I decided to post this after reading this post by Barb Knowles. Like her, I was disturbed to see that most of my favorites are white men. (And all but one of them is dead.) Also like her, I’d love to have suggestions on diverse authors. I plan to do a list of my favorite non-fiction authors–that should be a lot more diverse.
W.S. Gilbert: As long-time readers will know, I’m a huge Gilbert and Sullivan fan. Sullivan was a fine composer, but in all honesty, it’s Gilbert’s words that I love. Moreover, he has a huge number of other plays done by himself or with other composers. So much wit and genius. Truly, he “made his fellow creatures wise” by “gilding the philosophic pill”. He’s the reason I became a writer.
George Orwell: Most people know him for 1984, and it’s a great book. But I think his best fictional work is Animal Farm. These books are more than just political satires on events of the time–they are timeless examinations of human nature.
Charlotte Brontë: True, I’ve only read one book by her: Jane Eyre. And yes, it is in some ways dated with the trappings of Victorian melodrama. But it’s still a very good tale, filled with unexpectedly humorous moments.
Robert W. Chambers: The King in Yellow, and more specifically, The Repairer of Reputations, is the greatest weird tale I’ve ever read. Not even Lovecraft or Poe ever managed to create such a bizarre atmosphere in so few words. I’ve read it countless times, and each time, I have more questions about it.
Robert Bolt: He didn’t write books. He wrote films and plays–most notably Lawrence of Arabia and A Man For All Seasons. If you want to see historical fiction done right, look no further than these. Lawrence is one of my favorite films, partly for its beautifully spare script. Man For All Seasons is a fascinating take on questions of morality and pragmatism vs. idealism.
P.G. Wodehouse: As somebody once said: it is impossible to be unhappy while reading one of his books.
Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most widely-read and beloved books in America. And yet I still think it’s underrated. Mostly, this is because so much of the talk about it focuses on Atticus Finch. He’s a good character, but it means other characters like Heck Tate, Miss Maudie, Calpurnia, and even Boo Radley himself don’t get their due. Go Set a Watchman, meanwhile, is not bad once you understand it’s a draft–which many people don’t.
Thomas Hardy: In some ways the anti-Wodehouse, as his stories are usually very grim. But he was a master at creating an atmosphere, and there are parts of Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure that are shocking even now–I can’t imagine how they would have struck Victorian audiences.
John Kennedy Toole: I’ve only ever read one book by him. (For a long time, it was thought to be the only one he wrote.) A Confederacy of Dunces is a strange, strange beast. If I tried to describe it, you probably would think it totally crazy. And it is. But it is also brilliant–I’ve never seen such an intricate plot that fit together so neatly.
Chris Avellone: I did it. I put a video game writer in the same company as Brontë, Orwell and Hardy. And it’s justified. The script for Knights of the Old Republic II is a meditation on the spiritual and psychological effects of war that ranks as great literature. And the iconic Kreia is one of the all-time great female characters. I rank KotOR II slightly ahead of Avellone’s legendary Planescape: Torment, which explores many of the same themes, but both are absolute masterpieces.
Thank you for the link back to my blog! As to authors, in my blog I mentioned the first ones that came to mind immediately. But the “top” authors for me list is much longer. And you mentioned a couple here. If we go to previous centuries (that makes me feel very old) Thomas Hardy is a HUGE favorite of mine. I can’t even guess how many times I’ve read Tess of the D’Urberviles and The Mayor of Casterbridge. P.G. Wodehouse is a favorite as well and I adore To Kill A Mockingbird. I identified with Scout when I was a girl (I have a blog post on that on my list of ideas to publish here). I also think George Orwell’s Animal Farm is his best. As a teacher I especially love it, because it can be read at so many levels.
I realized as I was doing this list that I don’t really read much fiction–it’s mostly history and political treatises. I have been reading some Henning Mankell thrillers lately, on a recommendation from an acquaintance. They are not bad–if you like mysteries, you might enjoy his Kurt Wallander detective series. But Mankell was an older Swedish man, so he isn’t much good on the diversity front. 🙂
I LOVE Henning Mankell. I believe he passed away a couple of years ago. I have read every book of his that has been translated into English. The Swedish mystery/detective genre is unparalleled.
Cool! I just finished “The Dogs of Riga”. He is one of the best thriller writers I’ve read–especially impressive given that it’s in translation.
I agree completely with the translations. I also the The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series is translated wonderfully.
Great list. TNT’s version of A Man For All Season’s is more true to the play. Schofield is the ultimate Thomas Moore.
Thanks! I need to see the TNT version. I have only seen the Scofield movie and read the play.
Charlton Heston did an adequate job.