W.P. Kinsella died. For those who don't know, he wrote the book, "Shoeless Joe" upon which the movie, "Field of Dreams" was based. He also wrote, "The Iowa Baseball Confederacy" (along with a slew of other novels and sort stories). Both those books I read on recommendation from my father (who is gone 9 years now, and who was also a writer and huge Red Sox fan). You may think 'I really don't care about baseball, so I don't think those would interest me', but you'd be wrong. Because baseball is only a vehicle to tell tales of family, wonder, philosophy, legacy, and life. I loved those books. I loved them so much, I wrote to Kinsella after reading "Shoeless Joe" to tell him how it moved me, how I was swept away in the magic and the wonder, how he made me care, how he made me believe -- how he made me give a crap about the game of baseball, because when he writes about it he's only kind of writing about baseball, and even when he truly is writing about baseball, he still makes you love it as though you were born into it.
So I wrote him a letter -- and he wrote me back. With kind gratitude, genuine connection, and scratchy handwriting. He wrote me back.
I still have that letter.
It made me sad that he died, because I loved him as a writer. It made me sad because it reminded me of losing my father. But it also reminded me of why I write, and how much I love to do it. Which led me to thinking about the question I keep getting asked at readings and events, "What authors have you read? What were you reading when you wrote this (or that) book?"
I often stumble, suddenly trying to recall all my favorite works. Not because they weren't memorable, but because I'm a writer, and used to conversing with a keyboard and imaginary people, not a roomful of real ones with all eyes on me.
But Kinsella reminded me. So to answer the question once and for all, here's a brief list of authors and the works I've read and loved. Those that in some way stuck with me and had some sort of influence on my own voice as a writer. Maybe writing them down will help me remember them at my next reading/event. Or maybe everyone could just print it out and keep it with them, so I don't have to. That would be awesome. But please don't ask me my favorite part, or, if you read them, if I remember when so-and-so said this-or-that, because my brain dumps old data to make room for new fairly regularly, so chances are I won't recall. I do recall my feeling when I read them, a sense (or echo) of the experience of reading them, and I know they were meaningful because all of these are still on my bookshelf today, in spite of most having been read too many years ago to mention.
So read on -- for my favorite reads, in no particular order, because when I tried to come up with one, well, I couldn't.
1. W.P. Kinsella Shoeless Joe
Iowa Baseball Confederacy
2. Ralph Ellison The Invisible Man
3. Edward Abbey The Monkey Wrench Gang
4. Anne Lamott Bird by Bird
Crooked Little Heart
5. Edith Wharton Ethan Fromme and other Stories
6. Katherine Anne Porter Pale Horse/Pale Rider
7. John Irving A Prayer for Owen Meany
8. Robert Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
(read more than once and until the book fell
9. Raymond Carver Where I'm Calling From
I'm quite certain there are more, but that is a good overview of what I was reading when I began truly delving into writing. These are the writers that helped me "see" like a writer; to feel life in a way that would lead to words on a page. These are the writers that helped me find my own voice. They are varied in style and content, but the common thread is that each one of them moved me in some way -- whether inspired, heartbroken, enraged, encouraged, or just quietly filled with wonder, these books spoke to me, and revealed something about life and the world that I hadn't noticed before. Like it says on the cover of Shoeless Joe, "The power of dreams can make you come alive". So can the power of words.
Maybe they will do the same for some of you.
“Baseball is the most perfect of games, solid, true, pure and precious as diamonds. If only life were so simple. Within the baselines anything can happen. Tides can reverse; oceans can open. That's why they say, "the game is never over until the last man is out." Colors can change, lives can alter, anything is possible in this gentle, flawless, loving game.”