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

Books Keep The Best Memories, Part 2

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Here’s another round of books that keep memories of the places I’ve traveled safe and sound.  To catch up on Part 1 (Books from Ireland), click  here.

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England and I have met four times now, but we never seem to grow tired of one another. Aside from the beauty of the country itself, I am absolutely fascinated by how books covers compare to those in the States. The covers are bold with bright colors that seem to laugh despite London’s almost constant gray sky.  The rain may be a friend that sometimes over stays its welcome, but a good read dares the rain to stay.

On this particular trip, it struck me that just about everyone traveling on the London Tube has a book in their hands and those books are usually battered used editions.  I can’t help but wonder how many times a book has changed hands or how many kilometers it has traveled underneath London streets. I like to think the titles I brought home have made more than a few trips before joining me on a journey across the Atlantic.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

This book came from used bookstore called The Book Warehouse.  I was on my way to the British Museum, when the smell of used books wafted directly in my path.  Within two seconds I was inside and hungrily scanning the shelves.  It was a dreary rainy day outside and Collins book seemed to fit the mood.  I’d never heard of him and was intrigued by the story of a man enraptured by a mysterious woman in white.  For three measly pounds, I was willing to take a risk on an unknown.

I ended up reading the book during my entire stay in London.  While not the most exciting read, each chapter serves as a record of my experiences. When I page through and read any passage, the words conjure memories of the weather and where I went on a given day.  On some occasions, I tread ground in the very same locations mentioned in the story and in that sense it reminded me that I’m part of a much bigger picture.  When I walked through Regent’s Park, I was literally retracing thousands of footsteps that came before me both real and imagined.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I still find it ironic that I bought two books about women wearing a particular color, but I couldn’t resist The Woman in Black.  It was hiding on a table at the South Bank Book Market, which is easily one of my favorite places in London.  Each day under Waterloo Bridge, several tables are set up and lined with rows of used books, unframed art, and vinyl records.  A bargain hunter’s delight and a slice of heaven for a traveling reader.  I have yet to read The Woman in Black, but every time I see it on my bookshelf, I can hear the Thames lapping against the embankment.

South Bank Book Market, London

Of Love and Hunger by Julian Maclaren-Ross

The Waterproof Bible by Andrew Kaufman

These two came from Waterstone’s,  a large chain store in London.  One day, it was raining so hard my umbrella was soaked through so I darted into the big W to catch my breath and wait out the downpour.  Of Love and Hunger was on an end cap as a recommendation by one of the employees, so I picked it up and started to read.  The language was so raw and so beautiful, I knew it was something special, (my book vibe shot off the charts).  However, I didn’t buy it until a few days later after doing some research on the writer.  It turns out Maclaren-Ross is a well-known British writer whose claim to fame is his masterful use of realistic cadences spoken by the working man.

Waterstone's, Trafalgar Square

Kaufman is a writer I discovered in Ireland, but had yet to find him anywhere at home.  I figured it was worth a shot to look for him while I waited for my feet to dry.  Sure enough, I spotted one last copy of his latest book of short stories.  I sat and read the first story, eagerly absorbing every pun and beautifully created metaphor.

While both are genius writers, I will never shake the shiver of cold, wet feet when I touch the cover of either book or turn the pages.  As the summer heat of home continues to beat down, Ross and Kaufman take me back to the damp chill of London, a feeling I miss so much.

Blackeyes by Dennis Potter

It’s no secret I’m a big Potter fan after my little adventure in Ireland, (See Part 1).  While in London, I hoped to find the last novel I needed to complete my collection of his work.  Luck was on my side again when I visited  a little shop along Charring Cross Road.  After some careful scanning, I found Blackeyes amid the bestsellers everyone else is after.  However, finding the book was only half the fun, for the bookshop was filled with fascinating people.  The shoppers were regulars who joked with the owners about prices.  The employees were a joyous lot who obviously love books and couldn’t imagine spending their day doing anything else. Potter’s book keeps that feeling alive every time I touch it.  I can smell the musty books and hear the laughter.

c.b. 2011

Books Keep the Best Memories, Part 1

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The Best Souvenirs Are Free, but books come in a very close second.  This is especially true if they are used and include inscriptions from previous owners.  While I wander through my travels, I always keep my eyes peeled for a bookstore where I can peruse local authors or maybe find a new treasure to put on my bookshelf.

Books are a favorite souvenir for they not only tell stories, but they keep them as well. New books pique my curiosity because the authors are unknown to me and I want to know how they reflect the place I’m visiting.  Used books connect me to people I’ll never meet and have a history that reaches beyond bent covers and cracked bindings.  I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

This is the first in a series of posts about books that hold special memories for me.  Much like stones and shells, books give me more than a tacky magnet or keychain ever could.

Books From Ireland:

UTZ by Bruce Chatwin 
Winter Garden by Beryl Bainbridge 
All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

On a walk through Killarney, I found a charming store called The Dungeon Bookshop. On the upper floor is a mess of used books stacked on shelves, the floor and wherever else there’s room. And none of them are organized beyond genre.  It’s a good thing I had an entire afternoon free and had on a good pair of walking shoes.  I’ve never been to a bookstore where climbing over piles of books was required in order to get from one shelf to another!  In the midst of the chaos, I found three thin novels by quirky authors, the likes of whom I’ve never encountered.  Chatwin has a unique voice he uses to create amazing metaphors, while Bainbridge proves she’s a legend with her elegant prose.  Then there’s Kaufman, a Canadian writer who deserves a far wider readership as he makes the allegory into an art form all his own.

The Dungeon Bookshop, Killarney Ireland

All three reads continue to be at the top of my list for original writing. It’s quite fitting they came from such a strange shop that defies all the rules.  Although, I realized some time later I may have broke a little rule, too.  The man at the counter seemed surprised to see a tourist in the shop, no less one who was actually buying something.  He was more surprised still that I was American . . . and then he smiled.  All I could think was how this bookshop appeared to be a safe house for misfits.  Whenever my fingers run over the bindings I feel the marvelous chaos that surrounded my feet that day and I hope quirky books and people continue to find their way to the friendly haven on The Dungeon’s second floor.

Ticket to Ride by Dennis Potter

I’ll be honest and admit this book was not an accidental find.  After reading Potter’s Hide and Seek,  I was on a mission to get my hands on more of his work.  In particular, I was after Ticket to Ride.  The only problem is the book is out of print and virtually unavailable in the States.  Seeing as I was on my way to Ireland, I decided my best hope of finding it resided in my trip, despite such slim odds.  Throughout my journey on the Emerald Isle I stopped at every bookstore I could find and came up empty until the last day.  In Dublin, I visited The Winding Stair, an incredibly cute and cozy used bookshop that literally has a winding staircase.   I scanned the fiction shelves and found nothing, so I headed towards the back corner where the bargain books were shelved.  I had to get on my knees in order to go through every book on the bottom shelf, but it was worth it the moment I spotted the magic words:  Ticket to Ride.  I found it!!  I’m pretty sure I gasped and did a little dance.  At the bargain price of €4, victory became even sweeter.  Although, Potter’s book was as good as gold to me no matter the price.

When I opened the cover I found the added bonus of an inscription from a previous owner:

It doesn’t get any better than this!  My curiosity continues to wonder who wrote it and why. What does the phrase mean? What colorful story inspired this person to pull out a pen?  I will never know, but with these few words I am connected to a total stranger.  I’ve always found that small connection to be a powerful thing as my memories are forever intertwined with memories of another.  For that simple reason, Ticket To Ride will always be priceless and meaningful on a deeply personal level.

The book still evokes a strong sense of exhilaration whenever I pull it off my shelf.  One touch instantly brings back the memories of every bookstore I visited as well as the rolling green hills that separated one shop from the next.  This is a book that triggered my book vibe before I even saw it and has proven to be a reader’s delight.  Potter’s writing may be dark, but it’s beautiful and bold in ways I can only hope to achieve as a writer.  I will always be thankful that somehow Ticket to Ride ended up on a dusty shelf in Dublin and I was lucky enough to find it.  It’s battered and worn from a life I can only imagine, but it now keeps the adventure of my treasure hunt safely between its pages.

c.b. 2011

A Bookshelf of Organized Chaos

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Recently, the photograph that runs along my sidebar was a topic of conversation with a friend.  It isn’t something I pulled off the internet, but rather a photograph I took of my personal bookshelf.   The shelf is one of the more noticeable features of my home as it covers the an entire wall in my dining room.  It reaches all the way to the ceiling and it is rammed with hundreds of books.  With such a large collection, it would make sense to have  a sophisticated system of organization – like alphabetizing or Dewey Decimal – to make it easy to find any book.  I’ve mentioned my highly organized nature, so naturally there is a system in place, but no one really knows how it works except for me!   Nothing is alphabetized or numbered and genre based categories are not utilized. Everything is neatly shelved, but aside from that it looks like a haphazard stack to the untrained eye.  Despite my unorthodox ways, I know where each and every book is located.  Below is a larger scale photograph of my shelf and a list of the categories I use to keep everything in working order.

Writers I Admire
Location: Second Shelf

I carved out a special section to store the books of authors who I hold in high regard as a reader and as an aspiring writer.  The likes of David Foster Wallace, Ivan Klíma, John Irving, Michael Chabon, Paul Auster, Dennis Potter, Guy de Maupassant, Vladimir Nabokov, and Paulo Coehlo populate this area of the wall along with a few other new recruits.  I keep these writers grouped together because they inspire me to continue experimenting with my own style of writing.  I don’t want to emulate them, but rather write with the same spirit of courage, creativity, honesty, boldness, and heart.

Books I’ve Read
Location: Second Shelf (far right, part of which is not visible in the picture), Third Shelf (1/4 way in from the left and extends to the far right which is not visible), Fourth Shelf (From the left edge up to The Da Vanci Code).

If you have visited the “My Bookshelf” tab, you’ll probably spot several of those titles stacked on my shelves.  I keep most books I’ve read if I enjoyed them, (some are double stacked behind what is visible).  Whatever I don’t keep is sold to Half-Price Books where I usually have the cash in my hands for an entire five minutes before buying something “new.”

The books are grouped in such a strange pattern on different shelves in order to link different categories without creating too much disruption.  I tend to read YA at a fast pace, which means just about every book in that section has been read.  That creates a nice meeting point to start stacking all other books I’ve read.  The other meeting point connects to Authors I Admire as the vast majority of those books have also been read.

These books are shelved in the order in which they were read.  Books on the right are the most recently read, which makes it easier to distinguish them from the next category . . .

Books I Haven’t Read
Location: Third Shelf (far right, starting after Martin Amis and continuing to a point that is not visible in the photograph), Fourth Shelf (starting after The Da Vinci Code and extending beyond the scope of photograph).

The largest category by far, but I would rather have too much to read than not enough.  The books are stacked on different shelves for a purely logistical reason – size.  The hardcovers are too big to fit on the third shelf and the collection as a whole is too big to fit all on one shelf.

Almost Finished Reading
Location: Third Shelf (in the middle, right after Water For Elephants and stopping at The Collected Short Stories of Anton Chekov)

These are books that for whatever reason I never got to the last page.  Perhaps another book caught my attention or I just didn’t get into the story.  I can usually remember where I left off and almost always return to them at one time or another.  I figured the perfect place for them was right in between read and unread, like a buffer zone of sorts.

Young Adult

Location: Third Shelf (left Side) and Fourth Shelf (left Side)

Ever since I read Twilight, (yeah, I’m one of those people), I found myself drawn into the YA genre.  There are a number of series of which I’ve become a devoted follower.  What I love about YA is the storytelling aspect.  The writing may not be fine literature, but the stories are usually very original and always a good bit of fun.  After reading something heavy or difficult, I love jumping into a realm where I don’t have to analyze every single word.

The series I’ve collected include, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games Trilogy, Twilight series, (which has actually turned into anything by Stephanie Meyer), Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series, Lauren Kate’s Fallen Series, Percy Jackson, and Claudia Gray’s Evernight series.

I tend to mix read with unread, but only because I go through them so quickly.  At the moment, there’s only a few I haven’t read, which means it’s time to start stockpiling again!

Size again plays a role in why YA occupies two shelves instead of one.  Harry Potter and parts of the Twilight collection are too tall to fit the third shelf, while the rest of YA is too short to properly fill up the fourth shelf, (sometimes aesthetics have to be considered).

Click for more . . .

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