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My high-school friend Teri tagged me with one of those Facebook things that asks you to name 15 authors off the top of your head who "influenced you and will always stick with you." Rather than perpetuate the chain-letter approach, I thought I'd do it here. With minimal reflection, the first 15 who come to mind:
Goethe (Faust has haunted me for decades)
Carl Sagan (his Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is my manifesto)
E.B. White (great prose stylist whose voice rubbed off on mine long ago)
Dr. Seuss (hey, the question says "influential," it doesn't specify when)
James Boswell (I re-read his London Journal every few years)
Robert Heinlein (I'm not much into science fiction now, but there was a time . . .)
JRR Tolkien (ditto)
Jack London (Martin Eden is an overlooked gem)
The writers and editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica (which as a boy I often sat and read, to the derision of my peers)
Walt Kelly/Charles Schulz/Winsor McCay
I can feel your eyebrows rise at those last two. I won't argue that Roddenberry and Lee were great writers, only that I found them tremendously influential. For better or worse, "Star Trek" and Marvel Comics made me who I am today. As for Kelly/Schulz/McCay, I put them together like that because I think those three contributed roughly equally to my understanding of what cartooning is and can be.
It doesn't escape my notice that my list is a bunch of dead (except for Stan Lee) white guys. I've read and enjoyed works by non-dead-white-guys*, I just wouldn't put them in my Top 15. Sadly, the list of books and authors I know I need to get around to someday just keeps getting longer. I also expect to wake up in the middle of the night with three names I should have included but forgot. Shrug. To quote a respected naval philosopher, I yam what I yam.
(*Not the same as undead white guys. Those would be zombies. Which generally write poorly.)
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I've resolved to read more fiction and am revving up to start Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. Is that a good idea or a mistake?
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The last great book I read was Walter Isaacson's bio of Ben Franklin. The last book of any sort I read was Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery, written by Dave Roman and illustrated by many, including Dave himself. Agnes is a teenage detective who talks to the dead. It's a very appealing mix of fantasy, mystery, horror and humor. Dave's a sort-of friend (by which I mean I think he's swell but don't claim to know him well) and Agnes Quill is first-rate comics.
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What's the last good book you read? Recommend one in the comments and I'll add it to the top of my "get around to it" pile.