Saturday, May 29, 2010

Still listing writers. Also determining factors.

I'm still working on my list, talking it over with people (thanks to Laurel, R.E., Megan, for listening to this lately). I've realized that I do need some definition of influential--or several definitions--and I also have to figure out the distinction between influential writer and influential book. I think Antoine de Saint-Exupery will make it onto my list on the basis of The Little Prince alone, but I haven't read any of his other books. Same with Harper Lee and Anne Frank. I've read a lot of Charles Simic's work, but if he ends up on my list, it will be because of Dimestore Alchemies, his prose poems about Joseph Cornell. It's a book that's meant a lot to me as another lens through which to view Cornell, one of my favorite artists and a very odd guy. It's also a book that's hugely influenced how I think about writing about art.

Recent, late additions to the tentative list:
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald (Again, he's important primarily for one book, The Great Gatsby--but this also illustrates one of the trickiest bits of trying to make a comprehensive, influences-throughout-my-life list; I still think it's a great book in so many ways, and it was interesting to reread it after living in New York for a while and knowing the city, having a sense of how geography helps to define the characters and their relationships, something I missed about the book reading it growing up in Minneapolis. Also, I'd read it at least twice before we read it in English class my junior year of high school, but Mr. Shandorf helped me see things in the book that I didn't know were there, and I think of reading Gatsby in that class as one of my first and most formative experiences of really understanding the depth and layers you can find in a great novel. So I think I have to include him.)

  • Lewis Carroll (An amazing oversight!)

  • Langston Hughes (Hugely influential, but... top 100? still debating)

  • Betty McDonald (Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle) (Absolutely an oversight--these are books I loved, my sister loved, our parents read to us, and Emilyn and I still reference them. If that's not seminally influential, what is?)

  • Astrid Lindgren (Pippi Longstocking) (See Betty McDonald.)

  • Peggy Parish (Amelia Bedelia) (See Betty McDonald.)

  • Harper Lee

  • Joy Williams? (I love her stories but I can't think, now, of just how important she was, then--which in this case is college, I think?)

  • Wallace Stegner (An oversight. Except, though I love Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety... a hundred writers is turning out not to be as many as I'd thought it was. And honestly, depending on the determining factors in our definition of "influential," and how truly comprehensive I'm able to be, the anonymous author of Go Ask Alice might end up outranking Wallace Stegner in a seminal list. He's been more important recently, but I read that book so many times as a kid.)

  • Grace Paley (Another huge oversight.)

  • Charles Baxter (I've read several of his novels and loved them, but he would be on this list for one short story: "Gryphon." I read it first as a kid when it was anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 1986 (I was ten in 1986, and I remember finding this book on a shelf in my house. I tended to read random books I found on shelves in my house, which explains a lot about this list.)

Wow. I just looked up the table of contents for The Best American Short Stories 1986, and it's impressive how many of the writers on my list I read here for the first time. I didn't realize how much my tendency to read random books explained about this list. Talk about early influences:

* Basil from her garden / Donald Barthelme
* Gryphon / Charles Baxter
* Janus / Ann Beattie
* The convict / James Lee Burke
* Star food / Ethan Canin
* Gossip / Frank Conroy
* Communist / Richard Ford
* Bad company / Tess Gallagher
* Today will be a quiet day / Amy Hempel
* Doe season / David Michael Kaplan
* Three thousand dollars / David Lipsky
* Sportsmen / Thomas McGuane
* All my relations / Christopher McIlroy
* Monsieur les deux chapeaux / Alice Munro
* Skin angels / Jessica Neely
* Invisible life / Kent Nelson
* Telling / Grace Paley
* Lawns / Mona Simpson
* Health / Joy Williams
* The rich brother / Tobias Wolff.

It was edited by Raymond Carver. Also interesting. I imagine I thought Alice Munro was really boring when I was ten. But I remember several of these stories distinctly. I remember reading and rereading Mona Simpson's "Lawns," about a klepto college student who worked in the school post office and stole packages (I just looked it up, and yep, that's the one). And yeah, "Gryphon." Indelible marks. Which is probably one feature of the most influential writer. I have to figure out my criteria. My rubric.

This list is a sort of autobiography, really. I was thinking I need to look through the book lists in old zines, and I probably should look at old journals, too. But--zines, maybe. Old journals, not going there. We'll do the best we can with what we have to work with.

1 comment:

ccp said...

I love the idea of this as a sort of autobiography. What is the plan for the list? Will it be annotated? Funny, I've only read one book by Charles Simic and it was Dimestore Alchemies, read at a time when I was fascinated by Joseph Cornell (not that I am not anymore--a biography sits on my to-read shelf and one of my things on my list of things to do is see his work at the Art Institute). I also recently checked out Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle because I'm trying to revisit some of the books I can remember reading and loving as a child. I didn't get around to reading it before I had to return it, but will check it out again! xo, celia (ps. lynda barry?)