Reading, while among the most enjoyable of activities, is time consuming. I find myself reading a lot of books for reviews and literary competitions that I wouldn’t otherwise read, so when I read for pleasure, I like to make sure the time is well spent as well as enjoyable. And that means reading books that are more than worth the paper they’re printed on. Even when it’s “escapist” fiction, I still want a book to be well written.
Some authors have the ability to deliver every time. Here are a few that I read and re-read regularly:
Wallace Stegner. The “Dean of Western Writers” is equally adept at fiction and nonfiction. Big Rock Candy Mountain and Angle of Repose are excellent novels. Wolf Willow is in a class of its own, blending nonfiction and fiction, including the short story “Genesis,” which may be the best Western short story ever written. All of his books and stories are worth reading.
John McPhee. A long-time contributor to The New Yorker, McPhee has several collections of magazine pieces as well book-length treatments of a number of subjects. Some are set in the West, others elsewhere around America and the world. But no matter the subject, I grab up everything I can by McPhee as it is sure to be well written and engaging.
Wendell Berry. I read his essays. I read his poetry. I read his short stories. I read his novels. They are all outstanding. It is a wonder how this Kentucky farmer can write so much stuff with a pencil and a yellow pad—let alone write it so well.
James Galvin. His poems are often beyond me, but I like reading them. His novel, Fencing the Sky, is outstanding. The Meadow defies description and may well be the best book I have ever read (and re-read, and re-read…).
Cormac McCarthy. It seems people either love or hate McCarthy’s writing. Put me in the former category. While it’s unusual and takes a bit of effort, his prose paints pictures so vivid they burn themselves into your brain. And his way of sneaking up on a climactic scene is always surprising. Blood Meridian is haunting and unforgettable, his Border Trilogy (All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain) is outstanding, and I like his other books as well.
John Steinbeck. What can I say? His novels made (and make) me love reading. Tortilla Flat, Of Mice and Men, The Red Pony, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden…. Steinbeck wrote about a different kind of West and changed people’s minds about what’s out here.
There are, of course, many other authors I enjoy. We’ll save them for another day. Meanwhile, who are some of your favorite authors?