I've been asked by one of my favorite women, the writer, Kathleen Maher, to list my fifteen or twenty five favorite writers. That's a hard one for me, since I've been reading gluttonously for a very long time and I tend to have categories of writers I love, so though all the writers I love in a single category might not be my favorites, I'm not able to discard them as "lesser writers." There are writers I love who are long out of print, so will seem very obscure. There are writers I love who are loathed by others for the brutality of their honesty, which isn't always pretty, but I prefer emotional truth to pretty or popular, though popular isn't necessarily a disqualifier. I also have favorite writers who didn't write novels. But that's another post.
For some reason the first writer to pop into my head is one of the Russians, and one of those who changed the course of the novel: Dostoyevsky is my favorite of the Russians, and my favorite of his books are Crime and Punishment, The Idiot. The rest of his body of work position him as the leading edge of a group of writers to follow. They aren't an easy read, but they're worth it. Many of you would no doubt argue with me concerning my linking Dostoyevsky to this particular group of writers: James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Violette LeDuc, Andre Gide... I could go on and on with this list. And to make matters worse I'm not sure I can tell you exactly why I see this grouping of writers related. I've left out a lot of writers in this group and some of them are poets.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez led me to Mikhail Bulgakov, then Isabelle Allende. Can you see how this goes? Is it starting to make sense to you? I could give the groups a name but they have a beginning much earlier and they have influenced so many others. And I leave out so many other clues as to the logic of my groupings. Or if not the logic, the emotion.
I love Proust's Remembrance of Things Past (as it was translated when I read it in the 70s) and Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy for the same reasons, though they wrote in different eras and come from very different cultures and religious traditions. I also love Gustave Flaubert for one book: Madame Bovery, perhaps the perfect novel and ground breaking in its sensitive and brutally honest examination of a woman of spirit and beauty caught in the narrow grip of her bad marriage and the constraints of her time. This is one of many books I've read over and over. The writing is perfection.
I loved Thomas Hardy. And its hard to mention Hardy without including the Bronte sisters. Great reading for a broody adolescent girl.
I love Colette much more than Anais Nin. I loved Henry Miller. I think I read everything he ever wrote and found him perhaps the greatest of his generation. He was a marvelous painter as well. I have a small set of numbered prints.
I have a love/hate relationship with Vladimir Nabokov. If you've read my memoir/fiction you will understand. I believe Lolita is "The Great American Novel," and the only really great book he wrote. but that's all it takes to make a writer a great writer. I'm sure there are those who would argue with that...
I've read all the great Southern Writers and love them all, but these are some of the women who all seem to have something in common and part of it is their emotional honesty, their sense of history, their beautiful use of language, the ground breaking nature of their work: Carson McCullers (mostly for Ballad of the Sad Cafe), Eudora Welty, Harper Lee, who only wrote one novel, but what a novel, she, the childhood friend of Truman Capote... There are so many more.
So far I think we're up to 20 or so. It's a start.
That brings my list up to the 1950s. And though it seems I might be something of a modern classicist, I assure you I'm not. But I read very little that isn't considered literature. My only literary vice is the occasional fondness for the good detective novel. But even there, I have my standards. So before you recommend Stephen King, he represents everything I hate about the horror genre. I'm not a fan of Romance, or SciFi, either, though I have read a good sampling. I did like Ray Bradbury when I was a kid. I also liked Somerset Maugham when I was a kid. I read whatever was around.
I've barely scratched the surface and barely made it in to the middle of the last century. So, to be continued...