What qualifies an author to be counted among my favorites?
I have very high standards, as befits such a coveted distinction. You know Orwell is just rolling over in his grave because he’s not on here.
It’s a fairly simple standard actually: if a book is written by one of these authors, I don’t have to worry too much about the risk of disliking it… because I generally won’t.
So in no particular order:
The first book I read by Henry James was The Portrait of a Lady and it took me so long to begin because the first sentence was so convoluted I was terrified. But it’s an absolutely beautiful book, as are most of his novels and short stories.
Is it cheating to have Edith Wharton on this list when I am solidly against her ghost stories? I’ll say not because both her novels and short stories are lovely. She and Henry James were close friends, and while her stories can be rather darker and bleaker than his, they both focus on the society with cleverness and psychological insight.
Just people being people in every meaning and sense, both beautiful and stupid-funny and disgusting. Small town western life during the era of the Great Depression- universal ideas.
One Two of Three Brontes
And I’m not even including Patrick Branwell, the brother who apparently also wrote, because I’m a dismissive b*tch. Anyway, a cursory sorry to Patrick and Anne- The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was not for me (Helen Graham is a preachy grouch with a victimization complex) and I haven’t read Agnes Grey yet. And I guess Emily can’t count because she only wrote one novel (unforgivable). But Charlotte and I are good. Villette is better than Jane Eyre (just saying).
If you like pastoral England and stories that end in abysmal tragedy look no further. Because this describes my reading tastes kind of perfectly, I am a Thomas Hardy fan.
Dickens is a bit of a stretch, but so many of his novels have won me over. So many of his novels I also haven’t read, because he was so prolific (I would be too if I were paid by the word). When you’re reading sometimes you want to shake him and ask him to cut the sh*t, but the books are worth it for his gentle sense of humor and memorable characters.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” And a girl who likes to read, if in at least her teens, must enjoy Jane Austen. She’s witty and amusing and why have I finished all of them?
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald wrote down the Jazz Age- his stuff is like bubbly champagne, pearls, and glamorous fun with a trace of seedy, all-is-not-as-it-appears suspicions. The short stories are excellent as well. Admittedly, This Side of Paradise didn’t quite float my boat- entirely my own fault, as I began it expecting THAT side of Paradise, rather than THIS one.
This is a bit of a stretch as I’ve read only two of her novels (and a healthy number of her short stories)- but I did enjoy both. More provincial England, more psychological insight- and every once in a while the necessary tragedy. Do I detect a theme?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
And there goes the theme. I love this master of Latin American magical realism. And the wonderful man was prolific, so there are stories to last (because your favorite authors should care about you too). Reading Marquez has helped me discover a whole lot of other authors with a magical realism bent.
The first book I read by Willa Cather was Shadows on the Rock, though I only realized she wrote it years later (after I had also read O Pioneers! and My Antonia). Immigrants and nostalgia for the sweeping vistas of frontier life. It’s like a grownup Little House series.
Colette (and Sagan) may be my most self-indulgent favorites. Colette’s main themes are love, sexuality, and relationships, but what I love best is her eye for the cycles of nature and the details of animal behavior. And Colette (who was sometimes a performer) also completely captures the backstage world.
Bonjour, Tristesse is fairly well known, but like Colette, Sagan wrote a good bit- and I would say that if you find yourself liking one, you may want to check out the others. The focus is again on love and relationships, with a soupcon of disillusionment.
W. Somerset Maugham
Is Maugham underrated? I rather think so. Everyone knows about Of Human Bondage, but I found that to be my least favorite of his works that I’ve read (still good though). The situations he devises are crafty and charming, his characters are flawed but loveable (Elliott Templeton will live forever in my heart).
Putting aside the political facets of Kundera’s work (I’m in America ’16, I don’t feel like talking politics at the moment), the philosophical musings are really what I read for. Against the backdrop of Czechoslovakia’s upheaval, Kundera’s novels suss out relationships, fragility, betrayal, and the real meaning of home.
An author may have been omitted because I haven’t read enough of their oeuvre to trust them yet. Others omitted because I consider them more to be children’s authors, and still others that I can’t put on this list because they didn’t write enough. (Sorry Oscar Wilde, but frankly I’m disappointed in you too oops, not your fault, you died young).
In short- there are heaps of authors who deserve honorable mentions, but that is a list for another day.