People You Should Read

A friend posted a list of 10 authors that affected/inspired her and that got me thinking about my own list of authors.  Here they are in no particular order.

1. Kurt Vonnegut – Listen!  You should read everything by him.  Gobble it all up like a fat man sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner after having fasted for a week.  Not all of his stuff is great, but it’s all good.  Obviously, “Slaughterhouse Five” is a must, but I’d also recommend “Cat’s Cradle” if you’re only going to read a few of his works.  I think there is only one other author that I have reread more often than Vonnegut.  And that is…

2. Madeline L’Engle – She was one of the transforming authors of my childhood.  I have read “A Wrinkle in Time” more times than I can count.  It is the one book that I actually look forward to reading to the children that I will likely never have.

3. Robert Heinlein – I was surprised to learn as an adult that Heinlein was considered somewhat of a Libertarian hero because of his books, mostly “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”.  That doesn’t make the story any less good, though.  It has been a long time since I have read it, but I still consider “Stranger in a Strange Land” one of my favorite novels.  Not everyone groks it, but everyone should give it a shot.

4. Chuck Palaniuk – He of “Fight Club” fame.  I only started reading his stuff because I liked the movie so much and the novel did not disappoint.  Much of his stuff is pretty disturbing, but that is also what makes it interesting.  His style kind of reminds me of a modern day Kurt Vonnegut.

5. Jane Austen – I have read “Pride and Prejudice” a few times and have even read “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, not that that’s Jane Austen.  I kind of have a love/hate relationship with Austen.  Her books all feature strong female characters, but they are all still stuck in 19th century England which is not at all a place a young woman would want to find herself.  Austen’s characters tackle the misogyny of the time with wit and grace despite still being trapped.

6. Greg Bear – Greg Bear is not for the faint of heart.  His stuff is His “Eon” and “Eternity” novels are deep and rich and really hard science fiction.  Or maybe I’m just looking at them through the lens of a teenager who knew far less of the world than I do now.  “Blood Music” is an absolutely beautiful story featuring single-cell organisms.

7. Neal Stephenson – He is probably the best sci-fi author ever to exist.  “Cryptonomicon” is my favorite book.  Even his weaker offerings like the three novels from the “Baroque Cycle” are worth reading.  All three are epic tomes that plod along somewhat, but even in them every once in a while he will string together paragraphs of such beauty and resonance that you sometimes wonder if there are two authors.

8. Charles Dickens – Contrary to popular belief, Dickens did not get paid by the word, but he did get paid per installment which can lead to a bit of a serialized feel to his novels when read all at once.  That doesn’t diminish at all from his brilliance, though.  Not many people write about the poor and much of the lessons in Dickens’ stories still resonate today.

9. John Steinbeck – Drop whatever you’re reading right now and pick up “Grapes of Wrath”.  There is a reason why Steinbeck is considered one of the great American novelists and “Grapes of Wrath” is it.  A lot of what Steinbeck writes about we are experiencing all over again.

10. John Irving – Some of his more recent stuff is kind of weak, but his old stuff is fantastic.  His characters are quirky, the predicaments they find themselves in are strange, and the emotions you will feel are varied and sometimes surprising.  “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is the only book that ever made me cry.

2 thoughts on “People You Should Read

  1. Steven Scott

    Your mention of Madeline L’Engle struck a chord with me, so I went and looked up her old works. I now remember reading and loving at least 5 of her novels as a young adult. Thanks for the trip back down memory lane!

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  2. Emily Barney

    Yay! I’m glad you were inspired to write this. Madeleine L’Engle is the one author I realized too late wasn’t on my list and really deserved a place there. I think I’ve read all of her YA stuff at least once, always hunting at every new public library I visited in my youth to see if there might possibly be some title I hadn’t found yet. More recently I ventured into her nonfiction for adults and wasn’t surprised to find it very enriching.

    And I remember being amused when I loaned the A&E Pride and Prejudice to a friend who gave it back with “that was horrific: the idea of having your entire future dependent on somehow finding a husband and knowing it probably won’t go well…” – and thinking yup, that’s why Mrs. Bennet isn’t entirely wrong to worry about her poor nerves.

    I will add Dickens to my list for 2014. I think I want to start with Pickwick Papers this time, not Great Expectations or David Copperfield or any of the other maudlin stuff. Honestly if I read more stuff with a sense of humor by him I’d probably have fewer issues with his verbosity and endlessly victimized women. Plus the March sisters loved Pickwick Papers and I’ve had fairly good luck being inspired by the literary taste of my favorite author’s characters. 🙂

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