Saturday, November 02, 2013
Today begins the Ode-athon!
For the purposes of this occasion, we’re considering our favorite writers, the ones who inspire us, whether merely as readers or even as writers ourselves. They’re the ones we couldn’t live without, and have treasured for years (unless we just discovered them this year!), reading them religiously, waiting breathlessly for their next release (unless they’re dead), recommending them without reserve to all your friends.
Here’s my list, because I hate to narrow my options:
I fell in love with instantly when I randomly discovered his then-recent release The Plato Papers at my university bookstore at the start of the millennium. I’ve since come to appreciate his deep sense of history and his continuing patronage of the arts in various fiction and nonfiction works (although there’s so much of it I shudder at the task of reading all of it!). Personal favorite: still The Plato Papers, a parable about the vagaries of reputation and the certainties of civilization (where I got the “mouldwarp” from Scouring Monk’s URL).
Hardly needs an introduction, but he’s one of the seminal writers I borrowed from grade school classmates and subsequently made my own (Jerry Spinelli is another). Known best for the Hitchhiker’s, er, “trilogy,” Adams also created holistic detective Dirk Gently, and wrote a number of nonfiction works I still hope to catch upon some day. Personal favorite: The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul, the second Dirk Gently book, which cleverly updates Norse mythology.
Fell in love with him thanks to a syndicated humor column he wrote for years, but my appreciation only deepened when he delved into fiction, sometimes on his own but also with Ridley Pearson in the Peter Pan prequel books featuring the Starcatchers. Of all the writers in my selections, I’ve easily read the most from Dave. When I use the phrase “would make a great name for a rock band,” that’s a deliberate callback to one of his trademarks. Personal favorite: Insane City, which the best (and most recent) of his solo works of fiction, although following the same basic pattern of chaotic events following a given set of individuals.
The best pure literary voice I’ve yet discovered, and continually readable as I delve deeper into his catalog, an ongoing process. Personal favorite: 2666, his most ambitious and accomplished book.
Like an American Peter Ackroyd, Charyn wears his love of culture and history on his sleeve, although he’s decidedly more mischievous about it. He also has plenty of books I’m still in the early stages of appreciating, but I have yet to be disappointed no matter his risks. Personal favorite: The Green Lantern (not to be confused with the comic book character), Charyn’s take on Russian literature.
Speaking of Russian literature, as far as I’m concerned this is the master. Personal favorite: The Brothers Karamazov, an amazing tour-de-force that to my mind eclipses the more acclaimed Crime and Punishment.
Growing up deep in the heart of King territory made it all but mandatory to read him, but I took my time getting around to it, so it was all the more gratifying to discover how much I truly admired him. However, for everything I’ve read from King so far, I haven’t really touched his horror, which of course is what he’s best known for. Personal favorite: The Stand, his epic take on post-apocalyptic fiction.
Like Ackroyd and Charyn, Maine takes his inspiration from the stories he loves the most, and most of the time they happen to come from the Bible, but he’s also written about classic movie monsters. Personal favorite: Fallen, based on the biblical story of creation, and the four humans unlucky enough to be there, each of them nursing their own private pain. This one may be written most eloquently, tracing backward rather than forward and being all the richer for it.
Everyone knows Moby Dick, and I actually enjoyed it, but I discovered to my delight that there’s plenty of truly excellent material that he wrote after it. Personal favorite: The Confidence Man, a clever social satire that seems to have been completely forgotten.
To my mind the best of the comic book writers, endlessly inventive and immersive in his Byzantine explorations of superhero archetypes both with icons and more obscure figures, while also taking the time to come up with his own myths. Personal favorite: Joe the Barbarian, which as I think about it more and more is the 21st century equivalent of Alice in Wonderland, and deserves to become a classic of any literary medium in its own right.
Seems to write almost exclusively in giant literary epics, and that’s perfectly okay with me, since he’s certainly expansive and wildly creative enough to repeatedly accomplish it. Personal favorite: Mason & Dixon, which will have you reconsidering the earliest days of United States.
Perfectly well-known and hardly needing me to sell more books, but there you are. I devoured seven Harry Potter adventures, and was pleased to see that her magic exists outside of them. Personal favorite: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which exploded that whole series into an intensely personal affair.
Bold doesn’t begin to describe the writer who had a fatwa issued against him, but his talent is phenomenal and style as creative as you’re ever likely to find without the need of gimmicks. Personal favorite: The Satanic Verses (source of said fatwa). Brave the risk and treasure it for yourself.
I couldn’t possibly omit the cartoonist who defined my childhood, whose retirement in 1994 hardly affected his ongoing legacy. Personal favorite: Calvin & Hobbes (yes, by default but by no means in a limiting way), the great chronicle of the ultimate 20th century nonconformist and his best friend.
These guys don't write fiction, or books specifically, which was the focus of my list, but I still wanted to mention them:
William Least Heat-Moon
Best understands the United States because he’s traveled it a number of different ways and always written brilliantly about it. Personal favorite: PrairyErth, a “deep map” that saw him explore an entire rural county on foot.
As far as I’m concerned, the definitive 20th century philosopher from the States. Personal favorite: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
The best screenwriter, knows film better than anyone, is still evolving. Personal favorite: Kill Bill Volume 2 if we’re talking strictly screenplay. It’s his most assured, least showy storytelling.
The Ode-athon continues!
11/4 David Walston at Blah Blah Blah Yackity Smackity
11/5 Pat Dilloway at PT Dilloway
11/7 Nigel and Maurice Mitchell at The Geek Twins
11/8 The Armchair Squid at The Armchair Squid
11/9 and back to me at Scouring Monk and Tony Laplume