The Top 25 Writers: 15-11

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.

15. George Orwell
Personal Defining Work: Animal Farm
I read Orwell at the same time I read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Needless to say, it was a pretty heavy time in my life, what with all of the hard hitting literature that I was soaking in. Orwell stood out, though, because he created parables to help illustrate the downfalls of mankind. He created a future world that expressed all of our fears; our fear of losing individuality, our fear of being cast out, and our fear of being caught doing nothing wrong. With everything, you learned a lesson – even if he’s just writing a short story in defense of English cooking or on how Charles Dickens should be perceived.

14. J. R. R. Tolkein
Personal Defining Work: The Two Towers
Have you heard of this guy? He’s apparently a pretty big deal. I mean, for years he wrote books. No, I take that back – Tolkein didn’t write books. He created worlds – everything from the climate to the languages, the interacting species to a history that most books don’t even bother to touch on. Tolkein turned the fantasy genre on it’s head and waited for the change to come out of its pockets, took off and used everything he could to develop a rich and beautiful world. There’s a reason those movies are so captivating – the story was written, and the history developed, better than any thing you can find in theatres today.

13. Jonathan Safran Foer
Personal Defining Work: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Two for two is a pretty good way to start out a literary career. By which I mean Foer has written two books, and they’ve both been amazing. Amazing in a way that made me rethink everything. You know that feeling when you finish a book, you close the cover, and you sit and think about it? For a long time? And then you realize that the book you’ve just read might be one of the best you’ve ever read and you open it again and read the last paragraph again and get goosebumps because you know exactly what the author’s talking about? Foer does that. Every time.

12. Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam
Personal Defining Work: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Ignore the fact that these six people are being grouped under the same number. Ignore the fact that they wrote in duos, for the most part, and also ignore the fact that they haven’t done anything worthwhile in the past 20 years. Instead, recognize that Monty Python, as a group, redefined sketch comedy. They redefined the off-the-wall film. And they wrote so many hilarious lines that you probably don’t even know they’re responsible for most of them. From the classic Parrot Sketch to the odd and disjointed Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, this group of men has done more for British humor – and for humor in general – than anyone else.

11. Lorrie Moore
Personal Defining Work: Like Life
Just as I’ve somehow built a small career by writing a book column ripped off directly from Nick Hornby’s Believer column, Nick Hornby started his career by ripping off Lorrie Moore. Well, what better author to read, right? Right. More than anything, I love short stories, and that’s what Lorrie Moore has come close to perfecting. I could go through entire collections in a night if I didn’t feel like I was reading them too fast. With Moore, I do. She drops you into the middle of a situation. You know everything there is to know by the end of the first paragraph. There’s no stumbling around, attempting to uncover the meaning – it’s right there in beautiful prose, ready to turn and slap you in the face if you’re not ready. So get ready.

This was lovingly handwritten on September 20th, 2006