The following five writers have always made me feel less-than as a writer. I am in awe of the ideas, stories and flowing sentences contained within their books. These are the writers that make me bubble up jealousy and writerly discontent, yet force me to put their books down and write down my own thoughts, stories and attempts at imitation. And while I rarely ever feel like I have written something great, I feel a little greater after having read their works.
Welcome to my top ten…
10. The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
I know that much of the success of this book comes from the tale of her tragic childhood and the almost unbelievable behavior of her parents. While I was definitely caught up in the story, I was far more intrigued by Karr’s prose and description of everything that happened around her. Mary Karr is a terrific writer. By the time I finished the Liar’s Club, I had a crush on its author. She presents as smart, funny, insightful, honest, fallible and completely human. When I come across a used copy of the Liar’s Club in a bookstore, I still buy it to pass along to friends I like. After reading this book numerous times, I am still wildly impressed by what has likely made the whole memoir genre worthwhile and to which all other memoirs are compared.
9. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
A few years ago, I had never heard of this Yates guy. Fortunately, an enthusiastic professor introduced me to him during a lecture. Now I have no idea how I did not hear of him sooner. I have read sections of this book over and over and I am consistently amazed by his clarity and depth. I am also blown away by Yates’ decision to open Revolutionary Road in third person plural (or “they” voice) — and he pulls it off. I do not think I have seen anyone else attempt it and make it work so well. As with all of Yates’ writing, I am enamored and inspired even when all the characters in his books are not doing too well. FYI, seeing the movie is not nearly enough. The book is a million times better.
8. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
I imagine that this book hit me in the same way it hit a lot of guys. K&C, much like the next book on my list, is an epic. It spans the lives of two cousins through war, love, mysticism, a Houdini-esque superhero and the world of comic books. This book, for me, was like reading the perfect man’s book. After about fifty pages, I limited my reading to two pages a day. I wrote after most every reading session. Chabon creates a believable world that eventually the Pulitzer people also enjoyed and awarded. I know some women who loved it too.
7. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
I own the first edition of every Salman Rushdie book ever written. Each book has those clear plastic covers wrapped around all the dust jackets to keep my books compulsively pristine. With Midnight’s Children, I also have a couple of extra paperbacks and a beautiful boxed Folio Society version. MC is an epic analogy about India’s independence with brilliant imagery and prose, which is both hilarious and tragic. Salman Rushdie made me want to be a writer.
6. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
The philosophical and often remarkable thoughts of a just king and troubled man. This collection of verses are intense, sobering and all appear to be written from a place of truth with nothing to gain but further insight toward the human condition. Aurelius succeeds. While there are many translations, I have only read the Maxwell Staniforth version.
Next, the final five.
50-46 45-41 40-36 35-31 30-26 25-21 20-16 15-11 10-6 5-1