First off, thanks to Elizabeth for granting me some soapbox space this fine day. Rather than yap about my latest novel (Rough Riders), I decided that today would be a good chance to put a shine on a few other authors (literary and crime and/or literary/crime). I’m in my third semester of an MFA program up at Southern New Hampshire University. I originally applied for the sake of hedging my employment bets as outsourcing continues to reduce my current job (word processing) to a memory.
Three semesters into the program, I couldn’t be happier with my decision and it has little to do with securing a future income. The reading list alone has been worth the investment. There are so many writers I hadn’t read or knew about for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I’d been a philistine most of my life. The introduction to so many new (for me) ones has been like receiving a weekly Christmas present. While I had read some of the reading list in the program, many I had not, and those I hadn’t read include authors like Alice Monro, Richard Bausch, Frederick Busch, Paul Bowles, George Saunders, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jay McInerney, etc. has added hours of pleasurable reading to my life.
Here are some writers I think everyone should read sooner or later in their lives.
Richard Yates … I was totally unfamiliar with Yates until about 2006. My bad. Fortunately, when I finally did read Yates, I started with his first book, Revolutionary Road. While my top ten (twenty, thirty, etc.) are often as mercurial as the weather, Revolutionary Road retains a solid hold on at least one the top five spots. Right now, after reading it for a fifth time (this last time for the critical essay), I’d say it’s my favorite; the perfect novel.
Immediately after Revolutionary Road I went through the entire works of Yates before doubling back and starting over. A few years ago I read Blake Bailey’s excellent biography of Yates, A Tragic Honesty: The Life And Work of Richard Yates and was compelled to reread Yates start to finish again. I took on Revolutionary Road, The Easter Parade and his collection of short stories (The Collected Stories of Richard Yates) another couple of times each before this semester’s readings for school.
Sometime between reading the bio and applying for an MFA, I learned my original writing mentor, Dave Gresham, had been one of Richard Yates students at the famous Iowa Writers Workshop and that Yates had signed Dave’s thesis. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was also one of Dave’s mentors.
Yates will be my focus for the critical essay requirement in the MFA program.
Richard Bausch … My first semester mentor in the MFA program suggested I read Richard Bausch. My second semester mentor also suggested Bausch and by the time I was finished reading his works, I’d changed my thesis strategy three times before realizing this guy is way too good to attempt to emulate and I was best just enjoying his wonderful talents as one of his devoted readers. The Stories of Richard Bausch is a marvelous collection of 42 incredible short stories. A master of dialogue and the struggles we people go through, the good and the bad, dealing with each other and everything else that happens in our lives. I read three novels by Bausch, each wonderful in its own right, before landing on Good Evening with Mr. and Mrs. America and All The Ships At Sea, which was absolutely brilliant.
On the crime side of my reading lists, let me offer up a few authors and their latest books who are extremely deserving of your attention (as readers) and who are still alive and producing some of the most exciting crime fiction on the market, except their works can just as easily be classified as cross-genre and/or literary novels.
Late Rain, Lynn Kostoff … Kostoff is one of the writers who crosses all fictional boundaries and comes up with roses every time. He’s one of those writers I can only wish to be someday.
Cruel Poetry, Vicki Hendricks … Vicki’s works are extra special because of the hardboiled female perspective I’ve yet to see portrayed so well by men. A few years back I went searching for one of her books at the Columbus Avenue B&N and found it (eventually) under literary fiction and I thought, yeah, that makes sense.
Print the Legend, Craig McDonald … the Hector Lassiter series in its entirety is worth the investment, but this one in particular blew me away. It starts with Hemingway whacking himself … how do you put that baby down. You don’t; absolutely brilliant writing.
The Chieu Hoi Saloon, Michael Harris … Mr. Harris about knocked my socks off with this darkest of dark novels last year. If this was a debut, we’re all in for some extra special stuff down the road.
The Dead Women of Juarez, Sam Hawken … a crime novel with a purpose is how I’d describe this wonderful debut. I can still recall many of the scenes in this novel in all the wonderfully vivid detail. It is a winner, pure and simple.
Of course my so-called “best of” lists can go on and on (and for days on end). I’m leaving out way too many to do any genuine justice to all the great authors out there I’m either forgetting or just haven’t read yet (and hope to do so before I die). In the end, as it should always be, it will be readers who decided whether or not THEY like a book, much less whether or not they regard it is the best one THEY read in a given year/decade/lifetime.
This month, Richard Yates wrote the best four novels I’ve read this year … they also happen to be the last four novels I read this year … so that should tell you something about my fickle nature (which does not, by the way, apply to my beloved New York State Buffalo Bills—they always rock, even when they suck).
When this semester ends I’m sure I’ll take up another author I decide is the best (or one of the best) of the bunch and I’ll wax poetic on his or her talents.
Here are two top ten lists I recently posted on Patti Abbott’s blog when she asked her readers for their Top Tens … I must note that I completely forgot to list The Talented Mr. Ripley (3a in crime below) by Patricia Highsmith, a book I found so intriguing I went back a few years ago and read the entire series, then her entire works and the bio about her. Crazy lady, great writer.
1. Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates (rereading for the 5th time for class)
2. The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck
3. The Stories of Alice Munro
4. Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. American and All the Good Ships at Sea (Richard Bausch)
5. The Stories of Richard Bausch
6. The Easter Parade, Richard Yates
7. American Pastoral, Philip Roth
8. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver
9. Crime & Punishment, Dostoyevsky
10 The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway
Many, many, many more than what I can think of right now …
1. The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Higgins
2. The Digger’s Game, Higgins
3. Cogan’s Trade, Higgins
3a. The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
4. Late Rain, Lynn Kostoff
5. Pike, Benjamin Whitmer
6. Print the Legend, Craig McDonald
7. Cruel Poetry, Vicki Hendricks
8. The Long Fall, Lynn Kostoff
9. The Chieu Hoi Saloon, Michael Harris
10. The Dead Women of Juarez, Sam Hawken
Thanks again, Elizabeth … this was fun and very much appreciated.