If you use Facebook you know that you are challenged at times to come up with lists of one thing or another right on the spot and commit that list to a post for all the world to see. (Well at least to all of your friends). And that post better be witty too because the last thing you want to do is bore your friends. The latest challenge I’ve been handed is to list the 15 authors, without thinking very hard, who have changed my life. You have to compile this list in 15 minutes. I’ve resisted this challenge because I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it. The aging brain is a curious thing – these types of challenges become a little more stressful with each passing year. But, I’m throwing caution and fear to the wind right outside my door today and I’m setting the timer. Here goes.
Willa Cather – this early 20th century author from Nebraska always, always comes to the forefront of any list or discussion of authors important to me. The author of My Antonia, O’ Pioneers, One of Ours, Death Comes to the Archbishop, and many others, brings the Nebraska prairie to life in ways I could never have imagined. I have yet to pay homage to the historical site in Red Cloud devoted to this author, but it’s on my literary travel list.
Marilyn French – this writer is long forgotten I’m sure, if she was ever well known, but in the late 70s French wrote a book called The Women’s Room that changed my life. I was finding my way in my first years as an adult and this book confirmed a little suspicion I had harbored for some time…that marriage and children were not necessarily for every woman. It opened up my mind to a whole new way of thinking and left me sad for all the women in the world who made those choices because they had no others.
Tom Robbins – this off the wall writer from rural Washington had a huge cult following in the 70s and 80s. His books Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Another Roadside Attraction and Still Life with Woodpecker examined life in mercurial prose that left you laughing, pondering, and at times crying. My friends and I spent hours contemplating this man and what kind of person he must be. When he named one of his characters in a later book, Ellen, I thought I was going to swoon.
Barbara Kingsolver – how can one person be so brilliant? Kingsolver takes on all kinds of issues, examines circumstances and causes and the choices we make in life so tellingly that you truly do get educated reading her books. The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees and Prodigal Summer are my favorites.
Anne Tyler – well to start an Anne Tyler is to enter a different world entirely – it is a treat to get to know her quirky characters and to enter their messy worlds. Some of her writing is laugh out loud funny. Some if it is very tender. My favorites are Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Earthly Possessions and The Accidental Tourist.
Annie Proulx – not for the faint of heart, Proulx’s books are sometimes brutal but she scores big for sense of place. My favorite is The Shipping News. Anyone want to go to Newfoundland with me?
Laura Ingalls Wilder – I know she’s not real politically correct right now but I loved these books as a child and have great memories of reading them and imagining life on the hostile, gorgeous prairie. We visited her home in Arkansas on a trip and even at first skeptical husband walked away impressed by her story.
John Irving – I never could get through The World According to Garp, but The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany tell some intensely sad stories with, as always, some sideways humor thrown in.
(OK, I only have 6 minutes left – I’m not going to make it at this rate if I keep writing long paragraphs about each author)
Louisa May Alcott – Little Women taught me about death when I was young and had no first hand experience with it.
Maurice Sendak – Where the Wild Things Are touched a nerve the first time it was read to me when I was quite young. Every young child in my life gets this book. If you haven’t seen the movie that came out last year – go!
J.D. Salinger – when I picked up The Catcher in the Rye in 8th grade at my sister’s apartment she discouraged me from reading it out of fear of mother consequences. I read it anyway and got myself an education in certain things. I like Franny and Zooey even better. I even had some cats named Franny and Zooey. (May they rest in peace)
Milan Kundera – Czech writer – The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Immortality
Roddy Doyle – Irish writer – The Commitments (made into a movie) , A Star Named Henry and The Woman Who Walked into Doors
John McGahern – Irish – Amongst Women, By the Lake, The Barracks
Jhumpa Lahiri – Indian – The Interpreter of Maladies, Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth
These exercises are always ones of torture, but I think they reveal some things. For instance, looking at this list I can see it doesn’t have a lot of classics on it, and while some of these writers may write non-fiction, that’s not the reason they made the list. I definitely have an affinity for authors I read as a child and my fiction taste, while not of the super popular variety, is still pretty mainstream writing. But that’s ok. I’m a woman of a certain age and I no longer feel like I have to defend what I read.