Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday's List: Favorite Authors

Who doesn't like a Top Ten List? Nobody, that's who. If David Letterman has proven anything, it's that Top Ten Lists are a perrennial favorite. So, Friday will be the Library's Top Ten List day. And since it is a Library list, we'll start with authors.

These are folks that have written sufficient quantities of material that they are distinguished not only by the quality of their work, but also the quantity. Thus, Harper Lee is not included even though To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books.

A quick glance at the list will clearly indicate my inclination towards science fiction and fantasy novels, with a heavy dose of humor preferred... a bias begun very early in my life, and one which remains to this day. I am branching out into less genre specific authors, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and John Updike for example, but at this point they have won my respect and interest, but they have not topped my list for sheer reading enjoyment.

My Top Ten Favorite Authors:

10. Joseph J. Ellis. The one non-fiction author on my list, I find Ellis to be the best historian writing today. He makes his historical narration both fascinating and informative and he presents his subjects as he finds them, brilliance, warts and all.

9. J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are both brilliantly done, though the structure of TLotR is a bit odd by today's standards. He would likely be higher except that his output is smaller compared to others on this list and his other works, The Silmarillion for example, are a bit heavy and far less engaging. If you have a chance to visit the Marquette University Archives to view some of the original Tolkien manuscripts, it is well worth your time-- call ahead, though, they won't pull them out on a whim.

8. Dr. Seuss. Perhaps the best poet ever and certainly my favoirte. He makes verse fun and engaging, and the stories he tells are timeless and evocative. He has hooked thousands (millions?) of kids on the joys of reading and the power of words and images.

7. Douglas Adams. As with Tolkien, he would be higher on this list except that his notorious writer's block and untimely death limited his output of material. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was a mind blowing experience for me and the Dirk Gently novels resonate more with each reading.

6. Orson Scott Card. Ten years ago he would have been higher on this list, but some of his recent works are too colored by his religious and political views for my liking. Regardless, the Ender series alone would likely get him into my top 10, and many of his other books are nearly as good.

5. Harlan Ellison. The short story maestro. In many ways a great short story is harder to write than a great novel but great short stories are all Ellison writes. His work is darker than my general inclination, but a little darkness from time to time is a good balance. For a real treat, find an audiobook of some of Ellison's stories that are read by Ellison himself-- he is also a terrific narrator. This biography by Isaac Asimov is a pretty good summary of the Ellison experience, I think.

4. Stephen King. A victim of his own success, in some ways-- King has written so much that the sheer volume of his work seems to naturally categorize him as prolific, but not all that good. Quantity over quality. Yet while there are some definite clunkers and dogs in his enormous bibliography, at the top of his form he is one of the best storytellers ever. His works frequently stay with me for days after I've finished them, popping up at odd times or in strange connections to other events and activities.

3. Ray Bradbury. Much like Ellison, Bradbury's specialty is the short story, though my favorite of his works is the novel Dandelion Wine. Bradbury is more gentle than Ellison, yet his work still has power and poignancy aplenty. For me, Bradbury's writings are a distillation of both the wonder and the harshness of childhood and growing up.

2. Stephen R. Donaldson. If there is a true heir to the Tolkien "throne" I would say that it must be Donaldson. His Thomas Covenant series takes the structure of The Lord of the Rings and transforms it into something greater and richer. His Gap books are some of the best science fiction stories I have ever read. Plus, he has an enormous vocabulary. I consider myself to have a pretty darn large vocabulary, but I am constantly running across words in Donaldson's books that I have to look up. So, his books are educational, too!

1. Terry Pratchett. Talented, ironic, prolific and an absolute hoot to read. Who could ask for anything more? Many of the phrases he turns make me laugh out loud, yet the heart of the story is usually warm and deeply considered. For a taste, read this transcript of a speech Pratchett recently made to the Alzheimer's Research Trust Foundation.

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