Random Asides

15 Influential Authors

I haven’t done one of these chain letter-type Facebook thingies in awhile but I liked the sound of this one. Instead of keeping it on Facebook, I thought I’d open it up to all you Skepchick readers who might want to give it a go. Here’s the copy pasta:

Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who have always influenced you and will always stick with you. List the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes, and they don’t have to be listed in order of relevance to you. Tag at least 15 friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what authors my friends chose. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your profile page, paste the rules in a new notes, list your 15 picks, and tag your friends.)

Um, I’m obviously tagging all of you. Here are my fifteen:

1. Kurt Vonnegut
2. James Randi
3. Michael Chabon
4. Neil Gaiman
5. Jon Ronson
6. Richard Feynman
7. Grace Paley
8. Mary Roach
9. Umberto Eco
10. Chris Ware
11. David Sedaris
12. Art Spiegelman
13. Margaret Atwood
14. Ayaan Hirsi Ali
15. Carl Sagan

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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67 Comments

  1. 1 Allan Moore
    2 Larry Niven
    3 Terry Brooks
    4 Kurt Vonnegut
    5 Carl Sagan
    6 Frank Herbert
    7 Neal Stephenson
    8 Stephen Jay Gould
    9 Richard Dawkins
    10 Douglas Adams
    11 Harlan Ellison
    12 Neil Gaiman
    12 Kim Stanley Robinson
    14 Julian May
    15 Patrick O’Brian

  2. Did this on Facebook a while ago and it was a lot harder than I thought. It didn’t help that I was replying to a friend who travels in literary circles, making me afraid that my plain-jane choices would be mocked

    Also, the version I replied to had no description, so I thought it meant “authors who have influenced your writing” rather than just influencing you personally.

    Bearing that in mind, here’s what I wrote:

    15 People/Groups of People Who I’ve (Lovingly) Ripped Off Wholesale

    Because I’m so poorly read, I’m not limiting this to proper authors. There’s just too much stuff to read for a film guy like me to keep up! ;) Besides, very few of the things I DO read are at all hip, and I write so little that few things end up legitimately influencing any writing at all, so…

    – In no particular order after the first two, from whom I’ve definitely stolen the most –

    1. Douglas Adams
    2. Kurt Vonnegut
    3. Stephen King (ugh, I KNOW, but it’s true. I read so many of his books as a kid)
    4. Orwell (especially his essays)
    5. Noel Murray’s TV criticism
    6. Monty Python
    7. Bill Bryson
    8. Billy Collins
    9. Woody Allen
    10. Pre-“Haunted” Chuck Palahniuk
    11. Poe
    12. Everyone I’ve ever read on McSweeney’s or The Onion or heard on This American Life, The Moth Podcast, or Selected Shorts
    13. Rod Serling
    14. Susanna Clarke
    15. James Joyce (not that he was a GOOD influence… not an easy style to steal)

    If we’re talking about influence on my life OUTSIDE of writing, I’d have to add Sagan and Dawkins to the list. And probably Tolkien and Salinger.

  3. I also did this a bit ago. Here is my list…

    Haruki Murakami
    Kurt Vonnegut
    Charles Dickens
    David Mitchell
    Margaret Atwood
    Orhan Pamuk
    Graham Greene
    F. Scott Fitzgerald
    Philip Pullman
    Marcel Proust
    Leo Tolstoy
    Robert Louis Stevenson
    Penelope Fitzgerald
    George Eliot
    Mark Twain

  4. @Expatria

    That list would take me a while to think through and write down, but as for skeptic authors, I think Carl Sagan is the one that I enjoyed the most. Many things about Dawkins I don’t like, but it is more how he says things than what he says.

  5. 1. Douglas Adams
    2. Terry Prachett
    3. Isaac Asimov
    4. Piers Anthony
    5. Robert Heinlein
    6. Robert Anton Wilson
    7. Warren Ellis
    8. Daniel Dennett
    9. C. S. Lewis
    10. Carl Sagan
    11. Bruce Hood
    12. Michael Shermer
    13. e.e. cummings
    14. George Orwell
    15. The Good Reverend Roger

    I try to keep my readings varied.

  6. 0. Larry Niven
    1. Robert Heinlein
    2. James P. Hogan
    3. Roger Penrose
    4. Neal Stephenson
    5. Neil Gaiman
    6. Martin Gardner
    7. Rudy Rucker
    8. Brian Greene
    9. Frederick Pohl
    10. Roger Zelazny
    11. Billy Collins
    12. Erik Frank Russell
    13. Isaac Asimov
    14. Richard Dawkins

    As I was composing this I thought of two questions. I was wondering if anyone else would name a poet and lo and behold @Expatria also listed Billy Collins. The other question was is there a difference between an author who influenced you and a specific book? There are lots of individual books I have nearly memorized that for the life of me I couldn’t tell you who wrote them. It was strictly the subject matter that grabbed me. These include:

    The Code Book
    Fractal Geometry of Nature (oh, crap, I should’ve known this was Mandelbrot)
    Genetic Algorithms and Evolutionary Computation
    How Things Work

  7. 1. Anne McCaffrey
    2. Robert Louis Stevenson
    3. Harry Harrison
    4. Mark Twain
    5. Issac Asimov
    6. Lucy Maud Montgomery
    7. Robin McKinley
    8. JRR Tolkein
    9. Piers Anthony
    10. Rudyard Kipling
    11. Cynthia Voight
    12. Arthur Conan Doyle
    13. Frances Hodgson Burnett
    14. Shakespeare
    15. Tennyson

    No nonfiction. But I think that’s more because I never remember the names of the authors of the non-fiction since I rarely find multiples by the same author.

    Lots of classics and sci-fi/fantasy. That was pretty much my childhood – nose in one of those peoples’ stories :)

  8. 1. Madeleine L’Engle
    2. Douglas Adams
    3. Richard Dawkins
    4. Ayaan Hirsi Ali
    5. David Quammen
    6. Aldous Huxley
    7. Rohinton Mistry
    8. Carl Hiaasen
    9. Joseph Boyden
    10. Thomas King
    11. Christopher Moore
    12. Stuart McLean
    13. Henry David Thoreau
    14. Edward Abbey
    15. Gail Anderson Dargatz

  9. @Rebecca and @spurge and @davew: Some monkey, FSM, Sagan love for all fans of Neil Stephenson!!!

    In no particular order:
    Edgar Rice Burroughs.
    Madeleine L’Engele
    C.S. Lewis
    Frank Herbert
    JRR Tolkien
    Isaac Asimov
    Alexander Solzhenitsyn
    Erich Fromm
    Dan Simmons
    William Manchester
    Charles Dickens
    Leon Uris
    John le Carre
    David McCullough
    Neil Stephenson

  10. It would be fun to see which imagined visual images come to mind for everyone when asked to recall a favorite piece of fiction. When I think of authors or a novel my reference is often a character or scene in a book that I’ve created in my mind. The memory is visual despite it being created in my mind while reading.

    @Skulleigh: I have many fond memories of reading McCaffrey’s dragon/Pern books way back when.

  11. 1. Stephen Donaldson
    2. Terry Pratchett
    3. Peter David
    4. Douglas Adams
    5. Dean Koontz
    6. Terrance Dicks
    7. Lance Parkin
    8. Stepehn J Gould
    9. Carl Sagan
    10. Agatha Christie
    11. Lloyd Rose
    12. Bob Shaw
    13. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    14. Matthew Reilly
    15. Rob Shearman

  12. 1. Isaac Asimov
    2. Robert Heinlein
    3. Erle Stanley Gardner
    4. Rex Stout
    5. Genevieve Bujold
    6. Roger Zelazny
    7. Mark Twain
    8. W. Somerset Maugham
    9. Guy de Maupassant
    10. Don Coldsmith
    11. Andre Norton
    12. Anne McCaffrey
    13. Poul Anderson
    14. Harlan Ellison
    15. Charles Dodgson

    Cheeses! 15 already?
    I write Dodgson rather than Carroll because Symbolic Logic got me started,
    but for a long time I could recite Jabberwocky and The Walrus and the Carpenter

  13. In no particular order…
    1. Richard Dawkins
    2. Jared Diamond
    3. David McCullough
    4. James Morrow
    5. Neil Stephenson
    6. Neal Gaiman
    7. Margaret Atwood
    8. Phillip Pullman
    9. Cormac McCarthy
    10. Kurt Vonnegut
    11. John Steinbeck
    12. Ernest Hemingway
    13. Charles Dickens
    14. Robert Sapolsky
    15. Fyodor Dostoevsky

    I realized I have almost no female authors… I should work on changing that… Any suggestions?

  14. 1. Douglas Adams
    2. Tom Robbins
    3. Carl Sagan
    4. Richard Dawkins
    5. Malcolm Gladwell
    6. Oliver Sacks
    7. David Sedaris
    8. Ray Bradbury
    9. Stephen D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner (the Freakanomics folks)
    10. Aldous Huxley
    11. Madeleine L’Engle
    12. Norton Juster
    13. Jonah Lehrer
    14. Dave Barry
    15. Aldous Huxley

    I did this same meme on facebook except for albums. Since I’m a jazz musician and have lots of musician facebook friends, this was very nerve wracking. I find the author game to be a lot more comfortable, since I don’t put much of my self-worth into who I read. I definitely get where @Expatria is coming from, though.

    Another note: I mention Gladwell, since I love his books, but something Rebecca said offhand on the SGU about his stuff being pseudosciencey has made me reevaluate some of his claims. (And nobody here mentioned him, too, which is another sign). Sometimes it’s easy to fall in love with an idea and shut off your brain to dissonance. I s’pose reevaluating even the things you love is what being a skeptic is all about, though.

  15. 1. Charles Dickens
    2. Michael Malone
    3. Chuck Palahniuk
    4. Hernandez Brothers
    5. Judy Blume
    6. Jeffrey Steingarten
    7. John Irving
    8. Vince Bugliosi
    9. Jane Goodall
    10. Carolyn Keene
    11. Stephen King
    12. Neil Gaiman
    13. JK Rowling
    14. Julia Child
    15. Richard Feynman

    All influential on my life in some way at some time.

  16. 1. Isaac Asimov
    2. Harlan Ellison
    3. Robert Silverberg
    4. Robert Heinlein
    5. Arthur C. Clarke
    6. Ursula K. LeGuin
    7. Kate Wilhelm
    8. Samuel R. Delany
    9. Philip Jose Farmer
    10. Ogden Nash
    11. William Shakespeare
    12. Robert Browning
    13. Keith Laumer
    14. Fred Saberhagen
    15. Robert Bloch

    I had 25 listed before I remembered the assignment was 15…

  17. 1. J. R.R Tolkien
    2. Ray Bradbury
    3. Ursula le Guin
    4. Dvid Mitchel
    5. Philip K Dick
    6. William Goldman
    7. Max Brooks
    8. Carolyn Burke
    9. Ben Goldacre
    10. Brian Aldiss
    11. Liza Dalby
    12. Bram Stoker
    13. Mervyn Peake
    14. Philip Pullman
    15. Umberto Eco

    And now I want to re-read all these books again.

  18. I’m cheating a bit, since I’ve read everyone else’s lists, but here goes (start 15 minute clock NOW!

    1) Isaac Asimov
    2) Arthur C Clarke
    3) Jules Verne
    4) Joseph Heller
    5) JK Rowling
    6) Stephen Jay Gould
    7) JRR Tolkein
    8) Ursula K LeGuin
    9) Terry Pratchett
    10) Homer
    11) Shakespeare
    12) Arthur Conan Doyle
    13) Ellis Peters
    14)Edward Abbey
    15) Richard Dawkins

    In no particular order, except older ones are earlier.

    And whoever wrote the “Freddy the Pig” books who got me addicted to reading in the 2nd grade.

    Edit…

    The accidental smiley got me at number 8, oops, John LeCarre should be in there somewhere… and Eric Ambler. (Notice how I’ve cleverly expanded the list to 18!)

  19. 1. Norman Mailer
    2. Richard Dawkins
    3. Kazuo Ishiguro
    4. Sebastian Faulks
    5. Joseph Heller
    6. Bret Easton Ellis
    7. James Joyce
    8. Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    9. Margaret Atwood
    10. Philip Larkin
    11. Douglas Adams
    12. Bill Bryson
    13. George Orwell
    14. Harry Thompson
    15. David Winner

    Had to cheat a little by looking up at other people’s posts near the end, but fairly representative.

    I could have inserted Enid Blyton in there somewhere, I read a lot of her books when I was a lot younger, but I just couldn’t bring myself to include the golliwog-loving old hag.

    Nini44, I’ve only got one female author in there – so start off with Margaret Atwood’s “The Blind Assassin”, but I’ve got no idea where to go from there. Must read some Iris Murdoch at some point.

    Thanks Rebecca, I enjoyed that.

  20. I made the list first and added the commentary.

    1. Mark Twain
    For sheer. unadulterated genius in every respect. I am in awe, sir.

    2. Neil Gaiman
    For reminding the world how wonderful and powerful a good story is.

    3. Jhonen Vasquez
    For expressing the things I was trying to say in a way I never thought to say it but was, in the end, the best way.

    4. Edgar Allan Poe
    For expanding my vocabulary at a young age, and writing stories I’ll never forget.

    5. Joseph Conrad
    For writing about the darkness.

    6. Herman Hesse
    For writing about the light.

    7. Anne Rice
    For indulging in exactly what I wanted.

    8. Laura Ingalls Wilder
    For writing about her own life, and making it a story I could play in.

    9. Margaret Atwood
    For showing me what the other side is really like.

    10. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    For reminding me that I shouldn’t have to come down there to have them understand.

    11. Robert E Howard
    For starting a lifelong love of fur-clad musclemen.

    12. Terry Pratchett
    For using words properly.

    13. Douglas Adams
    For making me open my mind to the Universe.

    14. Robert Anton Wilson
    For changing my brain.

    15. Ramesh Menon
    For creating an epic so epic it still tops all other epics.

  21. In no particular order:

    1. J.R.R. Tolkien
    2. @Expatria: Susanna Clarke! :D
    3. Marion Zimmer Bradley
    4. Lewis Carroll
    5. Nassim Nicholas Taleb
    6. Phillip K. Dick
    7. Harper Lee
    8. Orson Scott Card
    9. Shel Silverstein
    10. Allen Ginsberg
    11. Neil Gaiman
    12. Neil Campbell
    13. John Kennedy O’Toole
    14. Madeleine L’Engle
    15. Richard Feynman

    Fun! I actually quite like a lot of other people’s choices (as anyone can tell from the number of repeats).

  22. 1. H.P. Lovecraft
    2. Arthur Machen
    3. Edgar Allan Poe
    4. William Shakespeare
    5. Flannery O’Connor
    6. Tennessee Williams
    7. Carl Sagan
    8. Paul Kurtz
    9. Alfred Bester
    10. Stanley Kubrick (I know he’s a director, but 2001 is my favorite movie).
    11. Arthur C. Clarke
    12. Neil DeGrasse Tyson
    13. William Golding
    14. Philip K. Dick
    15. Steven Novella (I always find his blog posts intellectually stimulating, fair, and not too snarky).

  23. Sort of chronological (to my life):
    1. Robert Heinlein
    2. Isaac Asimov
    3. Larry Niven
    4. Harlan Ellison
    5. Martin Gardner
    6. Piers Anthony
    7. Carl Sagan
    8. Douglas Hofstadter
    9. Stephen J. Gould
    10. Richard Dawkins
    11. Daniel Dennett
    12. Douglas Adams
    13. Terry Pratchett
    14. Neil Gaiman
    15. Neal Stephenson

  24. 1. Dr. Suess – I’m surprised no one has mentioned him yet
    2. Stephen Jay Gould
    3. Stephen King (yes, big fan when I was a child)
    4. EB White – who can forget Charlotte’s Web?
    5. ee cummings
    6. Shakespere
    7. George Orwell (he got in wrong in 1984, Big Brother isn’t the government, it’s Big Business)
    8. Sharyn McCrumb
    9. JK Rowlings
    10. Joanne Dobson
    11. A Lee Martinez
    12. Christopher Moore
    13. Carl Hiaasen
    14. Terry Pratchett
    15. Douglass Adams
    15. Mary Stewart
    15. Bob Tarte (Enslaved by Ducks convinced me to never have pet ducks)
    15. Robert Sapolsky (Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers)
    15. Sibley (So he writes Field Guides, it’s still writing!)
    15. Tom Stoppard

    The best part of this list? New authors to check out!

  25. 1. Isaac Asimov
    2. Robert Heinlien
    3. Douglas Adams
    4. Harlan Ellison
    5. Carl Sagan
    6. Garrison Keilor
    7. Dashiel Hammet
    8. Ian Flemming
    9. Neil Gaimen
    10. Herman Melville
    11. Raymond Chandler
    12. John Sandford
    13. Terry Gilliam
    14. Robert Frost
    15. e e cummigs

  26. 1. Stephen Jay Gould
    2. Loren Eiseley
    3. Cormac McCarthy
    4. Jack Kerouac
    5. Bill Bryson
    6. Robert Pinsky
    7. Tim Powers
    8. JRR Tolkien
    8. Edgar Rice Burroughs
    9. Patrick O’brian
    10. Joshua Slocum
    11. John Steinbeck
    12. Neil Stephenson
    13. Carl Zimmer
    14. Farley Mowat
    15. Steven Callahan

    I probably thought too much about this.

  27. Jean Craighead George
    Dr. Seuss
    Madeleine L’Engle
    Robert A. Heinlein
    David Sedaris
    Oliver Sacks
    Charles Dickens
    William Pene du Bois
    Arthur Clarke
    John Steinbeck
    Harper Lee
    Douglas Adams
    Mark Twain
    Margaret Atwood
    Cormac McCarthy

  28. @James Fox: McCaffrey pretty much got me started on sci-fi.

    Egad, how could I have forgotten LeGuin? She was a huge influence on me, especially a book she did on writing. There’s an essay in there called “Why are Americans Afraid of Dragons?” that I adore.

  29. 1. Mark Twain

    2. Robert Frost

    3. Amy Tan

    4. Douglas Adams

    5. Kurt Vonnegut

    6. Shel Silverstein

    7. H.G. Wells

    8. Ray Bradbury

    9. Emily Dickinson

    10. William Shakespeare

    11. Woody Allen

    12. Ambrose Bierce

    13. Charles Darwin

    14. E.B. White

    15. Charles Dickens

    I did this before reading any of the other lists (except Rebecca’s) so I’m going to make a guess that a couple of these are new to my list. Silverstein and White because they are childrens’ authors, Tan and Dickinson because they aren’t “serious”, and Bierce because everyone forgets about that bastard.
    I’m going back to see if I’m right.

  30. My List, as with so many of the others, has no particular order. If this question were to be asked again, either in a few days, a month, or years hence, there would be some variance.

    1. Ray Bradbury
    2. Franz Kafka
    3. HP Lovecraft
    4. Mark Twain
    5. Rudyard Kipling
    6. Robert E Howard
    7. Robert Utley
    8. Stephen Jay Gould
    9. Patrick F McManus
    10. Jorge Luis Borges
    11. Alejo Carpentier
    12. MR James
    13. Shirley Jackson
    14. HG Wells
    15. Joseph Heller

  31. Can’t believe I left off Douglas Adams and Twain and Vonnegut! They were all on the short list I was trying to keep in my head. And when I thought about poets, Robert Frost was it. But the most inspired choice I completely forgot about was Dr Seuss.

    These lists have reminded me of so many books I want to read again. And for the 1st time.

  32. Gee, hard to complete without the most prolific and versatile Anonymous. In any case, I don’t think you’ll recognize many of them:

    1.- Carl Sagan
    2.- Jacob Bronowski
    3.- Isaac Asimov
    4.- Enrique González Martínez
    5.- Luis de Góngora
    6.- Rius
    7.- Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
    8.- Mark Twain
    9.- Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
    10.- Jorge Manrique
    11.- Francisco de Quevedo
    12.- Lope de Vega
    13.- Juan José Arreola

    And if lyrics count as poetry:
    14.- Roger Waters
    15.- José Alfredo Jiménez

    As well as some of the great writers in the books of National Geographic and MAD magazine.

  33. 1. Roald Dahl
    2. Naguib Mahfouz
    3. Salman Rushdie
    4. James Joyce
    5. Proust
    6. John McPhee
    7. Laurens van der Post
    8. Loren Eisley
    9. Madeleine L’Engle
    10. Elswyth Thane (especially for her book Tryst)
    11. Ray Bradbury
    12. Gregory David Roberts (for Shantaram)
    13. George Orwell
    14. James Randi
    15. Augusten Borroughs

    I have read voraciously my whole life, so I could go on and on… one thing I notice in the list above is the paucity of female writers…

  34. 1: Kurt Vonnegut
    2: Joseph Heller
    3: Will Eisner
    4 & 5: Los Bros. Hernandez
    6: Villy Sørensen
    7: Oscar Wilde
    8: Charles Dickens
    9: Jack Vance
    10: Fritz Leiber
    11: William Gibson
    12: Neal Stephenson
    13: Douglas Adams
    14: Richard Dawkins
    15: Christopher Hitchens

    Edit: I forgot to mention that I included comic book creators.

  35. 1. Neil Gaiman
    2. Terry Pratchett
    3. Douglas Adams
    4. Richard Dawkins
    5. Michael Shermer
    6. James Randi
    7. Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    8. Oliver Sacks
    9. Hunter S. Thompson
    10. William Gibson
    11. William Burroughs
    12. China Mieville
    13. Richard Wiseman
    14. Christopher Isherwood
    15. Bram Stoker.

    (bonus fact: reading Pterry’s “Small Gods” is what first made me really, really *think* about religion. It was all either down- or up-hill from there, depending on your point of view)

  36. 1. Carl Sagan
    2. Richard Dawkins
    3. Sam Harris
    4. Jacques Ellul
    5. George Orwell
    6. Winston Churchill
    7. Christopher Hitchens
    8. Edward Gibbons
    9. Tom Clancy
    10. George Macdonald Fraser
    11. Geoffrey Blainey
    12. Robert Michael Ballantyne
    13. Banjo Patterson (poet)
    14. Whoever wrote my Grade 8 history textbook
    15. Whoever wrote my Grade 8 science textbook as taught by my teacher Mrs Edwards

    Banjo wrote Waltzing Matilda and The Man From Snowy River.
    Ballantyne wrote A Coral Island in 1857, and I read it in 1960. It is available in the public domain as an audio book.

  37. @Evelyn: I have read voraciously my whole life, so I could go on and on… one thing I notice in the list above is the paucity of female writers…

    Upon reflection I did manage to come up with one: Shirley Corriher. If the question had been “authors you like” rather than “authors who influenced you” I certainly would have thrown in Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson.

    I wonder why women are underrepresented here? Does it speak more to our tastes or to the publishing industry or the sort of books women write? That last one is probably a bad guess. My wife reads lots of weighty, important tomes by women like Barbara Kingsolver. I just can’t make it through them.

  38. I meant to do this yesterday, but forgot. Might as well hop on:
    1. Kurt Vonnegut
    2. JRR Tolkien
    3. Carl Sagan
    4. Douglas Adams
    5. Sarah Vowell
    6. Mary Roach
    7. Douglas Coupland
    8. Tim Sandlin (The GroVont Trilogy)
    9. Edgar Allan Poe
    10. Jack Kerouac
    11. Haruki Murakami
    12. JK Rowling
    13. David Rackoff
    14. JD Salinger (found his house before he died!)
    15. Michael Chabon

    @Rebecca: The duplicates are interesting. I looked at everyone else’s lists for reminders :)

  39. 1. Le Comte de Lautreamont
    2. Italo Calvino
    3. Philip K. Dick
    4. Clarice Lispector
    5. Martin Gardner
    6. Mark Twain
    7. Stephen Jay Gould
    8. M. F. K. Fisher
    9. Katha Pollitt
    10. Kurt Vonnegut
    11. Anatole France
    12. Hunter S. Thompson
    13. Raymond Queneau
    14. Alexander Cockburn
    15. Molly Ivins

    This was a hell of a lot harder than I thought it would be. I’m also surprised how much my sense of humor and thinking on religion can be traced back to Lautreamont.

  40. 1. Isaac Asimov
    2. Richard Dawkins
    3. Bertrand Russell
    4. Ernest Hemingway
    5. Daniel Dennett
    6. Steven Pinker
    7. Carl Sagan
    8. Leon Trotsky
    9. Richard Leakey
    10. Nassim Taleb
    11. Geoffrey Miller
    12. Alexander Puskin (also as a poet)
    13. Mark Twain
    14. Alessandro Manzoni (also as a poet)
    15. Giacomo Leopardi (mainly as a poet)

    I had Alexandre Dumas in there, but I had to remove him, and I forgot a few more that I can’t add (time is running out…)

  41. Obviously, the exercise has to have some arbitrary limits, such as the first 15 you think of, not taking longer than 15 minutes. If you didn’t set limits then the lists would just keep going and going. Witness the posted addendums, including this one. One of my criteria is a book had to mean enough to me to revisit and reread it multiple times, or (in the case of Carl Zimmer’s Microcosm) be so fascinating that I know I will read it again. I hit 16 before I stopped to count, and couldn’t bear to remove any one of them, so I (not very cleverly) listed two number 8s. Most of mine were influential at different times in my life. I’m not a huge Edgar Rice Burroughs reader, but when I was 7, 8, 9, 10 I read Tarzan of the Apes until the book fell apart, taped it back together, and read it until it fell apart again. I haven’t read it in probably 30 years. I didn’t list Vonnegut because it didn’t immediately occur to me, but when I was 11 and my sister was in college, she sent me a copy of “Breakfast of Champions” and I went on a 5 or 6 year Vonnegut rampage.
    With regards to female authors, I noticed years ago that there weren’t many on my list of “greats”. I don’t know why that is. There are many woman authors that I read for entertainment, but they didn’t make my off the cuff list of most influential. One exception that I thought of retrospectively is Marguerite Yourcenar. Her “Memoirs of Hadrian” is a fantastic book that I have revisited a few times. Two whose work I really enjoy are C.J. Cherryh and Nevada Barr.

  42. @spurge: Triple Shaftoe golden monkey calculus bonus points!!

    @amslotnik: @Buzz Parsec: @Skulleigh:
    Forgetting Ursula K LeGuin actually pains me; but who to kick off!?

    @Rebecca Watson: Shameless name drop. One of Madelyn’s best friends is a good friend of ours and about ten years ago I had the opportunity to meet Madelyn, and even cook dinner for her. I was able to talk at length with her about what “A Wrinkle in Time” meant to me as a young reader and lot’s more. I recall her saying that AWiT seems to have had a big impact on many young readers as my story was not unique.

  43. @junco: When I was 10, 11, 12 I read every Tarzan and John Carter of Mars book by Burroughs. I don’t have any real desire to reread those books, ( I am excited about the John Carter movie in production) but I do have great memories and those books led me to Herbert and Asimov so score one for Edgar!

  44. 1. Farley Mowat: for introducing me to nature and wildlife at a young age, as well as the horror of warfare

    2. Edward Wilson: For eloquently describing the value of biodiversity and scientific thinking about the natural world

    3. Richard Dawkins: just because

    4. Dan Savage: You know why

    5. Charles Darwin: For influencing biology profoundly with OOS, and wonderful travel writing with Voyage of The Beagle

    6. Timothy Leary: If you haven’t read his work, you should. A brilliant and witty guy who I would love to have met

    7. Irvine Welsh: Entertaining and funny and bleak at the same time

    8. Aldous Huxley: Wonderful novelist and social critic

    9. Paul Theroux: A real hard working and engaging novelist, with brilliant sketches of human behavior

    10. Douglas Kennedy: for escape purposes only!

    11. Paul Auster: I sure am hitting a lot of novelists here!

    12. Artur C. Clarke: For Science Fiction

    13. R.D. Lawrence: Great describer of Canadian wildlife and rural living

    14. Gerald Durrell: Humorous and entertaining descriptor of animals and humans…He was a reluctant writer, using proceeds to fund other interests

    15. Douglas Coupland: for his early, less preachy stuff

  45. @davew: I too was puzzled by the lack of female authors, even in my own list. It’s not that I don’t read them – I’ve read Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Grace Paley as well as multiple single titles by other female authors. Perhaps it’s that I’ve always been a tomboy, so “boyish” things appeal to me generally. I have multiple titles from a variety of male authors, but usually only single titles from female ones.

  46. I am appalled that nobody has mentioned Sarah Vowell. Not just because of the lack of women authors listed, but she is a kickass writer who is so hip that it wouldn’t surprise me if she read this webpage!

    I have always loved adventure writers. The top of my list would be John Krakauer, Sebastian Junger and Thor Heyerdahl. Most of Thor’s anthropological theories have been disproven, but he really put his neck out there! Nobody has put my imagination into Everest’s rarefied air like Krakauer. Junger found an ingenious way of telling a story whose details nobody was ever quite sure of.

    As a professional outdoorsman, the writers who shaped my philosophy and choice of a career were Ted Trueblood, John Gierach, Ernest Hemingway, Pat McManus and Lee Wulff.

    Humor writing has always been important to me. Dave Barry, Bill Bryson and Mark Twain loom large, as well as McManus and Vowell I already mentioned.

    C.S. Lewis I will always regard fondly, because he introduced the concept of escapism. For an early adolescent boy trapped in a town and school he didn’t like, stepping through magic portals to sail on clipper ships was very appealing.

    There are some writers whose work I have read gobs of, but don’t consider them important to me. Steven King writes more than i can read, and just didn’t stick to me. I bet I put Piers Anthony’s kids through college, but a year ago I tried re-reading one title that I so enjoyed sophomore year of high school. The novel seemed so ridiculous that I can’t believe I ever dug that rubbish.

    I want to list F.S. Fitzgerald on my top 15, but does it count if he only wrote one book I like? I absolutely hated My Side of Paradise when I was made to read it in high school. But the Great Gatsby is the most finely crafted novel I have ever read – not a word is superfluous or misplaced.

  47. I found this so hard! I could have had a hundred! These are the illustrious first 15 that popped into
    My head.

    1 bob Dylan
    2 Ian banks (not Ian m banks)
    3 Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    4 michael palin
    5 John Irving
    6 jeff Buckley
    7 Richard dawkings
    8 JRR Tolkein
    9 rob grant/doug naylor
    10 Paul Theroux
    11 Peter Moore (gutsy Australian traveller)
    12 Louis de bernieres
    13 Albert Camus
    14 Terry Pratchet
    15 Stephen Fry

  48. I’m sure I did this on the Facebook at some point.

    1) JRR Tolkien
    2) Noam Chomsky
    3) Larry Niven
    4) Stan Lee
    5) Shel Silverstein
    6) Gregory Mcdonald (he wrote the Fletch novels)
    7) Douglas Adams
    8) Roger Zelasny
    9) Mark Twain
    10) Katherine Kurtz
    11) Diane Duane
    12) JK Rowling
    13) Joe Posnanski
    14) Bill James
    15) George Carlin

    That’s off the top of my head. It is neat to see all of the overlap amongst skeptics. Lotsa Tolkein.
    Kudos to bighitterandy for Grant Naylor!

  49. @junco ‘My Side of the Mountain’ was the reason that I included her in my list.That was one of the 1st ‘ I can’t put it down’ books that I ever read.Cheers!
    This was a great and fun exercise Rebecca.

  50. Not a list of best writers or favorite books, but a list of the authors who changed my life and/or the way I think about the world.

    1. Herodotus
    2. Homer (Iliad)
    3. Karl Marx
    4. Mark Twain
    5. V. I. Lenin
    6. e.e. cummings
    7. George Gamov
    8. Mezz Mezzrow
    9. Nelson Algren
    10. Jack Kerouac
    11. Woody Guthrie
    12. Richard Feynman
    13. Stephen Jay Gould
    14. Oliver Sacks
    15. Steven Pinker

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