30 DoB, Day 13: Favorite Author

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. 

Joyce Carol Oates

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.

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14 thoughts on “30 DoB, Day 13: Favorite Author

  1. Huzzah! Zombie, Black Water…the list goes on. I love JCO. One of my favorites was “The Assignation,” a collection of super-shorts. To me, her writing is perfect. I love some JCO books more than others, but I want to write like her when I grow up.

    Excellent choice, sir.

    • Hey Tom — good to find another fan! I’ve been talking to friends or colleagues and they’ll ask about writers and I’ll mention JCO — and I usually get blank stares in return.

  2. Oh, I never knew she looked like that – lol, isn’t it funny when you see someone for the first time. I don’t think she’s huge over here, our library probably only has 3 or 4 books but We Were The Mulvaneys is one of my favourite books. Oh actually I don’t know if its a favourite, but it’s definitely stayed in my mind.

  3. I am struggling with this because: I have only read multiple books/stories by a handfull of authors. Most of the books I have read in the past decade have been instructional non-fiction in the course of my studies and research.
    I LOVE Laura Ingalls Wilder….I wore out two sets of the Little House series in paper back.
    Stephen King is great when he is great. I prefer his early works.

    Most recently, an author from the late 1800’s, Ignatius Donnelly has been the most impressive book I have read. I read a few of his shorter works online and everytime I read him, I think….that sounds JUST LIKE me!
    And I honestly think that J.K. Rowling’s gift of Harry Potter is by far one of the most well written and imagined stories ever printed. Fun, enjoyable and a bit taboo, deep characters and scenes…everything an author dreams of in a story.
    I am now going to have to check out Joyce. She maybe the next guide along the path of my writing. I want to do a non-fiction account of growing up in America after the 60’s revolution took over. The dysfunction, challenges, uncertainty and fear that has been a part of our lives growing up since then. Things that we “don’t talk about” enough. Thanks for getting the juices going!

    • Amber — I have to admit that I never approached the question from a non-fiction point of view — though I have to say every Jon Krakauer book I’ve read has been completely engrossing. I’ve never read any Donnely and you’ve got me curious!

      Good luck with your work — born in the 60s and really a child of the 70s, I’d be curious to read a good account of those years.

  4. I have never read any of her work. I know, right. Favorite is hard for me. If you would have asked me a year ago, I would have told you Haruki Murakami, but have since read a few more of his books and have tired of his ever present tropes. I might currently be inclined to say Neal Stephenson.

  5. Steve, I think you’re the first man I’ve met who’s said JCO is his favorite author. Some of her work is quite gothic, and others so strange and violent I can’t believe it’s same person who wrote A Bloodsmoor Romance and Bellefleur. I enjoy her work—if that’s the word for it: I take pleasure in the way she leads a reader to a precipice and dangles one there in delicious thrall. I’m not sure I want to approach her latest book, her memoir about her husband’s death and her feelings afterwards, however. Generally her novels are very controlled, the work of a master. From the excerpts I’ve seen, her memoir is very raw and uncontrolled, and just plain scary.

    • HG — I haven’t read her latest either. I don’t know that I really want to know that side of her. I think it’s always good to distinguish the art from the artist — and you can appreciate one without really liking the other… :)

  6. She came once to do a reading at the university I attended. I don’t remember how I felt about the reading, but I did walk away with autographed copies of a couple books.

    I really haven’t read enough Oates. I struggled with a couple, but then again, they did stick with me long after I’d read them.

    • EM — they’re not always easy books, I’ve found. A lot of times I’ll start one and think, “Oh, I might not get through this one” and then somewhere usually pretty early on, I find myself all drawn in.

  7. Based on that criteria, I think that’s hard decision, since I probably do base my favorite writer, really more on my favorite book or series. Like I loved the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins but I also loved the Immortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. Hmmmm…..I’ll have to marinate on this one.

    • RAG — yes, it’s a very hard question isn’t it? There are so many authors that I look forward to reading — and different ones fit different moods — so it doesn’t seem fair. I went with JCO because of the number of books that I’ve read that were so strong.

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