Think about your favorite authors, your favorite books . . . what is it about them that makes you love them above all the other authors you’ve read? The stories? The characters? The way they appear to relish the taste of words on the tongue? The way they’re unafraid to show the nitty-gritty of life? How they sweep you off to a new, distant place? What is it about those books and authors that makes them resonate with you in ways that other, perfectly good books and authors do not?

This really made me stop and think, because I’ve never been very sure that if put on the spot I’d actually be able to say who my favourite authors are or what my favourite books are. But I have decided to stop give it a go.

And actually i found that my favourite books were reasonably easy to define, so I’ll start there (in no particular order):

  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – small but perfectly formed, I first read this at school in the 1970s and come back to it often (but not often enough)
  • The Great Gatsby – for very similar reasons, and I was heavily influenced by the advertising campaign for the Robert Redford film – I was at an impressionable age, what can I say?
  • Catch-22 – this was a cult book amongst the crowd I hung around with at school, it never left the pocket of my Barathea blazer, and I used to start it again as soon as I’d finished it – haven’t read it for a while, though – lots of quotable lines, very anti-war
  • Katherine – in reading this I fell in love with John of Gaunt and it made me a lifelong Lancastrian (despite being Scottish)
  • Lord of the Rings – inevitable really, I love the epic scale, every time I read it I focus on something new
  • The Glass Bead Game – I was very impressed with Hermann Hesse when I was a student, but this is the only one I re-read regularly and I love the philosophical aspects
  • Family Happiness – my first and favourite Laurie Colwin novel (more of her anon), again a short and perfect book

The only thing these have in common is the emotional response they’ve elicited in me which has lasted long after the book has been set aside, so perhaps that’s what I look for? And having said they were in no particular order I realise that, except for the first two,  they are in the order I first read them.

As for authors, I think it is a similar thing of emotional response, and style, and having something to say, and the plots and characters they’ve created sticking with me long after the book has gone, so the list is (and this really isn’t any order):

  • Stephen King – have read almost everything he has written, starting with Carrie, and what I haven’t read is probably on the tbr pile
  • Muriel Spark – intelligent and witty
  • Virginia Woolf To the Lighthouse is probably my favourite, but the non-fiction sticks out for me as well
  • Laurie Colwin – novels, short stories, cookery essays, all wonderful
  • Iain (M) Banks – for the inventiveness of both his straight and sci-fi works
  • Joyce Carol Oates – awesome in all senses of the word, and so prolific

Very brief comments but I think the thing they have in common as authors, if anything, is that they each have their own distinctive styles, instantly recognisable (in a good way). And I make no apology for having Stephen King on that list, I know it’s not “literature”, I know he can be patchy, but as a body of work it’s pretty great stuff and I like it.

And I bet if I’m asked to do this again in a year or so’s time, Charles de Lint will be on there as well.

What do you think?

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