The only rule I gave myself in
putting together this list is that I didn’t choose by books by people I know,
even if I only know them through e-mails or letters. If I started going there,
the list would become tainted. These are books, and writers, that made me what I
Lord knows this is in no particular order:
1. Graham Greene — Our Man in Havana. Any Greene books are a lesson in how to write. This is one of the funnier ones, and I almost always choose funny over distraught.
2. Joanne Harris — Blackberry Wine. All her books are good, so, once again, I went with humor. You may notice 90% of my list is dead people. Joanne is about the best pure writer who is alive.
3. J.P. Donleavy — Wrong Information Is Being Given Out at Princeton. J.P. is alive, last I heard. He was the darling dirty young man and now he’s the darling dirty old man. I named my daughter after his novel, Leila.
4. John Steinbeck — Tortilla Flat. Any of the funny books are good. Except for Grapes of Wrath, which is the great American novel, his serious stuff takes itself too seriously. I don’t care for writers who take themselves seriously. The books, yes, themselves, forget it. Oprah picked probably his tenth best.
5. P.G. Wodehouse — Any of them. The man knew how to play with language and he was amazingly consistent well into his nineties.
6. John Berger — Lilac and Flag. A truly great book. Although when you talk about writers who take themselves too seriously, this guy is the Michael Jordan of ostentation. Some of his books should be read with a shovel in hand while others are the best books written in the last hundred years.
7. Thomas Berger — Little Big Man. The greatest Western novel. Shane made a better movie, but this is the book that will teach you how writing should be done.
8. John Yount — Toots in Solitude. A book so moving it will make strong men weep and women miscarry.
9. Walker Percy — The Moviegoer. While others taught me how to write, Walker Percy taught me how to think.
10. Charles Portis — Gringos. Okay, you make prefer Dog of the South, but this book is the typed equivalent of Derrick and the Dominoes. Almost too perfect.
11. Hallgrimur Helgason— 101 Reykjavik. Imagine if Henry Miller had written Tropic of Cancer on crack instead of wine. This book has the least likeable narrator in literary history. Worse than Donleavy’s Ginger Man or the fat guy in Confederacy of Dunces. Makes Kelly Palamino look like a damn saint. If you read one book off this list, make it this one.
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