Sometimes you read a book that so impresses you as both writer and reader that you hang your head in your hands and wail, "Why can't I write like this?"
Many of the classics do this for me - I feel particularly humbled by John Steinbeck and Edith Wharton - as do newer genre writers like Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. Then there are my contemporary favorites who never fail to amaze me: Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Berg, Michael Chabon, Alice Hoffman, and many, many more.
When I read YA, I read mostly for research: to see what's out there and why it's getting attention. But recently, I've been doing some pleasure YA reading that my friend Laura recommended. Number one on her list since I met her almost 2 years ago has been "War for the Oaks" by Emma Bull. It's urban fantasy about human-faerie interaction and a war and the rock music scene and really not my normal cup of tea.
I finally read it, finishing it this weekend, and I loved it. It's a book that all other books in the genre are based on. Having read a fair number of urban fantasy novels like it, I was gratified to read the original. Smart characters, clever dialogue, a plot that moves...and the romance wasn't abrupt or grating. No wonder so many authors were influenced by the book.
I have longed to write a novel that would be influential to other writers (heck, I'd love to write one that is influential to readers too!), something like Orwell's "1984" or Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451." I haven't come up with anything so far that has the monumental scope either of those do but books like Emma Bull's renew my desire to find that one thing that will make my own work stand out.