Saturday, 20 November 2010

I like the way they use their words

I sent out a note to some of my Facebook friends, asking them to list fifteen authors who've influenced them and who will always stick with them. Then I posted a list of the first fifteen that came to mind for me. Then I figured, well, why not say why I chose these authors above everyone else? 'Cos, believe me, there's a whole lot of everyone elses. Maybe I should make lists of "Fifteen non-fiction authors" or "Fiifteen satirical authors" or ... you get the picture. Anyway, so here's my first list and why I chose these writers. 


Louis L'Amour
For as long as I can remember, I've been reading his books. "The Sky-Liners" is the first "grown-up" book I remember reading, and since I was already taking out books from the adult section of the library by the age of four, it would have been at around three that I picked up this one from my dad's bedside pile. So what is it about Louis L'Amour that I love so much? For one thing, his writing, while sparse and spare, is incredibly descriptive. His themes are simple tales of right and wrong, and his heroes are, more often than not, anti-heroes. His Sackett series started the theme to which I am most drawn - that family comes first. Of course, I'm not particularly close to my family, but tied in with the themes from Dean Koontz and Nora Roberts - that we make our families from the people we love - you get why this one resonates so deeply.

Apart from that, Louis L'Amour espouses personal responsibility (it is everyone's moral obligation to vote, and to do so from an informed standpoint, not simply based on familial or peer pressure); standing up for one's principles (be it physically or in debate); taking care of one's family (the right to bear arms and protect one's family and friends is a constant thread); that all good and honest men or women should make sure not to sign away their rights and rely on the government to look after them (see again the right to bear arms); and, above all, sheer grit (his heroes are often big, raw men with the basic social graces drilled into them by their mothers, chivalrous, and able to take a lot of punishment due to the hard lives they've led).

On a personal level, I admired the fact that every place about which he wrote, was somewhere he'd actually been. As it says in the afterword of each of his books, "if I write about a stream, I've drunk from it". He lived a fuller life than most, having gone off to find work at the age of 14, during the Great Depression, been a miner, a cowhand, an itinerant on the railroads, a journalist, a professional boxer, a sailor and a railroad worker, among other occupations. Reading was very important to him; when he died, he had a library of over 20 000 books, with special reinforcements and folding bookcases to contain all these volumes. He was especially fascinated by Asian history and its impact on civilisation, particularly in the fields of strategy, science and mathematics. While his heroes may not always be able to read and write, they do find books very important, and those who can read often speak about the importance of having a copy of Plato or the like as company, while they are able to use the long, lonely days to internalise the values he espouses.

I'm pleased that I have virtually all his books, and am getting more from my father, while those I don't have in my collection have been noted so that I can buy them off E-Bay. Thanks to Mr L'Amour, I make sure I always have something to read in my bag.

Dean Koontz
There's no other way to say it: Dean Koontz makes me happy. Sure, he's had some missteps (Demon Seed, anyone?) but by and large, his books have evolved over time into what I suppose could be called suspense thrillers, although they're so much more than that.

As I mentioned above, one of his recurring themes is that we make our own families from the people we love. Often, his protagonists come from unhappy backgrounds and are determined to repudiate the twisted values their caregivers tried to instill in them. Just as often, they come from happy, loving, stable family environments with a twist - like parents who work as building demolition experts, or scientists, or carnies. Frequently, they are couples united by overcoming their childhoods, or couples who draw their loving families into a united bond. Sometimes they are loners who meet people during the course of their work who become family. His women are usually intelligent, beautiful, physically capable and assertive, and his men, while also physically capable, tend to be more easygoing. 

All his protagonists either have weapons training, or some form of advanced defensive capability. Like Louis L'Amour, Dean Koontz believes in the right to bear arms, the right to protect one's family, the right to take personal responsibility and not abdicate these to the government. He's also extremely focused on the need for ethics - be it in science, in justice, in law, in medicine, in technology. His protagonists either work with, or know someone who works with, computers or other forms of technology. They have street connections who can get them new identities when necessary. He doesn't trust the authorities, but he has huge respect for the working cop, soldier, doctor, nurse. Politicians? The less said, the better.

What I love most about his books is his sense of wonder. He loves discovery. He loves words. His language flows, and his writing is the most perfect example of "evocative" that I've ever read. He's amusing, particularly when he's writing from the point of view of dogs (yes, dogs and other animals play important roles in most of his books. But mostly dogs.) and he can be completely irreverent on occasion. Still, he believes in a higher power, and frequently invokes that faith, although rarely in Christian terms (in fact, fanatics and fundamentalists are often part of the problem, not the solution).

Another strong trait in Koontz' novels is mental or physical defects; quite frequently, the protagonists will have a sibling or a child who is autistic or has Down Syndrome, and his portrayal of these is sympathetic and overlaid with a sense of wonder for their inner beauty and childlike natures. He's also quite the conspiracy theorist, particularly shadowy government cover-ups, secret societies (Illuminati-like in nature), unethical scientific research, super-rich megalomaniacs who can control the police, and the like.

His research is impeccable, and he's as likely to discourse on bio-ethics as on gun laws, quantum theory and space travel, as on big band, construction methods, cooking, and defensive driving.

It's important to note that one of the themes I admire most and try to act upon is his respect for humanity, for people. It's because of this that I do my best to acknowledge people - such as the beggars at the traffic lights - and try not to dismiss those who may be deemed irrelevant to my life. He's also quite vocal on the decline of modern society, a sentiment with which I agree whole-heartedly, as I feel that political correctness and too many liberal laws have led to a me-me-me society in which almost everyone feels entitlement to the exclusion of all others' rights. Yet, these are the same people who shout for rights while trampling on the rights of others. He - and I - feels we have become a degenerate civilisation in which a man can be jailed for assaulting an intruder who was bent on annihilating his whole family.

Still, the one theme on which I focus the most is that love and compassion are the overriding factors that can sustain us and our families in a cruel, absurd world.

Nora Roberts (JD Robb)

OK, 'cos Nash is wondering when I'm going to post, and it's taken me the whole week, I'll put this up. Let's hope I come back to it to finish the rest of the books, 'cos you know what I'm like - lazy! 

Stephen King
Walter Farley
Willard Price
Terry Pratchett
Georgette Heyer
J.T. Edson
Christopher Stasheff
Peter O'Donnell
Roald Dahl
Jack London
J.R.R. Tolkien
Isaac Asimov

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