Sunday, November 07, 2010

Fifteen Authors, Part One

The latest thing to go viral among my facebook friends has been this "15 Authors" list. It encourages you to list fifteen authors "who have stuck with you." That seems a little vague to me. "Stuck with me" why? Should, say, the worst book I've ever read make this list? What about the first book I ever read? (Superstitious by R. L. Stine and You Make The Angels Cry by Denys Cazet, respectively.) I'm choosing to interpret it broadly and describe fifteen authors whose work has influenced me as a writer, as a reader, or as a thinker. Because I'm inclined to verbosity, I'm splitting them up. Here are the first seven:

1) Stephen King. I know I will not necessarily impress any hipsters with this one, but it's true. I picked up Four Past Midnight when I was nine years old, curious because my father had been reading it and itching to move on to adult literature. I grew to appreciate and occasionally emulate his conversational style, his feel for regionalisms, his facility with metaphors, and his human and poignant mixing of the wistful with the horrifying. The advice he gave in On Writing is still advice I try to follow.

2) T.S. Eliot. I remember vividly my first encounter with T.S. Eliot-- I was reading The Waste Land aloud to a woman with whom I was in the throes of forbidden love. Perhaps I can blame the hormonal cocktail somewhat, but I was intoxicated. Poetry (which I had thought kind of cliched and tedious up to that point) opened up for me.

3) J.R.R. Tolkein. Of course. He whetted my appetite for created languages, for fantasy epics, for political intrigue and battle descriptions, and for capital-H-heroes that are still likable and believable, and he wrote a series which was the pinnacle of all of them.

4) Edward Gorey. I discovered him long before I really ought to have been exposed to him. He gave me a taste for the morbidly bizarre.

5) Stephen Pinker. His research causes me to think more critically about the act of thinking, as well as about prescriptivist grammar and the structure of language. He is one of my main influences in going back for another linguistics degree.

6) Douglas Coupland. I'm just coming off of a period of being really disgusted with him. He coined the term "Generation X" and has written a dozen or so fiercely dry and ironic meta-novels which use the small, sad lives of suburban losers as a micro-history of our culture. (Doesn't that just sound like I came from a liberal arts institution.) Despite how jaded and sneering he sometimes comes off (jPod, Everything's Gone Green) he can also fill me with surprising hope (Microserfs) and either way, his turns of phrase are addictively quirky and clever.

7) Plato. I had to read The Republic (or parts of it) three times: once for World Lit in high school, once for Freshman Studies in college, and once in a political science course called "Founding the Just Regime." Each time I learned something new from it, about philosophy or the structure of argument or what makes a civilization fair. Even though I kind of think Socrates is a dick, (or Plato, vicariously, is a dick) I learned more trying to argue against him than I would have agreeing with him. Wrestling with Plato, together with the guidance of the professor who taught both those classes, taught me most of what I know about academic writing.

Posted by Silent Five @ 10:37 PM

Word of the Week

gymnosophy [jim-NAH-so-fee]

n. Philosophical, amusing, or nonsensical insights realized when naked, as in the shower or in bed. (recent coinage: att. S. Galasso, 2010)

Victoria and Albert enjoyed a spot of postprandial concupiscence culminating in a night of gymnosophy and coffee and crumpets at dawn.

The Silent Top Five: Bacon-Flavored Desserts

1) Bacon cheesecake.
2) Bacon gumballs.
3) Bacon ice cream.
4) Bacon-orange bars.
5) Bacon apple pie.

Standard Disclaimer

This is all in no way meant to incur copyright-infringement-related wrath. I'm harmless. I promise. Oh, and if you're offended by anything I may post herein, I guarantee I didn't mean to do so (unless, of course, you are a humorless prig. In which case, go right on and be offended, with my blessings.)