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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

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P.G. Wodehouse: As somebody once said: it is impossible to be unhappy while reading one of his books.

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

1024px-chris_avelloneChris 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.

Wow, I thought I was ready for anything out of Go Set a Watchman, but I was not expecting her to start quoting from Gilbert and Sullivan. Longtime readers will know how happy this makes me.

I haven’t read the entire book yet. I just opened it at random when I got my copy. So this is not my real review, but I’m going to follow Thingy’s lead and give my opinion on the whole Atticus Finch issue without having read all of it.

I’ve heard and read a lot of people reading into the “meaning” of Atticus’s change; saying it shows the book is about disillusionment, fallen idols.  Other people are saying it ruins their love for the character in the original book.

Here’s the thing: Watchman is a first draft of Mockingbird.  The fact that the Atticus character changed from the first draft to the finished product doesn’t necessarily have an artistic meaning; it just means Harper Lee wanted to rework the character’s assigned function.

To a reader, characters are people–we react emotionally to them as we would to real people, and judge them as we would real people. To an author, though, a character is also a tool for fulfilling some larger role in the story.  It might be that they are there to convey a theme, or sometimes just to drive the plot. A good writer, like Lee, disguises the fact that these characters are cogs in a machine by making them seem very human and real, but that’s still what they are: platforms for conveying relevant themes/plot points/emotions. And sometimes, when you are editing something, you say: “Hmm, I need to change what characters are assigned what functions–what if I assign function x to character z instead of character y?”

From what I’ve seen, it looks like Lee just changed what the Atticus character’s function was between the first draft and the final version. In modern lingo, the character in Mockingbird is the Atticus Finch “reboot”.  And it’s a mistake to read this as character “development”.  Characters do sometimes change their personalities over the course of a story to suit a narrative or thematic point–in fact, that’s a hallmark of good writing.  But it’s not what we’re talking about here.  This is just a straight-up rewrite from what I can see.