I’ve always loved the written word. Although I now read a lot more non-fiction than fiction, I admire good writing in all its guises, particularly the short-form essay, novellas and short stories.
My earliest writing heroes were Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan. I guess that dates me, eh? To this day, I sometimes get asked if I’m somehow related to “Kilgore Trout”, a recurring character in Vonnegut’s novels, including the best-known Slaughter House Five. That always amazes me.
Later on, I became an Alice Munro convert, like almost everyone else. As a more literal, descriptive writer, I am amazed by Munro’s ability to convey so much with so little. She can say more in a paragraph than I can in 1,000 words – both literally and through allusion. Oh well.
My favourite non-fiction writer now is probably Bill Bryson. His breadth is astounding. He is a successful writer of science (A Short History of Nearly Everything), travel (A Walk in the Woods), language (The Mother Tongue), and memoir (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid). His latest stab, at anthropology (At Home) was … not so good! I had to return it. Sorry Bill.
Close behind Bill, in the outdoor department, is John Krakauer. He struck it huge with Into Thin Air, which is about the disastrous 1996 season on Mount Everest. But equally gripping was the earlier Into the Wild, since made into a (less successful) movie by Sean Penn. I’ve always loved disaster stories, so Krakauer is right up my alley, but he’s no less brilliant with a straight-up exposé like Under the Banner of Heaven, about the Mormons.
In the more academic vein, I adore Jared Diamond, an environmental historian. His Pulitzer Prize for Guns, Germs and Steel was so deserved, and his follow-up Collapse: How societies choose to succeed or fail, was almost as good.
I also have a soft spot for pop psychology. Here are two equally popular titles from very different eras. Gifts from the Sea was Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s hugely successful little volume from 1955, a beautifully crafted meditation on marriage and women’s roles, using the metaphor of sea shells. I have my great aunt’s copy. Tuesdays with Morrie, is both lightweight and profound at the same time. This 1997 biography by sportswriter Mitch Albom employs deft journalistic observation combined with a clever structure and plain, clear language.
Okay that’s enough. Maybe you get where I’m coming from. At least you can see who my role models are.