I'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.
3. 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.
5. 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?
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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
13. 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?
Have you entered the Write-Away Contest yet this month? The topic is "The Great Escape." Don't miss this one!
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