Tag Archives: Joyce Carol Oates

Who Are Your Top 10 Favorite Writers?

Today is a fun blogging day — a couple of “10 Favorite” lists.

I make these lists about once every, well, 10 years. They not only show who influences us most deeply as readers and/or writers, but also who grabs our hearts, minds and souls. The 10-year period between lists also shows how we’ve evolved as people. Several on my lists have remained the same over the years, but one or two invariably switch out each decade.

That said, who are your 10 favorite writers? Also, since it is National Poetry Month, who are your 10 favorite poets and/or essayists? Mine are listed below, with a quick bit about each.

Please use the comment feature on this blog to let us know who your favorites are, and why (at least for a few of them). We’ll post a composite of the responses at the end of April.

Bob’s 10 Favorite Writers, in no particular order (except for number one):

boyle

T.C. Boyle

Jack Kerouac — My all-time favorite. ‘On the Road’, and ‘Dharma Bums’ are classics of his tireless stream of consciousness writing. Did you know he wrote ‘The Subterraneans’ in 72 hours — and included a 1,200-word sentence in there?

T.C. Boyle — a mastermind of fiction and short story. He’s carried the mantle among American short-story giants since Raymond Carver died.

Anne Rice — I’m not so hot on her books (except for ‘The Vampire Lestat’ and book one of her ‘Christ the Lord’ series), but her writing is amazing. Who else can keep readers up for two nights with more chilling scenes?

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Thich Nhat Hanh — This Vietnamese Buddhist monk has written some of the most beautiful, applicable books of the past 50 years, his style succinct and full of love.

Laura Hillenbrand — Journalistic narrative gets no better than ‘Seabiscuit’ or ‘Unbroken’, does it? She’s awesome.

Elmore Leonard — My man Elmore, a master of realistic dialogue and snappy, fast-paced storytelling. I read a Leonard novel every time I want to improve my pacing, or simply when it’s time for a great story and some laughs.

John Gardner — 90% of my fiction knowledge comes from the late, great novelist and author of the best book on the craft, ‘The Art of Fiction.’

Anais Nin

Anais Nin

Hunter S. Thompson — Forget how bizarre he was as a person; he greatly influenced me through ‘New Journalism’ (the grandparent of narrative non-fiction), his writing for Rolling Stone, and his two gems, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and ‘The Great Shark Hunt’.

Anais Nin — Classy, erotic, cultured, full of irresistible imagery and beautiful writing. Unless your religious beliefs preclude you from doing so, every man should read a Nin book if they care about the innermost worlds of their women.

Joyce Carol Oates — She’s written hundreds of short stories and more than 40 novels. She plunges us into her characters’ worlds within two pages; I feel like I’ve lost my skin and identity when reading her. And her storytelling? The best. In her classic book ‘Blonde’, she admitted she felt like she was Marilyn Monroe while writing it. Priceless.

10 FAVORITE POETS

Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder — My idol as a poet and steward of the land since I was 16. In my opinion, he’s the greatest poet/essayist alive (and a pre-eminent translator of classical Chinese poetry). He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974. In recent years, I’ve had the honor of befriending and being mentored by him. Love the man.

Paramhansa Yogananda — As beautiful soul poetry goes, this Indian yoga master has the touch. ‘Songs of the Soul’ is a classic.

Wislawa Szymborska — She recently passed, but in 2012, Gary Snyder called her ‘the best poet in the world.’ Her winning the Nobel Prize backs his claim.

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Mary Oliver — How can you not love Mary? Her incisive images and attention to rhythm and detail are beautiful and exact.

David Whyte — He brings the spiritual, natural and inner human worlds together seamlessly; I get goose bumps every time I read Whyte aloud.

Billy Collins — Roll up your sleeves, pour coffee, and survey the little quirks and bits of magic in the everyday world. Billy engages us in the most accessible poetry of the last 50 years. (His protégé, Taylor Mali, could easily fill this slot – but with more obvious humor.)

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Percy Bysshe Shelley — Let’s dial back the clock. Shelley only lived to be 29, but he defined the 18th-19th century Romantic poetry period. Such beautiful poems, and he mastered the difficult combination of storytelling and lyrical verse.

Rumi — There were more than 100 great Persian, Arabian and other Middle Eastern poets from the 8th through 15th centuries; Rumi has lived on. Who doesn’t feel better and deeper after reading one or two of his poems? Honey for the soul.

Li-Po — Like Rumi, he stands tallest among China’s wandering poets in the 7th through 10th centuries. Want to be a Chinese landscape? Read him aloud.

Sappho — She brought written form to lyric and spoken verse 2,700 years ago, creating Western poetry as we know it (though she wasn’t the first; Sumerian Enheduanna penned her poems on cuneiform tablets 4,500 years ago). Sadly, only about 2% of Sappho’s work survives; she was as prolific as Shakespeare.

There are my lists. Looking forward to seeing yours!

ON SALE THROUGHOUT NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: Backroad Melodies, by Robert Yehling. $9.95 print, $1.99 Kindle, .99 Matchbook. Through April 30. http://amzn.to/1Hb62Ei

Low Res Cover Backroads

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30 Books Every Writer Should Own: The Other 20

Well, good to see that everyone is looking for fun lists for holiday shopping! The “30 Books Every Writer Should Own” blog entry spiked my average reader count for this blog; it was the highest single-day total yet. I thank you all very much!

I’ve already received some wonderful comments, but this one leads to today’s blog: “What books were hardest for you to keep off the Top 30 list?”

Since I took 50 books that have touched me deeply in my writing career – or life – and pared them down to 30, I thought I’d run out the list of the 20 “Very Honorable Mentions.” Keep in mind: this list is incredibly subjective. All of these books belong on every writer’s short list of titles. They continue the theme of how I believe writers should read – roundly, fully, deeply, and interactively.

The Very Honorable Mentions (again, not in any particular order):

The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art, by Joyce Carol Oates: If you could mate pure, distilled wisdom and vision with the intimacy of a deep romance, this book would be the offspring. What a treasure, by one of the greatest writers on the planet.

The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself, by Susan Bell: For most writers, the hardest part of the process comes after you finish writing the draft – editing your work. In my opinion, this is the best book on editing. It contains tips, strategies, counsel from the greatest book editors of the past century, and interviews with top-selling authors. The author’s personal touch makes self-editing very inviting … and I invite you in, because these days, books need to go to publishers very well edited.

Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury: Zen connotes space, presence, serenity, succinctness. All of which you find in Bradbury’s prolific writing style. I was at a signing when science fiction’s greatest living writer toured this book 20 years ago … I’ll never forget his encouraging comments to me. This book remain a treasure.

On Being a Writer, Bill Strickland, ed: I kept this in the Top 30 list until the last moment. A great collection of conversations with our finest authors, who discuss voice, technique and process openly, in a way that every writer can absorb.

Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne Rice, by Katherine Ransland: One of the most poignant biographies of a living literary figure. Ransland’s book itself is art. It also dives all the way into how tragedy, turmoil, deep suffering and vision created the author who did the impossible – rewrote the legacy of vampires.

The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell: We need to be in contact with the mythologies that formed the archetypes we use in our writing. We also need to know the art of myth-making as storytellers. This book, first published in conjunction with a PBS series in the late 1980s, brings myth into the present. Worthy companion: Mythology, by Edith Hamilton.

Keeping a Journal You Love, by Sheila Bender: A wonderful friend in the writing-teaching community, Sheila has dedicated the last 20 years of her life to helping writers improve their craft. She’s written several books, but this brings home the essence of what it takes to be a compelling writer: Going deep inside, taking your life experiences and world view with you, and percolating wisdom and compassion through journaling. This book erases writer’s block – fast.

The Poet and the Poem, by Judson Jerome: 35 years after its publication, this Writer’s Digest Book remains a landmark on the craft of poetry.

Writing Begins with the Breath, by Laraine Herring: This new release borrows from William Carlos Williams’ philosophy of poetry, which launched the Beat poets movement. Part Buddhism, part instructional … a fine book.

Dare to be a Great Writer: 329 Keys to Powerful Fiction, by Leonard Bishop: Another Writer’s Digest Book, this is one of the most thought-out breakdowns of the fiction writing technique and process.

The Rise of the Creative Class, by Richard Florida: A sociological book on how society, culture, education, timing and the ’60s conspired to form perhaps the most diverse and creative group of people in U.S. history – us. Invaluable reading for better understanding of the Boomers and Gen X – the core book-buying public.

The Literary Journalists, Norman O. Sims, ed.: Another book about the New Journalism movement, which launched the personal memoir and narrative non-fiction as we now know it.

The Aquarian Conspiracy, by Marilyn Ferguson: A classic from its publication in 1979, this book breaks out the sociological network of community, technology, spiritual living and environmental consideration that are front-page news items today. I consider it a “must” because it reminds us of our responsibilities to society as creatives.

The Life of Poetry, by Muriel Rukeyser: A beautifully rendered part-memoir, part-instructional discussion of poetry by one of the greatest writers of the mid-20th century.

Journal of a Solitude, by May Sarton: As those who have been in my workshops know, I am BIG on journaling. This wonderful book is best read by a fire, with a cup of coffee or tea, quiet music … and a journal alongside. Because you will be sparked by the writings of the ever-wise May Sarton.

On Death and Dying, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: I realize this classic is a very unusual choice, but let’s face it – the vast majority of novels include death, many of us touch the subject in our writing, and we all face it. Why on this list? Because, when I edit books and read end-of-life scenes, it is very easy to see who has experienced them with family or friends, and who has not. This book will bring greater authenticity to your writing. Plus, everyone should read this book.

The Art of the Personal Essay, Philip Lopate, ed.: This should be a staple in every aspiring and practicing essay writer’s home library – from ages 10 to 100. The variety of essays, and informative lead-ins, make this one of the best edited and selected writing anthologies ever.

The Best Writing on Writing, Jack Heffron, ed.: Jack is a former Writer’s Digest Books editor who occasionally teaches writing workshops. He also compiles very good anthologies. This annual release offers plenty of great pieces for writers looking for a tip or some inspiration.

The Alphabetic Labyrinth, by Johanna Drucker: Writing is conveyed by letters. This masterpiece shares the history of alphabets worldwide, how cultures intermingled to create new alphabets, and how the written word spread. The book is beautiful rendered and illustrated, and is one of several wonderful studies of language and the word by this author.

And finally, one of my own:
The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life, by Robert Yehling: It’s very hard for me to include myself in any list, but I’m just sharing the vibe I’ve received from readers and reviewers since its publication in September. The exercises in this book are both stand-alone and mini-series pieces that cover every genre and leave plenty of opportunity for personal interpretation. You won’t find a more diverse writing exercise book.

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