Eric, a friend of mine from high school, left some thoughtful comments on one of my posts here.
We talked about our mutual love for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I didn't tell him this, but back in high school, I wanted to be the next Douglas Adams. I've since realized that I'm more likely to become the first Scott Hughey, and I'm fine with that. Nobody else can be Douglas Adams. I wouldn't want to anymore anyway, seeing as he's no longer around. Hope that's not too soon.
Actually, it is. Obviously, I didn't know him, but boy do I miss a new book coming out from him every several years or so. Better than prolific, he was good.
But I digress.
Eric said this in the comments, "Someday I'd love to hear what other writers have affected you like that." I answered, and because the answer took much longer than I expected, I decided to turn it into a blog post. That way it feels productive.
First off, I'm not suggesting your wife is wrong, but how does she know I have a 12 year old's mindset? What have you told her?
And thank your sister for me. There is no set of books, or at least fiction books, that I've reread more than the five book trilogy. Also read the spinoff, "Starship Titanic" which wasn't nearly as good. And Douglas' other fiction books. Just recently learned there is an authorized sixth book written by an author who I can't bother myself to look up right now. It's on my reading list.
I still read what's considered more literary fiction, usually when I'm in the mood for a good classic. Frankly, if it's a good story, I'll read it regardless, but I still tend more towards genre. You're absolutely correct- there's a ton of bad genre fiction out there. One of my hopes is that I don't add to the pile of bad.
I've been fortunate to find a good deal of the good. I've been chewing on your question for a few days, about what other authors have have affected me the same way as Douglas Adams. The quick, unthoughtful answer is none. I wouldn't do that to you though.
There's one author that I had the privilege of conversing with through email and online groups sometime back. Peter David. He's one of those multi medium writers. In fact, I first discovered him through comic books. Yeah. I said comic books.
One day I discovered he wrote novels too. For a while, I devoured his Star Trek novels before finding he had plenty of books completely of his own making (ie- not playing in someone else's universe.) I'd highly recommend "Q-Squared," if you're into Trek at all. I'd also suggest his "Sir Apropos of Nothing." It's a fantasy story with a twist. The Main Character is a side character who supplants himself as the main character.
Peter's writing is almost always funny, thought provoking, and a great ride. He's not as funny as Douglas Adams, but comparing any writer to that standard is like comparing a fire to the sun.
Lately, more so than his work, I've been influenced by Neil Gaiman. Neil is great because... he is. I hope you've heard of him. He's another writer who has written comics, but he's also written children's books, screenplays, Dr. Who episodes, novels, short stories, poems, and the world's best Christmas card ever. Seriously. Look it up.
One great thing about him is he is undefined by genre. The newest book of his that I've read, "The Ocean At The End of the Lane," could be described as fantasy. Or science fiction. Or modern myth. I've even seen it hailed as literary fiction. I love stories that are hard to define like that, because you don't know what conventions are being used.
It'd be hard to suggest a starting point. If you want something hilarious, read "Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch" which he co-authored with Terry Pratchett. This comes closest in style, by the way, to a Douglas Adams story. If you want something deep and thick, try "American Gods."
Weird thing about "American Gods." Picked it up at a library years ago, and forced my way through about 150 pages before giving up. Hated it. Loved nearly everything else by Neil, but not this book. Recently, I decided to give it a second chance, and I've found it to be marvelous. Guess I changed.
There's others that have been influential, or at least highly entertaining. Terry Goodkind. Matt Forbeck. Margaret Weis. Hmm, there's Lee Goldberg, but he's strictly a mystery/detective writer.
And if you just want a good read, I've yet to be disappointed by a book published by Angry Robot. They're not paying me to say that. Wish they would though.