Saturday, March 24, 2007

Who's Your Favorite Author?

Angle of Repose by Wallace StegnerWhen the weather turns warm my thoughts turn toward literature and writing. Maybe it's the juice flowing again in the trees but no matter how much or how little creative writing I'm doing throughout the year come spring I get the itch to do more and this year has been no different. However, now that I'm writing here full-time I have less time to work on other projects and as the thermometer climbs I'm torn between my cyber writing and my short stories.

So as I'm thinking of literature and writers I'd like to emulate I ask: Who is your favorite author?

I favor late 19th-early 20th century Americans Willa Cather and Edith Wharton: O Pioneers! My Antonia, Song of the Lark, Death Comes for the Archbishop, A Lost Lady, Lucy Gayheart, The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth, Ethan Fromme, The Buccaneers, I'll consume anything these women wrote. But my favorite writer is Wallace Stegner.

A writer from the American (and Canadian) west, he taught at several universities but ended at Stanford where he founded the creative writing program there and developed a course in writing fiction that became legendary. My father recommended I read Angle of Repose, for which Stegner won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize, and throughout the entire 600-something pages I was hooked.

My opinion of modern late-20th century prose is similar to that of my spam box: jumbled characters full of innuendo and blather best deleted rather than viewed. Have you read Ulysees? I swear I've seen sentences like that in my spam folder. Amid the junk mail and screenplays passing themselves off as literature today, Stegner's works stand out as sentences with meaning. Each word contributes to the work as a whole and each character is as individual and fascinating as the next.

If I've tempted you enough to pick up one of his books I'd recommend starting with Crossing to Safety. It's rather short and follows the intertwining lives of two married couples. Or perhaps The Spectator Bird, which follows a man who has recently lost his parents and his only son--in short his family history and future--and travels to Denmark, his mother's birthplace, to discover his roots. It's a bit of a mystery but more a Danish Roots than a plot-driven novel. If you like those tackle the autobiographical Big Rock Candy Mountain or Angle of Repose, his masterpiece. Each of his works center on the universality of common people experiencing life's circumstances but tie in themes of humanity, morality, love, frailty and tragedy.

Stegner died around 1984. What I would give to have been able to take his creative writing course but I'm left instead to wish I had a prayer of writing as he did.

So who is your favorite? Which author have you read the most? Do you have some novelists you like, ones guaranteed to provide a fun read? (Despite my diatribe against modern fiction I've read all of Dan Brown's and John Grisham's novels) or do you fly across the spectrum, sampling here and there? Whose talent do you envy? I'm curious . . .

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19 comments:

Miscellaneous-Mum said...

It depends on the day; my mood; my frustrations; any one of a dozen variables.

But overall, if I HAD to mention names, I'd say (Australian) writer Helen Garner, (UK) Nick Hornby, (US) Bret Easton Ellis - when he's on his game, (UK) Ian McEwan, (UK) the Bronte's - naturally.

Perhaps you might be a little harsh on latter 20th Century fiction?! Granted, most pulp fiction is exactly what it is, but I get just as excited about a great writer 'find' if he/she is recent, or lived eons ago.

I've never heard of Stegner, but I shall have to look him up next time I go to the library.

meredith said...

I am of the sampler category, reading anything from fiction to biographies with the same pleasure. But a couple of years ago, a friend asked me if I had read anything by Barbara Kingsolver. I hadn't. She passed me just about every book she had ever written up to that date, and I read them all one after another, without tiring of her style. I read two Dan Brown books back to back and I am waiting before reading any of his other books. I found his story line too similar in those two books.

Amber said...

I have many favorites but sadly don't have as much time to read as I would like these days. One writer who has deeply affected me is Terry Tempest Williams. She wrote a book, "Refuge," which was life-changing during a difficult time....

Sandy said...

I absolutely LOVE John Irving. His novels are quirky but fascinating to read.

My very favorite book is A Prayer for Owen Meany...I named my son after the title character.

I also loved A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. It's the only novel he wrote; his mother found the manuscript after he committed suicide. It's an amazing novel.

I'll have to check out Stegner...

Antique Mommy said...

Great question. You can't beat Larry McMurtry. He is an amazing writer who lures the reader into becoming personally invested in his characters. And he manages to crank out a great story about every two years since the early 60s. And what range - from Terms of Endearment to Lonesome Dove. Wow. And? A Texan. :)

Catherine said...

I am also in love with Willa Cather's writing. But I also love Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Sandra Cisneros, Janet Fitch and Wally Lamb, to name a few contemporaries. I can't narrow it down to one, I'm afraid.

JennyMcB said...

I read most anything and when I was a high school sped teacher had the opportunity to read and enjoy a few books that I would have passed on.

I second John Irving, his characters are bizarre, but real. Any John Irving book I've read, I have devoured. Owen Meany is at the top of my all time favorite list.

Pat Conroy- What a tortured soul, but incredible writer he just pulls you in and can really tell a story.

A popular writer that I enjoy reading is Anne Rivers Siddon, her stories make me want to move to South Carolina.

Geek that I am, when I find books that I want to read while traveling through blogs, I put them on a document to go so I always have an updated list to bring to the library on my pda. I have The Spectator on the list. Thank you for the recommendation.

Jordan said...

I'm quite partial to Edith Wharton myself! Ethan Frome is my favorite of hers; I envy her writing in that one. Age of Innocence seemed a little more heavy handed, but it's been years since I read Ethan so I might be mistaken.

Have you ever read My Antonia? We read that in my early 20thc Lit class.

I like The Scarlet Letter (yeah, yeah, talk about heavy handedness) and The Great Gatsby will always be my favorite book. If you're patient and have an ability to "think loosely," Faulkner can be fun to read.

Since I graduated, though, I've read a lot of nonfiction. David McCullough is awesome in historical NONfiction; he has a real vision of why history matters.

When I read very hyped authors, I find myself . . . disappointed. But I'll definitely have to track down some Stegner. It sounds like we have similar taste in writing. Thanks for th suggested!

J Fife said...

Stegner is wonderful. I've been most touched by Rudolfo Anaya. He has captured the life and culture of northern New Mexico, my birthplace, in a way I admire and could only dream of one day accomplishing.

Her Bad Mother said...

Wallace Stegner - mmm, yes.

But *my* favourite? The geek answer - probably Stendhal. But, also - Walker Percy, Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Margaret Atwood, Martin Amis... depends on my mood.

MC Milker said...

Wow - tough question! Jane Austin, Willa Cather, E.M. Forster, Somerset Maugham, re-reading many of the classics now with my DS - so this may change.

"Literary fiction" is the term I've heard for well-written 20-21st century books as opposed to “eye candy” (pulp/romance/mystery novels). In that genre, I like, T.Coraghessan Boyle, Anne Tyler, Joan Didion, Gabriel Garcia Marquez..the list goes on.

I will check out Stegner…in my spare time…well, some time.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Michelle for getting me hooked on Stegner two years ago when I came to visit. He is also my favorite. I read everything, but found the writing to ruminate on in Shooting Star. When I was at the U of U getting my BFA (music) Stegner was actually on the faculty. What did I miss!!!

Kingsolver...favorite is Pigs in Heaven. Now that's pretty good for someone who is studying Hebrew and convinced, after reviewing the research, the laws of kashrus have wisdom...so good-bye bacon.

No one has mentioned of Tolkein, so I will be the first. Perhaps not as intellectual or esoteric as other suggestions, but I love his writing. I started "Fellowship" at Andrew's urging beginning on a Wednesday when I was laid up with the flu. Finished all three in four days, drugged up and coughing, then read them again. Then watched the movies. Then emerged, reluctantly from Middle Earth. MOMM

Melissa R. Garrett said...

I love reading Barbara Kingsolver whenever I get a chance. My mother-in-law introduced me to The Poisonwood Bible when I was suffering a serious bout of morning sickness with my son and stuck in bed. It was one of the best books I've ever read. Luckily, all her books are wonderful!

cipriano said...

Very interesting blog.
I have to separate my favorite authors into DEAD & LIVING.
Dead: Leo Tolstoy
Living: Jose Saramago

I have read Cather and Wharton, and I love them both. Wallace Stegner I have not read, perhaps I should, huh?
From your listings, I feel that you would like William Maxwell's stuff.

Which writer do I ENVY most?
Oh, that is such an interesting question. I just finished a novel by Michael Ondaatje and I must say, I envy his ability to be so poetic with his prose!
I envy Shakespeare most!
But in a more contemporary sense, I envy athors like Margaret Atwood, Jane Urquhart, Emma Donoghue.... and hey, the fact that these broads are all Canadian [and that I am, too] is TOTAL coincidence!
And I agree with "anonymous".... Tolkien.
I cannot forget Tolkien. I love him.

Oh, The Joys said...

Stegner would be among my very most favorites. He is a master. I so envy his capacity to write about the ordinary and expose it for extraordinary in a way that we recognize as universal.

jchevais said...

I'm a reader that will read almost anything but among faves I third JIrving.

As well, I'm partial to Wilkie Collins.

I will have to look into Stegner.

Harry L said...

Mark Twain, Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler, Oscar Wilde, and Edgar Allen Poe are my favorites.

PunditMom said...

You've picked one of my all time favorites in Angle of Repose! What else is up there on your list?

grnidlady said...

my absolute favorite writers of all time are steinbeck, irving, hemingway, and my husband. :) i love writers who can paint me a picture with words...that can take me there...that can make me feel and think.