Author, author: Contemporary writers

A quick post to note that I did come up with a list of favorite living, working authors. Thank heavens!

1. Michael Chabon
2. Barbara Kingsolver
3. Kate Atkinson
4. T.C. Boyle
5. K Ishiguro

I'm sure there are more, and that readers may have some suggestions. Now, post before computer crashes a third time...


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?


Two gripes, plus a new read

Gripe 1) I hate Blogger. I had a really nice post and it crashed.

Gripe 2) My job sucks. The people I immediately work with are nice, which makes it bearable. For the most part, other people in the company used to be nice, but now that is changing. It's a finger-pointing fiesta lately.

Okay, let's get back to the positive-ness. Not to be confused with truthiness, which, along with plain old truth, seems to be in short supply everywhere these days.

I accompanied a friend to Stacey's, a cool independent bookseller in San Francisco. And I saw this book. The description reads:

A brilliant portrait of a young girl's coming of age, "The Lost Traveller" tells of Clara, the beloved daughter of a devoted though authoritarian father and an imperious mother. In this devout Catholic family, father and daughter conduct an intense relationship that seems at odds with their faith and with the need for Clara to become a woman. Set against the backdrop of the First World War, Clara experiences the vagaries of adolescence and, faced with the first tragedy of her adult life, she realizes that neither parents nor faith can protect her from change.

Turns out there's a series of three related to Clara! So, I snapped up a copy. Turns out The Lost Traveller is volume 2 of the series. So I ran back and promptly bought the first volume, which is Frost in May:

Nanda Gray, daughter of a Catholic convert, is nine when in 1908 she goes to the Convent of the Five Wounds. Quick–witted, resilient, and enthusiastic, she eagerly adapts to this cloistered world, learning rigid conformity and subjection to authority. Passionate friendships are the only deviation from her total obedience. Convent life — the smell of beeswax and incense, the petty cruelty of the nuns, the glamour and eccentricity of Nanda's friends — is perfectly captured by Antonia White.

Now, one thing you didn't know about me (playing on yesterday's snarky post) is that I attended Catholic school. Ah, you say, one more piece of the puzzle falls into place.

So, this novel series is like manna from heaven. In Catholic-speak. Perfect reading for commute time!

I have never heard of this author or this series...has anyone else?


5 things you didn't (want to) know about me

(Warning: gratuitous profanity and unwarranted snarkiness ahead. Kindly, goodhearted people should probably not read.)

I wasn't tagged on this meme, unsurprisingly, since my first reaction is: If I wanted you to know five things about me, I woulda told you. Besides, anyone with half a brain can read between the lines on this blog to find out something if they wanted to, from my smart regular readers to the teenager googling for porn ("Dude, I swear it said The Cliterate Kitten!").

So, pretend I'm on Oprah, giving an interview. This is what I would say:

5 things you didn't know about me

1. I don't plan to ever live in a trailer park. Not that there's anything wrong with that, if that's the lifestyle you choose. If people choose to live in homes with wheels that are frequent targets of tornadoes, that's cool and remarkably brave. It's not that I'm a snob--I can't afford to buy a home. But there's something about living in a remote area among acres of people who also can't afford to buy a home that does not appeal to me. Not to mention that, with my extensive personal library, I'd probably be mistaken for the local bookmobile.

2. I like blankets. Blankets are perhaps the most underrated of life's necessities. Personally, I can sleep without many things other people deem essential to bedtime activities, but I cannot sleep without a blanket. And blankets are assigned to those in even the most wretched of circumstances, from prison inmates to travellers flying coach on United. If I had one Miss America wish, it would be that everyone in the world had a blanket. And preferably an Egyptian cotton-flannel blend, not one of those stiff polyester horrors you find in a Motel 6 off of I-80 near Elko, Nevada.

3. I don't like being poor and hungry. Not that there's anything wrong with that, if that's the lifestyle you choose. People can live however they want to. This is America, dammit. However, poverty and hunger aren't for me.

4. I think butterflies are cool. They're pretty and quiet, and they fly away before you have time to get sick of them.

5. I have low-water pressure. I don't like low-water pressure. It makes for skimpy showers and having to hold the toilet handle down several seconds when you flush. People with high-water pressure don't know how lucky they have it. This is America, dammit. Everyone is entitled to good water pressure.


13 classics to read

I’m borrowing this idea (modified somewhat) from SFP over at Pages Turned. I’m committing to Proust in 2007, with Eliot and Melville the next highest priorities. My criteria: 1) I focused on world lit, not simply English lit, and a smattering of time periods 2) I excluded works by authors I seek out, such as Virginia Woolf 3) I included lit I would actually read. For example, I don't think I will ever read Ulysses or Finnegan's Wake, even if Moses had engraved it on a stone tablet along with the 10 Commandments.

13 fiction classics I’d like to read (someday)
1. In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. Proust (part of Proust project)
2. Middlemarch. Eliot (silly me!)
3. Moby-Dick. Melville (started this year and dropped the ball)
4. The Sound and the Fury. Faulkner (I keep trying on this one…)
5. Robinson Crusoe. DeFoe (a classic that could actually be fun)
6. Tess of the D’ubervilles. Hardy (pretty much haven’t touched Hardy)
7. Portrait of a Lady. James (‘nuff said)
8. The Divine Comedy. Alighieri (a must, if you’re a member of the human race)
9. Tales from the 1001 Nights. Anonymous (ditto)
10. Don Quixote. Cervantes (double ditto)
11. The Iliad. Homer (triple ditto)
12. Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury (I avoid sci-fi, so wanted to include this genre)
13. The Stranger. Camus (if GW can read it, so can I!)