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, May 5, 2011

My 26 Favorite Authors, Part Three

A bit of an explanation: this post is inspired by the Weekly Geeks Challenge for Saturday, April 23, which asked participants to come up with a list of their favorite authors A to Z. I began listing my favorite authors last week (read Part One here and Part Two here), and I originally thought that this would be 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 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 – I have just started reading Ursula Le Guin but I was really engrossed by some of her novels, and I included a second W author instead of an X or Y because I honestly couldn’t think of any authors that I have read that begin with those letters…

I guess I have failed to fully complete an author alphabet, but I hope that my list has at least interested you in a few new authors. So without further ado, here is the final part of my Favorite Authors list:

S is for Salman Rushdie: Rushdie is famous in part because in 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa against him, requiring his execution. Khomeini and many other members of the Muslim community were upset by the content of Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses, which they considered to be blasphemous. I must admit that out of curiosity, I’ve tried twice to read The Satanic Verses – and only made it halfway through the book each time. It’s more than a little confusing; I would call The Satanic Verses the Ulysses of the Postmodern Era. But, aside from this daunting novel, I have loved every other book that I’ve read by Rushdie: Midnight’s Children and The Ground Beneath Her Feet are my favorites, and I enjoy Shame, Fury and The Moor’s Last Sigh almost as much. Several of his latest novels, including Luka and the Fire of Life, The Enchantress of Florence and Shalimar the Clown are sitting on my shelf and I am eager to get to them…

T is for Toni Morrison: Reading each of Morrison’s novels has felt like an amazing exercise in excavation; each book is filled with intertwining plots and raw emotions piled one on top of the next like layers of rock and sediment, the stratification uncovered at an archeological dig. I started out by reading Beloved, which is a very challenging novel if you are unfamiliar with stream-of-consciousness writing. Having not yet read the Modernists, I was completely baffled. But graduate school, with the guidance of a dear professor friend of mine, I read Morrison in conjunction with the novels of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, as well as Postmodernist author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who was also influenced by the Modernists. Once I understood the idea and practice of stream-of-consciousness writing, I fell in love with not only Beloved, but Jazz, Song of Solomon, and A Mercy. Jazz is most likely my favorite of them all. The novel is about a young girl who kills herself after having an affair with an older, married man, and the man’s wife as she tries to understand the events in order to forgive her husband. The plot is extremely interesting, but the brilliance of the novel is that Morrison wrote in a style meant to mimic the sound and rhythm of jazz music, a technique which she executes with immense talent. Of the rest of Morrison’s novels, I’m most eager to read Paradise, Love and The Bluest Eye next.

U is for Ursula Le Guin: Having read only two of Le Guin’s novels thus far, I am on the fence as to whether or not I can really call her one of my favorite authors – but I went ahead and included her on the list because although I did not fall in love with The Wizard of Earthsea, I was completely engrossed by The Tombs of Atuan. Check out both of my (recent) reviews for more details.

V is for Vargas Llosa, Mario: The most recent recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Vargas Llosa is an extremely talented novelist who can write in several different genres and tones. I love the hilarity in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, the pathos in The Bad Girl and The Feast of the Goat, the exploration of cultural and ethical boundaries in The Storyteller. I will actually be helping to teach a college course on Vargas Llosa this summer, at which point I will be posting reviews of several of his novels – so check the blog later and May and throughout June if you are interested in hearing more of my thoughts on this wide-ranging novelist.

W is for Woolf, Virginia: Woolf is, in my opinion, the most amazing of all the Modernists. While I cannot claim that I am an expert by any means, the basis for my opinion is this: her prose is consistently as beautiful as the most pleasurable of lyric poetry even when she explores melancholy subjects, and while she experiments with many Modernist techniques, she never descends as far into obscurity as Joyce does in Ulysses. For many, reading Woolf’s most famous works takes patience, but most diligent readers are rewarded – whereas I have read Ulysses cover to cover and didn’t understand at least half of the novel. I love her collection of essays entitled Moments of Being, and of her novels, my favorites include her more famous experimental works To the Lighthouse, Jacob’s Room and The Waves. I also love her more traditionally written/structured novels Night and Day and The Voyage Out, which are also written in very lyrical prose but are much more accessible to the average reader.

W is also for Whitman, Walt: Walt Whitman’s poetry exemplifies everything that it means to be an American. He celebrates all aspects of human diversity, the ingenuity and invention of civilization, the chaos of cities, but also the unrestrained, unchecked beauty and wildness of nature. He encourages everyone to strike out on their own, do what they want and celebrate their own unique identities, respecting their fellow man and the wild expanse of this great country. The opening line of his essay “Democratic Vistas” is, “As the greatest lessons of Nature through the universe are perhaps the lessons of variety and freedom, the same present the greatest lessons also in New World politics and progress.” And as his essays and poetry extol diversity, independence and candor, so too do they praise the most natural beauty of the human body; he wrote, “The narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery.” Whitman should be the teacher of each young man and woman what it means to be American and what it means to be human.

(no X or Y)

Z is for Zusak, Marcus: Hands down, The Book Thief is one of my all-time favorite novels. This story of a young German girl during World War II made me cry, made my husband cry, made my best friend cry, and even made her husband cry. (And this is a man who typically devotes hours to World of Warcraft, not to historical fiction.) The Book Thief is beautiful, lyrical, amusing, humorous, clever… I could go on with the adjectives, but instead, I think I just need to sit down and actually write a review of this novel sometime soon. In the meantime, check out my review of I Am the Messanger, which is also a very good novel. I’ve only read two of Zusak’s books, but The Book Thief is so amazing that I have to include Zusak on my list of favorite authors – and I can’t wait to see what he writes next. (I’ve heard some rumors that he’s writing a screenplay for The Book Thief, which is also incredibly exciting…)

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