The Top 25 Writers: 10-6

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.

10. Tony Kornheiser
Personal Defining Work: Ten years of Washington Post columns
I listened to Fox Sports radio in St. Cloud. When Kerrie and I moved back, I had to switch to ESPN radio. The first voice I heard was Tony Kornheiser, a man I knew only from his show Pardon the Interruption. He was funny, and he didn’t talk about sports all the time. In fact, he refused to interview sports stars because, well, they tended to be unbearably boring. Instead, he interviewed sports columnists, journalists, and broadcasters. He was the thinking man’s sports writer, and I discovered his work through the radio. I devoured every column collection I could. He was an inspiration – I suddenly wanted to be a sports journalist, and I even pretended to be one for a day. Not bad for a balding, orange-ish crank from D.C.

9. Art Spiegelman
Personal Defining Work: Maus
For someone that grew up in the 80s and 90s, I had little comprehension of what the Holocaust was. I knew that it had happened, and that Hitler was bad, and that a lot of girls read The Diary of Anne Frank while growing up. But that’s where it ended. Then, before I read Elie Weisel and before I saw Schindler’s List, I read a graphic novel that opened my eyes. Art Spiegelman’s Maus. Two books worth of fascinating narration about the Holocaust, brought down to a basic level. It overflows with emotion and power, and it’s all brilliantly illustrated with common animals in a way that strengthens the idea of Germans (as cats) seeing the Jews as an expendable race; as a problem they were bred to hunt down.

8. David Sedaris
Personal Defining Work: Me Talk Pretty One Day
I feel like such a New Yorker apologist putting Sedaris, literature’s funny gay guy, on my list. Listen, I don’t even read the New Yorker, and the various copies I have sitting around my house are there in an effort to make myself look literarily competent. But I do read Sedaris, and he’s never failed. He’s never failed at sarcasm, at finding the connections between seemingly embarrassing and unfunny situations, or at treating his family as a band of losers, fully formed only for his satire. Sedaris has taught me everything I know about homosexual men who happen to live in Paris. He’s taught me about pierced boils, and about Christmas traditions, and he’s introduced me to a grand selection of short story writers though his own compilations. Hee hee. He’s funny.

7. Ani Difranco
Personal Defining Work: Little Plastic Castle
Emotion. Truth. The seemingly impossible slant of being a woman in a patricentric world. Ani Difranco helped me understand what women think. What they deserve. And at the same time, she helped voice the emotions that come from usually cold subjects: abortion, war, rape. But before you think of Difranco as a horrible downer, consider the strength she throws into every lyric – the sure-handedness of everything she does, the empowering words she uses to signify love. Hate. Everything. She’s our generation’s Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan – a nearly mainstream artist content with shaking the status quo, but not so narrow-minded to do it at the expense of everything else. Really, she’s the last great protest singer we’ve got.

6. Dave Eggers
Personal Defining Work: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Dave Eggers is a great author. He’s also a successful publisher. Often times, he’s incredibly frustrating, as when he butts into the middle of his own novel (You Shall Know Our Velocity) and does a lot to ruin the entire experience. He’s a literary author, doing it for art instead of sales, and at times he lets his art overrun an engaging and brilliant story. Because ultimately, that’s what Eggers brings to every book and every short story – utter brilliance, like he’s the smartest person in the room but doesn’t quite know how to express himself seriously. I love the guy. But I also hate him.

This was lovingly handwritten on September 21st, 2006