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On Authors

I snag this meme on favorite authors from Eva and Danielle. Like Friday Fill-Ins, answers to these questions here are momentary and are subject to change. But it’s worth the time and effort to capture the current state of my mind:

Who’s your all-time favorite author, and why? In terms of the number of works and the number of times I re-read the works, it has to be Dostoevsky. I have read at least thrice each of the three major novels: Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov (which I will teach in 2 weeks), and The Double, the last book being closely reminiscent of Notes From Underground. Dostoevsky creates psychology for his characters; unlike Tolstoy, who doesn’t confront us at the outset with the familiar lengthy description of a character, Dostoevsky constructs his novel and advances the plot through a delineation of his character’s mentality and the psychological aspects. My other favorite author is W. Somerset Maugham, who is most deft in portraying characters’ conflict and struggle with so simple of prose. I like how he conveys an ulterior motive, a mind made up, and patches of delicate emotions in words not explicit spoken. To appreciate Maugham is to read in between his lines. His travelogue is amazing. All these earthly wonders are captured in Maugham’s words. He imparts to these remains a new life with an eloquence that is made possible from an idle curiosity and observant minuteness. He’s one of the few authors who can write great fiction and non-fiction. I strongly recommend The Gentleman in the Parlour and The Painted Veil.

Who was your first favorite author, and why? Do you still consider him or her among your favorites? Being raised in a former British colony and molded by a traditional grammar education, I came to read Charles Dickens at an early age. In fourth and fifth grade, I remembered reading Dickens’ novels retold by junior reader editors. By lower forms in secondary school, I ventured for the full texts by Penguin Classics and Oxford University Classics. A Tale of Two Cities, which usually doesn’t find favor in the eyes of scholars and critics, was my very first Dickens’ favorite. But the penchant for this British novelist didn’t stop there, I had become very fond of Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby, two books that I often return to and read for comfort.

Who’s the most recent addition to your list of favorite authors, and why? Thanks for the wonderful book blogger community and friends who point new authors to me, I’ve read outside of my usual radar, which consists of mostly classics and literature in the first half of the 20th century. New favorites include Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jose Saramago, Joanne Harris, Patrick Gale, Anita Brookner. From the Outmoded Author Challenge, I have discovered Elizabeth Bowen and May Sarton. Most recent affairs would be Marina Lewycka (A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian), and Emma Donoghue (Slammerkin).

If someone asked you who your favorite authors were right now, which authors would first pop out of your mouth? Are there any you’d add on a moment of further reflection? That would be authors whom I want to read more in the near future. On my reading list are Shirley Abbot, Jhumpa Lahiri, James Baldwin, Joanne Harris, John Banville and the authors I mentioned in the previous questions. I also want to read Rebecca West after reading the very catchy opening of her novels.

10 Responses

  1. Since I started out book club at the store, I’ve read all sorts of authors and books I never would have picked up before. Sara Waters became a favorite author after reading Affinity. I most likely never would have read The Kite Runner if it were not for the book club. However, the author that surprised me the most was Jhumpa Lahiri. On one hand, I think she helped transcend the gap between me and Indian culture, and on the other hand, I think she writes beautiful prose, creating complex characters who do unexpected things. After I read The Interpreter of Maladies, I closed the book and thought, I wish I could write stories like the first and fourth stories in this book.

  2. Ditto to The Kite Runner. Too much hype and making its way to all bookseller charts. But I ended up reading it on a business trip. It wasn’t too bad.

  3. Now I want to go read some Maugham! I saw the Edward Norton The Painted Veil and fell in love. 🙂 I read Bowen and Sarton during the Outmoded Author challenge and was very impressed as well. I have my second Bowen all lined up and if it’s as good as The Last September, she’ll win a spot on my favourites list too!

    I hated The Kite Runner, fyi. With a fiery passion. And I read in when I was in Russia with very little access to English reading materials. Still hated it!

  4. My favorite authors always seem to be changing, but I do have some stalwarts in there: John Steinbeck, Yukio Mishima, Shirley Jackson, Ambrose Bierce, Stephen King, Edmund White, Gore Vidal, Emile Zola. But I have so many books and new authors waiting, that the list will probably change again!!!

  5. Jef:
    Before Jhumpa Lahiri, I knew very little about Indian culture and why they behaved a certain way, i.e. culture shock, reclusiveness, family-orientedness. So she also has bridged that gap, it’s cultural education for me. I still haven’t got over all the hype about The Kite Runner, although I was so tempted to pick it up when I was in Hong Kong. But I didn’t.

  6. John:
    Anything that is all over critic and public’s radar I don’t usually read.

  7. Eva:
    We are kindred spirits in reading aren’t we? Yeah, definitely try Maugham, you’ll be surprised how sentimental his prose is. Start with Painted Veil or The Razor’s Edge. 🙂 Meanwhile I need to look up some more Elizabeth Bowen.

  8. Greg:
    Ah…Yukio Mishima and Edmund White, two of the finest novelists. I guess the good thing about all this is that I can have as many love affairs with them as I want to without feeling guilty! 😉

  9. Isn’t it hard choosing favorites? Mine are often changing–or rather I am adding to them. Did you know Emma Donoghue has a new book out, though not yet published in the US. I’m contemplating ordering it from Canada.

  10. Yours is the second strong recommendation for Maughm in two days. I’ll have to add him to my TBR list. I’ve not read him before. Wasn’t the old Joan Crawford movie Rain based on one of his books? I think it was called Rain, or maybe Sadie Thompson.

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