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Making a list of favorite authors takes a bit more thought, due to the volume of wonderful literature in the past. First, let’s run through the obvious and some of my favorites such as: Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises), Steinbeck (Cannery Row, East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath), Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov), Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations), Twain (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), Shakespeare (Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet), Thomas Wolfe (Look Homeward, Angel), Mitchell (Gone with the Wind), Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby), Austen (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility) , or even the more modern classics like Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five), Ellison (Invisible Man), Heller (Catch-22), Salinger (Catcher in the Rye), Knowles (A Separate Peace), Cheever (Bullet Park), Nabokov (Lolita), Golding (Lord of the Flies), Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird). I’m fully aware that none of these recommendations go out on a limb, but that’‘s why they’‘re regarded as classics. If you haven’t read them, do so.
Of course, no list would be complete without including works by other obvious literary greats such as: Cervantes, Montaigne, Milton, Tolstoy, Dante, Chaucer, Nietzsche, Kafka, Chekhov, Wilde, The Brontë sisters, Flaubert, Proust, Balzac or Hugo. Despite having been written – in some cases – centuries ago, I often find these authors’’ characterizations more compelling, original and real than much of what is being written today. For the record, I think Don Quixote is the best novel of all time, while the complete works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Balzac and Proust are unrivaled.
Who’s left then? There are so many that I haven’t recommended and deserve it (check out the Penguin Classics!), but for brevity’s sake, I’ll mention two incredible writers whose entire body of work I hope people take the time to read: Saul Bellow and Wallace Stegner. Sure, they’‘re well-known and respected in the literary world—both won Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards—but when was the last time you read either of them? Or heard their names mentioned in casual conversation? Or even in a conversation about good books that people have read recently? Start with The Victim and Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow or The Spectator Bird and Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. Excellent books, excellent reads, excellent authors.
Or how about a few classics from half a century ago that people sadly seemed to have forgotten: What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg or John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra? Or James Agee’s A Death in the Family. Again, three wonderful novels.
I love classic literature, whether it’‘s a “new” classic or an “old” classic. The writing in all the novels I’ve mentioned speak volumes for the craft.