This is insane. Asking a book lover to pick a favorite book is like Sophie’s Choice, but with way more children. Although I must admit, Queen Jo made that choice a bit easier over the course of the years. Same scenario exists with authors. While picking five (or 15) just a few years ago would’ve been a piece of cake, today it feels difficult. A cursory glance at my bookcase at home reveals how varied my tastes have become over the years: The magic of Harry Potter is nestled beside the garbage of Fifty Shades of Grey (which I bought based purely on buzz and couldn’t bring myself to read beyond the line “…and my very small inner goddess sways in a gentle victorious samba.”) Dan Brown’s mind-bending literary labyrinths join the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Frodo and Bella Swan share a shelf, for crying out loud. I suppose that’s how I was as a kid too. I could read Sweet Valley fluff one day and turn to the creep-tastic Goosebumps books the next. I’ll admit my tastes aren’t high culture, nor do they have very deep roots in classic fiction. I read Pride & Prejudice in college because, well, I felt like I should at least once and I wanted to cry every time I started a new chapter. I would throw my mass market paperback across the room and complain loudly to my roommates, “You can’t tell me people ever really talked like this! I need a dictionary just to get through a paragraph!” I felt like an uncultured swine (above right)—but I did finish it. I would watch Rory Gilmore tear through novel after novel and think, hmm, I’ve never read that. Or that. Nope. No again. Damn. I had to drop out of a Faulkner class because The Sound and the Fury made me want to rip my eyes straight from their sockets so I wouldn’t have to finish it. Anyway …
TL;DR—While there are some classics I hope to eventually get to someday, I’m OK with just liking what I like for now. And yes, that means jumping on the hype train with trilogies like The Hunger Games and Divergent and relaxing on the beach with what is affectionately known as chick lit, by, you know, the chicks who read it I guess. So below are five authors who either remain a favorite from the past (one guess who that might be) to whom I have recently discovered as new faves.
1. J.K. Rowling
The queen. Let’s see, I’ve talked about my undying love for Harry Potter here, here, and everywhere. I won’t do it again. However … to be able to simply look this woman in the eyes and thank her for the magic would be the moment when I could die happy.
I have to give this woman her due for being the only author to truly make me cry. Sure, Harry made me hyperventilate and shake and the films dissolved me into tears, but Hannah’s Firefly Lane is the only novel in the history of ever that made me reach for the tissues. I went through a phase in college after reading that book where I would go to the library and read a book a week until I read every one she’d ever written. I credit her to propelling me toward other female writers like Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner and Emily Giffin. You just feel good after finishing one of her stories.
The sole reason I want to visit Nantucket so badly is thanks to this writer’s beach-perfect summer novels. Barefoot was my first and I’ve been hooked ever since. I always make sure I have her most recent book in my carry-on when I go on vacation. In June, she wrote a poignant piece for The Huffington Post about her recent breast cancer diagnosis. Her positivity has been inspiring.
I discovered Ellen in Barnes & Noble. Her first, Crank, was released in 2004, putting me at around 15-16 years old. I was perusing the young adult section and the simplicity of the black and white cover caught my eye. The book itself, small and chunky, was different from standard novels. It felt like an easy read, but that was before I read the jacket. It was anything but easy subject matter: Crank is loosely based on the author’s daughter’s addiction to crystal meth—heavy stuff for a high schooler. But I popped it open and was delighted to see that Ellen writes in verse (I was obsessed with poetry at the time). It may not have rhymed, but the way Ellen crafted her words struck me. Not only did they flow with enough vivid imagery to make your eyes pop, she constructed their layout into shapes. A section on alchohol might have formed a bottle on the page, an emotionally erractic internal monologue might have been strewn across the page with words and letters jumping around. I was hooked on her style from page one. Her stories are riveting. I read—and subsequently bought—all of them as new ones were released over the years. In 2011, she tried an adult novel. As an adult myself now, I of course was excited to see what she could do outside the realm of troubled teenagers. Good news is, I still like her!
Another old favorite that still carries into current favorite. Ann gave us Tibby, Carmen, Lena, and Bridget way back in 2001. They came to life four years later in one of my all-time favorite page-to-film adaptations starring a handful of talented young actresses that have since become successful starlets (Alexis Bledel of Gilmore Girls, Blake Lively of Gossip Girl, America Ferrera of Ugly Betty, and Amber Tamblyn of House). Ann crafted incredible bonds of friendship between these four girls, bonds I was jealous of while reading. The sisterhood ended in 2007 (with a film sequel hitting theatres in 2008), which is when Ann branched off and tried her first adult novel, The Last Summer (of You and Me) which I read on vacation and loved instantly. Then in 2011, she came out with another adult novel, this time with the same beloved characters, set ten years after the events of the final Sisterhood story. Tearjerker alert: One of the fab four dies. Even the title evokes both nostalgia and hope: Sisterhood Everlasting. Just as with Harry Potter, Ann allowed us to grow up right alongside these characters. Plans were announced in April 2014 to turn their final story into another film. By the time it’s released, I’ll probably be around the same age as they are in the book. I can’t wait.
I don’t understand people who say that they “don’t read.” How is that possible? How is not enjoying reading even an option? Whether it’s nonfiction, a horror novel, or a comic book, I love reading. Almost to a fault. Just this week I was late getting into the office because I was engrossed in the twists and turns of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Here is a list of people who are prone to making me late.
1. Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter Thompson has been one of my favorite authors since the first time I picked up Kingdom of Fear as a teenager and was introduced to his strange and propulsive prose. Thompson’s writing has always straddled the line between fiction and nonfiction, yet he somehow managed to get to the truth of matter better than most “straight” journalists. His reporting on the McGovern campaign in 1972’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail helped spark my interest in politics and all of his writing shows how words can be weapons against injustice and corruption. If you only know Thompson from the drug-fueled Terry Gilliam movie, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I highly recommend you pick up some of his other works.
2. Charles Bukowski
The “poet laureate of skid row” has a tendency to be a bit misogynistic and obscene in his poetry and novels, but I’ve always seen it as satiric – a commentary on the chest-beating machismo of his dive-bar-centric environment. Personally, I enjoy the seedy tone and realistic style Bukowski employs; he’s a hell of a writer for an angry alcoholic. It’s easy to be put off by people who romanticize Buk’s lifestyle and ideals, but that doesn’t take away from his work. You Get So Alone Sometimes That It Just Makes Sense is the best book of poetry I’ve ever read.
3. Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy’s dark and violent novel Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West is one of the best books ever written. I’m comfortable levying that superlative on such an epic, intense read. The novel makes everything else he’s written seem like lesser works, even if they are, for the most part, pretty amazing. The best thing about McCarthy is his ability to create memorable antagonists. The villains in his novels don’t just have bad intentions; they are agents of chaos, totally and completely evil. Two of his best are Anton Chirgurh, played by a terrifying Javier Bardem in the film adaptation of No Country for Old Men, and Judge Holden, the mass-murdering scalp hunter from Blood Meridian.
4. Stephen King
The master of horror and the first author I really fell in love with. As soon as I graduated from R.L. Stine books to King novels in middle school, I read everything I could get my hands on. I sometimes didn’t know what the hell was going on in the plot (lookin’ at you Gerald’s Game), but came back for the gore, undead monsters and aliens. I still get new King novels in hardcover as soon as they are released. His recent streak of 11/23/63, Under the Dome and Mr. Mercedes proves that he is still prolific and still on his game. As long as he’s writing, King can consider me a constant reader.
5. Matt Fraction
Fraction is a relatively new addition to my “favorite authors” list. I don’t think it’s a cop out to include a comic book writer as good as Fraction. His writing for the Avengers-archer series Hawkeye is incredibly creative and interesting. He’s also done great work on The Invincible Iron Man and his original series Sex Criminals. Fraction and artist David Aja are producing art that greatly transcends its medium. Fraction also introduced “pizza dog”, a lovable one-eyed mutt with a proclivity for pizza that Hawkeye rescues from Russian gangsters. I’m hoping pizza dog gets a guest spot in the next Avengers movie.