What are you reading? Favorites

As the year winds down, I’m thinking of special diaries.  Last week it was books to give and get.  This week: Favorites.  Next week (or the week after) the year in review (might be in two parts)

If you like to trade books, try BookMooch.

What are you reading? is crossposted to daily Kos

Today, I’m going to list 2 or 3 favorite authors in each of several categories – that is, the categories where I read a lot.

These are writers who rarely, if ever, disappoint.

I invite you to do the same, in the comments and add comments about each, if you like


 John Varley   Many of  Varley’s books take place in a loosely connected future, where humans have been wiped off Earth and live on on other planets.  But that’s ancient history in his stories.  Another set of his books is the Gaea trilogy.  And there are some of the greatest short stories ever: Press Enter is one of the scariest things I’ve read.  Amazing that the same guy could write Persistence of Vision, which is an elegiac post-apocalypse tale of a commune of deaf-blind people (yes, that’s right, an elegy about deaf blind people in a world after an apocalypse).  I’ve read everything I could find of his, and he never disappoints.  

 Terry Pratchett.  Discworld!  Terry Pratchett once said that “writing is the most fun you can have with your clothes on” and his books sure read that way!  But they’re not just hugely funny fantasies (if you  think it’s easy to write comic fantasy, you do it!)  Pratchett is also saying things about the human condition.  His books have sold 70 million copies.  There’s a reason.  One piece of bad news…Pratchett, who is 59 years old has early onset Alzheimer’s

 Bruce Sterling
 Unlike Pratchett and Varley, there’s a lot of Sterling I haven’t read.  But what I have read, I’ve liked a lot.  So now I have a bunch more books to put on my list


  Robert Parker  Parker has several series going, and they’re all good.  But his longest-running, and best, is the Spenser series.  Spenser is strong, he’s pure, he’s tough but sensitive.  He beats up bad guys and comes home to cook dinner for his beautiful inamorata.  Parker writes well enough that Spenser can be all these things without being repellent.

  Andrew Vachss  Vachss is a lawyer specializing in child abuse cases.  He’s written in a bunch of genres, but I’m just going to discuss the Burke novels.  One reviewer described these as ‘an express train ride through hell’.  The hero is Burke.  Burke makes money by running a bunch of con games.  He blackmails his landlord for rent.  He plays way outside the law.  And he’s the hero.  There are no extra words in a Vachss’ book.  They’re great, but they are *dark*.

  Paul Levine has written three Solomon and Lord novels.  These are *funny*.  They’re another version of the mismatched couple – this time with two lawyers.  He (Soloomon) a fast talking, do-what-it-takes shyster.  She’s a play by the books straight arrow.  It’s an interesting contrast with the first two authors: Parker’s Spenser is heroic, and rescued from being saccharine by Parker’s skill.  Burke is nasty, and rescued only by the fact that the people he is fighting are really really nasty.  But Solomon and Lord are both nice….and fun.  But there’s some serious stuff here, too.


  David McCullaugh I have not read all his bios (more for the list!) but those I have read have been outstanding:  Truman; John Adams; and Mornings on Horseback (about Teddy Roosevelt).  He’s also written history books, of which I have only read The Path between the Seas, it was also outstanding

  Carolly Erickson wrote biographies of the main players in Tudor England. Of these, the two standouts are The First Elizabeth and Great Harry.  She writes amazingly well, with many sentences that startle you with their beauty and precision.  

  Doris Kearns (Goodwin) tow of my favorite biographies of all time are her books about LBJ (Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream) and Lincoln (Team of Rivals).  Her prose doesn’t sing quite the way Erickson’s does, but she brings great insight to her subjects


  William Calvin  Calvin is a neuroscientist with a sense of fun.  He’s out to answer the big questions: How did we come to be human? What is intelligence?  and so on.  

  Harold J Morowitz well, what can you say about a guy who writes a book with a title like “Mayonnaise and the origin of life”?  His books are collections of short essays on various topics.  He writes with humor and warmth and good sense about everything.

  Richard Dawkins  When Dawkins writes about religion, I find him annoying, belligerent, ignorant and obnoxious (and that’s despite the fact that I basically agree with him!)  But on science, there is probably no one on the planet who writes more clearly.  He explains complex subjects so well that you don’t even realize you are learning.

General Fiction

  I don’t read so much of this, but a couple authors I like a lot are Richard Powers and Patrick O’Brian.  Powers’ books are dense, learned, multifaceted, and deep.  O’Brian wrote the Aubrey Maturin series, about naval warfare in the age of Napoleon.  At one level, these are just rip-roaring tales about battle.  But at another level, they are about ships the way Moby Dick is about a whale – they’re really about the nature of love and friendship; and about what it means to be human.


  I can’t let such a list go by without mentioning a couple books that just don’t fit:

  Godel Escher Bach is seminal.  An amazing book.  

  The Experts Speak is subtitled “The definitive compendium of authoritative misinformation”  It’s so much fun!  Elvis Presley was told that he should go back to driving a truck.  Kipling was told he didn’t know how to use the English language.  And so on.  All by experts!  My favorite is from the head of the US Patent office at the end of the 19th century.  He wrote to the President saying his office should be abolished because “Everything that can be invented has been”.


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    • plf515 on December 14, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    oh, and WAYR will now be a regular 7 AM (Eastern) feature

    • mishima on December 14, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    I’ve seen the sci-fi channels production of River World what do you know about the books from whence it came?

    • RiaD on December 14, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    Tolkein- hobbit & LOTR… i read these every year between christmas & new years

    McCaffrey- Pern books… dragons!

    Roberta Gellis- Roselynde Chronicles (historical romance, heavy on the historical)

    Barbra Hambly- Dragonsbane is my most favorite love story… ever! I want to be Jenny Waynest & fall in love with a dragon!

    Piers Anthony- Incantations of Immortality series (I think thats the name… books: with a tangled skein, on a pale horse…)

    ‘light’ reading favorites

    anything Pratchett

    the Bazil Broketail books (christopher rowley?)

    the Redwall books- Brian Jaques (yeah, I know these are kids books… but they’re great in the bathtub & have wonderful battle scenes)

    Louis L’Amour- everything I know about cowboys I learned by reading L’Amour.

    Need to find and re-read

    John McDonald- Travis McGee books

    those ‘colour’ books…the dreadful lemon sky is the only one i can think of right now- anyone know who these are by?

    • snud on December 14, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    books. But my favorite of all time, is of course:

    Free Image Hosting at allyoucanupload.com

    Very spicy – yet without any of those annoying, big words to have to look up. It’s almost up there with “My Pet Goat”!

  1. Tom Perrotta’s book, The Abstinence Teacher.

    Thanks to you, I did join bookmooch.

    • Robyn on December 14, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    …partially indicates a pursuit of finishing.

    I’m rather savoring, I guess.  I read a few pages of Stafford and then think about it for a day or two.

    And often wonder at my temerity at calling myself a poet.

    But as Stafford once responded to someone who commented about one of his poems, “I could have written that!”

    But you didn’t.

  2. non-fiction seems to be where I’m drawn.

    Right now I’m reading The Gift of Therapy by Irvin D. Yalom, MD and I’ll Quit Tomorrow by Vernon Johnson…just finished reading Under The Influence-A Guide To The Myths & Realities of Alcoholism by James Milam, PhD

    Peace and have a great Friday.

    • oculus on December 14, 2007 at 7:02 pm

    by Anthony Doerr.   Wonderful, imaginative, thought-provoking short stories (well, I’d say long stories, as each is about 20 pages long).

    • pico on December 15, 2007 at 8:29 am

    Thomas Pynchon takes the top spot.  Not only has he never disappointed me, but I can’t finish a book of his without feeling regret at having finished.  

    Anton Chekhov makes me laugh, breaks my heart, and leaves me breathless: it’s easy to argue that he’s the greatest writer of the last, say, 200 years.  

    E. B. White is the king of the short essay.  Clear, crisp prose, efficient and beautiful. I keep his collections near my bedside, along with…

    Jorge Luis Borges, who rules in both short nonfiction and short fiction.  Borges is one of those writers who can blow your mind in a handful of pages, and leave you viewing the universe from a different angle.

    I’m going to stop there, because I could continue this ad nauseam.

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