Monday, November 12, 2007

My Top Ten Authors

It's that time of year again when I start reading more. For some reason I have an aversion to going outside after dark and since it gets dark at 5pm now, I'm spending a lot of leisure time at home. Luckily for me I have an enormous pile of used books from Seattle that I've yet to read, including some books by some of my all-time favorite authors:

1. Richard Adams (England, b. 1920)
Since I couldn't decide any other way to do it, this list is vaguely in the order in which I discovered the authors. Richard Adams has been a part of my life since I was a kid in the form of Watership Down. It was just about the only fiction book my dad would read out loud to us (everything else was all biblical.. yeesh) and, to give my dad credit, he has a great style for reading out loud. Because of it, I've been in love with that novel, rereading it several times over the years. I only recently started reading more books by him, including Maia and Shardik (both of which take place in the same universe with some few overlapping characters).

I love Adams because he is vivaciously descriptive and because he truly love his characters and the worlds they inhabit. It is easy to get swept away with him.

2. E.E. Cummings (U.S., 1894-1962)
Still the poet who influences me the most subconsciously, I am almost ashamed to admit that I discovered Cummings because of a Johnathon Taylor Thomas movie. But despite all that, I fell in love with his brevity, depth of feeling and sharp insight. Whenever I've fallen in love, his poetry captures it the best and it seems no other author is so able to evoke what I'm feeling while not talking about it at all.

3. Margaret Atwood (Canada, b. 1939)
Atwood is THE feminist novelist of North America in my opinion. Introduced to her by way of a Political Science project requiring A Handmaid's Tale be read, Atwood was one of my favorite authors to write papers about in college because her characters and situations are so effortlessly disturbing, like a good episode of The Twilight Zone. My top Atwood suggestions are The Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake and Good Bones and Simple Murders.

4. Orson Scott Card (U.S., b. 1951)
I was introduced to Card through Ender's Game which made a huge impact on my life. As I was growing up, I was convinced that adults kept vital information from children in order to control them and Ender's Game faced that reality as only science fiction can. Later the other books in the Ender "Trilogy" eclipsed it in significance, but I will never be able to forget the solidarity that I felt with Ender. Plus, it's good sci-fi too.

I know Card writes fantasy as well, but since most fantasy books disappoint me, I've been avoiding it. If someone were to suggest a good Card fantasy to me though, I'd probably give it a chance (hint, hint).

5. Tim O'Brien (U.S., b. 1946)
My all-time-favorite Vietnam veteran/writer, Tim O'Brien does an incredible job of exploring the destruction or deadening of the psyche as a response to war. Since America is -goddammit- almost constantly at war, O'Brien isn't going to stop being relevant for a long, long time. His characters are perfectly articulated through a careful balance of their thoughts, their stuff, and their interactions. I'd suggest starting with The Things They Carried or The Nuclear Age.

6. Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina, 1899-1986)
Borges is pretty much The Man when it comes to Magical Realism. His narrators have encountered the Fountain of Youth and Homer, the Real Don Quixote, an object for viewing the entire Universe, and much much more. Fascinated with the nature of time, memory, reality and identity, Borges stories, essays and poems evoke his continual wonder in the face of the unknown.

7. Jeanette Winterson (England, b. 1959)
Winterson is an imaginative lesbian author whose writing style is like Virginia Woolf without all of the hangups and an added shot of sexy. She was also raised by crazy Fundamentalists, which gives me a special affinity for her and certain of her characters. My favorite of her books is still Written on the Body and its gender-bending narrator who might be male or female.

8. Neil Gaiman (England, b. 1960)
In my opinion, Gaiman is the only author who has been able to successfully revive (not just re-interpret) the power of myth in modern times. His success is because he is not afraid to re-invent the old gods or to invent new gods to stand in where none previously existed. In my mind, this gives his writing a power that other people might not see, but even without that, his stories are incredible journeys of fancy and fear that will suck you in so fast your head will spin.

9. Peter Carey (Australia, b. 1943)
Carey writes about Australia in the way that only an insider can and produces brilliant pieces of humanity that capture an era. His novels tend towards the tragic ultimately, but the adventure along the way makes the destination matter less. I recommend Oscar and Lucinda as the best place to start with him.

10. J.K. Rowling (England, 1965)
I don't have much to say about Rowling except that she is giving Gaiman a run for his money when it comes to reviving old myths. Taking the best from the fantasy genre, Rowling has created a Universe that continues to expand, growing in complexity from a simple beginning. I have read the Harry Potter books more times in the past 4 years that I've ever re-read any book (except for maybe Watership Down). Best of all, while she's using mythic structures in her magical universe, she's also staying true to her characters (look at how easily she resolved the whole Snape issue in book 7). All sorts of awesomeness.



Thank you for being a friend! Stay evil, stay slutty.

Kris the Vagabond said...

You didn't include Virginia Woolf, but since you did include Jeanette Winterson and Neil Gaiman I guess we can still be friends. :)

Mine would probably be:
1. Virginia Woolf
2. F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. Jeanette Winterson
4. Jack Kerouac
5. Kurt Vonnegut
6. Albert Camus
7. Mary Shelley
8. Neil Gaiman
9. D.H. Lawrence
10. Jhumpa Lahiri

I'm mostly just limiting this to authors whose books I have read more than twice for fun.