Friday, April 30, 2010

Ten Influential Authors

A while back, William and Diana posted their lists of books that influenced their views of the world. Of course I'm going to pilfer the idea, why wouldn't I??

I tried to narrow this down to ten books, but I really couldn't (it almost became a list of 100 books!), so I stuck with ten authors (well, not counting #10, but let's not split hairs).

Here's my list:

1. The Fountainhead and Anthem, by Ayn Rand.
I can't even begin to describe what I felt while I was reading The Fountainhead for the first time. It changed my views on what it means to be "right," what it means to be "happy." I didn't know angst could be such an integral part of adult life. I still have a copy of both books, and I re-read them pretty regularly, every time I need a dose of that odd mixture of despair and hope. Ayn Rand has a very distinctive voice, and I appreciated the message of Anthem- a call for independence and individuality, for a divorce from hive logic.

2. Books by P.G. Wodehouse.
Notably, I love the Jeeves and Wooster books. How can anyone not love dry English humor? I love the spare language, the crisp sentences. These books are funny without even trying, which makes them even funnier. They're light and easy but also have genuine messages, and they just tickle my fancy. I love, love, love these books. I feel energized and ready to tackle the world after reading them.

3. Books by Agatha Christie.
The definitive detective stories of my youth. I love her language, the unique way that she constructed her tales. This was a thinking woman that had to remain pretty much a straight-laced Englishwoman throughout the life, and I think that kind of strain comes through in her books. I love Miss Marple, I adore Hercule Poirot, and I thoroughly enjoy how everyday and commonplace she made gory crimes like murder.

4. Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Lots of English writers on my list, I don't quite know why. They have a defter touch with language, I think, and I appreciate that.
I love the whole idea of Sherlock Holmes. Somebody without superpowers, but with an iron will and an obsession, an obstinacy, to get to the bottom of things. I think "House" is the modern-day equivalent, which probably explains why I love that show so much. I like how flawed the hero is, how completely unlikable, and yet, by the mere powers of his abilities, he will always be respected and sought after. That's both Sherlock Holmes and House, to me.

5. A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L'Engle.
No, I do not appreciate the sequels as much as I love the original. The following books being A Wind in the Door, Many Waters, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet- I recommend reading them once, but once is enough.
The original book was magical, something that made me dream and wonder and fantasize as a child. I think I first read this book when I was about eight, and every time I re-read it, I got something new. Now, reading it as an adult, I can still appreciate the magic, but also see the darker undercurrents and the reality of fear in this book. Also, I really love how food is described, for some reason, with such simple words but such perfection. I am not a dog person (I'm a cat person), but this book made me want a dog. That's how good it is.

6. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho.
Over-hyped, yes. But still a great, great book. It's blasphemous for me to say this, I'm sure, but I think this is almost like a condensed version of the Bible. I like books about journeys, about getting to a destination only to realize that said destination is not paradise. I enjoy books where characters very obviously grow and discover new things (this is probably why I liked The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), because I think that it gives me faith that I will also grow and find new things. Maybe it's just that I enjoy books that give me a sense of hope, no matter how false that sense may be.

7. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card.
Yes, indeed, another children's book. Its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, was not nearly as good as the original. This book is so weird in that it is literally about a small child playing a game. Somehow, there is a lot going on during this game, things that are implied but never stated outright, and that fascinated me. People overuse the analogy that life is a game, but this book proved to me how life could be a game, and why. I love the characters, even the "evil" ones, and I love that the main characters are children. Children are the undiluted versions of adults, without censors, without a strong sense of propriety, and this book really displays how true that is.

8. The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman.
I admit, these are a series of graphic novels. My excuse is that first of all, this is my list! Second of all, I went to art school. I think I'm entitled to admiring graphic novels and comic books.
The characters intrigued me, right off the bat. The idea of a group of siblings called The Endless, each with their own domain, reminded me of Greek and Roman gods, an interest I have always had. The siblings are Destiny, Death, Dream (the Sandman), Destruction, Despair, Desire, and Delirium (who used to be Delight- a whole separate tangent). The siblings are all interesting, all fascinating in their own ways. I love the countless storylines used, the many plots woven, and the base idea of it all. The art is (generally) beautiful, as well. Fantastic.

9. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman.
A classic! The movie actually is almost as good as the book, which I cannot say for any other book/movie that I've watched (Harry Potter, I'm looking at you). A funny, irreverent book that makes no sense, breaks all rules of properly written fiction, and yet manages to be a sweet love story. Can you ask for anything more than that?

10. The Bible.
Of course.

I absolutely love books. If this was a longer list, I would have mentioned more children's books, like Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Philip Pullman, Donald J. Sobol, and others that I can't think of off the top of my head. Not just children's books- I also love Roald Dahl's books for adults, O. Henry, Edgar Allan Poe, David Sedaris, William Gibson, Michael Crichton (don't knock my crap taste), Stephen King, Lawrence Sanders, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters- the list could go on for days. And comic books or graphic novels, too!- Frank Miller, Bill Watterson (oh, Hobbes, how I love you!), Brooke McEldowney, Kyle Baker, so many more.

Limiting the list to ten authors was tough, but I'm happy with the list above. They have definitely informed my viewpoint, have shaped the way I look and think about words. I love words (I have a blog, after all) and I love paper. Books are a wonderful combination of the two, and there is nothing that feels quite like breaking open a brand new book, with hard black letters on crisp pages. The smell of ink on paper is so lovely, and there is nothing more solidly comforting to me than carrying a stack of books, just waiting to be read.

I am re-reading The Fountainhead at the moment, because I unpacked it recently and whenever I see it, I can't resist reading it. This is probably why I don't read new books very often, because I'm so often enticed by my old standbys.

Happy reading and happy weekend!


Amanda April 30, 2010 at 3:50 PM  

I hate Ayn Rand so much that I have refused to date people who like her. On principle.

jeanny April 30, 2010 at 4:57 PM  

Good thing we'll never date!

I don't think I've ever really hated an author. I will dislike books, but not really and truly HATE them. Maybe because I can admire the work that goes into writing a book, if nothing else.

Diana E.S. May 2, 2010 at 3:16 AM  

I agree with you about Princess Bride... it's one of the few movies as delightful as the book on which it is based.

jeanny May 5, 2010 at 3:49 PM  

I've been wanting to re-watch the movie ever since I wrote this!

Luckily, I have the book to tide me over until I can find a DVD.

william May 7, 2010 at 5:38 AM  

we have different tastes in books, i see. i do adore one agatha christie work, 'and then there were none' (the 7th most popular book of all time, btw). and i love roald dahl.

but i really can't recommend 'a wrinkle in time.' i had to teach it two years ago and just did not like it at all. and i'm indifferent towards ayn rand.

i watched the princess bride when i was in middle school. hated it. but never read the book. maybe it's different?

very interesting list. i can see that you are a voracious reader. i used to be. not so anymore.

jeanny May 7, 2010 at 4:38 PM  

I love the word "voracious" to describe reading because it's so very apt.

I thought I had pretty average taste in books, but I'm totally wrong! Who knew I was such a weird reader?

I do need to participate in your book blog, William, and I will ... once the discussion about "Devil in the White City" gets underway (hint, hint).