Who are your favorite authors? A few of mine

By Caitlin Kelly

The stack of books I’ve brought with me for a week’s rural vacation is nine high, from Joseph Stiglitz’ The Price of Inequality to Michel de Montaigne’s Travel Journal, from September 1580, during which the Pope greets him warmly and helps him become a Roman citizen.

On this journey, we are nestled at friends’ cottage in a cove on the Northern Neck of Virginia.

Time to read for pure pleasure!

I recently decided to finally read the Patrick Melrose novels by British writer Edward St. Aubyn. I’d heard and read so much about them and thought they just couldn’t be that great. But acerbic, cold-eyed, tart-tongued — they absolutely are.

They are not books for everyone! If you like shiny, happy stories about people deeply in love, optimistic and fulfilled, move on! His main character — a heroin-addicted hero, if you will in one of the novellas — is Patrick Melrose, wealthy, aristocratic, caustic. Sounds horrible. But so not.

This author knows his stuff inside out — the bitter, odd, deeply private behaviors of people with a lot of money and very deep secrets. Here’s an interview with him from 2006 from the British newspaper The Independent. And a Q and A from this year from The New York Times Book Review.

I also saw The English Patient, from 1996, on television again and felt in love once more with its creator, Canadian-Sri Lankan author Michael Ondaatje. His writing is exquisite, like entering a dream, so that when you put down the book again you almost have to shake yourself back into the room, here and now. I’ve so far only read two of his books, but loved both, In The Skin of a Lion, set in my home city of Toronto, and Divisadero, set in rural California. He has also written many books of poetry.

Michael Ondaatje, author of "The English ...
Michael Ondaatje, author of “The English Patient” speaks for the Tulane Great Writer Series presented by the Creative Writing Fund of the Department of English. Dixon Hall; October 25, 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s an excerpt of an interview with Michael Ondaatje from Gulf Coast magazine.

I liked Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, (hated the next one), and Monica Ali‘s Brick Lane and Claire Messud‘s first book, The Last Life, (loathed The Emperor’s Children.)

If you have never read Alexandra Fuller, run! Don’t Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight is a beautifully written account of her growing up in Zimbabwe — as is Peter Godwin‘s When A Crocodile Eats The Sun.

Alexandra Fuller - We gaan niet naar de hel va...
Alexandra Fuller – We gaan niet naar de hel vannacht (Photo credit: Djumbo)

I realize my list is already heavily loaded with writers who are either British or partly educated there; many years ago, I loved the novels of Margaret Drabble and Nadine Gordimer as well.

I usually prefer non-fiction, and some of my favorites include the brutal but incredible war accounts, The Good Soldiers, by Pulitzer Prize winning American writer David Finkel and My War Gone By, I Miss It So, by Anthony Loyd; from amazon:

It is the story of the unspeakable terror and the visceral, ecstatic thrill of combat, and the lives and dreams laid to waste by the bloodiest conflict that Europe has witnessed since the Second World War.

Born into a distinguished military family, Loyd was raised on the stories of his ancestors’ exploits and grew up fascinated with war. Unsatisfied by a brief career in the British Army, he set out for the killing fields in Bosnia. It was there–in the midst of the roar of battle and the life-and-death struggle among the Serbs, Croatians, and Bosnian Muslims–that he would discover humanity at its worst and best. Profoundly shocking, poetic, and ultimately redemptive, this is an uncompromising look at the brutality of war and its terrifyingly seductive power.

Cover of "My War Gone By, I Miss it So"
Cover of My War Gone By, I Miss it So’

Here’s a longer list of my faves, from my website, with both fiction and non-fiction.

I don’t read chick lit, celebrity stuff, romance, horror or science fiction but am always on the hunt for great, lesser-known fiction, memoir, biography, history and belles lettres — maybe from 50 or 150 years ago.

Any suggestions from your bookshelf?

63 thoughts on “Who are your favorite authors? A few of mine

  1. I couldn’t agree more about Michael Ondaatje (I think I’ve read all his fiction, though not all his poetry) – do try to pick up a copy of Running in the Family – a chaotic and very Sri Lankan family, the book’s a delight of a biography. Thanks for the St. Aubyn tip – I’ll probably have to get an e-copy, but for a while I’ll have time to read some fiction and acerbic sounds just right for this transition period of mine, but then again, so does Michel de Montaigne … I wish I could reciprocate but my head’s still a total swirl from the move! Hope you both have a marvellous time with your books, walks and quiet time.

  2. LOVE Alexandra Fuller. Have you read her “The Legend of Colton H. Bryant”? It’s a creative nonfiction memoir about a young man who was a roughneck in the West. I also enjoy Terry Tempest Williams and Edward Abbey and I love me some Sherman Alexie and Joy Harjo. I’ve also been reading a lot of genre fiction. I’m kind of into urban fantasy these days. Good brain candy, when I just need to escape. I read a lot of different authors, and I don’t really have favorites because I just love reading and love expanding my reading horizons.

  3. I’ve enjoyed Poe since I was a kid, but these days I’ve gotten more into Hemingway and August Wilson. Beyond that I’m more of a sci-fi, Samuel R Delaney and Alan Dean Foster are good, history, and science (techno-geek stuff) based reading. “Get a Grip on Evolution” is a great read by David Burnie, on Goodreads I have 111 books listed and links to it on my blog. I also love reading almanacs, dictionaries and encyclopedias.

  4. To name some of my favorites: Roth, Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, Kerouac…your basic “writer in his mid-20’s” list. The other day I bought a massive, one-volume copy of John Updike’s “Rabbit” novels, and I’m working up the nerve to tackle it. Also currently reading (well, starting) Proust’s “Swann’s Way.”

    — J.W.

    1. Thanks for weighing in! I haven’t read any of these people except for finally reading All the Pretty Horses in February. I liked it a lot, but bleak! I’ve also been curious about Updike, so you’re definitely reading a lot of authors I’ve been curious about.

      But they’re all guys! πŸ™‚

      1. Hahaha, well, I’d recommend all of them, and I just noticed that I did, in fact, list all guys, so here’s an addition: Virginia Woolf, specifically “To The Lighthouse.”


        — J.W.

  5. I am an eclectic reader – lots of poetry, non-fiction, history, nature. Authors I always read would be Alice Munro, E. Annie Proulx, Bill Bryson, Pat Conroy, Willa Cather. Like Sherman Alexie very much, Louise Erdrich, Tomas McGuane, Larry McMurtry. So many books to read yet – I keep a reading list and check them off as I go. I read David Rhodes “Driftless” – a beautiful book. I had never heard of this author until I met his brother who lived in our village. I can’t wait to read his new novel just coming out, “Jewelweed”. I can’t read fantasy.

    1. I’ve never heard of him so thanks for the recommendation! I think I read My Antonia and liked it a lot. Have never read Proulx or Bryson or Conroy or Alexie or Erdrich, although I know who they all are.

  6. Off the top of my head – A Winter’s Tale by Mark Halpren, any short story by Alice Monroe, The Kiterunner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, Out by Natsuo Kirino and most anything by Tom Robbins – most recently – Jitterbug Perfume. πŸ™‚

    1. The Winter’s Tale is one of my favorite books ever! So evocative. I read everything by Tom Robbins when I was in college — loved Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. There’s an oldie but goodie.

  7. themodernidiot

    Non-Fiction Quickies:

    Read Engel’s A Fist in the Hornet’s Nest. Why? Because it’s Engel

    Grab Daniel Keyes’ The Minds of Billy Milligan. Freakin’ crazy; leaves you wondering “how’s that work?” like you do with magic tricks, or that nutty staircase at RIT.

    To warm the heart and work the brain without the glucose overload, get “Rusty’s Story” by Carol Gino. Gino writes her experiences as a nurse, who essentially adopts a teenage epileptic. Man, when she flies down the stairs, you catch yourself not breathing.

    Myself? Ah, a totally free-reading summer. I’ll be kicking back with two new books by this fantastic new author, who chronicles the sexy worlds of guns and sweater-folding…maybe you’ve heard of her? πŸ˜‰

    Happy vacation.

  8. When I saw the title of today’s post, I immediately thought of Michael Ondaatje. I was so glad to see that you agree. His writing is simply lyrical. I also agree about Zadie Smith – White Teeth: thumbs ups; On Beauty: thumbs down. But I must also plug a classic: Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Oh to write an opening line like that! And what a conclusion!

    1. Indeed! Madame Dufarge and her knitting…It was a far, far better place he went than he had ever gone…no?

      So glad you know and also love Ondaatje. I’ve never read writing quite like his.

  9. I love Margaret Atwood’s novels old and new, not only because she is Canadian…but her writing is compelling and normally has some kind of feminist/warning message for man kind. Which I appreciate, and wish more did too. : )

    1. She can be bleak as hell, but I agree. Did you ever read her very first book Surfacing? We read it in high school and, because she attended our high school and I was editor of our paper, I asked her for an interview, which she graciously gave me.

      I LOVED Cat’s Eye, which perfectly describes the landscape of Toronto and made me very homesick.

      1. Cats Eye made me sad…througough the whole read. It made me long for Toronto (I read it when I lived in Melbourne).

        I love the Handmaidens tail, and The Edible Woman.

        Currently reading Alias Grace for the first time and am enjoying it. I find it fascinating that this woman actually existed. I’ve not read Surfacing but will get a copy pronto.

        What sort of questions did you ask her? Man, I’d be so pleased…you were so lucky! She’s a huge inspiration to me.

      2. I never really miss Toronto as a city (as opposed to my friends there) but it actually brought me to tears. Good to know I was not alone!

        I read Alias Grace last year. Interesting book.

        Can’t remember! I did try to interview her many years later (like 11) when I was at the Gazette and she was mighty prickly to journos by then.

  10. I also would suggest Running in the Family, (and Anil’s Ghost) by Michael Ondaatje: exactly like stepping out of a dream. I like Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, as fitting in with some of your flavour for reading.

      1. Stephen King and Anne Rice are great. James Patterson’s Alex Cross books are awesome. And if you want a good fantasy novel, try Mark Chadbourn’s Age of Misrule books.
        Oh, and for a good zombie novel, check out my friend Matthew Williams’ novel Whiskey Delta.

  11. Like one of the posters above, I also have an eclectic bookshelf. Love Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Joyce Carol Oates, Colum McCann, Lionel Shriver. Then I’ve got quite a bit of poetry, short stories, biographies, and the not so guilty pleasures of Stephen King, Anne Rice, and assorted thrillers. πŸ™‚

  12. justaweirdthought

    well…of all the authors that you have mentioned, I can only recognise Nadime Gordimer and she is truly amazing. I love the work of Khaled Hosseini (The kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns) and am dying to read his latest-And The Mountains Echoed. Currently I am reading ‘The God of Small Things’ a 90’s booker prize winner by Arundhati Roy. I like her work too. Besides, very much like other teenagers, I too like J.K.Rowling’s Harry potter series. Not to mention Dan Brown. And Ruskin Bond.
    Recently one of my friends got a book published. It’s a collection of poems. She is an architecture student and now an author too. I have read a few of her poems (when we were in school two years back) and yeah I can say that I like her work too.
    I have been wondering if i should also try to get my poems published. I fear rejection and the extra efforts any such step will demand but I suppose I can at least try a bit. Most of my poems are nostalgi and sad and perhaps consequently, repulsive. People wan happy things, I guess. I am not very sure about myself.

  13. I enjoy Liza Dalby’s books on Japanese culture, especially The Tale of Murasaki. The Five Ginger Jars by Myra Scovel tells the story of an American missionary family in China who spent some harrowing time in an internment camp. Dorothy Parker, Jane Austen, Amy Tan, and Elizabeth Bowen are other favorites.

    1. I think I read Geisha many years ago. I love Japanese art, design and culture so have many visual reference books…just bought a new one of images by Hiroshige. Thanks for these!

  14. Steinbeck. He was the reason I went to Mexico in the first place (The Pearl, Log from the Sea of Cortes). I took Spanish lessons while I was in Mexico City, and I am currently reading the Spanish version of The Pearl along with its English counterpart. I’ve got a Spanish version of The Old Man and The Sea to work through when I am done with that.

    It’s slow going, but I am getting so much out of it. I was introduced to Juan Rulfo when I was in Mexico as well, and I have a book of his given to me by my host, El Llano en llamas, that I keep going back to every few weeks, discovering I am not fluent enough in Spanish to get all the nuances. One day, one day I’ll read the whole book, understand it thoroughly and will sigh even more deeply by how beautiful the language is in its simplicity.

    Also: Juan Rulfo turned photographer after he was done with writing, and I am fascinated by his photos.

    I’m in awe of the multi-talented. Most of us struggle to do one thing well!

  15. My favourite writers are probably Kathy Reichs and Peter James, I love crime novels haha. But I’d recommend The Warsaw Anagrams by Richard Zimler – Its set in WW2 in the Warsaw ghetto, and whilst hard hitting sometimes, it was a great, thought provoking book to read.

  16. I recently read Danielle McGuire’s “At the Dark End of the Street” for a women/gender studies class. She essentially covers the entire civil rights movement, focusing on the critical role that women played as well as the LARGE part that rape and sexual harassment played. Not a cheery tale but brilliantly written and fascinating.
    I am also a HUGE Barbara Kingsolver fan, she’s such a beautiful writer.

    1. Interesting…In my book about women and guns, I discovered that women were very much a part of the civil rights movement and some, like Fannie Lou Hamer, carried guns because they were rightly in fear for their lives.

      Have never yet read Kingsolver.

  17. Hi Caitlin –

    I’m with Willwander, on B. Kingsolver – her recent novel ‘In flight’, is excellent – it tackles the climate change ‘debate’ – I cringe to call it that!

    I also love everything ‘Ondaatje’ – Anils Ghost is a fave (gee, from the photo i see he’s aging, but aging well!)

    On this post, I noticed the bookjacket “War gone by, I miss it so’.

    Even though you don’t prefer Fiction, another great read about that conflict is ‘The Cellist of Sarajevo’ by Canadian author steven galloway – set during the seige of sarajevo. It may already be on your list of faves – tis on mine.

    I was first introduced to your blog around christmas 1202, whilce pondering over my wifes’s blog ‘disappearing in plain sight’. If I recall correctly, you were questioning kristen Lambs blog post – the one she had put up a picture of a women holding a gun. I definetely found her position distrubing. and your position very challenging – in a good way.

    Today, ‘Broadside ‘ popped up to side of my screen, so I checked in here for the 2nd time because now I’m an official wordpress blogger myself (and i can even comment.)

    I followed the link and me and my wife just finsihed listening to your 2004 NPR radio podcast interview on your book about woman and guns , Blown Away. T

    hank you for writing and speaking about this very complex and divisive topic – the gun debate alone is difficult enough p and then to add feminism and violence against women to the equation – well – I myself am blown away (in a good way, again!)

    I’m going to make sure I order in your book, from my local library!

    In concluding my comment, I hope you don’t mind that I toot my own horn a bit – I’m going to refer you and your readers to a recent phlog post I created on guns and the arm trade issue, in more of a global sense:


    Thank you for being a fine voice, standing up, and speaking out.

    Best regards . . . Bruce

    1. Thanks for weighing in, for the book recommendations — and your interest in Blown Away. Much appreciated. Violence against women is a complex issue and owning a gun seems like a great solution for some people. Not for me, though.

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