Henry Huggins book in this spot, a kid whose cool nonchalance I worshiped. (I loved Encyclopedia Brown, too, but he seems a little smug to me now, born to the purple!) But something about Robert McCloskey's Homer Price got into me and stayed, too. I read this book countless times. Homer showed me that it was OK to be happy when you're alone, whistling as you walk, working on your radio, befriending your imagination. If you're patient, all kinds of amazing things might happen around you, not the least excess donuts, a skunk for a friend, and, in a story that I really responded to, an actor playing a movie superhero who in the course of a sorry evening teaches Homer a thing or two about adulation and inevitable disappointment—you know, adult stuff. Just like Homer, I lived on Rt. 56 (in Ohio) for a while. As Kon-Tiki evoked the South Pacific, so did Homer Price evoke Centerburg, the kind of rural small town in which I think that—no, I know that—I secretly wished I'd been raised.
The first book where the top of my head came off when I read it, and the first book to show me the power of arranging words and sentences in such a way that the reader can feel as if the world's been presented new again. I left his aesthetic behind long ago, but I'll always be in debt to Eliot for being the first writer to teach me a foreign language.
Roger Angell book could've made this list. He's the greatest living writer about baseball, and he fundamentally affected my way of thinking not only about the game but about how to write about it. Late Innings is my particular favorite as it covers the chaotic New Yankees teams of the mid- and late-1970s, the era during which I permanently fell in love with the game.
Homer Price via 70s Sci-Fi Art