Simply put, writing isn’t possible without reading.  Here’s a list of authors who have helped me become a better writer (in alphabetical order):

ansayA. Manette Ansay. Some lyrical writers sacrifice style for content, but not so here. Her latest novel, Good Things I Wish You, is both poetic and engaging. (First encounter: Sister.)

austerPaul Auster. I never thought it was possible to get to the heart through the head in a work of fiction, but Paul Auster proves it can be done, over and over again. The New York Trilogy, In the Country of Last Things, Moon Palace, The Music of Chance, they’re all uniformly fantastic. (First encounter: The New York Trilogy.)

lahiriJhumpa Lahiri. Every story in The Interpreter of Maladies is a gem.  Some people call her writing style plain, but for me, accurate is a better descriptor.  (First encounter: “A Temporary Matter,” in The New Yorker.)

leeDon Lee. The stories in Yellow are just a hell of a lot of fun to read. For someone who’s such an exquisite writer, Lee never short changes the reader when it comes to entertainment. Also check out Wrack and Ruin, his goofy and hilarious third novel. (First encounter: “The Price of Eggs in China,” in Yellow.)

mortonBrian Morton. Even though I attended NYU’s MFA program for four years (let’s just say I took the leisurely route), it wasn’t until the final semester that I got acquainted with Brian Morton’s work (thanks to my agent). The great Frank Langella portrayed Leonard Schiller in the film of Starting Out in the Evening; both the book and the movie are fantastic. A Window Across the River is my favorite; I love the back and forth, the give and receive, of the way the novel is structured between the two characters; it’s’ like a POV tennis match. (First encounter: Starting Out in the Evening.)

murakamiHaruki Murakami. Is there another writer out there who can craft such interesting novels with characters who are, by and large, ridiculously passive? Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is my favorite, because it’s the zaniest. The Elephant Vanishes layers weird upon weird. And The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is probably his best novel. (First encounter: “Barn Burning,” in The New Yorker.)

onanStewart O’Nan. Nobody can get under the skin of a character better than Stewart O’Nan.  He’s never written the same book twice, and that’s saying something, because he’s written more than a dozen at this point.  Every new novel is my favorite, which is why Songs for the Missing, Last Night at the Lobster, and The Good Wife are the books everyone should read.  He’s also written one of my very favorite short stories, “Please Help Find.” (First encounter: “The Steak,” in The Threepenny Review.)

wachtelChuck Wachtel. I took all four of my workshops with Chuck Wachtel at NYU, and that was because I’d read Joe the Engineer before entering the program. Here’s a bit of trivia: the original hardcover features an illustration of a young man who looks a lot like Vincent Gallo.  That’s because he was the model.   (First encounter: Joe the Engineer.)

yatesRichard Yates. Now that his debut novel, Revolutionary Road, was given the full Hollywood treatment, he will be read for years to come. And that’s a great thing, because he never received the attention he deserved during his lifetime. The Easter Parade, The Collected Stories of Richard Yates, A Good School, and A Special Providence are all first-rate works. (First encounter: “The Canal,” in The New Yorker.)

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