Thoughts for Thursday - Author, author

It's Thursday, I'm tired. I thought I'd go for a Thursday 13, featuring my favorite fiction authors, in no particular order (and without including Shakespeare, who is a given):

1. Virginia Woolf
2. Feodor Dostoevsky
3. Edith Wharton
4. Marcel Proust
5. Ernest Hemingway
6. William Faulkner
7. Jane Austen
8. F. Scott Fitzgerald
9. John Steinbeck
10. Charles Dickens
11. The Bronte sisters (sorry, couldn't pick just one)
12. Mark Twain
13. Anton Chekhov

Now, I'm not branding this list as an absolute -- I'm sure there are names I'm forgetting that will occur to me at some inconvenient time, like 3 in the morning, causing me much teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing. But "favorite authors" is a topic I've been mulling over lately. As a writer, I should pay attention to what I read and who I read. And it occurred to me that I don't have a favorite or much-loved contemporary author. Why is that?

Part of the reason is that there are so many voices dinning in the void, one or two emerging from the few seems quite unreasonable. Is the mega-publishing world actually a negative, flooding the market with too much for a reader to choose from? Is that a negative for readers, for writers--or both?

Another reason I'm not as enamored of contemporary fiction is that we seem to be undergoing a trend that favors form and style over substance and content. Two recent examples: 1) Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves, in which the author uses the physical book and text itself-- footnotes, appendices, upside-down text and backwards-type-- to tell the story. 2) Jonathan Safran Doer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which uses photographs, colored highlights and passages of illegibly overwritten text. Now, I have not read these books; I am not commenting on the writing or execution, and I applaud what seems to be a creative approach to writing. But this sort of thing feels gimicky to me.

When I review my list of favorite authors, what stands out is what I believe their writing has in common, clueing me in as to what appeals to me: language, nuance, depth, texture, humanity. I have a physical reaction--tremoring, excitement--when I read beautiful language. When that is combined with nuance of observation, such as I elicit from Woolf, Wharton and Proust, the result is a sublime reading experience. I also love authors who love their characters and who offer layers and layers to even the most minor of characters, and who never resort to stereotyping, glibness or cynicism.

Maybe I haven't read enough contemporary fiction writers to be able to say I've experienced that with one of their works (I'm thinking of Toni Morrison here), and I am not particularly enamored even of the usual suspects everyone cites as "the best literary writers" in America (Updike, Roth, Bellow). Of living, working authors, the ones I tend to enjoy most these days are the non-American writers, such as Chatterjee, Pamuk, Minstry, Coetzee. Though even of these writers, I have only read one book each. Not enough, I would think, to name them as a favorite. I keep thinking I must be overlooking someone. While I've read several Anne Tyler, Alice Hoffman and Stephen King books, I would not consider them "favorites."

Perhaps it merely takes a while for a book to emerge as a classic, the old saw of "only time will tell".

Other thoughts? Who are your favorite living, working authors and why?


Courtney said...

I think when you love reading it's hard to choose a favorite writer. I do have a favorite (which everybody has read about) but he's my favorite because he was a turning point in my reading and writing career. And I think it's very easy to become overwhelmed with reading choices...just last night I wanted a novel and I have SO MANY novels to read but not one was the "right" one and so I read a Pam Houston short story instead. It was nice to begin and complete something in under an hour, actually.

Stefanie said...

Choosing a favorite writer is impossible so lists like your work great. As for contemporary authors, what about Margaret Atwood?

Brandon said...

I agree with you regarding the gimmicky nature of some contemporary fiction. For the last few months, I'd largely shied away from contemporary fiction because I was always bored to tears or disappointed. James Joyce strikes me as a gimmick writer; I attempted "Ulysses" earlier this year, but I always had the feeling that the book was one big joke to him; I'd read a chapter, then imagine him sitting in a padded room, laughing like a madman as his typewriter clacks away. I finally set the book aside and it was like a huge weight being lifted off my chest.

Since I spent the last couple of months devouring classics, I'm coming back to contemporary fiction. I love "The Remains of the Day"--I think that book is perfect in every way--and I'd like to read Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain" before the year's end. But whether a book is a classic or contemporary, I think it all comes down to personal preference. I'd get bored very quickly if everyone liked the same things.

Sam said...

Most of my favorite authors are also people who are no longer with us. The favorites for me are Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and Anais Nin. The only current author that comes to mind is A.S. Byatt. I recently finished The Thirteenth Tale and would list Diane Setterfield since it was the best book I've read in a long time, but it's her only book so far so I'm not sure I can put her on my favorite authors list yet. I've found that a great deal of current books I read are nonfiction and I have found that I will pick up anything by Diane Ackerman (her prose is just beautiful) and David McCullough.

litlove said...

Well, for whatever personal reasons, you do have a fantastic list of excellent authors there, whose work has stood the test of time. It's so intriguing and so difficult to think about your own favourite authors. If I had to do a list, then I think a lot of classics would end up on it, although I do read a lot of contemporary fiction (and enjoy it too). My list would be quite female author heavy, though, because I do love the way that women often seem more intuitively switched on to a level of emotional perceptiveness that I really appreciate.

Dorothy W. said...

Very nice list -- ours wouldn't be so different, I suspect. I'd go for older authors too, I suspect -- I think because I tend to assume older equals better, which I realize isn't true. With the older authors, though, at least a lot of people agree with you, whereas they won't with more contemporary ones.

Judytta said...

My favorite authors?
I like reading books very much.
for me there are important autohors who wich impress:

Amelie Nothomb

Valerie Martin feel "A recent Martyr"

John Updike
Margaret Atwood
Yoshimoto Banana
Alessandro Baraccio

LK said...

Great suggestions all! Some authors I have not heard of, so I am looking forward to dipping into some new material!

Alas, I have not read Margaret Atwood. Anybody have a suggestion at a good place to start? I suppose Handmaid's Tale, but I will wait to hear from the Atwood fans.

Also, not an Updike fan. I've read a bunch of his stuff...except for A&P, not too jazzed.

Anonymous said...

how cool... I'm going to do this on Thursday.

Stefanie said...

Don't start with Handmaid's Tale unless you really want to. I'd say go for Cat's Eye or Alias Grace

LK said...

Okay, Stefanie, Cat's Eye or Alias Grace it is! Thank you!

healingmagichands said...

I completely agree with Stefanie, she took the words right out of my mouth. Cat's Eye is a great place to start, Alias Grace is good too. I just read the Blind Assassin and I liked it a lot.

So my other favorite contemporary authors are:

Barbara Kingsolver, who I love for her gorgeous descriptions of nature and her commitment to ecology as well as her humor

Sue Grafton, who writes a great detective story and has an interesting character study in Kinsey Milhone

Amy Tan, who delves into family relationships in a wonderful way, great descriptions too, wonderful use of language