Writers writing about other writers is a very popular theme on writing blogs these days. Which I guess makes sense since one of the things you are told, as an aspiring novelist is to read, read, read. Read the classics, read contemporary best sellers, read whatever strikes you fancy. But read it with an eye to how the author has put together words to create the images they want to put in your head. I find that reading is also a great way to avoid writing.
So in keeping with this tradition here are some of the writers that I particularly admire and hate. Admire because their words are so well crafted and evocative and hate because I know I will never write this well.
Ray Bradbury: This may seem like a blatant sop to the fact that Mr. Bradbury recently shuffled off this mortal coil but it is not. The truth of the matter is I used to ritually reread “Dandelion Wine” every summer. His descriptions of a lazy summer at the end of childhood with all it’s soft air, low adventure and short, cool nights is still one of the best reads I have ever experienced. When he died recently all the on-air eulogies talked about “The Martian Chronicles” and “Fahrenheit 451” as if those were the only works worth mentioning. I thought again and again as I heard or saw these obituaries that the junior intern assigned to write them had not worked very hard researching the story. But then again if they had stumbled across “Dandelion Wine” and started reading it, perhaps the story would never have gotten written.
Lady Dorothy Dunnett: Lady Dunnett is the best author you have never heard of. I just finished rereading for the umpteenth time the last two books of her “Crawford of Lymond” series. I know, I know when I say series what comes to mind is one of the endless, mindless Sci-Fi serials based loosely on Burroughs but this is something completely different. Yes, there is both swash and buckle but there is so much more. At one of the many climactic moments of the last book she simply writes: “Francis Crawford unclosed his eyes.” One of the most elegant sentences I have ever had the privilege to read. I have devoured this whole series many times and still find something new each time. Some gem of a paragraph or crystal description that makes me realize I am only “doubtfully adequate to touch the hem of [her] extremely expensive farthingale.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: (Okay this list is a little heavy on the titled nobility but these folks earned those honors.) Having read all the Holmes stories many, many times I still marvel at the mind that invented that mind. I have read some of Doyle’s earlier work and it is good, workman-like prose but when he started writing about Sherlock he moved onto a much higher plane.
Molly Ivins: Of course as a political writer I must have one politico on this list. I considered Hightower or Moore, even Lakoff but Molly is my all time favorite. If I want to be outraged and pee my pants laughing at the same time (a state that I find myself in far to often) all I have to do is pick up any of her books of essays. Even the titles are brilliant: “Shrub,” “Nothing but Good Times Ahead,” and “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?.” Well, yes, she could and did with much humor and eloquence. We miss you Molly.
I suddenly realized, as I finished this list, that these writers are all dead. Some rather recently. How sad.