Asking me to name a favorite author is like asking a wine snob to name the best vino. I struggle mightily with this question—which is one of the top three questions I’m asked in interviews—both because I have eclectic reading taste and because I don’t want to leave anyone out. I read across genres and I read constantly: I could literally name at least a hundred books I’ve read multiple times.
So…. I’m gonna do what I usually do and list the authors whose books I keep by my bed. (I’ve whittled it down to ten, and that nearly killed me.) I love them, I’ve read their books dozens of times, and I’d freak if I met them. They are probably not who you’d think, however, given that I write women’s fiction and there’s only one WF author on the list. Let’s break the rest of them down:
3 nonfiction writers
2 literary fiction writers
1 speculative fiction writer (ranging from science fiction to cyberpunk to historical fiction).
1 mystery writer
1 commercial thriller writer
1 writer of children’s literature
There are, however, some commonalities: with the exception of the thriller writer and one of the nonfiction writers, they all write wordy, witty, complicated books, imbued with sly humor and subtle snark. The thriller writer and one of the nonfiction writers have relatively clean, simple prose, but the rest of them are word nerds who employ complex sentence structure. Their influence on me has been mighty: a criticism I’ve seen several times from readers of my book is “too many SAT words.” My actual friends are used to this: the commonest statement I’ve heard from everyone who knows me after they read the book is It was like listening to you talk. (I realize you are now wondering if my friends are imaginary, but I promise most of them are not.) Throw in my preoccupation with science and you round out the list.
So now that we’ve established that I’m a freak of nature in the vocabulary department, it’s time to assign blame. In no particular order, meet my top ten favorite authors!
I first became obsessed with Micheal Lewis when I was trying to understand what caused the financial meltdown of 2008. Imagine somebody tasked you with trying to describe credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations to the oblivious masses and you had to make it both understandable and fascinating. Yeah, that’s Michael Lewis. He’s primarily a financial writer, but he writes lots of other interesting stuff too.
As I’ve said before, Kaku is a theoretical physicist who writes about technological advances, but don’t let that deter you. He’s probably got the cleanest, easiest to read writing style of anyone on my list and that’s born of necessity: the stuff he writes about is so weird and so trippy it doesn’t need embellishing. I truly cannot understand why everyone isn’t talking about him all the time. Forgive the pun, but he is literally stellar.
Like many of the people on this list, a bona fide genius. He writes primarily travel books, but with a lot of science and history thrown in, which is my ultimate kryptonite. I can say with total confidence that he is the least boring writer in the history of books.
Tom Wolfe just died and I had to take a day of mourning. I have read The Bonfire of the Vanities at least twenty times, along with all his other books. As is the case with every other writer who’s inspired me I have nowhere near his level of talent, which is very sad because I want to be like him and write pages and pages of extraneous but amusing stuff, which my poor editor then has to hack out like a crazy person swinging a machete through the jungle. Kerry, if you’re reading this: it’s Tom Wolfe’s fault.
It takes her about ten years to publish a novel and I understand why: her books are elegant masterpieces. She also displays an uncanny psychological understanding of her characters—all of them, from the protagonists to the one-line throwaways—that I’ve never seen in another novelist, with the possible exception of a couple of Jonathan Franzen’s books. And the humor! It’s the kind that sneaks out of nowhere and bites you in the ass. You’re not even entirely sure it’s funny—it’s a little bit wicked. There’s really not a word for what she does there.
Kate Di Camillo:
I love all Kate di Camillo’s children’s books but my absolute favorites are the Bink and Gollie series. First of all, why be beholden to the boringness of traditional names? ‘Bink’ and ‘Gollie’ are super-fabulous names for little girls. Makes me wish I was named Zorch or Hooah or something. And one of them lives in a tree house! There are apparently no parents! B & G are best friends who display ferocious vocabularies and biting wit as they romp through the mini-adventures that compose childhood. My heroes! Like every really well-written children’s book, these stories transport you through the alternate-reality lens of a kid.
Stephenson is a superhuman brainiac who writes extremely weird stuff. His novels deal primarily with scientific, technological, and philosophical constructs and they tend to be lengthy. One of the things I enjoy most about fiction is the effortless way it can teach you about subjects to which you’d otherwise never be exposed. From Stephenson I’ve garnered information on subjects as disparate as metaphysics, ancient Greek philosophy, nanotechnology, the world of computer gaming, cryptography during WWII, and space travel. Plus, one his books, a thriller called REAMDE, is one of my favorite books ever.
As a child, I read every single Agatha Christie mystery. And then I read them all again and again. This produced in me a longing to be British during the early parts of the twentieth century and also to be able to solve crimes. (But not to be a marginalized person, because even as a child I could that recognize that would suck in Christie’s world.) While neither aspiration panned out, reading these novels did teach me something about pacing and suspense and the structure of a narrative, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. Because of Dame Agatha, I’m a reader and a lifelong Anglophile.
Another Brit. I’ve written many times of my adoration of Bridget Jones, so I’m going pull a quote verbatim from my website:
Gah! Loooove Bridget Jones. She’s so irrepressible, so adorable, so perpetually clueless…although obviously also v. smart.
Okay, Crichton doesn’t have beautiful prose or intense character development. But I’m including him because, like me, he was a physician before turning to literature, and unlike me, he was a master at hooking a reader with cutting-edge technology. His novels were incredibly inventive. Plus, nobody could work in scientific details like he could, making his topics both mesmerizing and simple to understand. (Maybe too simple; regrettably, he seemed blinded to many of the realities of climate change.) He was prolific beyond all comprehension, and he made history by simultaneously penning the number one book, movie and TV show—and he did that twice, in 1995 and 1996. I’m in awe of the man.
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