Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My A-Z of Literature

I saw this idea on Gus Sanchez's blog, where he'd gotten the idea from. . . you get the picture.  Anyway, it was a list of works from, well, A to Z, that had importance for him.  Lots of flexibility, author's name, first or last, title, and so on.  My list has a lot fewer heavy hitters, and more children's books, because so much of what made me the reader and writer I am happened in the early years.  But I'm going to take a shot at it, just because it sounds like fun.  The list is necessarily incomplete and would probably be different if I wrote it another time.

A. Louisa May Alcott.  I cried over Little Women more times than I can remember, and devoured all her books.  Yes, they are dated.  Yes, she wrote from some assumptions that grate on me now.  But in the late 1800s, LMA was writing about women and girls who were figuring out how to be something besides household drudges, and how to make a difference in their world, often by doing things that weren't considered properly "women's work."

Also Mary Hunter Austin (Land of Little Rain, Cactus Thorn).  A woman who wrote of nature and place with as much love and grace as John Muir.

B.   The Bible.  I'm an agnostic now, but I read the Bible more than once as a child and teen, and the language of the RSV and King James versions definitely resonates.  Besides, my Grandma showed me where a lot of the good gory (or racy) stories are (in the Old Testament).  Hard to top this book for the way it fills the subconscious of those of us raised in WASP America.

C.  Geoffrey Chaucer.  Found him in Grad school and because of him I spent ten years studying medieval literature.  I also blame him for my challenges with spelling.

D.  Douglas Adams.  You can be crazy and absurd and still have a great story. Or maybe even have a great story because it is crazy and absurd.

E.  Aaron Elkins and Earl Emerson.  Two writers of high-quality mysteries who never lose their grip on their sense of humor (however black the humor may get at times).  I will admit to liking the straight mysteries over their thrillers, though--because in the latter, the sense of humor slips.  Hard to be tongue-in-cheek while saving the world, I guess.  Though I'm tempted to try.

F.  Colin Fletcher.  The Man Who Walked Through Time.  Geology and backpacking together,  presented to me at a young age as about the most desirable activities out there (I managed to forget the former when picking a college major.  Silly me.  So I ended up an English major and have to go outside on my own time).

G.  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  I love alliteration.

H.  Hemmingway.  Because I have changed from loving him to hating him and back more than once, and if nothing else he constantly reminds me not to use too many words.

I.   Ivan Doig.  A discovery from some ten or twelve years ago, a writer who crafts his language and conveys and time and place like no one else I know.  It doesn't hurt that his place is Montana's Gros Ventre region.

J.  Jane Austen.  Read most of her books as a teen or early twenties, and couldn't see what the attraction was.  It took me to middle age to really appreciate her humor and insights into character.

K.  Katherine Kurtz.  Her Deryni novels were the first fantasy world that caught me as much as Tolkien did--though for very different reasons.  And eventually she even worked her way around to having some strong female characters.  I never forgot my Dad's criticism, though: that she spent too much time describing the clothes.  He was right, and I pay attention to when description matters to the story and when it's just self-indulgent.

L.   Louis L'Amour.  Yeah, he's an awful writer in so many ways.  But in Jr. High and High School, I devoured his Westerns and appreciated that he occasionally even had a female who knew exactly what she was doing and was good at it.  For better or worse, he and his imaginary West are permanent parts of my imagination.  When not spouting absurd philosophy or shooting his hero full of holes, he also did a good job of conveying the landscapes.

Madeleine L'Engle.  Not only did she write a boat-load of really good books that were fun to read, but she and Dorothy Sayers between them wrote some of the first books I read about writingBoth wrote about being a Christian and a writer, which was relevant at the time but isn't now.  But since what they were really concerned about was being the best possible writer, it still resonates.

M.  L.M. Montgomery.  Apart from the whole miserable orphan thing, I was Anne of Green Gables.  Big words, long red braids, and an imagination that wouldn't stop.  All too often a tongue that didn't stop quite soon enough, either.

Charlotte MacLeod.  Murder with an absurdist twist--proof that you can write mysteries and comedies at the same time, in the same book.

N.  Ogden Nash.  I like nonsense verse.

O.  Oxford English Dictionary.  Unabridged.  Love all the history embedded in the etymologies.  Also loved the look on a long-ago housemate's face when she was joking about the "Compact Edition" label on the two giant volumes.  Then I showed her the 4-pages-to-a-page format.  Yup.  Compact.  Came with a magnifying glass.

P.  Terry Pratchett.  I only discovered him this year, but he is living proof that you can make a career out of writing brilliant nonsense (see also Douglas Adams).

Pride and Prejudice.  One of the books I thought boring when a teen, and discovered later was witty and fun.  (See Jane Austen, above).

Q.   Quests.  All those desperate quests and hopeless last stands.  Loved that stuff.  Still do.  (Okay, it's a stretch.  But I can't think of anything better for "Q".)

R.  Robert Service.  What's not to love about "The Cremation of Sam Magee" and "The Shooting of Dan McGrew"? (See Ogden Nash).

S.  A Sand County Almanac.  One of the first books that started me thinking about conservation and ecology.

Will Shakespeare.  Yeah, the Big Guy.  He was an early source of a love of words that taste like honey in the mouth.

Dorothy Sayers.  She invented Lord Peter Wimsey.

T.  J.R.R. Tolkien.  I don't care if it's hokey, and he couldn't cope with female characters.  I read the whole LOTR trilogy pretty much annually from 5th grade until sometime in my 20s, just because I loved the drama, the noble last stands, and all that.

U.  Up Periscope.  Robb White sold me on adventure and war stories at and early age.

V.  Voltaire?  Kurt Vonnegut Jr.?  I've read them. . . just not sure they qualify as big influences.

W.  Laura Ingalls Wilder introduced me to historical fiction.
P.G. Wodehouse.
X.  I don't think so!

Y.  Why not?

Z.     Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Funny thing is, I can't remember much of anything about it, just remember thinking it was life-changing at the time.

[Note: it took me about 2 months to come up with this list.  This was hard!]


  1. I liked this when Gus did it too, and thought at that time to snatch the idea myself. Good influences! No X? Xavier Cugat? LOL!

    1. I have to confess that not only have I not read Xavier Cugat, I haven't even heard of him. I think there are some X-Men comic books at the library...

  2. This is a great idea! Love your list, very interesting to go through :)

    1. A lot of fun to put together, too. I know I missed some, because of having too many for some letters, and not enough for others. I mean, what about some others I read over and over as a kid, like Black Beauty and Misty of Chincoteague? So many horse books. . . and I've been riding about three times in my life! But they must have done something to my brain. Just don't know what.


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