The Top 25 Writers: 20-16

Twenty-five people or groups. Twenty-five of my favorites. Of my most revered. These twenty-five entities would make up my dream cocktail party. They would write the story of my life in twenty-five brilliant chapters.

They have taught me how to read, to write, and to understand the power of the written word.

20. Bruce Springsteen
Personal Defining Work: Born to Run
Like John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie before him, Springsteen has put the land into words, and in this case music. But instead of championing the farmer and unionist, Springsteen instead wrote about the poor and destitute street kids, the purveyors of love in the dark alleys of New Jersey. He’s written passionately about being in a band, about the dream of being big while toiling in the streets, about the power that comes with owning a motorcycle, traveling around the country, and eating at a dirty diner. Springsteen is as close to the voice of the people as you can get in music. It’s pop without the gloss, punk without the angst – it’s patriotic without waving a flag and down home without forgetting to open up the whisky bottle. We’ve all had friends that fit into Springsteen songs. Because that’s what he does – he chronicles life in America.

19. Charles Darwin
Personal Defining Work: The Origin of Species
I’m a science guy. I have a degree in Biology Education. I pretend like I’m a smart kid, most of the time, but really I just know a lot about one branch of science – evolutionary theory. I always intended to go back and get my Master’s in the subject, and I still find it an interesting topic; polarizing, yet straightforward. It started in my biology class, and more specifically, with Darwin’s work on the subject. I mean, he discovered the theory (actually, he and another guy discovered it at the same time, but Darwin published it first) and he was the movement’s poster child, obviously. So his writing has always stuck with me.

18. Tim Kasher
Personal Defining Work: Cursive’s Domestica
Cursive is a band that I saw very early in its life. Then, they broke up for a while. When they came back, singer Tim Kasher had constructed an entire album about his agonizing relationship and his messy divorce. And it was brilliant – the best-written concept album since Tommy. He wrote about the pain of living a lie, the shock of realizing it, and the understanding that comes with giving up. From there, he has written some of the most introspective lyrics ever penned by a guy who looks more like a gas station attendant than a rock and roll singer.

17. Michael Chabon
Personal Defining Work: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
It’s hard to point out what’s so good about Chabon’s work, just as it’s hard to remember the proper pronunciation of his name (it’s Shea as in Stadium, Bon as in Jovi). However, it must be done. I could talk about the Pulitzer Prize winning Kavalier and Clay, where he followed the lives of two young boys as they grew up, started a comic book, became famous, and began a twisted love triangle while one ended up in some frozen tundra. Or I could talk about his quirky, yet truly mysterious, Sherlock Holmes-in-his-80s-esque The Final Solution. Or I could talk about how his short stories are painfully funny; nearly embarrassing because you fear he’s talking about himself. Hmm, I guess I can point out what’s so good about him pretty well, actually.

16. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Personal Defining Work: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Fargo is a personal favorite. But as far as writing goes, O Brother, Where Art Thou? – the Coen brothers’ remake of Homer’s Odyssey – is too brilliantly put together to not count as defining. Really, even when the Coens write and produce a bomb, it’s still good. But when they write something great – it’s great without doubt. Don’t believe me? Take a weekend and watch Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Raising Arizona, and The Big Lebowski. Listen to the Coens’ ability to get the sounds of an entire region dead to rights, transforming a group of actors into an extension of their location. Then try telling me they aren’t the best duo out there.

This was lovingly handwritten on September 19th, 2006