The next question in the 30 Days of Books list is a pretty high stakes one:
Day 13 – Your favorite writer
I mean, other than “Favorite Book” does it get any bigger than that for a reader? For me, I think this has to be an author that has consistently produced material that I have enjoyed – not a flash-in-the-pan with one great book, nor a young author that has had a great start but not yet have a large enough body of work for this overall sort of evaluation.
And while there may be other authors that individually have better books, there is one writer that I always look forward to reading:
Joyce Carol Oates
I first started reading JCO when I was in graduate school and her novel American Appetites was a revelation to me. I’d been pretty well immersed in my fantasy, sci-fi, and thriller books and this was the maybe the first time outside of an assignment that I’d taken a shot at “literature”. I loved the tone, the grey areas of life explored and most of all the complexity of the characters.
Someone as prolific as Oates is hard to pigeonhole as an author, but what continually draws me to her work is that she explores people on the periphery – the lonely, the depressed, the obsessed – and has a knack of interweaving their stories within the backdrop of class struggle in America over the last century. She is also unafraid to confront difficult topics — rape, incest, domestic violence — and the psychology of rage and shame that can accompany them.
I think it can be difficult for a new reader to contemplate her body of work — literally dozens of novels and collections over the past 50 years. Wherever would you start? I think that I’ve read about a dozen novels and short story collections from Joyce Carol Oates. Are all of them classics? No. But I can’t think of one that didn’t draw me in and get me thinking.