Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Who's your favorite author?

Who's asking: Regina of the Toadstool Bookshop in Milford, NH, at last weekend's New England Booksellers Association convention

I don't think any serious reader can answer this question. I just looked at Regina and shrugged. "I don't know," I said. "It changes."

"I can't answer that question either," she said.

"I mean, if you put a gun to my head and said I could only take one book for the rest of my life, it would probably be House of Mirth by Edith Wharton," I added.

"For me, it's Turn of the Screw by Henry James," she said. "You can talk about it forever."

I found that very interesting, because it -- sort of -- confirmed my theory that every serious reader must ultimately take sides between Henry James and Edith Wharton. I admire Turn of the Screw, but have never felt any need to reread it; I read House of Mirth at least once a year, and I cry every time. I've said here before that I find Edith Wharton compassionate, and Henry James not.

Any Henry James fans out there who want to speak on his behalf?

Congratulations and best wishes to the Bragdons, who got wonderful news yesterday; they received the referral for their new baby boy, Seong-jin Gim, born in Korea in August. With luck, he'll be home by Christmas. He'll have a new American name, but the Bragdons haven't announced that yet.

And a very happy birthday to Miss Kaethe Schulz, who turns ten today.

First five songs off the iPod Shuffle this morning:

“Yesterday’s Men,” Madness. I make no apologies for still loving all the music I loved when I was 18.

“Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song),” Fiona Apple. I like this album (Extraordinary Machine) a lot, and I’d be interested to hear the first, unreleased version of it, which Jon Brion produced.

“There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” The Smiths. I often say that you know you’ve reached adulthood when you can’t listen to Smiths lyrics without snickering. This really is a lovely song, but the words verge on self-parody: “And if a double-decker bus/Crashes into us/To die by your side/Is such a heavenly way to die…”

“It’s All in Your Mind,” Beck. This album (Sea Change) is beautiful, and should come with its own bottle of Prozac.

“God Give Me Strength,” Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach. Oh, my goodness – it’s all misery on the iPod today. Another magnificent song about lost love. Time to find a little dance music, here…


Anonymous said...

Hold on, here. It should be imperative for any serious reader/aspiring writer to be able to name his/her favorite author. And the answer should be the same as to the question, "Who do you want to be when you grow up?"

For me, the answer is unequivocably Graham Greene. Hemingway, Robert Penn Warren, Terry Pratchett, and Oscar Wilde would be in the final five, and Nelson Algren, G.K. Chesterton, Douglas Adams, and Flannery O'Connor would have to be discussed. But you have to know what you've been looking for when you find it and what you would like to achieve if you could. Otherwise, why bother?

And all that argued, if I could only have one book for the rest of my life, it would be "All Quiet on the Western Front." I mean, if your life has reached the point of pointlessnes where you only have one book, why not read about the pointlessness of pointlessness.


Bill said...

I'm not big on the personal stereo, but that Smiths song came up on my equivalent (the car MP3 CD) the other day and it gave me chills. Good call.

Anonymous said...

Kaethe thought "baby boy Bragdon" was a perfect birthday present!
Thanks for thinking of her.

Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Yeah, it just seems way too harsh to choose one, just one, favorite author. Which is a very different question than very favorite book.

There are books that I consider perfect: Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore, My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley, Bleak House by Dickens, Double Indemnity by James R. Cain, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas....the list goes on.

But choosing a favorite author is kinda like, well, choosing a religion. And some of us consider ourselves concerned with spiritual matters but don't want to limited to one house of worship.

That said, my choice would actually be.....Shakespeare. And not in an abstract manner: I make it a point to re-read as many of his plays as I can every year.

AnswerGirl said...

I think of it more in terms of choosing a favorite food. When tomatoes are in season, tomatoes are my favorite food -- until the seasons change, and I get one of those plastic things, and I don't want to eat them any more. Same with strawberries. I wouldn't want to only eat strawberries forever, though -- and what, never have any potatoes, or oatmeal, or cheese?

At various points my favorite authors have been Louisa May Alcott, Anne Tyler, AS Byatt, Dick Francis, Reynolds Price, Graham Greene, Walker Percy, Richard Ford, Richard Russo, TC Boyle, Alice McDermott... the list goes on. I would never want to choose just one, and I don't want to model myself on just one, either.

And I didn't even mention any of my favorite poets.

Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Ah, favorite poets. See, this seems to me a much easier question to answer. My top five are pretty easy to come up with: Elizabeth Bishop, W.B. Yeats, William Bronk, Philip Larkin, and then Rilke (though I'd squeeeze in James Schuyler, John Ashbery and a few obscure ones in there as well.)

AnswerGirl said...

Yes, but you left out TS Eliot, ee cummings, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and Mary Oliver, all of whom would have to be on my list of poets as well. Oh, and Samuel Beckett, whose poems I love. And Thomas Lynch. And Susan Kinsolving. And...

Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Okay, that's eerie. Whereas I share few favorite writers, on the topic of poets our tastes are almost identical. I would absolutely add Oliver and Eliot and even Swinburne to my list. Cummings might make it, but it's very personal, he was one of the first poets I loved (along with Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath) and it's hard to separate the experience of reading him from a time in my life. But man he has some great poems...

Look, we haven't even mentioned Auden, or Seamus Heaney, Whitman, or James Wright....