The Books in My Life

Inspired by Pattinase’s list, “Twenty-Five Writers Who Have Most Influenced Me,” I sat down to mull over those writers who have had the biggest impact on the way I write and the way I read. In order that this didn’t turn into a mile-long list of my “favorite” writers, I stuck to just those few who have stayed with me the longest, and who left an indelible mark on my life. So—here they are, in alphabetical order, along with my favorite book of theirs.

1. Fredric Brown – Here Comes a Candle – A devilish imagination that never ceases to surprise me. A fiendish puppet master who maneuvers fate in the most illogical, ironic way, Brown crafts hallucinatory mysteries that terrify us and make us laugh.

2. Charles Bukowski – Ham on Rye – Real life without the bullshit. Poetry without a pretty veneer. Stories with guts.

3. Raymond Carver – Where I’m Calling From – Working class blues.

4. John Fante – Ask the Dust – Brutally honest about our hopes and dreams, and our failure to ever live up to them. A big influence on Bukowski. His language is stripped down and direct, but it is so full of emotion and feeling.

5. David Goodis – Somebody's Done For – The bleakest, most beautiful poetry I’ve encountered. At his best, his plots are but the briefest outlines – merely containers for his characters’ emotions and thoughts and anxieties and hopes.

6. Pauline Kael – I Lost It At the Movies – Lively, engaging, and sometimes enraging, she made me realize that there is more to criticism than “good” and “bad” – as the title of one of her books indicates, she taught me to look “deeper into movies.”

7. Jonathan Latimer – Solomon’s Vineyard – Guiltless amorality and pleasure, and a detective that cares nothing about the case or the young girl in danger. Marlowe’s white knight has turned into a perverse devil.

8. Phillip Lopate – Totally, Tenderly, Tragically – The opening essay, “Anticipating La Notte: The Heroic Age of Moviegoing,” is the most enlightening, personal writing I’ve ever read on film. It made me move back to New York to pursue my love of movies.

9. Henry Miller – Tropic of Cancer – Miller taught me to love language. He doesn’t write – he rhapsodizes.

10. Sanford Phippen – Kitchen Boy – I was lucky to have him as both my high school English teacher as well as neighbor, and he is still a dear friend of mine. He taught me the wealth of stories that happen in even the smallest town – and how often the best ones pass almost unnoticed.

11. J.D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye – I think everyone who has read this has found a little (or a lot) of Holden in themselves.

12. Mickey Spillane – Vengeance is Mine – I read Hammett, Chandler, and Cain first – but Spillane was my first noir love. Masterful control of language and punctuation. Evocative imagery, lurid action, and intoxicating poetry.

13. Harvey Swados – Nights in the Gardens of Brooklyn – Before Carver there was Swados – melancholic stories of middle-class minutiae.

14. Jim Thompson – The Killer Inside Me – Thompson takes us to a dark place that few even dare to acknowledge…

Feel free to share your own list or any thoughts on these writers in the comments section.


  1. Cullen, some good stuff there. Some I've never heard of so will investigate! Cheers.Paul

  2. Sir, you have inspired a response post on my part!

    (only four choices though --I'm not as pithy as you.)

  3. Pauline Kael was such a good inspiration. Phippen I've never heard of. Great names here.


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