Just in time for the holiday weekend, where we hope to find you all kicking back and enjoying your recreational reading next to a pool somewhere with a cheeseburgers and hotdogs grilling somewhere close by, some of the staff here at Writers & Books thought it would be appropriate to give a brief shout out to some of our favorite American authors! It was tons of fun to see the variety in our tastes!
When I think “American authors” my mind immediately shifts one of the most iconic times in our country’s literary history: The Roaring 20s. Everything about this time period fascinates me, specifically the literature. Fitzgerald and Hemingway are, naturally, a couple of my favorites from the era. I can’t seem to ever get enough of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (see my review of the film in comparison to the book here.) Likewise, Hemingway’s writing never loses its charm with me. Where as a high school student I found his style tedious and dry, I now find it to be genius in its deliberateness and precision. Books such as The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls resonate differently with me each time I read them, adding layers, until it’s almost impossible for me to imagine ever having read them and looking at them as anything but rich. Both his and Fitzgerald’s style both are often ones which you have to work hard to truly grasp and appreciate, but that is why I love them all the more. It is time well invested.
As for contemporary authors, I have to acknowledge John Irving. Even if one doesn’t enjoy his stories (although I’m not sure how you can’t), he deserves credit for being able to produce so many 500-700 page books in a lifetime. One of the things I love and appreciate the most about Irving is how detailed he is — detailed in a way that isn’t excessive or unnecessary. By each book’s end, whatever passages momentarily seem to drag, become so apparently necessary it causes you to feel ashamed you ever doubted their validity in the first place. That is probably what I respect most about him as a writer — his uncanny ability to tie even the most minute detail in to the end of the story — even if it was mentioned 500 pages earlier in the book. My favorite work from his is A Prayer for Owen Meany. I can say that, without question, it is in my top 5 favorite pieces of literature of all time.
Finally, I would be remiss in my review if I didn’t mention Harper Lee. For many reasons, my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my most cherished possessions. I try to read it each year and somehow manage to shed a tear or two…or three…every time. Besides the truly beautiful, thought provoking story, the characters are ones unmatched in all of literature. Take a look for Harper Lee’s new/old book Go Tell a Watchman which hits shelves this month! Writers & Books will more than likely be hosting a book discussion surrounding Lee’s rediscovered manuscript at the end of the summer.
I don’t usually stop to identify what I’m reading as “American” or otherwise. But, some of my favorite writers are indeed American and their work does reflect a particular American experience. Three writers who immediately come to mind are Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Chabon, and Lucille Clifton. Even if they are sometimes writing about American characters living in a foreign land (Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible) or foreign characters living in America (Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay), they still touch deeply on American experience, as does, certainly, Lucille Clifton’s poetry.
My favorite American author is Curtis Sittenfeld (she is also my favorite author in general). While I have loved all of her work, two of her books– Prep and American Wife– are very dear to me. Not only are they both well written but they both have such interesting and important things to say about topics like womanhood, class, love, and a lot more.
As I examine my bookshelves at home I realize that almost all of my favorite authors are from other countries. So the list of favorite American authors becomes rather narrow, as it turns out. One of the books near the top of my list, however, is The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach, a decidedly American novel, since it centers around a young man playing the decidedly American game of baseball.
In the novel, Harbach writes of baseball: “You loved it because you considered it an art: an apparently pointless affair, undertaken by people with a special aptitude, which sidestepped attempts to paraphrase its value yet somehow seemed to communicate something true or even crucial about the Human Condition. The Human Condition being, basically, that we’re alive and have access to beauty, can even erratically create it, but will someday be dead and will not.”
And beautiful this book is. The book isn’t really about baseball, or at least, not exclusively. The exquisite writing draws you deep into the lives of Henry, a college shortstop, and the people around him, describing just as accurately and poetically a perfect play in the field as it does the tenuous relationship between a father and his daughter just returned home from a failed marriage.
Do you have to love baseball to love this book? Absolutely not. Would it help? Sure, in the same way some knowledge of England in the late 1500s/early 1600s might give you some insight into Shakespeare’s plays, but wouldn’t preclude you from enjoying his mastery of the English language, should you hold no such interest.
Harbach has written just this one novel, and I look forward to reading more from him, even if (maybe even especially if) it’s not centered around a sport/topic that I’m already interested in.
We hope that you enjoyed our ramblings and we would love to hear some of your favorite American authors and/or what you’ll be reading on this long weekend.
Please everyone have a safe and enjoyable holiday!