One question that readers love to ask authors is, “Who is your favorite author?” Or the similar but different, “Which author has influenced you the most?” These two questions always make me clam up because I don’t have an answer. At least not one that’s likely to be as true tomorrow as it is today. And certainly not a pat response I can rattle off in a moment.
When I say I don’t have a favorite author, a low murmur breaks out in the room. “What? How can a writer and avid reader not have a favorite author? Maybe this chick’s a fraud.”
And when I say that I don’t know which writer has influenced me the most, the murmurs grow. “Well, she just thinks she’s so great! She thinks she did it all herself. She owes somebody!”
But yet it’s not entirely true to say that I don’t have a favorite author, or that I don’t know who my influences are. The problem is that listing either will take too much time, and the answer today isn’t going to be tomorrow’s answer.
I have a lot of favorite authors. And those favorites change with age and circumstances. I am not loyal to any one or two authors above all others, year in and year out. I know some people who are. There are people who will swear until their dying day to love a certain author, and that love never changes. In some ways, I envy their certainty. That will never be me, though.
As a kid, I loved different authors than I did in college. My college favorites were replaced when I entered the workforce. Every life stage has had its favorites. And some loves are more transient. The year that nearly everyone in my family died, I read a lot of Janet Evanovich, just because it was easy and required little mental effort or emotional involvement. When things leveled off, I stopped reading her. Had you asked me then, I would have said Evanovich was a favorite. Today I will tell you that I stopped at book number 18 and haven’t read any since.
That’s not to say that I don’t have authors I prefer. I certainly do. As long as Diana Gabaldon keeps writing, I’ll read her work. Same with Nora Roberts and Kelley Armstrong. But even then I don’t classify them as my “favorites.” They’re just reliable to me, in that I trust I’ll enjoy most of what they publish. But I don’t read them to the exclusion of anything else, and I won’t necessarily choose them first when deciding what to read next.
This is the trouble with being an omnivorous reader. Omnivores love everything, so there’s no place for long term favorites. What’s a favorite today is supplanted tomorrow as we find new authors. We read according to our moods and circumstances, so we may end up with a favorite author we read during times of grief or joy, or an author we read when things feel unstable.
While they’re useful for getting through a certain time, they never become overall, lifetime favorites. They’re more like a tool: Useful for certain things, but you don’t spend every day longing to use that tool (unless you’re some kind of Tim Taylor weirdo). It only comes out when you need it. During times or normalcy, I just read whatever strikes my fancy. It may be a binge of a certain author for a few weeks, but then he is forgotten when a new one catches my eye. Fickle, thy name is reading.
As for having influences, I certainly do. I cannot attribute my writing all to myself. Like every author, I’ve been influenced by those who’ve gone before me. The problem is, there are so many and most that have left marks on my soul have done so in such subtle ways that I can’t tell you who made which mark.
The books I read as a kid definitely influenced my desire to write and read. But who should get the most credit? Judy Blume? The author of every 80’s teen romance I read? Carolyn Keene (whoever she really was at the time)? The authors of the picture books my parents read to me, textbooks, or books we had to read for class? There are too many to count. I have no doubt I carry them with me, but the question of who gets the most credit is murky.
It gets even murkier when we get to those who taught me the art of storytelling, or who I look up to the most. Sure, I look up to authors who’ve achieved more than me and I aspire to their level of success, but that list is long. The list of those whose works I’ve loved and said, “Man, I wish I could write like that,” is also too long to recount. And even when I didn’t enjoy an author’s work, I know that they influenced me, as well. There are people I don’t want to be like, so should I list them, too?
So while I know I have influences, there’s never been one person who cemented my desire to write, or who I consciously decided to be like. There isn’t even a small group. It’s thousands of tiny influences that accumulated over every day of my life from when my parents first began reading to me until today. And by tomorrow, there will be another influence to add to the list.
Maybe I should just tell the truth when someone asks these questions, or at least ask them to clarify the answer they want.
Who’s your favorite author?
“Under what circumstances?”
Who has influenced your work the most?
“How much time do you have? I’ve got several thousand, give or take, and we won’t even get to thousands I’ve forgotten.”
(Photo courtesy of RHMemoria)
There’s a section in the NYT Book section called BY THE BOOK in which authors name their favorites and variations of such. I used to have a favorite color/food/book/movie/friend etc. when I was a kid, because it was expected. I have long abandoned this, and am amazed that thoughtful writers actually name names in that NYT feature.
Sometimes Entertainment Weekly will ask authors to list their favorites and influences. Like you, I’m always amazed that they have answers. Maybe they just feel pressure to say something succinct instead of giving a longer answer.
(I, too, gave up having too many “favorites” in most areas of my life. Although I now claim that my favorite color is glitter. Glitter is totally a color and I’m sticking to that! Get the multi-colored kind and you’re set for life in the color department.)