Friday, October 12, 2007

Authors Who Have Humbled Me

Among writers there is a tendency to be like that old actor joke:
Q: How many actors does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: One. And seven more to stand around and say "I could have done that better." (now insert 'writer' for 'actor')

The truth is, that just ain't so. We did not have thier original ideas. We did not have their life skills, their writing ability, or their je ne sais quoi. So, we really need to give some writers their due.

The following list is compiled of authors that made me sit up and go "I could never in a million years do that!" The list is nowhere near comprehensive....

1. Stephen King. The Stand. Just the scope of this monsterous book was humbling. You pick it up and it's like weight lifting. Then there's the story itself. Huge and gothic and religious in scope. Impressive.
2. Jhumpa Lahiri. Short story, "The Third and Final Continent." Even the title gives me goosebumps. Then it was so quiet and subtle. I am subtle like a jackhammer. Quite frankly, if I ever wrote anything that remotely resembled this story...I'd die a happy writer.
3. Chuck Palahniuk. Haunted. Holy crap. It was disgusting. It was gross. It was hilarious. It was some weird car-wreck-train-wreck-with-bus-full-of-school-children-over-a-cliff-while-skydiving kind of ride. You couldn't look away.
4. Anne Bronte. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The magic of this story happens in the time period in which it was written. A woman taking her child and running from an abusive husband. Happens in a lot of movies nowadays, but in Victorian England? That took some guts. The style of writing reminded me of Jane Austen writing about something other than a safe marriage. Cool.
5. J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter. I may have wanted to finish the sucker, and I may have called just about every important point in that last book, but I could never have come up with the wizarding world. Just couldn't have done it. Period.
6. Susanna Clarke. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Nope, could never, ever, in a million-plus years have put something like this together. I'm not even done with it and know that.

That's the beginning of my list. Anyone else?


  1. I'd have to add Tolkien, not so much for the elves and such, but he created his own histories, languages, etc. The sheer scope of his background knowledge is plain daunting.

    Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea. I mean how do you make an entire (admittedly short) novel about an old guy in a boat? And the story comes off as an epic.

    And now I really feel like I need to read more based on the big blank I'm drawing. (Sigh)

  2. I have a hard time figuring out who's awed me because more often my response is less "I could never do that" and more "Wow, I gotta try that."

    However, novelists tend to impress me because I've yet to write a complete novel. That is the biggest, most intimidating thing I've come up against so far.

    To die a happy writer... I would have to writes something like American Gods. Then I think I'd be okay.

  3. 1) I remember the first time I read The Lord of the Rings and marveled at the scope of the world Tolkein had to create to tell his story. I still do.
    2) American Gods blew me away. Gaiman writes as if it's just so damned easy for him, but there's so much going on that I hope he struggled a little bit. Otherwise, I may just go hang up my pen.
    3) Although I'm not as big a King fan as you (who could be?), I'll agree with you on The Stand. Amazing.
    4) Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale also floored me and hooked me on just about anything she wants to write. The epilogue, while ostensibly reassuring, is just chilling. I don't think I could read it in today's political climate. It seems a little too probably right now.

  4. I'm with Ali. I go more, "Hmm...I could use parts of that...

    Never been a very good reader though, have I. I analyze things too much. When I read really great literature the effect it generally has on me is a ponderous one. I think for a long time how it was great, what worked, what may have strengthened it. American Gods, for instance. One of the greatest books I've ever read, possibly. With this flaw: I think Shadow--main character guy--was just a wee bit too in the dark. Not as far as back story or understanding everything in scope and all. Mostly just too in the dark with what was going on while he was in the story. When he was in Lakeside, I think he was a little too ignorant, so I was a little too ignorant, so the story got pretty slow for a while. I would, possibly, have given him and Wednesday a couple more conversations.

    I see really good literature, and it just makes me think...

  5. I once used a bathroom at a truck stop near Tempe, Arizona that had a rather clever limerick written in sharpie on the wall. It had everything; drama, comedy, tenderness, rough honesty, and thought provoking questions. Unfortunately, I cannot remember a single word of this limerick, nor the basic subject, though I think it involved a man named "Calvin", but what I do remember was how humbled I was after reading it, and hoped to one day be as good as its author.

    But seriously, I have been floored by Steve Martin. He is capable of saying things that I've thought about, but could never get it out into words.

  6. You know, John, I think I have visited that very same bathroom. And wasn't there something about a turkey and a Samantha? I'm a little fuzzy on the details as well...

  7. YEAH!!! And there was something about a sour-faced Scotsman too...

  8. I have to agree with you that Stephen King deserves many more props than he has received. There have only been a handful of his works that I felt weren't up to the standard he set for himself.

    Though I don't write horror, I have to place King as my top writing mentor. If I could pack into my stories everything he packs into his, I'd be a happy woman. (I especially love his nonfiction work. He has this wonderful voice when he talks about the craft. I wish I could take a workshop class with him.)


Fellow thieves! Please feel free to let me know what you've taken from this post - or share pertinent information that you don't mind me stealing.