Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Top Ten Favorite Authors

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is about authors, and I've listed my favorites below in count-down order -- not that this order is absolute.

Honorable mentions: Richard Dawkins, Steven Saylor. 

10. John Grisham (fiction, notably legal thrillers set in the American Southeast)

Grisham has a reputation for churning out popular legal thrillers. I first read him through The Firm, a mob story, and later read everything else he'd written. It's become a tradition in my family for my parents to give my sister and me copies of Grisham's latest on our birthdays or Christmas -- whichever follows Grisham's latest release day first.  (This works because our birthdays are only a week apart.) I can probably attribute some of my cynicism about the rat race to Grisham. My favorites? The Rainmaker and The Last Juror

9. J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter)

I didn't grow up with Harry Potter. There were kids in my high school class reading the books,  but we were a few years ahead of him. I picked the books up in 2007, at the behest of several persistent friends and promptly fell for the books. They were funny, charming, and offered adventure that didn't take itself too seriously. The latter books were more serious, but by then I was hooked proper and as big a Potter geek as I am a Star Wars fan.

8. Robert Harris (historical fiction, mysteries)

I first encountered Robert Harris with his Fatherland, an alternate history detective mystery set in 1970s Berlin.  Mystery-thrillers in diverse settings followed this, and I understand that one of them, Ghost, is being converted into a film. I prefer Harris' Roman novels (Imperium, Pompeii, Lustrum/Conspirata

7. Ray Spangenburg and Diane Kit Moser (science, history of science)

They're on the list as a pair because I've only read them as a pair. Spangenburg and Moser are a married couple who've written series on the history of science, series which also serve as a way of introducing lay readers to their given subjects. 

6.  David Sedaris (humor)

In 2006 I heard David Sedaris speaking on This American Life, describing his life living in Paris, and I nearly had to pull the car humor lest my laughter force me into the opposite lane of traffic. I looked for the book he was reading from, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and was reduced to tears. Sedaris has numerous essay collections about his life, and they combine dry humor and pathetic situations superbly. My favorite Sedaris collection is Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

Five or six years ago while wandering aimlessly in a bookstore, I encountered Life in a Medieval City and purchased it.  I learned while reading Gies that the medieval world was far more livelier than I'd ever imagined, and I resumed reading from this couple a couple of years back. They have continued to enrich my perspective on the medieval period.  Especially notable is their Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel which toppled the idea that medieval Europe was intellectually stagnant. 

4. Neil Postman (social criticism)

I picked up a Postman book while reading on the Enlightenment (Building a Bridge to the 18th Century) and later moved on to his Technopoly and Amusing Ourselves to Death.  Both of the latter take issue with pitfalls in modern culture, the latter addressing the rise of an entertainment mentality which trivializes everything  it touches, particularly political debate and intellectual discussions.

3. Howard Zinn (history, social criticism)

I first read Zinn in a book on American imperialism and followed that with A People's History of the United States, Marx in Soho, The Zinn Reader, and A Power No Governments Can Suppress. Zinn focuses on the downtrodden of history, and the role of direct action in forcing governments to respond to the needs of their people.

2. Carl Sagan (science, Contact)
There were other pictures, but I chose this one because it makes Sagan look like a Skeptical Superhero. 

I imagine most people know Sagan as the host of Cosmos, but I first met him in the library. During my first year as a skeptic, I began looking for related books to read and was recommended The Demon-Haunted World. I've noted through the years that this book on the importance of skepticism and the virtues of the scientific method (the book's subtitle is "Science as a Candle in the Dark") remains a top recommendation for skeptics, but the book that sold me Sagan was Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors,  his take on anthropology and human evolution. 

1. Isaac Asimov (science fiction, science, history, mysteries, literature, etc.)

I never imagined having a favorite author until one summer I started reading Asimov and couldn't stop. I'd read Asimov before -- a book on our solar system in high school, and a book on extraterrestial civilizations a year or so prior -- but his short stories took me, utterly. I enjoyed his simplicity and humor, and the 'retro' feel of his futuristic stories.  Scarcely a week went by without my reading one of his collections of short stories or one of his novels:  I started the Foundation series that summer, and finished it in the fall.  Asimov's personality as revealed in his introductions and short-story forwards  made me an ardent devotee:  I loved him for his wit, his passion for humanity and his broad, general approach to learning. Later, I started seeking books by Asimov out because they were by the author: now I collect them, and gaze admiringly at my shelves of books by the good doctor. 

Works of interest: the Black Widowers, a six-book series of short story collections about the Black Widowers, a club of middle-aged intellectuals who get together for a monthly dinner and generally wind up having to reason through a mystery.  Familiar Poems, Annotated

So, who are your favorites? 

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