It's been awhile since I've managed an Authors Pick Five post, but after reading Coop: A Family, A Farm and the Pursuit of One Good Egg (see my review here) I knew I just had to see if its author Michael Perry would participate. And look, he did! So I asked him the question: What five books are most important or influential to you? And here's his answer complete with fun explanations:
Five books (and/or authors) that are important or influential to me:
The Holy Bible (King James Version): It permeated my childhood. By teaching me early to speak in the rhythm of "wilt and "shalt," and "thee" and "thou," it also taught me to listen for poetry elsewhere. And even though I am nowadays a bumbling agnostic (I ain't lookin' for a fight, I'm just lookin'), it was this book that first and forever shaped my thinking regarding all possible worlds beyond this world. Oddly enough, even as a lapsed believer, I find myself tending to defend the King James Version, as to my palate the friendlied-up syntax of the more modern versions is the literary equivalent of a decaf latte'.
Louis L'Amour cowboy books (any one of the multitudinous): As a boy, I gobbled them up. As an adult I read one or two per year purely for the sense memory of all those childhood days spent reading on the porch or by the fire. And yet, Louis L'Amour's single biggest influence on me was not his chaptered prose, but rather the mini-bio printed at the end of each paperback. There I learned that L'Amour was a North Dakota boy from a farming community who skinned cattle and baled hay and worked in sawmills before he became a writer. This planted in me a seed that would not sprout until I was well off the farm, out of college, and working as a nurse, but somewhere within me the idea that a rural kid like me might go ahead and try his hand at the typewriter (yes, I am that old) survived...when I finally got serious about the writing, it was Louis L'Amour who made me think I maybe could do it despite the barn boots.
"All Quiet on the Western Front": In the book COOP I explain the latent power of this book in my life. How when I read it first (in third grade) I believed (thanks to Louis L'Amour, no doubt) the good guys were always clearly cut. By the time I finished All Quiet on the Western Front, I had my first vague understanding that this is a world of complications.
Sharon Olds, "The Dead & The Living": When I first fell for writing, I fell hardest for the poets. Dylan Thomas, Lucille Clifton, Frank Stanford, Rita Dove, James Wright, Theodore Roethke...oh how I strove to be them. In the end, I wasn't much of a poet. But I devour them daily, and do my best to sneak poetry into my prose. I choose Sharon Olds today because "The Dead & The Living" was one of the first poetry books that moved me, that knocked me flat with imagery. Furthermore, Olds writes from a female perspective that is powerful in numerous respects, and I hope my writing benefits from the consideration of that perspective.
Dave Barry (his early newspaper columns, mainly): I try to leaven all my poetical-philosophical-memoir-y typing with overt snorts of humor, and those early Dave Barry newspaper columns definitely loosened a few of my screws in that respect. I also saw him speak live once and he was high-larious; I resolved that should I ever write a book and be given the opportunity to talk about it, I would strive to keep things as lively as Dave did. To this day I will gladly interrupt my most poetic renderings to explain why you should never stand behind a sneezing cow.
Michael Perry is the author of several books besides Coop. Among them are Population 435: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time and Truck: A Love Story. He also pursues a musical talent and plays with a group called The Long Beds. Check out their CD here.
I, for one, have found a new favorite author to stalk!