One of the pleasures of literature is reading authors one hasn’t tried before. Sure, it’s great to read or reread multiple novels by your favorite writers, but the thrill of the new is also a lure for most of us.
In this post, I’m going to discuss four of the authors I read for the first time during the past few weeks — working backwards chronologically — and then ask which authors have been new for you in the not-too-distant past.
I just finished a novel today by Penelope Fitzgerald, an author I wasn’t aware of until she was mentioned a few weeks ago (the “recommender” is credited in the comments section below). Offshore is a short, quirky book about various people living near each other in houseboats on England’s River Thames. One of the things that gives the Booker-winning novel its appeal is the way those different houseboat dwellers comprise an extended family of sorts, with all the positives and negatives that entails.
Last week, The Hypnotist’s Love Story was my introduction to Australian novelist Liane Moriarty (suggested by several people also credited in the comments section below). That Moriarty book is engaging, original, suspenseful, psychologically aware, and written like a dream. It’s about a hypnotherapist (Ellen) who starts dating a guy (Patrick) who’s being stalked by an ex-girlfriend (Saskia) who becomes a patient of Ellen’s without Ellen initially knowing Saskia is the stalker. Pretty clever plot!
Before trying Moriarty’s work, I read Sue Grafton’s first three “alphabet mysteries”: A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, and C is for Corpse. As mystery/thriller/detective novels go, those three books have “whodunit” plots that are very good but not extraordinary. The major appeal is private investigator Kinsey Millhone, who is smart but not drop-dead brilliant, brave but also anxious at times, warm, funny, down-to-earth, and not exactly wealthy. One can really relate to her — in contrast with someone like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher (who I love but who is practically superhuman) and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (the ultra-brainy sleuth legend).
Prior to reading Grafton’s third mystery, I enjoyed Alexander Pushkin’s adventure/romance The Captain’s Daughter. I had previously read a good deal of 19th-century Russian literature — including various works by Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol, Turgenev, and Chekhov — and was happy to see firsthand that Pushkin deserved to be in the top ranks along with those other iconic writers. In fact, he was born before those five men, and influenced some of them.
Pushkin (of course) and Penelope Fitzgerald are now-deceased authors, while Sue Grafton and Liane Moriarty are very much with us.
Before Pushkin, I recently read for the first time Benjamin Blake (A Death in Summer), Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep), Walter Mosley (Devil in a Blue Dress and A Red Death), James Michener (Tales of the South Pacific), Patricia Highsmith (Ripley’s Game), Jean-Paul Sartre (Nausea), Evan S. Connell (Mrs. Bridge), Abigail Tarttelin (Golden Boy), and Julia Alvarez (In the Time of the Butterflies), among other authors. All were excellent or at least interesting — and well worth the hours spent.
But I will get back to reading or rereading more authors I’ve read before: Isabel Allende, James Baldwin, Charlotte Brontë, the aforementioned Lee Child and Dostoyevsky (can’t believe I just put those two writers in the same clause 🙂 ), Fannie Flagg, Henry James, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Philip Roth, Lionel Shriver, Donna Tartt, Edith Wharton…
Which authors have you recently read for the first time?
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On April 2, I’ll be writing a blog post about my new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia.
In addition to doing this weekly blog, I also write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column — now with Baristanet.com, which covers Montclair, N.J., and nearby towns. The latest weekly column is here.