This is the second and final part of my lists posts after The Book List yesterday. These are the lists that define my reading and writing career so far. Again, I have put this in a rough chronological order from young to now. There is not one author here that appears on my book list.
So, what’s the difference between a Book List and an Author List you may shout? A lot. There are books that define people, they may be one-offs or part of a series, but authors resonate through both time and mind. The person stays with you when their works may fade.
This list was extremely hard to put together. I, like you, have read thousands of authors, but I felt these represented my writing history and principles best. I love them all. Accordingly, I have placed an example of what best demonstrates my explanations here for you all to see. I am sure this list will have more unknowns to you than the last. I can only hope they inspire. They inspired me.
So, why start with an author simply known by his initials? Well, for me, this was the easiest choice of all. I had read many authors even as a child who put fantasy into my life. B.B put fantasy into REAL life. The Little Grey Men were gnomes who lived by a beautiful stream and went in search of their brother. Their journey takes them through meadows of flora and fauna that are perfectly described and can be seen by the reader every day. Even the heroes are named after plants: Dodder, Baldmoney, Sneezewort and Cloudberry. What more could a kid want? B.B. taught me that the magical can be closer to home than one thinks.
Another easy choice. Bradbury was a true master, a storyteller in the best sense of the word. Something Wicked This Way Comes personifies his easy style, total believability and appeal to both a child, and child at heart. But, and here’s the thing, as a writer who had and still hasn’t had any training, when I found out Bradbury was the same as me, unqualified, he gave me confidence a commodity I have always lacked. ‘Just write,’ he said in my mind. ‘Just write, lad.’ And I have. And I don’t care what anyone says anymore because nobody could judge me harsher than I judge myself.
Ah, good old Oscar. He resonates on many levels to many ages. I studied him at High School and went to see The Importance of Being Earnest at the theatre as part of my course. Wilde brought literary wit into my life, sometimes cutting, sometimes pertinent, always brilliant. You should read Wilde every year, once a year, because with every day that goes by, his words will mean something deeper.
Goddamn it, I want an accented letter in my name. Anyway, back to business. As I grew older, and the books I read evolved, I happened upon Miéville and thus grit was added to my list of what, in particular, a fantasy book can contain. His worlds are dirty, unpleasant, and all the more rounded for it. One of my pride and joys in life is a signed copy of The Iron Council by this author. He isn’t for everyone, but I’m not everyone, and I think he’s fantastic.
I first read James’s The Turn Of The Screw at a young age and to say it was such an old story it scared me to death (in a good way.) In many ways James along with Wilde are the most classical authors on this list and both are always eloquent. That is not why I included him, though. James’s The Aspen Papers is beautifully written and loses the reader in it’s style. But what got me was a line on the last page which turned the whole thing on it’s head. I realised then that all those many, many years ago people thought the same as us now and that we aren’t so very different and shouldn’t think it, either. Great writing is timeless as are we.
Wolfe is poetry in motion. The above book demonstrates this perfectly. I couldn’t care less what he writes about only how he writes it. The two are one and the same with Wolfe. Similar to Haruki Murakami on my last list, Wolfe’s book can turn on a sentence and you can be several chapters further on before you realise what you’ve missed. He taught me not to treat readers like sheep. One discovers and enjoys in equal measure it doesn’t have to be shoved down one’s throat.
I love Japanese literature in the same way I love Japan; they enchant me because they are not of the world I know. That is why Ryū Murakami hit me hard (not to be confused with Haruki, whatever you do!) His stories are indisputably Japanese but offer a grit and deep, dark undertone that I would never have thought of their culture. Again, Murakami taught me to look beneath the gloss and really understand those you write about. It may disturb, but wow it’ll make you think.
I refused to read Silverberg until later in life because I don’t like reading overly popular work. Even then, I chose his lesser known stories. Both Nightwings and Roma Eterna twist the past into stunning fantastical literature. They are almost Science Fiction, almost Historical, almost Fantasy, and many more. They are always superb. This leads me to an author you’ll all know but is of particular interest to me…
Genre-bending, in my eyes, is never more prominent in its displaying than with Margaret Atwood. She represents to me what writing is all about, words and stories, not classifications and pigeonholing. She writes what she wants how she wants and it goes into the fiction category of a book shop. To my way of thinking all writing should be either Non-Fiction or Fiction, nothing else. Readers are led to sections of a store by the labels publishers give their authors thus limiting the discoverability and readability of almost a whole life. Those same readers may never stray from those sections and therefore miss brilliance of an only slightly dissimilar style. I think this is criminal. I never want to fall into a category. I’d rather just fall.
Ballard has literary and professional ties to my favourite author, Michael Moorcock. So why include him on this list and not Moorcock, who I was tempted to have on both, especially as he’s the last of my top ten. Again, this is not because of what he wrote, I love much of his work The Drowned World being foremost of them, but why he wrote them. It wasn’t until I read The Empire of the Sun and then because of it his own biography that I fully appreciated where, how and why you were brought up in a certain way could make your outlook so different. Ballard spent part of his youth in a Japanese concentration camp, which is enough to shape anyone’s ideas on life. An author’s outlook is shaped by experience; we do not all share the same experiences, though many say we do, therefore our stories are so very different. There is nothing wrong with this and it would do us well to appreciate it. Variety. Variety. Variety. If anything in my world of literature sums up both my own reading and writing it is this: Show variety, show your experiences, be uncontainable and revel in it.
I hope you enjoyed this selection of essential authors and examples of their work. Unlike the last post, I would encourage sampling them all for the reasons I have listed. Revel in their brilliance and take a little bit away from them all. It’s the little bits in this jigsaw we call life that make us what we are.
Richard M. Ankers author of The Eternals trilogy.
All images courtesy of Goodreads.com