Open Thread: One Author You’re Grateful For?
Sure, There’s Probably a Dozen—Likely More—But Pick Just One
It’s Thanksgiving here in the U.S., a time to pause and express gratitude for the bounties—perhaps even some of the burdens—of life. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about books and the people who write them, my mind jumps to the many authors from whom I’ve benefitted.
Accepting there are no right or wrong answers here, could I limit it to just one? More to the point, can you? Who’s one author for whom you’re grateful? I’ll tell you mine below.
It would have to be C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton, right? Solid guesses but no. T.S. Eliot? No. George Orwell? Nope. Someone more modern: Maybe the economist Tyler Cowen, my favorite novelist Eugene Vodolazkin, or the historian Giles Milton? Again, good guesses but no. If I had to choose just one author for whom to give thanks today, I’d choose newspaperman and critic H.L. Mencken.
My first exposure to Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore, came as a teen through Laissez Faire Books, a monthly libertarian book catalogue from a store by that name in New York City. LFB stocked books by classical liberals from way back, along with modern libertarians, free-market economists, and other open-society advocates. As a snarky and snarly liberal, Mencken was regularly featured.
Though I read a few excerpts here and there and saw quotes in other people’s books, my first experience really reading Mencken came when I purchased a copy of A Mencken Chrestomathy. Getting copies of Mencken was a challenge in those dismal days before Amazon, Alibris, and AbeBooks. Thankfully, there was a rare book shop in downtown Roseville, California, where I grew up. The owner would keep a wish list for his customers and search for their desired editions.
“Anything Mencken,” I told him. He obliged.
He found me a copy of The American Language, along with Supplement One and Two, plus A Book of Prefaces; a copy of Mencken’s notebooks, Minority Report; Treatise on the Gods; and The Bathtub Hoax and Other Blasts and Bravos. I acquired other books here and there as well, including a copy of The Days of H.L. Mencken, which lumped his three memoirs in one volume; In Defense of Women; A Gang of Pecksniffs; The Impossible H.L. Mencken; and A Second Mencken Chrestomathy.
Why my obsession? The answer to that question is the reason for mentioning him today as the author for whom I am singularly thankful: He made me want to be a writer. Other authors did as well, including some of those mentioned above—but Mencken more than any. Early on I tried to emulate his style. Many did. I failed like the rest of them, but the practice helped teach me how to write.
He’s not for everyone, goodness no. He’s abrasive, rude, and irreverent, and that’s when he’s being nice. He’s also hilarious and insightful. I still dip into those books. I especially enjoy the two chrestomathies, Minority Report, and The Bathtub Hoax. I assume I’ll still be rereading portions decades from now.
Now it’s your turn: Who’s one author you’re grateful for? If you can’t name just one, feel free to tack on others.
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