22 Writers Worth Reading (Part 1)

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Every avid reader has a list of writers they’d recommend to anyone who will listen.  These are the writers readers look for every time they visit a book store or keep permanently on bookshelves and night stands.  Every list is different and personal, but also inspiring as nothing piques a reader’s interest more than the possibility of a new favorite author.

In keeping with the idea of 22 Things (see 22 Moments of Gratitude), I combed through my book collection and selected 22 writers that consistently have me turning pages into all hours of the night. They range from literary legends to phenomenal YA storytellers, but they all share the distinction of being great writers who know how to keep a reader engaged with great characters and plot lines. Over the course of two posts, each writer will get a moment in the spotlight along with my favorite pieces of work.

Writers 1 – 11 in no particular order:

1. David Foster Wallace
I’ve written of Wallace on a number of occasions, so its no wonder I thought of him first.  His writing is wholly original in terms of style, humor, and language.  Wallace tackles the truth with a point of view that is brutally honest, but also warm-hearted and humorous.  He’s not afraid to take readers on a journey into less glamorous parts of life, like grocery store lines or the cubicle of an IRS employee.  For that I applaud him and embrace every word.

Favorite Book(s): This is Water and Oblivion

2. Jane Austen
When I visited the British Library for the first time, I left a print of my forehead on the glass that shields Jane Austen’s journal.  No matter how many times I see her delicate handwriting, I am always in awe. Words were her gift and she never gave up on writing for a living – I love that about her.  Austen’s stories and characters are so beautifully crafted, they feel real every time I open her books.  No one can write the heart of a woman quite like Austen.

Favorite Book: Pride and Prejudice

3. Charlotte Brontë
Right next to the forehead print I left for Jane Austen, I left another one for Charlotte Brontë. There’s nothing quite as incredible as seeing the last chapter of Jane Eyre written in Brontë’s script. I almost cried as Jane Eyre is my favorite book of all time (so far).  Brontë’s stories are dark at times, but her heroines embody the kind of strength I admire greatly and strive to possess.

Favorite Book: Jane Eyre

4. Ivan Klíma
I discovered Ivan Klíma when I went to Prague a few years ago.  Klíma caught my attention because he knows the power of an idea and the necessity of voicing that idea. For years, his words were banned in an attempt to silence his view of the world. Communist Czechoslovakia had no tolerance for any truth beyond their own making.  Yet, Klíma kept writing. Word after word, he protested the injustice of suppression. 
The passion, love, and creativity in every human being is not something to be wasted or forgotten.

Favorite Book(s): No Saints or Angels and My Golden Trades

5. Dennis Potter
Potter is best known for his screenplays, but I’m a huge fan of his short novels.  He is a gritty writer, who dares to challenge our view of reality and human behavior.  His main characters are usually twisted and amoral, but his focus on emotion makes them relatable regardless of their faults.  Potter is a magician with original description and storytelling, which makes his work an experience unlike any other.  For example, in my favorite book he tells the story of a character who knows he is a character in a writer’s  novel.

Favorite Book: Hide and Seek

6. John Irving
Irving is an elegant writer that dazzles me with emotional honesty and wordplay.  His stories and characters are quirky, but they always hit upon a greater truth. Irving delves into difficult concepts such as challenging moral standards, societal expectations, and the human condition with engaging prose and sharp metaphors.  The last line of every book always leaves me pondering and questioning the world around me.

Favorite Book(s): The Fourth Hand and Cider House Rules

7. J.K. Rowling
I was very late the Harry Potter party, but once I read the first book I was hooked.  Rowling is the only writer who has ever convinced me to follow a main character who is a child.  Throughout the entire series, I was awed by Rowling’s imagination as she conjured an entirely new world filled with dynamic characters. Hermione felt like my twin and Ron an older brother I wish I had.  And Harry, of course, unexpectedly captured my heart.  Who knew a children’s series could work such amazing magic?

Favorite Book(s):  Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows

8. Stephanie Meyer
My love for Stephanie’s Meyer’s work started with the Twilight series, but it only grows as I read more of her work.  Meyer likes to play with convention and create stories that break all the rules. This is a writer who truly knows the meaning of fiction because she traverses all boundaries as if they don’t exist.  In Twilight, she decided vampires could sparkle when everyone else said “No, they can’t.”  I find that very inspiring and empowering!

Favorite Book(s): Twilight

9. Guy de Maupassant
One of Maupassant’s strengths is his ability to transform a rather simple story into something beautiful with well-crafted imagery and flowing prose. Rather than explore these realms the old-fashioned way through the mind of the character, he creates magnificent and sometimes haunting images of emotion with landscapes, water, and overall atmosphere.

Favorite Book: Bel-Ami

10. Vladimir Nabokov
Whenever I finish reading a Nabokov book, everything somehow looks a little different.  Nabokov likes to explore the darker corners of the human mind and he often dredges up parts of the psyche most people would prefer to ignore.  Many of his characters are extreme personifications of human behavior, but Nabokov paints them so realistically they could be the next door neighbor everyone knows, but would never invite for tea.

Favorite Book: Invitation to a Beheading

11. Peter David
Geek alert! Back in my Trekkie days, (Oh, let’s face it, they never ended), I always looked forward to any Star Trek book written by Peter David.  He portrays the main characters better than most Trek writers and he has a great sense of the overall scope of Gene Rodenberry’s creation.  Every one of his books had me at the edge of my seat with suspense, laughing from well-placed humor, and dreaming of The Final Frontier.

Favorite Book(s): Imzadi and Q-Squared

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Stay tuned for 12 -22!

c.b. 2012

The Jane Austen Incident

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Every Friday I head down to the bookstore to read and enjoy a cup of coffee.  There is something rather cathartic about a hot cup of caffeine and the escape of a really good book. A corner table flanking the main aisle serves as my favorite place to sit.  I’m always happy to find it empty as if everyone knows that’s my spot.  Without fail I arrive at around six o’clock and leave by seven-thirty.  This little ritual may seem pretty boring, but sometimes the extraordinary realm of fate chooses to reveal itself in the most mundane of places.

One evening, I sat at my table with my customary coffee and a copy of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.  In the midst of escaping to Fanny Price’s world of English propriety, my mind began to wander to a conversation I had with a friend about a book he had just finished reading: Villette by Charlotte Brontë.  The memory was so intense it was difficult to pay attention to Fanny’s burgeoning fascination with Edmund Bertram.  I struggled to focus for another chapter, but a growing need began to occupy my every thought.  I had to find a copy of Villette.  Not in the next day or two, but right at that moment.

When I looked at the time, seven-thirty was a mere five minutes away.  I packed up my stuff and headed towards the “B’s” in the fiction section.  Sure enough, there was a lone copy of Brontë’s enormous novel.  It should have been a simple spot and grab sort of purchase, but when I look for one book I inevitably look for more.  I wandered over to the classic literature display and perused books by D.H. Lawrence, Charles Dickens, and Dante.  For some reason, I decided I couldn’t live without a compilation of Anton Chekov’s short stories.

At the cash wrap, the girl took one look at my books and told me I should go get a third.  As it turned out, classics were on sale: Buy two, get one free.  So, like any savvy shopper, I went back to look a for free book.  For a normal person, this would be easy, but for a bibliophile the “books I want” list is immeasurably long.  At first I thought of grabbing another Brontë book or indulging in my newfound love of Eastern European writers, but none of them satisfied the need that still burned in the back of my brain.

Jane Austen.  It was so obvious I felt like an idiot for not thinking of it sooner.  The only book missing in my collection of her works was Northanger Abbey.  I snatched it off the shelf and hurried back to the cash wrap.  It was getting late.

By the time I got to my car, I was running a very uncharacteristic fifteen minutes late.  Nothing seemed amiss when I drove to the main road and entered the on-ramp to the freeway.  I figured I’d be home in no time, until the car in front of me came to a sudden halt.  All four lanes of the freeway were at a virtual standstill and I was stuck in the middle of it.  Inch by inch, traffic merged into the emergency lane.  Only a really bad accident would warrant such extreme measures.  Still, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

Sprawled across the width of the freeway were six mangled cars.  Three were crushed so severely it was impossible to tell the make and model.  The shock of it caught my breath as I fought back the tears.  There was no question in my mind that at least one life had ended, for one car had been ripped into two pieces.

It took a moment to realize the police were still setting up a perimeter, the on ramp had not yet been closed, and the first ambulance was just arriving.  The accident was only minutes old.  Perhaps, the same few minutes it took for me to go back and find Jane Austen.

c.b. 2011