (which I watched eagerly, but was bitterly disappointed by, because so much of it was "wrong," not the least of which was "Pa's" missing beard) was made. My classmates and I actually played "Little House" at recess (for some inexplicable reason, I was always made to be Baby Carrie, which for some other inexplicable reason, I didn't resent at the time). Almost all of my "life in the wild west" schema is derived from what I read in these books (well, that and "Bonanza").

Authors for "Adults"

(Sad to say, it's heavily male.)

8. Algernon Blackwood -- for someone who loves ghost stories as much as I do, I discovered old Algernon relatively late in life (then again, I've discovered quite a lot of "classic" ghost-story-writers rather late in life, mainly because I never thought to branch out from the big ghost-story collections I had to see what other works many of the authors had written). His "The Wendigo" still influences me every time I find myself alone in the woods right around dusk.

9. Russell Banks -- I was blown away by Continental Drift, which was one of the first dead-on commentaries on the ridiculous notion of "The American Dream" I'd been able to read (I couldn't get through Dreiser when I tried him, although I've always wanted to try again) and enjoy, if "enjoy" is the right word. Then, I read The Sweet Hereafter. Tight writing just does not get any better than that. Banks became my hero (although the only other book I've read by him is Rule of the Bone, which I also loved). Oh, and then I discovered Wallace Stegner (see below), who wrote the next dead-on commentary on same that I read.

10. Miguel De Cervantes -- Of course, if nothing else, he had a huge influence on my Spanish-language education, since he came up in almost every Spanish class I took from 8th grade through college (you'd think there'd been no other Spanish literature written). However, when I finally got around to reading Don Quixote (in translation. Spanish never "stuck"), I began to figure out why he's such a central figure in the canon. It really is about time I re-read Don Quixote. Cervantes was such a brilliant writer, I'm sure I missed so much the first go-around that it would almost be like reading it for the first time (which is why it keeps showing up as my desert island book).

11. Pat Conroy -- I'm not kidding when I say I nearly flunked statistics in college, because I was too busy reading The Lords of Discipline and couldn't get around to doing my homework (warning: do not skip a week's worth of homework in statistics. You will never catch up). Sometimes I agree with the critics who say Conroy needs an editor, but then, he's a storyteller, one of the best, and I tend to disagree when it comes to storytellers needing editors to do much more than re-word and correct grammatical errors. His books may be lengthy, but they never, ever lose my interest, and images from them haunt me long after I've finished them. Oh, and is he EVER going to write another novel??

12. Agatha Christie -- I never would have made it through my teenage years without all her books for escape. It's a good thing she was so prolific. I also remember reading a huge biography about her when we were traveling around Scotland the summer I was fifteen, which got me through a very difficult period when I thought my parents were going to get divorced.

13. Fyodor Dostoevsky -- I have to be in the mood for him, but when I'm in the mood for him, I despair over the fact that he's dead and gone and will never write anything else again. (Not that, rarely being in the mood for him, I've come anywhere near reading everything he ever wrote, but it's the principle I'm talking about here.) I will be forever in debt to Bob who kept urging me to read Crime and Punishment, which is the book that really helped me come truly to appreciate Dostoevsky.

14. Gerald Durrell -- the year we lived in England, I discovered My Family and Other Animals. I immediately set about writing a novel in a similar vein. I also immediately went about collecting his other books about non-family animals to read while mapping out my life as a zoologist (something I still wonder why I abandoned. Oh yeah, those tedious and time-consuming science labs). Oh, and if I hadn't "met" Gerald, I never would have gone on to read his brother Lawrence, whom I also loved when I was a (slightly older) teenager.

15. William Faulkner -- I realized I loved him when I had to read Absalom! Absalom! for two different courses in school and found myself mesmerized as much the second-time-around as the first. Then I read "The Bear" and "A Rose for Emily." Then, many years later, I read the book that completely blew me away, The Sound and the Fury. The man was a flat-out genius. No wonder he drank himself into an early grave. I would, too, if I had that kind of mind and had to live amongst all these inferior human beings.

16. John Irving -- some of you have heard me say before that The World According to Garp was the book that, at age fifteen, opened up the whole wide world of contemporary adult literature to me. Up until then, I 'd been despairing over having to leave my childhood favorites for what seemed to be very few "adult books" that I liked. I don't know what it is about Irving, but despite all the "weirdness" he insists on including in all his books that I often wish he didn't, nobody grabs me and creates more memorable characters the way he does. I am always, always sad when I reach the end of one of his books, left with nothing but a feeling of being deserted by friends.

17. M. R. James -- oh, if only my Fairy Godmother would show up and give me the ability to write ghost stories like James. How did someone manage to come up with so many imaginative situations over and over again and write about them so very well with such a sense of humour? It just isn't fair that some are blessed with such talent (then again, what would I read if they weren't?).

18. Stephen King -- how could a teenager who loved horror and ghost stories not be influenced by Stephen King? I haven't read it since I was sixteen, and maybe it would disappoint me if I were to return to it, but I still think The Shining is one of the scariest books I've ever read. He's a little over-the-top with all his violence, and I sometimes just want to shake him and say, "Stephen, you really didn't need to put all that in there," but when he wants to set a really creepy stage, he knows exactly what he's doing.

19. Ross Macdonald -- whenever anyone tries to tell me that the mystery genre shouldn't be taken seriously, I hand them Ross Macdonald. I've been heavily influenced by other mystery writers as well (see Agatha Christie), but Macdonald's sheer brilliance as a writer and observer of human nature stun me every time I return to him.

20. David Sedaris -- you know, the man who's had such an influence on me, I'm willing to chase him all over an island?

21. Wallace Stegner -- I read him during a brief period when I was reading a lot of nineteenth-century literature and was wondering if anyone in the twentieth-century really held up. He restored my faith (as others could have, but he happened to be the one who did). He's a brilliant story-teller and writer, creating characters who live with you forever. He's been way too neglected, but I'm hoping he's someone who will stand the test of time, especially given his ahead-of-his-time environmental interests.

22. Leo Tolstoy -- he created my all-time favorite couple in Kitty and Levin. Oh, and of course, there's that old story about how Tolstoy brought Bob and me together. I don't imagine an author can ever have much more of an influence on someone than that.

23. Mark Twain -- another prolific author, and I can't claim even to have put a dent in his works, but I haven't read a single thing he's written that I didn't love. He was comic genius, and you have to admire a man who was loved by the masses as well as by the critics. Someone who manages to write on all those levels is very rare.

24. Edith Wharton -- I thought I loved her novels. Then I read a collection of her ghost stories. Again, she's another one who makes me ask, "Why do some people get all the talent?" I like her better than Henry James, with whom she is always lumped (and she doesn't have that insufferable, pompous brother Henry had).

25. Virginia Woolf -- all right. Here's a confession (all you professors out there, close your eyes). I so loved To the Lighthouse (which I read for two courses in college) that the year after I'd graduated, when I was dirt poor and needed extra cash, I let a friend of a friend pay me $200 to read it and write a paper for him (those parents, quite obviously, were giving their child too good an "allowance"). What can I say? I was young and stupid. Anyway, about Woolf, that's not the only book by her I love. Every time I decide to return to her, I marvel at her talent.

Tagging (but you do not need to go into lengthy explanations for each one, as I have. I realize most of you do not happen to be unemployed), and keep in mind that you are under no obligation to post (although, you may not want to bring on the "Queen's" wrath): Bloglily, Cam, Courtney, Charlotte, Danny, Eloise, Eva, Feminine Feminist, Heather, Ian, Mr. Lacunae Musing, Litlove, Mandarine (perhaps you can "revive" your blog, yet again, for this one post? I'd love to see a French list), Ms. Musing, Ms. Make Tea, Nigel, Nobel Savage, Ms. Knits, Ms. Our Feet, Pete, Sara, Stefanie, Susan, Two-Legged Animal, and Zoe's Mom. I'd tag you, Hobgoblin, but I see you already did it.

(Phew! Next time, I am not going to link to all 25 of you. And apologies in advance if I screwed up on some of the links, as I'm not going back to check.)


Anonymous said...

Oh dear Queen, what a wonderfully fun list yours is. Thanks for tagging me. I must have had a psychic premonition or something because I posted my list last night:

Emily Barton said...

Stef, well that's what I get for immediately composing a blog post before checking to see who's already done it.

Susan said...

You do know that I didn't pick you for the award I was handing out yesterday because I think I've given you one almost every time I've handed them out, but in my head you do deserve them all! lol
and now I come and feel so guilty that you've picked me to name which authors have influenced me! yikes, I'll have to give that some thought. Good meme, you are the queen once again, and I have missed getting to your blog regularly - we have our second computer up and running now! :-D

I'll do the meme tomorrow I think, and it;ll be interesting, I see two authors that we easily share already :-D

Anne Camille said...

You're just intent on tagging me until I actually post again, aren't you? :) Maybe I will soon -- isn't this Daylight Savings time suppose to give me more time?

Bob said...

Emily: I’m not too good at this – in fact as I don’t “do” Facebook, I don’t even know what getting “tagged” means. But I think I get the gist of it. This is an interesting project, one that I would have to give a lot of thought to explain my reasoning why my 25 writers were chosen. It is something I might get to this summer. Frequently, the reasoning will be that one writer brought me to another wonderful writer, simple as that. So, I promise, sometime in the future I’ll write an entry on this, but I can’t promise I’ll “tag” 25 other bloggers – I don’t even read that many blogs and except for yours, they are mostly financial oriented (that reveals where my own blog is frequently slanted). But I did come up with my 25 authors and so, below, here’s the list in the order as I thought of them (might have to be rearranged when I think this through). There is a heavy bias to contemporary American fiction, with one biographer in the group. I could name scores writers who have written one off books (like Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections” or Alan Lightman’s “The Diagnosis”), not to mention the writers I studied in college (Franz Kafka for instance), that have had an impact on me and therefore could easily be added to the list. I could also add Pat Conroy who you mention, but he didn’t come up when I first went through this mental exercise. One of the best works I read by him is his memoir, “My Losing Season” but you’ll have to love basketball as much as I do. Also, I share your admiration of Russell Banks’ “Continental Drift” and “Rule of the Bone” (which I think is his best work). Here are the 25, off the top of my head:

John Updike
Philip Roth
Theodore Dreiser
Anne Tyler
Richard Yates
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Thomas Wolfe
John Dos Passos
Mark Twain
John Cheever
Russell Banks
Charles Dickens
John Irving
Richard Russo
Joseph Heller
Bruce Jay Friedman
Nathaniel West
Herman Melville
Nathaniel Hawthorne
David McCullough
Jerzy KosiƄski
Saul Bellow
Richard Ford
Tom Wolfe
E.L. Doctorow

“Mr.” Lacunae Musing

Rebecca H. said...

Nice list! I could have put some of your authors on my list too, including Beverly Cleary, Edith Wharton, Cervantes, and Faulkner. Crime and Punishment is what did it for me with Dostoevsky too -- The Brothers K. is great, but Crime and Punishment was such an enthralling read.

knitseashore said...

I am working on a list. Not sure yet if I will post it, but it's a great challenge!

Emily Barton said...

Susan, can't wait to see your list. And don't worry about not "awarding" me. It means one more link to someone new I might like to be reading.

Cam, yes, even though I know you are running around on FB, clips from you are not nearly the same as your thoughtful blog posts, and I'm tired of reading about the "holy water" (even though that was a great post).

Bob, don't feel obligated. Most people don't "tag" others, but I guess I was just particularly nosy about whose influenced those bloggers I read. I would, of course, love to read your thoughts on why these authors influenced you if you do, at some point, feel you have the time. I love the fact that both Thomas Wolfe and Tom Wolfe are on your list. Oh, and I remember that you like Russell Banks. (I rarely forget conversations when a favorite author pops up.)

Dorr, "enthralling," yes, that's exactly the word to describe Crime and Punishment.

Ms. Knits, would love to see it if you feel so inclined...

Anonymous said...

I also love Tolstoy and Agatha Christie although I don't care for Stephen King. For kids' books, what about Judy Blume? I can't imagine growing up without her!

Amanda said...

I will get to this but I'm not sure when

Susan said...

I did it! Here it is! it was more difficult and more rewarding than I expected, like a review of my reading history to see what buoys marking the way popped up! thanks, Emily, I really enjoyed it. I do like your list too - good ol' Uncle Steve!! I had to leave off Laura Ingalls Wilder, I loved her, but she didn't influence me that I could tell. A lot of mysteries did, though!

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of this! If I can drum up 20 of 25 authors I will definitely do this. I can see my english teacher friend laughing hysterically at the though of me being tagged for this meme. How I long to be brilliant!

Emily Barton said...

Ms. Honeypie, well, I had to leave some off, and although I read through all of Judy Blume at a certain age, I didn't return to her the way I did the authors I noted. I think she depressed me too much.

Ms. Make Tea, take your time, but am looking forward to seeing your answers.

Susan, loved reading yours!

Sara, you are brilliant. Maybe you're just not a big reader, but that has nothing to do with brilliance. And my bet is that once you start to think about it, you'll be able to come up with at least 20.

ZoesMom said...

Working on my list. It is hard not to just copy a lot of yours. Maybe we did grow up together and we just don't know it???