I'm often asked during readings, interviews and events to name my favourite books or authors. Invariably, this question leaves me stumped. As a writer, I'm influenced by much of the creative work I encounter, so the list is always changing. I'm usually most influenced by the book I happen to be reading at the moment; there was, after all, a reason behind deciding to read it. But in an effort to provide, perhaps, a more useful answer, here are three authors who've had a lasting impact on my work:
After these three authors, it gets a bit hazy. I lean towards favourite books rather than favourite authors. Here are some books that have influenced my style, approach or thinking as a writer:
Christine Schutt - There's so much to admire about Schutt, her glass-like prose, her skill with brevity and omission, that she published her first book, a collection of short stories, at age 48. That collection, Nightwork, changed how I thought about fiction and remains the one book I wish I had written. All Souls is another favourite.
Joy Williams - "That you could have this kind of unmediated contact with a character's interiority came as a revelation to me." -- so says Karen Russell, much more eloquently than I ever could, on the topic of Joy Williams. Not only does Williams transpose consciousness, she's also structurally inventive. Breaking and Entering is a master class on the function of back-story in a novel.
Stephen King - Though, admittedly, I haven't read a Stephen King book in a while, I have surely read more pages of Stephen King's fiction than any other author. As a teen and young adult, I devoured his books. His deftness at character-driven suspense shaped my earliest thoughts about how stories should work (They should be interesting and not boring!) I loved his short story collections, Night Work and Skeleton Crew and now recommend On Writing for its practical craft advice and insight into the commitment necessary to be a writer.
The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan - I'm a fan of McEwan's early short stories and this particularly bleak, claustrophobic, and darkly sensual novella.
Anagrams by Lorrie Moore - This novel, told through short stories that play with shifts in reality, is a heart breaker. Moore's short story prowess has long been established as a point of fact, but for my money, this is her finest book.
Morvern Callar by Alan Warner - Intensely atmospheric and interior and at the same time, lean and quick, this book stands out as evocation of consciousness, a gritty, trance-like experience that remains visceral years after reading
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan - Is it too much to say that an individual book renewed my faith in the novel as a form? I'm a huge fan of the hidden emotional arc, a journey that simmers in the subtext until, near the end of the book, it rises up to knock the wind out of you.
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot - Freud and Jung were wee babes when George Eliot wrote this sophisticated work of psychological realism. Her ability to dissect the complex dynamics of a brother/sister relationship and render a young girl's consciousness on the page has remained, for me, a pinnacle of psychological authenticity.