It’s time for another writerly list. If you liked Erik Larson’s Top 10 Essentials to a Writer’s Life and Sherman Alexie’s Top 10 Pieces of Writing Advice I’ve Been Given (Or That I’ll Pretend Were Given to Me), here’s an excellent one from bestselling novelist Jodi Picoult: Top 10 Writers I Admire, and Why.
1. Alice Hoffman: She is the writer I fell in love with as an adult reader, and now [has become] a good friend. But even if we weren’t friends, if her grocery list were published, I’d buy it. In triplicate.
2. Mary Morris: At Princeton, where I studied creative writing, she taught me everything I know. I can say, unequivocally, that I wouldn’t be where I am today without her guidance, support and tutelage.
3. Ernest Hemingway: Misogynist? You bet. But he’s also the king of literary ellipsis, and that has always intrigued me as a writer. I love the idea of emotions being so big that there are no words to describe them.
4. Stephen King: I’m by no means an aficionado [of his genre], but I love what Stephen King does for the business of publishing. Namely—he doesn’t allow it to rest on its laurels; he uses his name and his fame to make sure new writers keep getting recognized, that publishers think outside of the box, and that commercial fiction writers get their due, even if they are virtually ignored by every prize committee in this country.
5. Margaret Mitchell: She’s the woman who made me want to be a writer. I picked up Gone With the Wind at age 12 and realized it was possible to create a whole world out of words. And more importantly, I knew at that instant that I wanted to do the same thing one day.
6. William Shakespeare: Do I really have to explain this one? Here’s what I love about Shakespeare: In his day, he wrote unadulterated popular fiction. And yet—who do we still read, centuries later? What a brilliant reminder that highbrow literature wasn’t always an obscure title—in fact, it used to be the books and plays that we now call commercial fiction.
7. Jane Austen: Heroines with depth, wit and a wonderfully scathing commentary on society. Plus, I’ve always wanted to be Elizabeth Bennett.
8. Charles Dickens: I like to think he created the genre I write in: moral and ethical fiction. You tell a story about compelling characters, and somehow, through the back door, you get your reader thinking about tough issues that most of us would prefer not to discuss.
9. Charles Baxter: Years ago, I read a book of his called First Light that was told in reverse. I swore to myself one day I’d have the skill and the story to be able to do the same. It’s nearly 20 years later and I’m still waiting for the right story, but I haven’t forgotten the mark that book made on me. I was fortunate enough to have coffee with him a year ago, and to spend the entire time gushing over his ability to write. It’s good for a writer to be a fan every now and then!
10. J.D. Salinger: You can’t write teenage narrators as much as I do and not think of Salinger. Holden Caulfield’s built-in BS meter is exactly the reason I include so many teens in my books—they keep everyone else in your story honest.
—Jodi Picoult is the bestselling author of nearly two dozen novels, including Songs of the Humpback Whale, The Pact and My Sister’s Keeper.
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