Today, I had my first day of my seminar for this term, which is called something like Seminar in Creative Nonfiction: Memoir. I shall call it “Memoir,” because Steve is taken. Anyway, the instructor is also my adviser for this term. She is the woman who called to tell me I’d been accepted to Oregon, she is the one whose book I read first and loved (and ended up paying about $160 to the KU library for keeping), and my expectations of her greatness are kind of high. So I’m hoping the class will be good. It will, I think, help me focus my writing on writing out of experience, and it should help in encouraging me to talk about the writing process more openly. I think, I think, I think. So we have a ton of reading and writing due for that class, which is why I came home and played Ticket To Ride online and started experimenting with making my own art to hang on the walls.
I need to e-mail said adviser sometime this evening with answers to the following questions: 1). Name ten to fifteen books (or short stories or critical works) that influence my writing/ make me think/ challenge me (the beginnings of a personal canon); 2). a page or so about what my particular interests and challenges with my writing are right now, and what I’d like to focus on for this term.
I find myself somewhat up in the air about these. My tentative “List of 10” would include Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Russo’s Empire Falls, Patchett’s Bel Canto and Taft, maybe Kent Haruf’s Plainsong, though that’s mostly because it was a recent read, The Essays of E.B. White, Carol Shields’s Unless and possibly The Stone Diaries, Franzen’s The Corrections, and McEwan’s Atonement and Saturday and maybe even Amsterdam. (I look at this list and I think: whoa! look at all the men!). I could add Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees because that’s where I turn when I need a reminder of the power of first person; I could add Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man because I love the obsession in it and the way she seems to write herself from the outside in stories, and I like that. And for short stories, I’d add Aimee Bender’s “The Rememberer,” which is the kind of story that hits you or it doesn’t, and me it hit.
But I don’t know. Some of those will change. Some of them probably should have already changed, because influences are fluid — well, favorites are fluid. Not the same things, but my favorite books tend to be those books that challenge me or influence my thoughts toward/on writing. It’s important to get this list right, because from it will grow the great list — the 40-book personal canon — upon which I’ll be tested next year. And it’s probably important to get it right because these are the things I should be figuring out.
Anyone out there have their own 10-15 book personal canon start? Want to share?