A few days ago I realized that the recent Ovid has had a profound impact on me and my writing. I am reading Michie’s excellent translation of Art of Love and last year I read the incredible partial translation of the Metamorphosis by Ted Hughes. I expect to read everything else within the next month or two. Then it occurred to me. It might be fun to make a list of how my literary constellation has been changing over time.
- Middle School. Robert Heinlein, Mark Twain, Norton Juster, Ray Bradbury. (1979-81)
- High School. Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, Dostoevsky (1981-4)
- College. Heinrich Boll, Franz Kafka (also in high school), John Updike, Milan Kundera, Calvino. (1984-8)
- Grad School/Post University. R.K. Narayan, Felipe Alfau, Geza Csath, Mahfouz, Flannery O’Connor (1989-1991)
- Happy Poor Single Life. Hans Christian Anderson, J.C. Oates, Cather, Nicholson Baker, Rabelais, Steven Millhauser, Naguib Mahfouz (Cairo Trilogy!), Emerson (1991-5)
- Eastern Europe Life. Hasek (Good Soldier Shweik), Kadare,
- Alistair Cooke (2002-2004)
- 2012-2015. Lots of books for younger people,
- 2016-18. Booth Tarkington’s Penrod, HC anderson Tales,
I’m sure I’m forgotten a few and given too much emphasis to others. For example, Gordimer, Bellow, Berberova, Mutis, ETA Hoffman, Broch, Zola, Barth, etc. Also, I’m leaving out some epics I’m in the middle of and several promising writers whom I haven’t read enough of to have an opinion of.
Here’s a few thoughts about the above list. In high school I started out with a lot of serious existential fiction, and by the time I was 30 I had avoided it altogether. The black hole when I was learning about technology was occupied by a single book, 1984 (which was frighteningly relevant to the time of George W. Bush). I never particularly loved Updike, but his style and wisdom grow on you. His fiction is always magical (though sometimes it feels overwritten). As big a fan as I am of Asian literature, really little of it has influenced me. The last three stages have included lots of books-on-tape which definitely have enriched my life.
There are a number of books which bowled me over. For example, Calvino’s Cosmicomics and If On a Winter’s Day, Stanislaw Lem, and yet I really can’t call them influences. I’m a fan of R.K. Narayan, but I’ve actually read very few of his books.
I haven’t quite decided whether this list is accurate, but here it is. Give me a week to think about it some more.
Finally, I should mention that lately I’ve been listening to the Wired for Books mp3 interviews, and they’ve radically opened my mind and heart to contemporary American writers.