Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Here's something you might not know about me.


Garrison Keillor. Yes, I'm a fan. And yes, I listen to NPR from time to time (though I admit nowadays it's mostly Car Talk and Prairie Home Companion.) I like writing that sounds like it's being read to you. I like it when I'm reading a book and I feel as though I can hear the author telling me the story. Now, I know a lot of people don't appreciate this, as the spoken vocabulary is different from the written one, but there is, I believe, some happy medium where the two marry and intertwine, some kind of literate, oral history. I love the Oral Tradition, and Keillor's good at this. It would be a dead art if it weren't for NPR, (and summer camp campfire messages.)

Also, Garrison Keillor is grossly sentimental like me, often wrapping up his homespun tales with some grandiose metaphor. So, that's where I get it. (Sometimes I go overboard. It doesn't show, but I try to control myself.)

Frederick Buechner. He's a terrific Christian author, but don't let that dissuade you from checking him out. He is a sincere talent, and has been nominated for the Pulitzer. His written voice is a wordy one, with lots of commas and run-on sentences -so if my style of doing that bugs you, you can blame him. And I love, of course, what he writes about, and how his faith is the center of his world-view.

Tim Cahill. He's a travel writer and one of the founding editors of Outside magazine. Most people like Bill Bryson, but I like Tim Cahill. When I began reading him, I discovered that I didn't actually have to travel there to enjoy the place, his storytelling was so magically sufficient. And funny. I appreciate funny. It's hard to do. I read a few of his books and got the sincere impression that he loved his job, and enjoyed writing. I immediately envied him.

John Irving. Now, I admit that I've only really read one of his books, A Prayer For Owen Meany, but the book so moved me, and so enveloped me as the story was told, that I will never forget the experience. I was obsessed with movies growing up, and I mean, really obsessed. But when I read Meany, I thought for the first time that writing might be a decent, workable outlet for my creative inclinations if the film thing never panned out. (And a cheaper one.) Anyway, the first paragraph in that novel so inspired me that I wrote a short story in college that opened with a similar, somewhat plagiarized, paragraph -different words, but a nearly duplicate cadence, which was the brilliant part. I dream of being able to orchestrate something like that first paragraph of his. (Irving was a student of Buechner, by the way, and quotes him at the beginning of that book.)

Thoreau/Emerson. Those crazy passionate transcendentalists who wouldn't leave Nature alone. Brilliant, to be sure, but sometimes out there. I saw Dead Poet's Society as a teenager and it got me looking into all that stuff, which was better than the movie -but such is the power of movies. Anyway, those two guys, Emerson especially, got me into heavy ideas. I like heavy ideas.

Joseph Campbell. Not a writer, per se -Lord knows his master thesis The Hero With a Thousand Faces was an incorruptible, unreadable bore- but the ideas are genius. He disassembled all the classic myths and explained why they are great, why they are lasting, and he used Star Wars as his modern day example to prove the points (it's what originally got my attention.) The Power of Myth interviews are truly fascinating and utterly brilliant, and if you want to know what makes good stories tick, his teachings are indispensable. I never appreciated his lumping the Jesus story into his analysis of myths, but I still go back to Campbell to remember the basics. The Matrix, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, and a myriad of others -they all owe a huge debt to Joseph Campbell.

Ernest Hemingway/Kurt Vonnegut. How can I possibly couple the two? Yes, I know, it's nutz. But Thoreau taught to "Simplify, simplify, simplify" and I've always taken that to heart. (Or, wanted to.) These two authors have mastered a way of writing that cuts out all the chaff, loses all the superfluous adjectives, and gets straight to the story. Hemingway more than Vonnegut, but Vonnegut was always so funny that it just felt like it was important that it was funny. Anyway, I can't really bear Vonnegut anymore, as I've grown out of pacifism, but if you see these three and four word sentences of mine -that's where they come from. Hemingway had it mastered to the point where if he actually started using adjectives you might have a conniption or a seizure or some kind of aneurysm from the aesthetic overload.

And Douglas Adams. That guy was just plain, awesomely hilarious. Dedicated atheist, but his humor is immortal. I was a devoted reader, and terribly saddened when he died at 49 in Santa Barbara. I was living there at the time, and always looked for him in the pubs but never bumped into him. Not sure what I would have said in any case. If I was given the choice of either being a good writer or having his sense of humor, I would be a terrible writer -but you wouldn't notice (or care) because you were laughing so hard.

Anyway, it's all just something I was thinking about. If I ever get around to writing some book worth your reading, it'll probably sound like a combination of the above authors. (Did I say "combination"? I may have meant "conflagration".)