Friday, March 29, 2013

Multitude of Favorites 3: So-Called Literary

I don't know where that line is, the one that separates plain old shabby fiction from literary fiction. Honestly, I try not to think about it, as it's fairly pointless anyway and I have chores to do. But there are some writers I love who are generally referred to as "literary". Okay, fine. If that's what we've all agreed on, so be it. Here are my six favorite "literary" writers.

(You'll notice, maybe, that there are no modern literary writers on this list. That's because, in my experience, modern literary stuff has almost zero focus on story, and I loathe that. The writers here could always be counted on for delivering great stories).

Fyodor Dostoevsky. This crazy Russian bastard spoke my language (not literally, man, I don't speak Russian). His novels and stories are dark, exploring the depths of human misery, offering very little in the way of redemption. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND and THE IDIOT are favorites.

Albert Camus. He didn't really come up with anything new in exploring Existentialism, but he definitely presented it more entertainingly and clearly than his miserable French contemporaries. THE STRANGER, THE FALL and THE PLAGUE all tell terrific stories about protagonists gripped by despair at lack of meaning, and still managed to feel life-affirming, in their way, in the end. THE STRANGER, in particular, is a book I wish everyone would read.

Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway, as a stylist, had a tremendous impact on me. The spare prose, the lack of sentimentality, the deep emotional pulse that strained just under the surface, are all qualities that earn him his rank as, perhaps, the most important writer of the 20th century. His short stories, in particular, tear me up. Favorites: THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, and A MOVABLE FEAST.

Flannery O'Connor. Her novel WISE BLOOD affected me in ways that are hard to explain. It was funny and dark and important, probing at the concept of faith and loss of faith and the terrible toll of each. I've written about it elsewhere (the excellent Eva Dolan's blog, right here), so I won't reiterate, but I'd also recommend A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND and EVERYTHING THAT RISES MUST CONVERGE.

John Steinbeck. The end of THE GRAPES OF WRATH moved me to tears the first time I read it, and that's something that never happens to me. The way Steinbeck alternated chapters between lush, descriptive prose and the harsh Dust Bowel-era experiences of the Joads keep you invested and aware of the huge canvas the story takes place on. He understood humanity, Steinbeck did, and the transformative power of love and sacrifice. You also see it in OF MICE AND MEN, and to a lesser degree in CANNERY ROW.

Harper Lee. Yeah, it's all about one book with Harper Lee, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. How a writer can come right out of the gate with a masterpiece, out of nowhere, still boggles the mind. And to never follow it up with anything else? Lee was an enigma, but her novel about racial prejudice and coming of age still speaks strongly to every generation that reads it, and in a lovely and direct style.

That's it for me. I give you the floor, readers.


  1. Hemingway renains the Man after all these years. I prefer the short stories to the novels, but jeez the man could write.

  2. An amazing list of writers. I try to find modern literary 'giants' that appeal but not much luck so far.


  3. Very much agree how you summed up EH.