Laurie Hertzel is senior editor for books at the Star Tribune, where she has worked since 1996. She is the author of "News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist," winner of a Minnesota Book Award.

In honor of National Authors Day

Posted by: Laurie Hertzel under Author events Updated: November 1, 2011 - 11:45 AM

 

E.B.White

E.B.White

 

I think Hallmark Inc. has missed a marketing opportunity; today is National Authors' Day and I am pretty sure there are no appropriate cards.

The day was established in 1929 by the General Federation of Women's Clubs. (And, not to be sexist, but doesn't it seem that it's always groups of women who are busily establishing holidays and figuring out who to celebrate and honor?) I think there are no particular traditions for this day, so we can invent our own.

A lot of blogs and tweets on Twitter are addressing the question of favorites--as in, who is your favorite author? I'd like to tweak that question a little and ask you which authors have made the most difference in your life.

By this I do not mean that St. Paul fiction writer John Reimringer might say that St. Paul poet Katrina Vandenberg has made the most difference in his life, by marrying him. I mean what authors have you read that have changed your world view, or inspired you, or otherwise affected the way you live?

It was E.B. White who most influenced the way I look at writing--while still in high school I discovered his collected essays, and fell in love with his clarity, his simplicity, his elegance and his dry humor. I loved the way he was so connected to the natural world and wrote about it so wisely. I am not saying that I learned how to do any of those things myself, in my own writing, but I did learn to recognize strong, good writing from him.

 

Eric Newby in the Hindu Kush.

Eric Newby in the Hindu Kush.

I think I was in my late 20s when I started reading Eric NewbyMy father was amazed that I had read everything I could find about Ireland, but had never read Newby's classic book, "Round Ireland in Low Gear," in which Newby and his intrepid wife, Wanda, then in their 60s, ride their bicycles around Ireland in the dark and pouring rain of December. (Wanda had not wanted to leave her garden while it was still blooming.) (And if you read the New York Times review I linked to above, you will appreciate the witty headline: "Soddenly, One Winter.")

 

From that book, it was on to all of his others, one after the other, as fast as I could: "The Last Grain Race." "A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush." "Slowly Down the Ganges." They were adventurous, they were funny, they were filled with information. But mostly it was his world view that I absorbed and appreciated. Newby had a traditional dry English wit, but as he traveled the world in the 1930s and 40s and 50s and 60s, he never turned that wit against anyone. As he encountered new countries and new populations and very different traditions, his jokes were always turned against himself, for being inept, for not understanding, for not fitting in.

This was so very different from, for example, the travel writing of Bill Bryson, who is also very funny but who can be mean, or disappointed, or disapproving. Newby's work made me not just want to travel the world, but it made me want to travel the world with my eyes and my heart wide open, and that is no small thing.

What about you? What writer has changed your life?  I'd love to read your comments here, or on Facebook, or even--if you can fit it into 160 characters--on Twitter. #nationalauthorsday. 

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