Someone described his work as "philosophy lite". Call it what you will, his books captivated me decades ago, and his adventures in living his beliefs have helped to form - or at least validate - some of my own beliefs.
I was fascinated by the legend of this Indian writer who submitted the manuscript for The God of Small Things to a London agent who, not long after, found himself on a plane to India, contract and six-figure advance in hand. When I read the book I understood. It's the writing - lyrical, heart-wrenching... That's the way I aspire to write!
I read My Family and Other Animals when I was a child and was hooked for life. Durrell's accounts of his childhood in Greece, along with his adventures as an animal collector, zookeeper and conservationist, not only provided me with innumerable hours of high entertainment but also contributed to my development as a naturalist and writer.
During my sojourns in Florida the highpoint of my weekend was buying the Miami Herald and reading Barry's column. Every Monday for the past five years or so, one of his classic columns drops into my inbox courtesy the Herald, and it's a great way to offset the start-of-the-week blues. The quintessential humorist and satirist, Barry is unsurpassed, imho, at exposing the hysterical insanities in everyday life.
During my last teaching stint a few years ago I met a fifteen year old boy who shared my passion for The Bard. I wanted to hug him. When I left, he hugged me. After all, how often do you meet a teenager who also gets goosebumps every time we read certain lines of Macbeth? Shakespeare's trenchant observations on every aspect of life have so influenced me that his words constantly find their way into my writing - and even into my everyday speech, much to the disgust of a few people who just don't get it.
I've lost count of the number of times I've read To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee captures the essence of childhood while at the same time exploring very adult themes and telling a damned good story - a triple triumph I'd love to emulate.
After reading A Walk in the Woods I knew I had to get my hands on his other books. (Yes, KeVin, he does seem to have a jaundiced view of certain aspects of the American South but I'm not from there so I don't take it personally and the humour is undiluted by any perception of insult.) Bryson combines several of my reading fetishes, some of which I'm discovering are also my writing fetishes: humour, the natural world, travel, and social satire.
Here is another writer who speaks to the things I hold dear: conservation of the natural world, solitude, rejection of worldly values, the beauty and mystery of existence in all its manifestations. My tattered copy of Desert Solitaire is one of my prized possessions.
Others who have deeply influenced my thoughts and my writing, consciously and otherwise, I'm sure, are:
- Maya Angelou, for her genius at making me cry, rage, and laugh out loud - sometimes all at the same time!
- Erma Bombeck, for demonstrating that the most ordinary, humdrum aspects of living (what's funny about a housewife living in the suburbs, battling with spouse, spawn, cooking, laundry, crab grass, weight gain and her own expectations of domestic bliss?) can provide great fodder for humour.
- Erica Jong, for empowering wonderful, libidinous, flawed, lovable feminist heroines!