Monday, March 16, 2009

25 Writers Who Influenced Me

I saw this at Of Books and Bicycles and then at a lot of other blogs. You are to “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. Then you tag 25 people.”

Influence means to have an effect on someone or something; to cause change. At first I couldn't think of many books that actually changed me much less the writers of those books. Not that I think it didn't happen but a writer may have influenced me in such a way that I'm not aware of it or don't remember it. On the other hand, many books affect me momentarily but it's hard to say that any of those affects are lasting. And the idea that I could remember 25 seemed unrealistic. But I started thinking about it. Click "More" to see my list.

  1. Ludwig Bemelmans. The Madeline books were the first story books that I remember reading. And re-reading and re-reading. I think if I'm going to start a list of writers who influenced me, I should start with the one who influenced me to think that reading was fun.
  2. Louisa May Alcott. I think she was the first woman author I ever read that I understood had written a "classic", that I understood was taken seriously by the world if only because her books had remained in print for so long. I never thought about her that way when I was young and reading Little Women or my favorite Eight Cousins. But the fact that she had written a serious book about young women, even including death, had an affect on my conception of who a writer was and what a writer could write about.
  3. Francis Hodgson Burnett. She is the first British author I remember who enchanted me and started my lifelong preference for British fiction.
  4. Lucile Morrison. When I was a kid I decided that I wanted to be an archaeologist and part of the reason was because I read The Lost Queen of Egypt by Lucile Morrison. There were other "Egypt" books (Mara, Daughter of the Nile was a favorite) but Morrison's book was the one I went back to again and again. I gave up the career idea later but I always retained my love for all things Ancient Egyptian and I thank Morrison.
  5. Carolyn Keene. Actually she didn't exist, but there were real authors behind the pen name who were constantly creating Nancy Drew and I'm probably old enough to thank Mildred Wirt Benson who wrote many of the first books of the series. What a role model for a girl! I was a shy child and I remember every once in a while going into a situation that terrified me and thinking about Nancy Drew. I didn't pretend to be Nancy but I thought about what Nancy would do. It got me through a lot of situations. The Nancy Drew books were also the first books that I ever discussed with other people outside of a classroom situation. In fourth grade we lent them all around (girls and boys) and talked about them.
  6. Anne Frank. The Diary of a Young Girl was the first non-fiction book that made me see a world that I was protected from and understand how lucky I was.
  7. Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre was the rage in 6th or 7th grade (I'm not sure which). Lots of girls were reading it and talking about it. I have a very vivid memory of being on the school playground talking about it with girls in another class who I didn't know very well. As I said above, I was a shy child. I think this was the first time I discovered that I could meet people by talking about books. I'm not sure if that's due to Charlotte Bronte herself, but what the heck I'm putting her on the list.
  8. Amy Lowell. When I was sixteen my English teacher spent a class period on Amy Lowell's poem Patterns, going through it from a structural point of view. That was the moment when I learned to love poetry.
  9. Charles Dickens. In part because he taught me to love really long books with lots of characters. But really because I still read A Christmas Carol every year and it reminds me to get my priorities straight.
  10. Dorothy Dunnett. It's hard to describe the effect that Dunnett had on me when I first read her in my early twenties and has continued to have for me over the years. To read 5,000 pages of a multi-volume series multiple times, picking through the stories putting together the puzzles that are never quite solved, is an amazing experience. She was also responsible for me reaching out to talk to other people around the world via the written word - in the days before blogs, when doing that was harder. But true fans find a way.
  11. AS Byatt. She forced me to be a more analytical reader while at the same time giving me stories that I enjoyed. I could say more, but readers already know her affect on me.
  12. Paul Scott. I saw the television production of The Jewel in the Crown first and thought I would read the entire Raj Quartet because I liked the story. It ended up, unexpectedly, being a meditation for me upon the flaws that exist in world renowned justice systems. It didn't send me to law school but I ended up writing a paper about it when I was in law school. It was during that time that the Rodney King trial was going on and it really influenced my thinking on that incident.
  13. Robertson Davies. I loved all of his books, but the first novel of his that I read, What's Bred in the Bone, caused me to sign up for an art history class at our local museum because I realized that I knew nothing about art. I ended up spending years of Saturdays at the museum taking art appreciation classes that I so much enjoyed.
  14. Steven King. He made me give up trying to read horror. I realized that I too fully believe in the worlds of fiction when a master is creating it. I still have nightmares related to my memories of The Stand, which I consider one of the best books I've ever read and I also wish I had never read.
  15. John Steinbeck. My grandmother talked about the Great Depression. I read about the Great Depression in history books. But I didn't really feel the pain of the Great Depression until I read The Grapes of Wrath.
  16. CS Lewis. His The Problem of Pain gave me a lot to think about at a time when I needed a lot to think about.
  17. Virginia Woolf. I haven't read much of Virginia Woolf's fiction but I read "A Room of One's Own" and felt that I could have written every word. I've often wanted to buy multiple copies and hand them out. To men mostly.
  18. Theodore H. White. His The Making of the President, 1960 made me want to read non-fiction. It didn't interest me in politics, I was interested in that from a young age. But it made me want to read about it, mostly to learn some tricks.
  19. Arthur Schlesinger. I read his books. He, without a doubt, swayed me to be more liberal than I might have been without reading them.
  20. Barbara Tuchman. She made me love reading history for fun. I was going to put down David McCullough, but I realized I would never have read any David McCullough if it hadn't been for Barbara Tuchman. Nor would I have read Shelby Foote or Margaret MacMillan.
  21. Agatha Christie. She started me on my lifelong love of a good mystery series. I don't like her books as well as Dorothy Sayers, but there would be no Dorothy Sayers in my life without Agatha Christie.
  22. Richard White. I've already blogged how Richard White's book The Middle Ground changed the way I looked at the relationship between Europeans and Native Americans.
  23. Douglas Adams. Because he gave me the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.
  24. Ayn Rand. Yes, she changed my life. It was when I was reading The Fountainhead with my reading group that I decided to start this blog.
  25. Nancy Pickard. The only author on the list who I actually know. She has given me an understanding of what it means to be a writer and how much hard work it actually is. And how magical it all is when it all comes together. And that makes me appreciate everything else I read in a way that wasn't possible before I knew her.