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Writers who have changed me

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, Aleichem, Arabian Nights, Emily Dickinson, (1995-8)
  • Dell Austin ubergeek. Nothing but technical reading. Also, 1984 (1998-2001)
  • Rediscovering Reading. Chekhov, Petrarch, Nabokov (Pnin), Mike Royko (newspaper columnist), Bill Bryson (humor & travelling), Alistair Cooke (2002-2004)
  • Discovering the Public Domain. Lafcadio Hearn, Arnold Bennett, John Kendrick Bangs (2004-5)
    • (also some major film influences: Kieslowski’s Decalogue, Apted’s Up Series, Walter Murch’s Conversations (book).
  • Sabbatical (Art & Love): Ovid, Marco Vassi, Jane Smiley, Dino Buzzati, Chinese Ghost stories, (Sanskrit literature) (2006-7)
  • 2008-9 (??? No themes have emerged yet. Sex & Romance? Long Novels again? I love American Literature? Will report back at the end of the year).
  • 2009-2010. Jack Matthews. Also, I wanted to mention that the films of John Sayles have had a major effect on me…
  • 2011-? Reading a lot of ebooks by indie authors.

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.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Robert Flynn 11/21/2007, 12:01 pm

    That’s an interesting exercise, Robert. I think more people should make a list of books that influenced them and what that influence was.

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