There are too many things I am thankful for in this world for me to begin to count. They range from the important and obvious (my family), to the minor but critical (Swedish Fish). But books are a huge part of it. There are authors that have made me laugh out loud on airplanes, scaring the people around me, authors who provide me with a good cry when I need it, authors who bring me to countries and towns I know nothing about, and authors who I feel are my dearest companions, even though we never met, just because I love their characters so much. So without further ado, here are ten authors for whom I am deeply, sincerely grateful.
1) JK Rowling. Unlike many of my YA-writing peers, I did not grow up with Harry. My boss brought me my own hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when it first came out, saying she knew how much I loved children’s books. I have, conservatively speaking, read these books at least a dozen times each. I have started sharing them with my own children, and each time we discuss them or I reread them I find still more to love.
2) Norton Juster. I read this early, possibly a little too early. But I will always be grateful for the way Norton Juster played with language, allowing a seven-year-old girl to feel clever beyond words when she could follow along. I just reread this with my kids, and not only did I delight in the language, but in the message inherent. With a sharp pencil and a box of words, anyone can conquer Ignorance.
3) Libba Bray. This is a strange one, because I have only read one of her books, and it was just this month. But what a book. Going Bovine is crazysauce. There’s a kid with Mad Cow disease, there’s an angel, there’s a dwarf, there’s sex. I loved this book. And while it’s not the kind of book I will likely ever write, it makes me thankful that authors are still writing with this kind of bravery and freedom to create (no derivative vampires here!).
4) Armistead Maupin. As a het kid growing up on the mean streets of Cambridge (watch out for those tough Harvard students!) I was fairly sheltered. But I can thank Mr. Maupin for my encyclopedic knowledge of and total comfort with the 1970s swinging gay scene in San Francisco. I fell in love with Mouse, Mary Ann, Brian, and of course Anna Madrigal, back in the mid-eighties, and have cared for them ever since.
5) Rainer Maria Rilke. When I was 21 I moved to Paris on my own and lived in highly romantic semi-squalor, cleaning houses, teaching English, and babysitting to pay my rent. I wanted to write, but my head wasn’t ready. I was horribly lonely there, even while I loved it. My cousin gave me an old copy of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and I felt like the book was written just for me.
6) Robert McCloskey. There are literally dozens of picture books I love deeply, and have kept long these thirty-some years. But McCloskey’s Time of Wonder stands out. Maybe it’s because nature is the closest thing I have to a church or synagogue, but his painting of early morning mist in Maine, of the full moon and scudding clouds after a storm, of the rise and fall of the tides…well, they feed my soul.
7) Alice Walker. See #4 above. Being white, as well as het, books were my entrance into the world of different. Different color, different sexual preference, difference economic circumstances, different cultures. I immersed myself in Alice Walker’s novels and essays when I was younger, and greatly identified with her “womanist” form of feminism.
8 ) Markus Kusak. Again, this is a new find for me. But what a wonderful book! Kusak created a book that breaks all kinds of rule – is it for adults or children? Can there be good Germans in the midst of Hitler’s war? Can Death himself be a sympathetic character? The answers to all these questions: yes. yes. yes.
9) Bill Watterson, Gary Trudeau, Nicole Hollander, Roz Chast. These cartoonists have each brought me so many moments of helpless laughter, passing the book around the room so that everyone can see the unique and inimitable way they’ve captured humor in a few black and white lines and a caption. Nowadays, blogs like The Oatmeal and Hyperbole and a Half have also taken up residence in my funny bone.
10) Elizabeth Levy. She’s written almost a hundred books, including many of the first books I ever read by myself. They are usually funny, and often brave with small acts of rebellion that kids might not even notice. But in addition, she’s an incredible ambassador to her home city of New York, and works with school kids there and across the world to get their passports to Imagine Nation. And she buys me the best soup dumplings in all of NYC. (After all, she IS my aunt!) What about you all? What authors or books are you grateful for?