Fifteen Influential Authors

I saw this on Facebook a few days ago, meant to answer it, and got sidetracked into other things. That happens.

The rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. List 15 authors (poets and comic writers included) who have influenced you and who will always stick with you. List the first 15 you can identify in no more than 15 minutes.

All right, fifteen influential authors. Let’s do this!

  1. Isaac Asimov
  2. Berkeley Breathed
  3. Orson Scott Card
  4. Philip K. Dick
  5. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  6. Will Durant
  7. Ernest Hemingway
  8. Fritz Leiber
  9. Larry Niven
  10. Edgar Allan Poe
  11. Carl Sagan
  12. Charles Schulz
  13. JRR Tolkien
  14. Matt Wagner
  15. Howard Zinn

Some random notes.

Berkeley Breathed is, of course, the writer/artist of Bloom County, Outland, and Opus. I had the opportunity to interview Breathed last year.

While I would not willingly buy an Orson Scott Card novel today, I cannot deny that several of his novels, among them Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Seventh Son, made an impact, and the ending of Lost Boys left me utterly gutted.

Everyone knows Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for his Sherlock Holmes stories, which I adore and Hound of the Baskervilles is my favorite novel, but I like his Brigadier Girard stories (about a buffoonish French grenadier during the Napoleonic Wars) a whole lot.

Will Durant, with his wife Ariel, wrote The Story of Civilization, an eleven-volume history of the world, from pre-history to the Napoleonic era. I have a set of the books — they’re on a bookshelf in my dining room — and though the books are somewhat dated (and error-prone at times), they’re also books I can pick up, flip through, and read fifty pages solely for Durant’s prose and gift of storytelling.

Fritz Leiber wrote my favorite short story of all time, “Lean Times in Lankhmar.”

While I never got into Matt Wagner‘s Mage — a curious lapse for this amateur Arthurian geek — Grendel is something I’ve loved for years.

The near misses:

  • Karen Armstrong
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Alan Grant
  • Mark Helprin
  • Nick Hornby
  • Sir Thomas Malory
  • William Shakespeare
  • H.G. Wells

Instead of writing my list of 15 influential authors on a piece of paper, I wrote them down on index cards. Write the name down, throw the card on the pile. “Easier to sort!” I thought. Before I knew it, I had a stack of about twenty-five cards. More than the fifteen, and so I had to pare them down. I couldn’t take the first fifteen as I’d already started to sort the cards so the order in which I’d written down the names no longer held.

Karen Armstrong wrote A History of God. I read it upon its release, and though I was pretty well certain that I was an atheist at the time (without really understanding the word), I definitely was when I’d finished the book.

As much as I wanted to fit F. Scott Fitzgerald into the 15, I couldn’t. In the “Fitzgerald vs. Hemingway” debate, I’m always going to side with Hemingway. Always. And there’s no one in that 15 that I’d bump for Scott Fitzgerald. There simply wasn’t room for him.

Alan Grant wrote Batman comics for DC Comics in the late-80s and early-90s, often writing for artist Norm Breyfogle. British readers would probably know him better for his work on Judge Dredd and Psi-Judge Anderson. He also wrote a graphic novel about the War of 1812 from the Canadian perspective.

I have some issues with Mark Helprin — he’s in favor of perpetual copyright, while I believe the current copyright terms are far too long and should be reduced drastically (50 years total seems like a good length of time) — but his novels, among them A Soldier of the Great War and Winter’s Tale, have stayed with me.

Like Scott Fitzgerald, I just couldn’t fit Nick Hornby into the top 15, largely because of the mixed feelings I have on his work. I love his prose, I love reading his work, but sometimes I find his books really unsatisfying when all is said and done. Hornby struggles with his endings.

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