Monday, July 19, 2010

What Makes a "Favorite" Author?

We all have them. The authors to whom we return time and time again; whose work has the same effect on our souls as "comfort food."

They're our favorites.

We campaign for them, extolling their literary virtues at every given opportunity. We line our shelves with their collected works and wait anxiously for their latest release.

But how did we choose those authors as our favorites? What makes one person's writing appeal to someone more than another?

Personally, I've always had a difficult time when I'm asked, "Who's your favorite author?" Sure, I easily blurt out, "Shakespeare!" but as far as novelists go, I've always had a long list to choose from. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Jane Austen. Virginia Woolf. Salman Rushdie. Thomas Hardy. C.S. Lewis. J.R.R. Tolkien. Kate Morton. Haruki Murakami. James Joyce. And if you add poets into the mix, that increases the number to include the likes of John Keats, Seamus Heaney, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, etc., etc., etc. I can rattle off the list for ages, but I always feel, when I'm asked that question, as if I'm forgetting someone crucial. But, outside of Shakespeare, to pick a "favorite" is virtually impossible for me.

There are some things that all the authors on my list have in common. They're all fabulous storytellers with a gift for language. They all appeal to my mind and my heart in some way or another. But they're all so, so different. If you take a passage from Jane Austen, for example, and put it up next to one straight out of Salman Rushdie's latest work, you're not going to be able to draw a lot of specific parallels. In a lot of cases, fans of Austen and Rushdie probably don't overlap. But there's something essential to both authors' works that makes them enduring and appealing.

So, what is it that causes an author to make your "favorites" list? Is it the stories he or she tells? The way the author plays with language? Does this author tug at your heartstrings or appeal to your cerebellum? What is it that makes you want to devour everything ever written by an author?

4 comments:

Mystica said...

Apart from the style of writing which appeals some writers stick to a particular period/era and that can also be very appealing e.g. Jane Austen, E F Benson, Delafield or Dorothy Whipple. I think the same would be said for paranormal, fantasy or other genres as well. At the same time the writing has to have the chemistry to "click" with one! Thats why someone who loves the above will also like a modern author like Thrity Umrigar, Kate Morton or Tess Gerritssen.

Jenners said...

For me, it is probably the type of books they write, their grasp of language and what they can do with it, and their unique perspective that just speaks to something in me.

Hannah Stoneham said...

It is so difficult to narrow down to one I agree, but I think that if it is possible, it will be because of the mood of the writing and how it makes me feel eg it is primarily an emotional rather than intellectual thing.

Great post - thanks for sharing

Hannah

Greg Zimmerman said...

Impossible to name just one - just like it's impossible to name your "favorite book." The Reading Ape posted brilliantly about this exact topic a few weeks ago: http://thereadingape.blogspot.com/2010/07/you-dont-have-favorite-author-redux.html

Anyway, my favorite authorS - Richard Russo, John Irving, David Foster Wallace, Arthur Phillips, Jonathan Safran Foer - all are funny, articulate, erudite, and just damn fun to read. That's the best way I know how to explain it.

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