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.
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”.