Once upon a time, I earned a Master's Degree in Literature and was a Professor of Literature and Composition. I had a wonderful time writing my Master's Thesis about Children's and Young Adult Literature, and I considered earning a Ph.D. so that I could continue to pursue the written word, including British, American, Latin American and other Global Literatures, Children's and Young Adult Literature, all types of genres and occasionally even poetry. But life takes you in unexpected directions, and so now I am working for a non-profit agency (you can read about that on my other blog, A Little Bit of Wonder). Although my job keeps me too busy to post as many book reviews as I would like, Recommended Reading is a place where I can continue to share my literary discoveries and knowledge as time allows.

Please note that I post reviews for books that I recommend reading, just like the blog title says. This means that I typically won't post a review for a book that I completely dislike. This isn't because I shy away from making negative comments, but rather because I don't want to waste your time or mine (I won't even bother to finish a book if it's not any good). For more on this, see the explanation of my Rating System.)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My 26 Favorite Authors, Part Two

A bit of an explanation: this post is inspired by the Weekly Geeks Challenge for Saturday, April 23, which asks participants to come up with a list of their favorite authors A to Z. This is easier than the task of narrowing down my selection to just one or two authors – how can an avid reader realistically be expected to have just one favorite author??

I’ve set some ground rules for myself, though: In order for a writer to truly qualify as one of my favorite authors, in most cases I have to have read many (if not all) of their works, and loved almost all of their novels. I’ve made an exception in a few cases, for a couple of authors that I am just now discovering – but I can somehow just tell that I will come to love them.

Note: I have to admit that I have no Q author! I’ve never read a single book by Anna Quindlan or anyone named Quinn. I’m not sure that I really need to rush right out and find a Q author, either, since my TBR stack is already gigantic, but writing this list did make me a little bit curious about Quindlan. If anyone is a fan of hers and wants to give me an endorsement/recommendation in the comments section, I’ll take note and add one of her novels to my Amazon wishlist.

If you’re interested, check out Part One of my Favorite Authors List. And now, for the next eight authors on my list of favorites:

J is for Jane Austen: I have to admit that I avoided Jane Austen almost as long as the “dead white males” (re: everyone from Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe to Charles Dickens and Henry James), which I discovered was a mistake when I finally got around to picking up her novels. And the (sad?) thing is that it took the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice to entice me to even try reading Austen’s oeuvre (read my praise for the film here, which I think is under-appreciated amongst literary fans of Austen). But once I could really hear the rhythm of the witty banter that Austen had penned (thanks to Keira Knightly, Matthew Macfadyen, Donald Sutherland and the rest), then I was able to really understand what was going on between Austen’s characters and appreciate all the layers of complicated gender politics underlying the drawing-room flirting.

K is for Kate di Camillo: Similar to my inclusion of Brian Jacques on the A through I portion of this list, I am including di Camillo despite the fact that I have only read one of her novels thus far. The Tale of Despereaux is so ridiculously adorable and entertaining that I am very likely to love The Magician’s Elephant, The Tiger Rising, Because of Winn-Dixie and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane just as much.

L is for Lewis, Clive Staples: Lewis was a true Renaissance Man; he wrote Children’s fantasy novels, theological essays, poetry, novels for adults in several different genres – and I love them all. His novels reflect his wonderful imagination, while his essays show the depth of his knowledge and brilliance. In my opinion, he was not just a literary giant, but a philosophical genius. I haven’t yet read his Science Fiction Trilogy, but I highly recommend The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Grief Observed, Reflections on the Psalms, and Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer.

M is for Montgomery, Lucy Maude: Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables novels and other stories from Avonlea make me happy, pure and simple. I always have a smile on my face when I re-read the descriptions of the imaginative Anne’s escapades. There really aren’t that many other characters in all of literature that are quite as vivid and precocious – perhaps Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, but they lack Anne’s literary sense of drama. There are very few readers who can resist Miss Shirley, least of all me.

N is for Neruda, Pablo: “Neruda is my god,” I have declared to my poetry professors in graduate school, my freshman composition students, and anyone who will listen to me on the internet. “I’m thinking of starting a whole new religion.” What else can you do but worship a man who wrote both an Ode to an Artichoke and some of the most romantic sonnets since Shakespeare's sonnets? If you want to hear more praise for this talented poet, read my review of his 100 Love Sonnets.

O is for Ondaatje, Michael: Ondaatje is another provisional inclusion on my list; I have only read his deeply thoughtful novel Anil’s Ghost and have not been able to get to the more famous English Patient or the recent Divisadero. But I appreciate so much the focus on a woman in the medical profession, which it turns out is actually incredibly rare in Literature outside of Science Fiction, that I’m willing to believe that Ondaatje’s other novels will similarly include unusual characters and thoughtful subjects.

P is for Pullman, Philip: I still have not read a large portion of Pullman’s oeuvre, but I love both Ruby and the Smoke and His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass Trilogy) that he definitely qualifies. I am looking forward to re-reading these at some point this year, plus some of his other fantasy novels and the three sequels to the historical fiction novel Ruby in the Smoke. His writing is dark, detailed and intelligent; his plotting is complex and intriguing. If you like Harry Potter and/or the Chronicles of Narnia, definitely check out The Golden Compass – but do yourself a favor and stay away from the horrible movie version. Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman were pretty wonderful choices, but the scriptwriter and producers botched it big time.

R is for Rowling, J.K.: This one is a no-brainer. I’ve not only read and re-read the Harry Potter novels several times and had many marathon viewings of all the movies, but I wrote my Master’s Thesis on Harry’s grieving process in The Order of the Phoenix. The only reason that I haven’t reviewed the series here on my blog is because I figure that everyone has already been inundated with ten million reviews of HP. But I can’t resist the opportunity every once in a while to extol Rowling: I love her ability to mix fantasy, complex characterization and plotting, humorous dialog and situations, combining them all spectacularly with dark and serious emotions such as grief and rage. I really appreciate that despite the fact that Harry Potter was (is?) supposed to be a Children’s/Young Adult series, Rowling doesn’t shy away from portraying real evil – greed and hatred that go beyond normal selfishness and desperation. Voldemort may be terrifying for some readers, but evil is a reality with which children need to learn how cope, since the world is unfortunately a randomly cruel place. I wish more authors would be honest with young readers about the more arbitrary and painful aspects of life – and still manage to be as truly creative and entertaining as the talented Rowling.

Check back to catch the final installment of my favorite authors, letters S - Z.

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