Thursday, January 10, 2008

My Favorite Authors

Thomas HardyI've seen many book lists the last few weeks, books people read last year, books people want to read this year so why not? I'll jump in too and give you some more to read. I had a hard time whittling this down to just thirteen (I sneaked in one more you'll notice) but these are authors that I've read at least two of their books and would instantly pick up another if given the chance.

1. Thomas Hardy 1840-1928. You'll quickly discover that I have a weakness for Brit lit, particularly from the 19th century (it was hard not including Dickens on the list but frankly, The Old Curiosity Shop knocked him out of the running and proved that even the masters have their down days). I've read Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, The Return of the Native, Far from the Madd'ing Crowd, The Mayor of Casterbridge and LOVED them all. Hardy's characters are tragic and desperate and doomed from page one but I'm riveted from beginning to tissue-sniffling end. But Tess holds a special place in my heart. Sniff.

2. Willa Cather 1873-1947. Okay I also have a weakness for late 19th-early 20th century American lit too. To me Willa Cather is the personification of "purple mountains, fruited plains, amber waves of grain" and "bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free." She writes with emotion and depth that makes her the greatest American writer of the 19th century. Take that Walt Whitman! My Antonia, O Pioneers! Song of the Lark, Lucy Gayheart, Death Comes for the Archbishop, A Lost Lady--read 'em and wept.

Lucy Maud Montgomery3. Lucy Maud Montgomery 1874-1942. I would have to also include E.B White 1899-1985 here as my favorite children's authors that aren't really for children. Not only have I read all of the Anne of Green Gables series (all eight) and her Emily of New Moon series (three) but I've read them several times over. As a twelve year-old I dreamed that I was Rilla Blythe in lovely daydreams where I had beautiful Edwardian dresses and lived on P.E. Island with my suitor going off to war . . . ah. But I digress. Montgomery's books are amazing and isn't she beautiful? But Charlotte's Web is the most well-written piece of literature disguised as a children's book in the English language. Every sentence is like a pearl necklace with each beautiful, precious word strung perfectly behind the next. It's art I tell you.

4. George Eliot 1819-1890. You'd think I'd finally broke away from the ladies if you didn't know that George Eliot is the pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans. Call me silly but I'm a woman and I like the way women write. What are you going to do? Silas Marner is a touching tiny book that is up there with A Christmas Carol when it comes to morality stories about change and the human heart, Adam Bede describes an honest, decent man who loves a woman but more than anything wants to do the right thing, The Mill on the Floss is a tragic tale with a brother, a sister and troubled family relations and Middlemarch's Dorothea Brooke is a model of virtuous, well-intentioned, misplaced goals that had me engrossed for the whole massive 500 pages. I still have yet to read Daniel Deronda but it's on the list.

Ayn Rand5. Ayn Rand 1905-1982. Why stop now? Another woman writer that thrilled me is Alisa Rosenbaum, also known as Ayn Rand (Rand from her typewriter). I read The Fountainhead and it--let's see--"rocked my world" I believe is the phrase? It's an amazing novel about an architect (supposedly loosely based on Frank Lloyd Wright) and everyone said, "If you loved The Fountainhead wait until you read Atlas Shrugged." They were right. Atlas Shrugged is her masterpiece and even if you don't agree with her questionable politics the novel is still 1000 pages of "WOW!" I got Andrew to read this, he doesn't typically read fiction, and he too was amazed.

6. Victor Hugo 1802-1885. We're jumping continents and we're jumping genders here as I finally get back to the men on my list. But oh what a man! Is there anyone who can read Les Miserables without sobbing like a baby? Grace recently saw the movie and I think I've got her convinced, now I just have to get her to read the book--though I'll probably go with an abridged version, the 1000+ pages may turn her off. Here's a question: I've always wondered why his novel Notre Dame de Paris was translated as The Hunchback of Notre Dame--the novel isn't about Quasimodo anyway, the central character is the cathedral, as the French title would suggest. Any reason why this was done?

Alexandre Dumas (pere)7. Alexandre Dumas (pere) 1802-1870. More with the French. I just love the romance of his historical works: The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers and Queen Margot (about Marguerite de Valois, the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre and the reign of Charles IX). Fun fun fun. If you haven't read Queen Margot but have read the others you really should remedy the gap in your literary education because it's my favorite of the three--really!

8. Nevil Shute 1899-1960. A prolific British author whose most popular book On the Beach is a post-apocalyptic novel that is quite different from the rest of his works (at least as far as I'm familiar with them). I haven't read On the Beach but A Town Like Alice is wonderful. It's about a woman on a Malaysian death march who meets up with an Australian soldier--you must read it. Another one of my favorites is The Breaking Wave (also titled Requiem for a Wren) which I can't say much without giving it away but I loved it passionately.

9. Henry James 1843-1916. A 20th century expatriot American master that I read whenever I'm in the mood for something big and meaty. He's like the prime rib of American lit. A Portrait of a Lady is one of my all-time favorite novels but I also loved Washington Square and Daisy Miller. Of course The Turn of the Screw was fun and The Spoils of Poynton was fine though not great, if you've never read James don't start with his later works because they're terribly difficult (I have yet to get through Wings of the Dove though it's been on my shelf for years) so go with one of the earlier ones.

Samuel Shellabarger10. Samuel Shellabarger 1888-1954. An American novelist and academic who wrote the greatest historical fiction ever. Mostly swashbuckling stories of knights and pirates and the Spanish Inquisition (which no one ever expects, now do they?) that have me cheering and laughing and crying until Andrew wants to know what in the world is going on. Captain from Castille is on my top ten books list and I've read Lord Vanity, The King's Cavalier and The Prince of Foxes--all terrific and exciting reads. The only problem is that his books are largely out of print and hard to find. I usually comb the used book sites to find hardback copies to add to my collection.

Raphael Sabatini11. Raphael Sabatini 1875-1950. Handsome isn't he? Very much like Shellabarger and rivaling him in my affections but he was born in Italy to an English mother and an Italian father. He spoke many languages (six I think) and English was the last he acquired but he chose to write all of his novels in English because he said "all the best stories are written in English." Not very P.C. but hard to argue with--especially considering that he's added such wonderful works to that very body work. Some say he writes like Dumas but was more prolific. I've read Scaramouche, Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, Bellarion, Master-at-Arms and The Tavern Knight, all fabulous. I want to read the rest as I can find them.

12. Edith Wharton 1862-1937.
An New York aristocrat who never found much happiness in personal relationships but wrote some of the greatest books of all time drawn from that sadness. Again with the early 20th century Americans! Her stories are sad but I love them and I keep coming back for more. I've read The Buccaneers, Summer, Ethan Fromme, The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth and I'm reading Old New York right now. I give her five stars every time.

Wallace Stegner13. Wallace Stegner 1909-1993. How can I describe this greatest of all novelists so that you'll not sleep until you have one of his books in your hand? His sentences are exquisite, his themes are the deepest and most profound. He was raised in Utah and Saskatchewan (where some of his works are based) and he founded the creative writing program at Stanford, where he taught for many years and which is the basis for most of the creative writing programs now throughout the United States. Angle of Repose won the Pulitzer in 1971 and was supposedly loosely based on the history of his grandparents and describes their rocky marriage as they moved throughout the American west. It juxtaposes the turbulence of the 1970s with the hardships of pioneering and draws some troubling conclusions but of all things I would describe it as a moral book that is inspiring in a way that modern fiction seldom is. Crossing to Safety is a shorter novel (I'd start there if you were to sample his works) about two married couples and their entwined lives. The Big Rock Candy Mountain is an autobiographical work that could be compared to The Grapes of Wrath, though not so depressing, and is my least favorite of his books. The Spectator Bird is about an American man recovering from the death of his only son while searching for his roots in Denmark only to uncover troubling family secrets--it has the feel of a who-dunnit but it much deeper and poignant. Amazing, amazing, amazing. What would I give to be able to write like this man?

***

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65 comments:

MondaythroughSunday said...

I have been wanting a good read lately and you have given me lots of ideas.. Thank you!

Heffalump said...

Wow. I am literarily challenged. I generally read children's fiction and sci fi/fantasy if its clean. I think I need to broaden my horizons.
Sadly, our town library is very VERY small. I will have to see if they have any actual literature there.

J Fife said...

Just what I need, MORE books to read.

Oh, I have a deep love for Cather and Stegner.

Robin said...

I loved the Anne of Green Gables books so as a child. In fact, I rescued them from my parents' basement when they moved and they're (the books, not my parents) still sitting on my bookshelf in the hopes that they will someday not smell too musty to reread.

imadramamama said...

I can honestly say that I've never read a single book by any of those authors! You sure do like the oldies! I challenge you to do a TT of contemporary authors you like!

Lara said...

Thank you for this list! The ones you've listed that I have read I really liked, so I am going to assume that I'll love the ones I haven't read that are on your list.

Ayn Rand looks very very interesting. Will put her on my to read list right away.

edj said...

Oh I have to comment on this one!
I agree with many of your choices (Hardy, LMM, G Eliot, Hugo, Dumas, James, Wharton, Stegner) and haven't read others. Since we agree on so much, I am thrilled to learn of new authors that I'll prob love! THANKS for a great list.

Nicholas said...

I enjoyed Jude The Obscure, but was made to read The Mayor of Casterbridge at school and that put me off it.

You have actually read Les Miserables? My hat is off to you!

sarah said...

thanks so much! What better place to start learning about writing than by reading some of the greats! I think I'll head over the library.

Chris said...

So many of your favs are mine as well: Cather, Montgomery, Eliot, Hardy and Wharton. Although I can't say the same for Rand or James.

Oh and The Count of Monte Cristo is so much fun!

Phyllis Sommer said...

i love love love l.m. montgomery. have you read jane of lantern hill? that is one of my favorites of hers. and also the story girl. i could read the anne books every year. my copies are so well-worn! great list.

Amber said...

Fabulous list. I'm with you on so many of these...Angle of Repose...ahhh...The Count of Monte Christo...loved them.

Jeana said...

I'm so glad you did this! I'm saving this in Bloglines to refer to later.

Jacki said...

You are very well-read! And we share some of the same favorite authors. :-)

Becca said...

I was quietly reading you in my Google reader but when I saw Samuel Shellabarger and L.M. Montgomery in the same list, I had to comment. I love Prince of Foxes! It's one of the books I consistently re-read. As for Montgomery: I have he eight plus the two (I only have two of the New Moon books!) and I have all the little short stories she wrote! When Marilla reaches reading age, she'll be surrounded by Anne! (Yes, our first girl child is scheduled to be named Marilla...)

Marie N. said...

all right -- my next stop is Daily Lit dot com as I do not have a current book going there.

JMC said...

OK, are you secretly a lit professor or something? I've read some of those, and by some I mean one other than the children's ones.

I guess I just go for the more modern stuff. My favorite novel is Beach Music by Pat Conroy. Love him! That southern boy can sure turn a phrase.

jennwa said...

Very interesting. Thanks. I too need to read more.

Darla said...

Oh, I love, love, love Atlas Shrugged. Which is fairly obvious, since I named my daughter Dagny. It was either that or Arwen. (I was young, and I like unusual names.)

I re-read it every few years, one of the few books I re-read just for myself, not for a discussion group or something. Which reminds me, I haven't re-read it in a while.

Babystepper said...

Lots of classics here. I'm still rebelling from college and reading genre fiction.

Whenever I decide to mature and forget all my juvenile frustrations I'll come back to this list.

Oh, and I did credit Planet Earth in my post. =)

Diana said...

The only one I've read is Ayn Rand. I'll have to check some of the other ones out!

Mary Alice said...

I remember reading Wallace Stegner and just sighing with contentment...this is perfect....you know that sigh?

Deb - Mom of 3 Girls said...

L. M. Montgomery is one of my absolute favorite authors as well. I've read the Anne and Emily books many times over and still enjoy every single one. :)

Ginger said...

I have never met anyone who appreciates Stegner as much as I do, thanks for introducing him to your readers. "The Angle of Repose" has long been my favorite book. I have bought it at least four times, having lent out my copy then not remembering to whom and then having to run out and buy it again. There is something so comforting about Stegner's work. I also enjoy his non fiction and would recommend you come to know John Wesley Powell through the pages of Stegner's "Beyond the Hundreth Meridian".

My Ice Cream Diary said...

This is the first book list I've seen that has me chomping at the bit to get to a library. I'm a classics addict and i can't believe that there are so many books on this list that I haven't read (some I've never even heard of). And I especially appreciate the highlights of each author, as I tend to skip the authors name when reading. You've persuaded me to finish the Deerslayer by Saturday so that I can allow myself to read some of these.

Stephanie said...

Great list, especially L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables will always hold a special place in my heart) and Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged is a great piece of fiction). I might add C.S. Lewis and Sheldon Vanauken to the list...and perhaps Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

Maria said...

This is the second time in just a couple weeks that someone told me how good Silas Marner is. Maybe I should check that one out! Thanks!

Lia said...

You hit a lot of my favorite classics, although I'd have to reorder your list to move Alexander Dumas much, much higher.

Tim Appleton (Applehead) said...

I only know two of the fourteen. I didn't take E. Lit.or pay attention much in A. Lit. I remember reading those books and the content, but the teacher was not really that good. I only know Hugo and E.B. White from your list.

Milehimama said...

If you like Willa Cather, you'll probably like Sarah Orne Jewett. Jewett was a mentor to Cather and influenced her work.

IMO, SOJ is a master of characterization- her stories are about the simplest things but the people jump off the page!

Ethan Frome is one of my favorites.

Did you know that Atlas Shrugged is being made into a movie starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt?

Mean Mommy said...

Oh, wow. Great list. I love all the authors I've read...and I have 3 new ones to add to my list (Shute, Shellabarger, Sabatini...all 's' names. That's curious.)

Silas Marner is one of my favorite books ever. I'll never forget the day my grandmother quoted it to me, and I recognized it.

Are you kidding milehimama? My sister and I did a personal casting of Atlas Shrugged once, and Brad Pitt was one of the first we picked. Although, we decided he should be the Danish pirate, since John Galt wouldn't be as effective unless he were an unknown actor. But then...most people seeing the movie probably already know. So...

Scribbit said...

Oh I could talk books forever!

Thea, I'm going to answer your challenge on modern lit but point out Stegner is "modern." The problem is, so many popular books (and I love Grisham and Dan Brown) are more screenplays than literature and the ones that masquerade as literature are trying so hard to be artsy and esoteric that they're rubbish (love that word. Makes me sound like Julie Andrews).

I can't believe that about Pitt/Jolie in Atlas Shrugged--I'm remembering the Beowulf fiasco I guess. Though I loved A River Runs Through It and remember somewhere that years ago Brad could act in great stuff.

If you love Monte Cristo, try The Sea Hawk by Sabatini--it's a similar revenge tale only better. Really!

And Becca, that's perfect--I love Rilla as a nickname and she'll get compliments on it everywhere I'd bet.

Darla--I love Dagny! Any sons named John Galt?

Mean mommy--did you see the Steve Martin movie Simple Twist of Fate based on Silas Marner? I didn't like it because it changed all the themes. I just didn't like the whole idea that if you have enough money everything is okay. The book is better.

Mean Mommy said...

I did see the movie. The book is totally better. But I say that about any movie made from a book I've read previously.

Maryann said...

Thanks for the comment on my blog. To answer your question...yes, I have Susan in my link list :)

Penelope Anne said...

We have similar themes today...I only did female authors and stayed more modern. I do love Ayn Rand though.

Penelope

Marie said...

I love Ayn Rand too. I got all giddy once when I was behind another car that had a "Who is John Galt?" bumper sticker. Naturally it was a Jag.

page2 said...

Thank you for the reading list. I haven't decided which one I'm going to read yet, but I'm going to pick at least one to read this year.

Cocoa said...

Willa Cather, George Eliot, L.M. Montgomery are my favorite female authors. I'll have to try some of the others you've mentioned since we seem to have to similar tastes.

Jordan (MamaBlogga) said...

Mmmmm. Writers. I've only read My Antonia bu Cather, but I liked that. I loved Daisy Miller, but I thought Turn of the Screw was so silly (and not scary) that I haven't gone back to James.

And I LOVE LOVE LOVE Edith Wharton. I finally got the book I've been asking for (for years) at Christmas: The Writing of Fiction by Edith Wharton. I read an excerpt in college and now I just have to know everything else. (All I had to do to get it was to make it the only thing on my Christmas list!)

And though I do love Edith Wharton, I must say that I didn't like "Summer." Maybe I should've just stuck to the basic morality stories anyway ;) . (I did like Old New York, especially The Old Maid, which was made into a movie in 1939 with Bette Davis, though they changed the setting.)

Kristy said...

What a great list. I became a big Cather fan last year. I want to read more.

MommyTime said...

Ahhhh....what a blissfully full list. You're a woman after my own heart (mind?). I almost hesitate to add more, but since you've read all these, I have a few more to suggest that you'll probably also love, Scribbit. Try Elizabeth Gaskell (especially Wives and Daughters, 1860) or Margaret Oliphant--Miss Marjoribanks, 1868?, and Hester, late 1870s, are both spectacular -- witty and intelligent commentaries on the cultural positions of Victorian women. And if you want something more recent that appeals to a sensibility that loves fabulously rich Victorian prose, you must read My Name Is Red (by Orhan Pamuk, who won the Nobel Prize in literature two years ago). It's a gorgeously layered story about a group of artists who work illuminating manuscripts in 14th century Turkey. Part murder mystery, part love story, part history lesson, all incredible prose. I can't wait to tackle some of your recommendations!

Sarah said...

My favorite Montgomery book is "The Blue Castle."

Have you seen the Web site with Montgomery's scrapbooks? http://lmm.confederationcentre.com/

Also, it is the centennial of Anne of Green Gables publication. Check out this Web site, too.
http://www.anne2008.com/

Megan (FriedOkra) said...

Thomas Hardy would be the top on my list, too. (Slaps you high five.)

pussreboots said...

You've listed many of my favorites as well. I'd add Mark Twain and Nathaniel Hawthorne to the list. Happy reading.

Jennifer said...

I'm still trying to figure out how you time to do all that reading, raise wonderful kids, make jewelry, and come and post a comment on a little blog like mine! Thanks!

oh amanda said...

Wow. You make me feel bad for liking Grisham and chick-lit!

But I do LOVE LM Montgomery. I didn't know she was so cute! I've read Anne & Emily several times. And I love all her short stories, too.

I'm AZ said...

I love Willa Cather.

Rivster said...

Oh my -- such a wonderful list. I haven't thought about some of these for year.

Love, love, love the "Anne" and "Emily" books. I reread the Anne series faithfully each year and am looking forward to the time that I can share them with my daughter who is 4.5 yrs old.

123pizza said...

I love Tess. She holds a special place in my heart. Most of the authors I have read and am glad there is someone else out there that loves them as much as I do.

I decided one day that I was going to start reading the classics because I had never been exposed to them before (except school and the rebellion in me hated being told what to read). I quickly discovered I like to think and read great literature. When I don't want to think I turn to chick lit (which I love) or something else.

Thanks for the list.

KreativeMix said...

Mine are Albert Camus, Alexandre Dumas and Jane Austeen :-)

momof3gr8kids said...

Ack! I'm trying not to add anything to my "to-read" list because I'm about 135 books behind. Now you've given me a few more. Oh well, thanks anyway. ;)

iamyuva said...

i might be wrong.. but i think you would like rohinton mistry if you give him a read.

Islandsparrow said...

I do live on PEI and Rilla is one of my favourite characters along with Jane of Lantern Hill.

I think you would really like With Fire and Sword by Henryk Sienkiewicz - it's a swash-buckling tale if ever there was one!

Islandsparrow said...

Ooh I just read all the comments- I love to talk books! especially the classics

Check out the Virago classics (written by women authors)

Don't forget Rumer Godden - An Episode of Sparrows and her biographies

And of course, From Larkrise to Candleford by Flora Thompson

It's not really classic literature but I enjoy the Miss Read books - especially just as you're falling asleep - very comforting.

Also Chaim Potak.

I just ordered My Name Is Red from the library along with The Fountainhead.

Please don't start me on children's lit - I'm a retired school librarian - I'll be here all day!

Scribbit said...

Oh Island Sparrow--I've watched your comments for years and always wanted to say Hi properly but can't ever get ahold of you! You should email me and I can hear all about PEI!

Amy said...

Wow! You are expanding my literary knowledge. I will have to bookmark this post so that I can add some reads to my library list.

I would love to see your take on contemporary authors! You have such great taste!

www.annkroeker.wordpress.com said...

I've read some of these, but not many...which makes me wonder about the quality and depth of education (or, obviously, lack thereof) I received at a certain Big 10 university which bestowed upon me a B.A. in English Lit.

I don't know many people who talk about Ayn Rand. I read Atlas Shrugged as a young adult. Details are fuzzy, though I remember when she shows up at the intellectuals' utopian spot with all those curiously solved construction problems. Using their own ingenuity, they figured stuff out and made it work. For some reason, I remember that more clearly than the plot or characters.

I'm frustrated at my inability to pull anything out of my memory banks. I need to go back to Mortimer Adler/Charles Doren's _How to Read a Book__ and remind myself how to "own" a book (practicing active reading skills utilizing such tools as margin notes, summaries, note-taking and the like). Perhaps then I could recall some of this great material!

www.annkroeker.wordpress.com said...

I also think you've inspired me to pull _Crossing to Safety_ from my shelf for my next fiction read.

Thanks for taking time to provide such thorough recommendations of both authors and their specific works (the photos are great, too)!

Mary said...

I'm currently reading the first Anne of Green Gables book after watching the movies over and over. I had read some of the later books but not the first two. I am really enjoying the book! I'm hoping my niece will want to read them someday too.

compulsive writer said...

Love Stegner and Cather. Angle of Repose was wonderful.

GmaM said...

Where are Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky? Hardy is good, but too depressing. Stegner!!! I loved Shooting Star, his writing is so delicious you can almost tate it!!!

dadlak said...

Thanks for a well thought out list of favorite authors. Our blogs both appear as links on a www.wsj.com page (Wall St. Journal website). I've been reading for almost 50 years and haven't found a better novel than Les Mis--even the 1000-page version. I enjoyed Hardy in high school, but not enough to read any more as an adult. Among more modern authors, I like Mark Helprin, John Irving, Isabel Allende and Michael Chabon. Check out my blog at http://dadlak.blogspot.com.

jubilee said...

What about Kate Chopin? i read her in college and am rereading her. I think I'll appreciate it more now that I have some life experience behind me.
Loved your list. Was an English Major and haven't read as many classics as you have!
I've gravitated toward the less heavy stuff since having kids.

Countess said...

I am so pleased that I've read most of the books on your list. Granted, some of it was becasue I was forced to in grad school (Hardy), but most I read on my own. I still have all my Anne books, and EB White, and I read Les miserables in the original French (also because I was forced to), but then read it in English and loved it. I have not read Stegner but will do so at the first opportunity. Thanks for making this list! I do love Kate Chopin too, and I really do want a "Who Is John Galt?" bumper sticker to go with my "not all who wander are lost" bumper sticker.

Geo said...

George Eliot, hurrah!