A Fond Look at Ten Writers Who Died During the Past Five Years

Earlier this winter, Britain-based Nigerian writer Buchi Emecheta died — making me think of various other great authors who passed away during the past five years.

Among them (in alphabetical order): Maya Angelou, Ray Bradbury, E.L. Doctorow, Umberto Eco, Harper Lee, Billie Letts, P.D. James, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Terry Pratchett. This post will mention several of their books, and offer some interesting information about their lives.

I hadn’t read anything by Emecheta (1944-2017) until I saw an obituary about her Jan. 25 death. I soon found her autobiographical novel Second Class Citizen, and read it last week. A compelling book starring an ambitious, resourceful, resilient protagonist named Adah who is frustrated with the ultra-patriarchal nature of 1960s Nigeria and eventually makes her way to London for a life that ends up still having plenty of challenges — such as dealing with an abusive husband and blatant racism. One interesting/harrowing fact about Emecheta’s Nigerian childhood: she was beaten in front of her class after announcing she wanted to be a writer.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) wasn’t a novelist, but I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and her six other memorable memoirs certainly used literary techniques. Also famous for her verse, Angelou became the first poet to recite her creation at a presidential inauguration (Bill Clinton’s in 1993) since Robert Frost did that in 1961 (when John F. Kennedy took office). In addition to being a writer, Angelou was a civil-rights activist, film director, actress, dancer, singer, cook, streetcar conductor, and more at different times of her life.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) was known for Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Dandelion Wine, and many other terrific works. What you might not be aware of is that he was a descendant of one of the accused (Mary Bradbury) during the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692. More than 250 years later, in 1956, Ray Bradbury wrote the screenplay for the Moby-Dick movie starring Gregory Peck and appeared on the You Bet Your Life TV show starring Groucho Marx. And the author never learned to drive!

E.L. Doctorow (1931-2015) penned excellent novels such as Ragtime and World’s Fair (the latter a fictionalized memoir) after years as a publishing-company editor who worked with writers such as James Baldwin, Ian Fleming, Norman Mailer, and Ayn Rand. E.L.’s first name was Edgar — after Edgar Allan Poe.

Umberto Eco (1932-2016) was best known for The Name of the Rose, a fascinating detective novel set in the 14th century. He also wrote Foucault’s Pendulum, which has impressive intellectual heft but contains some sections that work better than a sleeping pill for getting a bit of shut-eye. Interesting fact: Umberto’s family name was reportedly an acronym of ex caelis oblatus — Latin for “a gift from the heavens.”

Harper Lee (1926-2016) obviously authored the iconic To Kill a Mockingbird, which also became an iconic movie starring Gregory Peck (second time that actor was mentioned in this post 🙂 ). What’s not as well known is that Lee’s actual first name was Nelle (the backward spelling of her grandmother Ellen’s name) and that Harper worked as an airline reservation agent before achieving literary immortality.

Billie Letts (1938-2014) saw her very appealing debut novel Where the Heart Is published when she was in her mid-50s — during a career teaching creative writing at the college level. Her son? August: Osage County playwright Tracy Letts.

P.D. James (1920-2014) also wrote her first novel relatively late (42) and penned her last one when past 90! That was Death Comes to Pemberley, a sequel of sorts to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The accomplished English mystery writer (full name Phyllis Dorothy James) made her most famous character (Adam Dalgliesh) a detective and a poet.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014) was of course best known for his epic masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, which took eighteen months to write between 1965 and 1967 as his family slid into major debt because of that effort. Garcia Marquez, who had been mostly known as a journalist before then, went on to write Love in the Time of Cholera and other exceptional novels.

And Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) was the United Kingdom’s best-selling author of the 1990s! He was most known for his often-hilarious fantasy novels in the 41-book “Discworld” series, and also known for usually not splitting his novels into chapters. He explained that real life doesn’t happen in regular chapters.

Your favorite authors who died during the past five years — either ones I named or others?

The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone.

On April 2, I’ll be writing a blog post about my new literary-trivia book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

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.

118 thoughts on “A Fond Look at Ten Writers Who Died During the Past Five Years

  1. Dave, I’m going to start a new thread, because the other two I was on here were getting maxed out, so here goes. First of all, I’m going to let go of my concerns with the WordPress site, even with all of my problems with it. I’ll do as you say which is to save all of my comments in a Word document and copy them over if need be. My problems usually occurred with longer posts (are you trying to tell me something, Dave 🙂 ?
    Anyway, I do get frustrated with such things, especially when it means taking another step or three when one should do. I worked for forty years in the business world and most of my jobs included administrative and accounting work that were most often or all tied to a computer. I’ve had jobs that included running word processors and entire computer systems. I was also quite well versed in all of the Microsoft office products, Word, Excel and Powerpoint (I still remember the days of Lotus spreadsheets). I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but I do know it shouldn’t be so difficult to make a comment on a blog!

    OK, now that that’s out of my system, I’ll go back to the latest comment I was trying to post about Jane Austen and the alt-right. I’ve never been a fan of Ross Douthat, so I’ll just ignore that. However, I did find it uncomfortable when I saw the movie about “Mansfield Park” back in 1999. It drew upon the issue of slavery: 1) the young Fanny Price seeing a slave ship on the dock at a British site while she was on her way to Mansfield; and 2) her finding amongst her cousin’s or uncle’s possessions a sketchbook of despicable images of things happening to slave by their owners. Neither of those things happened in the book; the only thing was a mention of a question she asked her uncle about slaves in Antigua, where he had his plantation. The whole thing in the movie seemed gratuitous and unnecessary; there were so many other social issues brought up about Britain at that time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is frustrating to have posting problems, Kat Lib! I remember when The Huffington Post would never post some comments, so I got in the habit of copying each comment of mine into a Word file before I hit “send” — sort of the opposite of the Word-file-first approach I mentioned in my previous comment. (Stopped doing that with this blog when I started it in 2014.)

      Ha — I like both your longer and shorter posts, and have never had a hand in making a comment disappear. 🙂 And given your computer expertise, it’s really weird and disappointing that this blog is giving you technical problems.

      Jane Austen being sort of a heroine of some of “the alt-right” is sickening. And it was so wrong to add things to the “Mansfield Park” movie that weren’t in the novel. Austen was humanistic and a keen social observer, but not overt in addressing gross injustice in her fiction.


      • I’m fairly impartial where Jane Austen and film adaptations of her work are concerned. I have only read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Mansfield Park’ although both were well over 20 years ago. I do recall seeing the film of ‘Mansfield Park’ and thinking it was an interesting take on Austen. As I recall, Fanny broke the fourth wall and addressed the audience directly which, in a sense, is what all first person narrators do. I think I recall the mention of slavery in the novel but recall that it wasn’t emphasized as much as in the movie. I’m including a link to Roger Ebert’s review so I’m curious about KatLib’s view on what he said. Ebert was the polar opposite of an ‘alt-right’ commentator so perhaps he’s making a stronger case for the independence of Austen and her characters than necessary (?). I don’t know although he doesn’t go to the absurd extent of that New York Times fool. Anyway, I’m just throwing it out there FYI. I will at some point read more of Austen’s novels although she’s seemed a bit more superficial than George Eliot and the Brontes, but that’s my bias coming through I admit. Anyway, here’s what Roger Ebert said about the film ‘Mansfield Park’:


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        • Thanks, bobess48, for your take on the “Mansfield Park” film and your link to Roger Ebert’s review! Like you, I’m also curious to hear what Kat Lib says about this.

          If/when you do read Jane Austen again, I’d heartily recommend the relatively short but substantial “Persuasion” — my favorite from the author.

          And, yes, the Brontes and certainly George Eliot are deeper than Austen — though, as you know, Austen does have more heft than readers might initially sense.


          • bobess48 and Dave, I’m going to keep this short because I just lost an hour of my life writing out a very long and measured response to your comment about 1999’s “Mansfield Park” (that I couldn’t post no matter how many things I tried). The faults I found with this film were (1) I had to fast-forward through the scene that depicted very ugly sketches of life on a slave plantation, but more importantly (2) the character of Fanny Price was portrayed as a very spunky, 20th century sort of heroine, not anywhere near the character of the book. Fanny was morally superior to every other character, not for views on slavery, but that she had a sense of duty and propriety as the member of a family in which she was treated very shabbily at times. She also understood, as Mary Crawford did not, that one can’t ask a farmer or villager to spend time away from harvest in order to deliver a piano to the parsonage when one wants it. Sort of the city vs. country narrative of the book.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I also wanted to mention that books vs. films is an interesting question, though I usually come down on the side of books. There were probably many films that were made from books that are probably better than the book itself, though I’m having trouble thinking of one offhand. 🙂 I suppose this is why I usually keep them in different compartments.

              Liked by 1 person

              • While I seem to be on a roll here with making comments, I also wanted to say that I enjoyed Ebert’s take on “A Room of One’s Own,” which reminded me of a riff I did not all that long ago here with my junior high school attempt at a Haiku. I grew up in a family of six kids, me being the youngest, and I spent most of my nights curled up on the end of our sofa, either doing homework or reading a book, with the TV blaring, and everyone else doing their thing. One of my brothers-in-law still remembers me that way when he’d come pick up my sister for a date. It’s comforting to know that Jane Austen did the same (without the TV of course)!

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              • Thanks for the comments, Kat Lib, and #*+&%#@ about your continuing posting issues. 😦 I’m wondering, with a long comment, if, after you write it in Word, you might post the first half in one box and the second half immediately under it in another box. Maybe for some reason WordPress isn’t doing well with a long comment in one box.

                Anyway, I’ve never seen the “Mansfield Park” movie, but I agree that Fanny Price was far from “spunky” in the novel. Goodhearted, deferring, dutiful, and so on, but not Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards! 🙂

                Movies better than the novels that inspired them are rare indeed. Some I felt at least came close include “Being There” and “Housekeeping,” among others.


                • Ha, Dave! You’re so right about Mary Tyler Moore being the prototype for the character portrayed by the main person in “Mansfield Park,” the film. This is not to say that Austen didn’t have a sense of humor, because she certainly did, nor that certain characters weren’t playful or witty, which many were. And perhaps Austen herself would be very happy with the way her characters were portrayed in films today, but we don’t know! Anyway, I’m glad for this discussion and how it makes me think about my favorite novelist.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Thanks, Kat Lib! Nicely stated! You’re absolutely right that Jane Austen had an excellent sense of humor and plenty of wit — whether in her narration or in the personalities of some of the female and male characters she created. But Fanny Price, as you know, was rather boring — albeit admirable.


                    • Kat Lib, I haven’t forgotten that you recommended the excellent “Mansfield Park” to me back in The Huffington Post days (which I guess were long enough ago for Jane Austen not to be a member of the alt-right yet 🙂 ).


              • I can think of one film that I consider vastly superior to the novel: the 1991 adaptation of ‘The Last of the Mohicans’. For one thing, it was a different animal. It didn’t attempt to be a faithful adaptation but created its own vision, which I found much more moving and emotionally powerful than the novel ever managed to be for me. Of course, I read the novel when I was 20 years old and the language itself was a sticking point (and it wasn’t because of the antiquated prose–I love works by Hawthorne and Melville that are published not too many decades after Cooper’s works). I also considered that, as an adventure yarn, it was inferior to the pulpy tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I agree that usually novels can go much more more in depth and provide more information and insight into characters’ minds and hearts than movies can. Usually, the best films are the ones that are based on original screenplays–there’s no attachment to an existing literary source; it’s an entirely new product. However, occasionally films are good because they use the original work as inspiration or a jumping off point for something entirely different and unique.

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                • Thanks, bobess48! Many good points about novels vs. movies, and well said!

                  I read “The Last of the Mohicans” and haven’t seen the movie. But among James Fenimore Cooper’s five “Leatherstocking” novels, I found “The Last of the Mohicans” to be in the middle of the pack quality-wise. For instance, I liked “The Deerslayer” a lot more. Not sure why “The Last of the Mohicans” is the most famous of the five.


                  • And the reason I read it was that it was the first of the novels included in my American Novel class in college, followed by ‘The Scarlet Letter’, ‘Moby-Dick’, ‘Huckleberry Finn’, ‘The Red Badge of Courage’ and ‘The Ambassadors’. I wondered what there was about ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ that made it worthy of ‘great American novel’ status. Perhaps it was something to do with the vanishing wilderness and the native American way of life being altered permanently, hence ‘the LAST of the Mohicans’. I assume that those themes are probably present in the other ‘Leatherstocking’ novels you cited?

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Yes, of the six novels you mentioned that were assigned to your class, the other five are clearly superior to “The Last of the Mohicans.” As you say, its importance is partly its depiction of “the vanishing wilderness and the native American way of life being altered permanently” (themes indeed also present in the other four novels starring Natty Bumppo). And “Last” is an example of a novel written earlier in U.S. history (1826), before the American novel became more “mature” with Hawthorne, Melville, etc., in the mid-19th century. So it makes sense for course inclusion as an example of novels from that earlier era.


                • bobess48, while I’m having trouble coming up with a film done about a Jane Austen book that I didn’t love, I’ve seen multiple mini-stories about each one of her six novels that I’ve loved, mostly because they were more true to the novel. Two of the Pride & Prejudice adaptations that were those done by the BBC and A&E which stuck very closely to the story and dialog of the original. Which just leads me to thinking about which actors portrayed their characters better — David Rintoul or Colin Firth as Darcy? The fact is that they were both great in their own way.

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  2. Given the week’s topic, today when I woke up I felt I had neglected a writer whose works had more direct effect on me than most: Chuck Berry, songwriter extraordinaire and among the most influential guitarists who ever held a pick or an audience spellbound.

    Berry was an all-American amalgamation: he borrowed some of his most characteristic stage moves from an earlier generation’s blues master, T-Bone Walker and some of his most characteristic guitar moves from Les Paul by way of his own more direct reconfigurations.

    His first single was what he considered to be an incidental novelty song he titled Ida Red, and came with a beat so country-straight that, on first hearing, many black listeners thought Berry was a white performer. It was a stirring action tale of a race between the singer’s Ford and his no-good darling’s Cadillac, with a lot of syncopation and jive in the lyric, and a guitar solo that borrowed heavily and mightily in its opening from Lester Young, the jazz tenor saxophonist.

    Muddy Waters, to whom Berry showed his demo record on a trip to Chicago from East St. Louis, heard a hit, and brought Berry to the attentions of his employers at Chess Records. Eventually, the song became Maybelline (thanks to the commercial savvy of Alan Freed), and the rest for once, really was history, musical history of the first water.

    I first heard him as a boy, and I never understood how, once everybody heard Chuck Berry play and sing, they’d have much interest in anybody else. I was, at thirteen, gratified by the appearance of the Beatles, who, in their own high regard for Berry, seemed to feel similarly, at least a bit.

    His guitar style is the essence of rock and roll– all other entrants mostly come after and are mostly derivative. His songs are stories, well-told, tightly constructed and downright clever. I would hold up Sweet Little Sixteen,Johnny B. Goode and Maybelline, each of them, as possible winners of the Great American Novel contest, short as the are, and despite all the rhyming. He’s that good, I think, and always have. Sorry, sorry, sorry to see him go. A great one has passed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chuck Berry was indeed an extraordinary writer: terse, witty, and more — as you noted, jhNY. And he wrote (it wasn’t ghosted) quite a vivid/accomplished 1987 memoir, now out of print, according to The New York Times, which reviewed the book a few days ago.

      Loved your descriptive, informative comment! As I’ve said before, you REALLY know music.


      • Space did not permit dept.:

        That bio is indeed an original piece of work, a one-off kind of an idiosyncrasy that only Mr. Berry could have written, and contains,among a great many other things, a revelatory bit of insight: considering the secret of his success, he concluded it was “enunciation.”

        Like so many artists, he is best appreciated through his music. He was a troubled and troubling sort of personality, whose unpleasant quirks and fierce independence would forever keep him out of the mainstream, except when the radio was on.

        For most of his career, like his fellow citizen of East St. Louis, Albert King, Chuck Berry was a cash and carry sort of guy. Give him 1000 dollars in cash, provide a back-up band, and get a show. Give him a check, tell him you’ll pay him later: no show. After a lifetime around the music business, I think his is an example of genius indeed.

        Somewhere, as far as mankind has ever sent any of its many machines, there is a satellite, Voyager, moving ever farther from us, possibly toward some unimaginable someone else– onboard, anachronistically enough, an lp with human music inscribed awaits just such a listener. One of the tracks? Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode. If there’s a rock and roll heaven was once a question. Now we know the answer is wherever Voyager may wander.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Eloquently put, jhNY — including your Voyager conclusion!

          Chuck Berry did seem to have a problematic personality — probably not unexpected considering his fame and his need to constantly navigate racism. Also, as you say, making sure he got paid is something a number of exploited musical geniuses couldn’t claim.


  3. Others I Will Miss:

    Gore Vidal, public intellectual, witty gadfly to power, and polemical essayist of the first water, may be from time to time poorly imitated, but we will not see his like precisely, again. His knowing familiarity and place among the better classes from which he sprang made his observations about national affairs and politicians especially telling and insightful, even if his conclusions and solutions were not always one’s own. Also, he could be witheringly funny, and often was.

    Another writer gone, who I will miss reading: Jenny Diski, whose columns in the London Review of Books I always looked forward to reading, on whatever topic she addressed. She was an original thinker, an iconoclast if the best sort and a fine prose stylist, who fought cliche to the end of her time among us, very much including cliche about the cancer that killed her.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, jhNY!

      I never read much Gore Vidal, but he was certainly an outsize figure in literature and other realms, as you nicely described. Interesting to see the perspectives of writers who were born to wealth — Edith Wharton is another example of an author who tweaked the upper class from a place of inside knowledge.

      Not familiar with Jenny Diski — will go to Wikipedia now!


  4. I will miss Marquez most, out of all listed. De gustibus, etc.

    But sadly, he had been drifting away from us for a while, and could no longer write. In a way, dementia makes the actual grieving over death a bit less intense when it comes– the sufferer has been mourned by those closest, and by his most devoted readers, in Marquez’s case, for some time.

    “One Hundred Years of Solitude” contains many old tales of wonder from Colombia, like the galleon miles from the ocean, to which Marquez added several of his own creation, and his own narrative genius, for which he was rewarded critically as a founder of a fiction school termed ‘magic realism’, more of a useful marketing tool, I always thought, than a designation of something even mostly new, given the history of world literature.

    He was also a fine reporter, who exposed political scandal at no small risk to himself, years before his fiction made his fortune. My favorite of his works is “The Autumn of the Patriarch”, a Faulknerian sprawl of a book, written though it is by a man who in an interview once declared his mission was not to imitate Faulkner but to kill and destroy him. Fathers and sons, I guess…

    His friendship with Fidel Castro and leftist sympathies have put some potential readers off the man, but should not, in fairness, given the quality and beauty of his writing, and given the vicious oligarchy that has maintained itself behind the various masks of Colombian politics through all the years Marquez lived, as well as before and after.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Terrific comment, jhNY!

      Yes, Marquez is much missed and — like most authors who reach their 80s, whether healthy or not — had done his best work earlier in life.

      You’re right that “magic realism” predated “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” For instance, some of Jorge Luis Borges’ great short stories were clearly in that genre. But Marquez took it to another level.

      And, as you alluded to, Marquez was a leftist but his fiction was not overtly “preachy.” One knew where his sympathies lie, but he took a very literary approach.

      His gutsy, pre-novelist reporting reminds me that Stieg Larsson did almost the same thing before writing “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” etc.


    • I was in your city last weekend. We flew to Burlington to surprise my mom for her 65th birthday. What started out as a quiet dinner party with family, close friends, and cake/presents somehow turned into a traveling birthday party. We went to the Ironbound district in Newark and spent two nights in NYC going to jazz clubs.

      My mom celebrated her 65th in a very unique way. But she had a blast and so did we (still trying to figure out how I ended up with this yellow feather boa).

      @Dave, shout out to Gina’s Bakery in Montclair for hooking me up with those bomb chocolate chip cookies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nice to hear from you, Ana!

        It sounds like you had a great NJ/NY trip — vividly described. And Happy Birthday to your mom! I’m familiar with Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” but “The Yellow Feather Boa” is unknown to me. 🙂

        And I must agree that there are some excellent bakeries in and near Montclair.


        • We had a great time. My father is turning 65 in August. We’ve already planned his party, but I’m sure it will go off-script just like my mom’s did.

          And for the record, I would totally read “The Yellow Feather Boa.” Maybe I can read it while wearing mine…

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        • “I’m familiar with Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper,”

          Which reminds me of what is possibly apocrypha, yet perfect– the supposed deathbed utterance of Oscar Wilde: “The wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go”.

          Liked by 1 person

            • Hi Dave, not really relevant to anything, but this reminded me of a conversation I had last week with a lady inviting me to her book group. The topic of the month was Island which she fortunately spelt out for me, as I thought she’d said Ireland. I said so not Ireland? Because I was just thinking that I could read something Wilde-y (obviously meaning something Wilde-like) but then I was horrified to think that maybe she thought that’s how I pronounce Wilde. And I was going to explain but I was too embarrassed and knew that if I over explained that I’m not stupid, I’d just look stupid! I wish I’d just said Wilde-like 😦

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      • ” (still trying to figure out how I ended up with this yellow feather boa).”
        For some reason I am reminded of the old Fugs line: “It crawled into my hand. Honest!”

        Glad you had big fun in La Gran Manzana!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I still grieve over the death of our Nelle Harper Lee! I will read “Go Set a Watchman” eventually, just to wallow in her words again. Dave, do you find any parallels between her and the still living Bob Dylan? As soon as Nelle figured out that people were hanging on her every word, she quit talking. The same is true for Bob Dylan. He did not want to be the “voice” of a generation, although he was – and still is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your excellent comment, Mary! Ms. Lee’s death is indeed very sad, but I’m glad she got to live until almost 90 — on her own terms. (Though I’ve read it’s still uncertain whether releasing “Go Set a Watchman” the year before she died was totally her decision.)

      “…wallow in her words” — I like that phrase!!!

      I hadn’t thought it before, but one can definitely compare Lee with Bob Dylan (though one gets the impression that Lee was a nicer person). The same desire to maintain a private life after becoming incredibly famous, and the same reluctance to say much more than what they said in their art.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dave,

    ah, mortality, a pressing subject, if ever there were.

    i’ll add JJ McG’s list of candidates to my need-to-read list. on librarything, i’ve a collection I call ‘read-of-the-just-dead’. e.g. Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughterhouse Five. I’m relaxing constraints which had been “read within a month (of learning) of their death”. SL5 having attracted my attention on learning the night in question was on my 6-month birthday.

    as to your list, I’m missing but Maya Angelou and Billy Letts. I have Angelou on my recently updated need-to-read, since discovering Esquire’s (yes!) recently updated “10 authors everyone should read” The revision restores a balance to their prior male-dominated author selections.

    apropos of little else, top of my night-table: my book club’s Ramanujan; Africa, by John Reader; and Communication Power, by Manuel Castells. a paucity of fiction, at the moment, but that’s the way it is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “…mortality, a pressing subject” — you got that right, applemcg. 🙂 And thanks for the rest of your excellent comment!

      Hard to believe Kurt Vonnegut has now been gone 10 years.

      You’d really enjoy almost anything by Maya Angelou, and Billie Letts’ “Where the Heart Is” — which also has the distinction of characters with some VERY colorful names.

      And nothing wrong with reading nonfiction, too. I used to read a lot of it (biographies, mostly) before getting on my current novel binge for the past fifteen years or so.


  7. Maya Angelou. I just finished the magnificent “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” This acclaimed autobiography takes us from her birth till 1944. I have “Gather Together In My Name” on my list to see if available in the library. This second book takes her on a journey through her struggles and triumphs from 1944-1948.

    Although it’s impossible to mention all that this beautiful, strong, magical woman was, I will add her passion to teach as Professor of American Studies, for four decades, at Reynolds School at Wake Forest in Winston-Salem NC where she lived for many years till her death. Her intelligence, calm and gentle demeanor was transfixing to so many. She embodied strength, bravery and joy.

    One of her many quotes and I paraphrase spoke to trying to bring someone a rainbow who has a cloud. How much a smile can mean to someone who sends and receives. When I think of her I see her smiling, she was someone so true to herself, so transparent. She was a sage, full of wisdom. So much we can all learn from someone so enlightened. “And I Still Rise” is also a PBS documentary that can be streamed on public television websites.

    Once you learn about her life you are taken in and want to know more as she was indeed a rare woman who we were all graced to have on this earth for her 86 years of LIFE.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Michele, for your interesting, heartfelt, eloquent words about Maya Angelou!

      Sounds like you were very impressed with “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” I was, too — though it has been many years since I read it. I’ve never gotten to any of her six other memoirs. I should at least read the second, as you want to do.

      That’s right — Maya Angelou was also a professor! Talk about a Renaissance woman.

      Thanks again!


  8. Dave, I love the article today! Brings up all sorts of good memories. As a now 66 year old, I look at things a bit differently. My opinions on some issues have possibly softened a bit, broadened, much like my body has. laughing…. Seeing anything about Maya just causes joy for me. She was definitely an influence, and as she was so fond of one of my other favorite humans, Bill Moyers, she is all the more a cherished American writer. Thanks for the special article. A joy to read. Very interesting to see facts about authors like these, all in one space.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for the very kind words, hopewfaith! Much appreciated. 🙂

      I greatly enjoyed your comment and its touches of humor. Maya Angelou and Bill Moyers were/are indeed amazing people in a world that needs more people like them.

      I’ve gotten the sense that Moyers would like to work less after a half-century in public life, but he feels his voice is needed in these terrible times of Trump, the GOP congress, many media outlets that make things worse, etc. And he’s right.

      Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Dave, I just commented on this column, probably too wordy as usual, but it seems to have disappeared. Is it showing up anywhere on your side of things, or did I mess things up after posting my avatar?

    Liked by 1 person

    • So sorry, Kat Lib — I’m not seeing it. (I’m thinking the problem is not connected to your avatar.) I realize it would be time-consuming, but if you want to try reconstructing your comment, that would be great. And maybe keeping a copy of it before hitting “post.” Again, sorry.


      • OK, here goes. Two of my favorite authors were mentioned by you. I loved Ray Bradbury, especially “The Martian Chronicles” and “Dandelion Wine.” I think he’s such an elegant prose writer, and I’d like to reread many of his books. Somewhere in the past five years, I did read “The Martian Chronicles” again and was amazed how well it held up, even knowing that there are no Martians. Although, that just reminded me of one of my favorite David Bowie songs, “Is There Life on Mars?” and “Space Oddity” mentioned by J.J. below.

        Another great author is P.D. James. I first came to know her through “An Unsuitable Job for a Woman,” featuring Cordelia Gray as the detective. She only wrote two books about her, which I was disappointed in at first, but Adam Dalgliesh is such a compelling character that I read the entire series. She was also the only author who I trusted to write a mystery sequel to “Pride and Prejudice,” I also read her book “Talking About Detective Fiction,” which for a longtime crime novel aficionado was quite interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Glad this comment made it, Kat Lib!

          I totally agree that Ray Bradbury was an elegant prose writer, which some people who haven’t read him may not know. A number of sci-fi writers are quite literary, too. (Of course, sci-fi was only one of the genres in which Bradbury excelled.) I’d also love to reread “The Martian Chronicles” — I still have an ancient paperback version of it on one of my bookshelves.

          And thanks for all that info on P.D. James! A shame she didn’t write more books starring Cordelia Gray; do you have any idea why? But Adam Dalgliesh is certainly an excellent creation.

          Given how much of a Jane Austen fan/expert you are, I’m glad James did a good job with that “Pride and Prejudice” sequel!


          • Oh, and I also mentioned Maya Angelou in my first comment that somehow disappeared into the ether. I sometimes wonder where they go — is there some great big dead email/comment office in the sky? Anyway, I never could get into audio books, but my sister loved them, so on one of our road trips to visit our parents in Atlanta, we listened to “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and it was so moving that I don’t know why I never read any more of her work. We also listened to “Anne of Green Gables,” that was absolutely wonderful; again, someone that I should read more of!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Those dang disappearing posts. “…is there some great big dead email/comment office in the sky?” — LOL! Gives a new meaning to the term “post” office.

              Glad you mentioned Maya Angelou here! I also was VERY impressed with “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” when I read the paperback many years ago. I’m also a huge fan of “Anne of Green Gables” and various other L.M. Montgomery novels — most notably the wonderful “The Blue Castle” (one of her few non-YA books).

              Liked by 1 person

          • Hey Dave, well, the good news is that I just got my $25.00 gift card from B&N for earning points on all my purchases for the last billing period. The bad news is that in order to get all those points, it means that I spent a lot of money to buy a lot of things. Most of it went towards things for my home, many of which add value should I ever have to sell my house — but some was for dental work which is important but so excessively expensive, even with dental insurance. And I’m still not done with all the work! Anyway, I just spent my gift card on Ray Bradbury, one an anthology of many of his short stories, and the other a copy of “Fahrenheit 451,” which I haven’t read for many years but am looking forward to rereading.
            I’ve been riveted by the news on a daily basis about what is coming out about the Russia/Trump connection, which I’m not quite sure what to say about it other than — Bad! (or terrible!). I hope that they can move these investigations along, because this drip-drip of information is unsettling to say the least, especially with the ramifications that may ensue, not to mention what North Korea or China may be emboldened to do!

            Liked by 1 person

            • You can see what my problem is with posting here now and it does have something to do with the way my WordPress.com account is set up, but not sure why. I’ll try to figure this out tomorrow, as it’s getting late and I’m ready to turn in for the night and read for a while. Not at all your fault, Dave, just one of those vagaries of certain websites.

              Liked by 1 person

            • I hear you, Kat Lib — one often has to spend a lot of money to get a gift card. But glad you were able to get stuff for your home, and put the card to good use on two Ray Bradbury books! I read “Fahrenheit 451” for the first time just a year or two ago — memorable/frightening novel, with plenty of relevance more than 60 years after it was written.

              Dental work is no fun. Good luck finishing it.

              The Russia/Trump connection seems so obvious. If Trump had nothing to hide, he wouldn’t be trying to impede the investigation and he would release his tax returns. He’s “guilty, guilty, guilty” — to quote a Watergate-era “Doonesbury” comic.


              • Hi Dave, apparently my avatar was saved under two different display names, Kat Lib and katlib49, which I used to comment under on Salon.com. I hope that I’ve now updated my profile to get rid of the latter name. 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

                  • Dave, I’m sorry to keep mentioning this, but I just had a long post just disappear on me, after I thought I’d fixed my problems with this site. I don’t really want to have to delete my avatar from this site, but I’m about ready to. Any ideas about who I can contact to fix this problem?

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Sorry this keeps happening, Kat Lib. 😦

                      I guess my first suggestion would be to write the comment out elsewhere (such as in a Word file) before pasting it here. If it doesn’t take, then you’d have a backup to keep trying until it does take. (I realize I may be suggesting what you might be already doing.) It’s so infuriating when a long post disappears.

                      WordPress, unlike HP, doesn’t have a mechanism where commenters can contact the site about a problem. Only I, or another WordPress blogger, can do that. So it might be tricky for me to try to explain your problem to WordPress since I’m not on your computer or device. (No other commenter here seems to be having your very frustrating problem at the moment.) But if this persists, I could always try to contact WordPress and ask them to contact you. They might or might not agree to that.

                      Anyway, good luck!


  10. Howdy, Dave!

    — Your favorite authors who died during the past five years — either ones I named or others? —

    I share your admiration of Maya Angelou, Ray Bradbury, E.L. Doctorow, Umberto Eco, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Harper Lee. I also appreciate all the following writers who had permanent changes of address during the relevant period:
    • Richard Adams (1920-2016), “Watership Down.”
    • Edward Albee (1928-2016), “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
    • William Peter Blatty (1928-2017), “The Exorcist.”
    • David Bowie (1947-2016), “Space Oddity.”
    • Jimmy Breslin (1928-2017), “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”
    • Nat Hentoff (1925-2017), “The Nat Hentoff Reader.”
    • Richard Matheson (1926-2013), “I Am Legend.”
    • George Michael (1963-2016), “Careless Whisper” (co-written by Andrew Ridgeley).
    • Farley Mowat (1921-2014), “Never Cry Wolf.”
    • Prince (1958-2016), “When Doves Cry.”
    • Adrienne Rich (1929-2012), “The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New, 1950-1984.”
    • Mark Strand (1934-2014), “Selected Poems.”
    • Alvin Toffler (1928-2016), “Future Shock.”
    • Gore Vidal (1925-2012), “Visit to a Small Planet.”
    • C.K. Williams (1936-2015), “With Ignorance.”

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, J.J., for that excellent/comprehensive list of other writers (of various kinds) who died during the past five years! I’ve enjoyed reading (or listening to) a number of them. The legendary Jimmy Breslin is certainly a VERY recent addition. I heard him speak in 1991 at a conference — in South Carolina. Not the place one would expect such a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker to show up.

      “…permanent changes of address” — a wry way of putting it. 🙂


      • — The legendary Jimmy Breslin is certainly a VERY recent addition. —

        Indeed. J.B. was the last surviving member of the generation of newspaper columnists I faithfully read in my salad days, an ink-stained crew also encompassing Nat Hentoff, as well as Jack Anderson, Murray Kempton and Mike Royko. Sic transit gloria mundi.

        Liked by 2 people

        • A legendary group of writers, J.J. All great with words, with some nicer than others. I interviewed Breslin and Royko on the phone — both not very friendly (maybe they were just busy). Kempton and Anderson seemed like real gentlemen when I spoke with them. Never talked to Hentoff.

          I guess the born-somewhat-later Pete Hamill is still around, but writing books more than columns these days, I believe. I think of him when I think of Breslin and Royko.

          Liked by 1 person

          • — A legendary group of writers, J.J. All great with words, with some nicer than others. —

            Based on your assessment of the other four members of my Fab Five, I believe you would have found Nat more like Anderson and Kempton, less like Breslin and Royko. (Of course, the abruptness of the creators of Un Occhio and Slats Grobnik might well have been a function of life on a deadline, as you indicated.)

            — I guess the born-somewhat-later Pete Hamill is still around, but writing books more than columns these days —

            Alas, I have not acquired a Hamill habit, as I have read very little of either Denis or Pete. And I have not even seen Dorothy skate!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yes, perhaps deadlines — plus Breslin and Royko had that gruff, hard-bitten journalist attitude. Glad to hear Hentoff may have been a bit more mellow.

              When I was a student at Northwestern University, I visited the Chicago Sun-Times building and saw Royko standing at an elevator. He was scowling so much I didn’t dare approach him to say hello. 🙂

              LOL — your Dorothy Hamill quip! Maybe Breslin would have noticed her if she wore a Mets cap, circa 1962.


      • Howdy, Ana!

        — “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.” Love this, both the novel and the film. —

        I cannot say I love the movie, too, but only because I have not actually seen it: Given the cast and the source material, I have to believe it is terrific.

        Meanwhile, I also like Jimmy Breslin’s “World Without End, Amen,” even though it is a much darker novel. Humorwise, the author’s “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” is to his “World Without End, Amen” as Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22” is to his “Something Happened.” Yikes.


        Liked by 1 person

        • The movie is hilarious. Every now and then, Turner Classic Movies will run it. It’s like the Three Stooges meet the mob. I love how the so-called bad guys used a LION to intimidate people. LOL. I think you would enjoy the movie. If you get a chance to watch it one of these days, don’t be influenced, JJ. Because if I find out that you acquired a pet lion after watching “The Gang”, I’m going to SMH.

          I actually like “World Without End, Amen.” It’s very raw and in your face. I know that some readers don’t like the controversial/offensive and questionable language that Breslin used, but I can appreciate when an author steps outside his/her comfort zone. “World” stays with you long after you’ve read it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • — The movie is hilarious. . . . It’s like the Three Stooges meet the mob. I love how the so-called bad guys used a LION to intimidate people. —

            The durability of the cinematic/literary tradition centered on the curious links between human monsters and zoological monsters (whether actual or perceived) is pretty remarkable, with J.B.’s “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” one of the funniest productions on a continuum encompassing the likes of H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Doctor Moreau,” Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” Nat Hentoff’s “Blues for Charlie Darwin” and Andrew Bergman’s “The Freshman.” (As former “San Francisco Chronicle[r]” Phil Bronstein could attest, Sharon Stone and Komodo dragons are in a class by themselves in this category!)

            — I think you would enjoy the movie. —

            I suspect so.

            — If you get a chance to watch it one of these days, don’t be influenced, JJ. Because if I find out that you acquired a pet lion after watching “The Gang”, I’m going to SMH. —

            Too late! Even now, I am getting Clarence ready to head over to LensCrafters in Rockefeller Center for a new pair of eyeglasses.

            — I actually like “World Without End, Amen.” It’s very raw and in your face. —

            I’ll say! When I was a kid in the 1970s, I avoided book reviews so I could formulate my own opinions about that which I was about to read. As a result, I was a little surprised by “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” and a lot surprised by “World Without End, Amen”: In no way did the former set me up for the latter. Props to J.B.

            Liked by 1 person

  11. How time passes..Steig Larsson the author of Dragon trilogy passed away suddenly in 2004, what an untimely death Dave.
    Yes Harper Lee right after ” Go set a watchman” was published. I am glad I read the book which she has revisited and edited. Good read Jean Louise was the grown up Scout and Lee showed a dark side of Atticus which is hard to accept. P.D James a great writer , just borrowed a short story by her.
    Maya Angelou died a couple of years ago wrote several books notably ” And Still I rise”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, bebe!

      From what I’ve read of it and heard recited, the “And Still I Rise” poetry collection is magnificent.

      Yes, Stieg Larsson’s death was so untimely — he was just 50 or thereabouts, and never lived to see the astounding success of his riveting Millennium Trilogy.

      I still haven’t read “Go Set a Watchman.” Not sure if I’m subconsciously avoiding it or not. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

          • Well, I just had two more comments disappear into the ether, so I’m typing this into a Word document and hope to copy it over to your site, Dave. Oh goodness, this just makes me want to throw up. How anyone could use the words of a British gentlewoman living in a society that was around 100 years before women had the right to even vote and were treated as chattel, is beyond the pale. We all know that there were many so-called enlightened men who didn’t consider women as equal, let alone people of color or other religions. I was in the Borough of Kennett Square’s office this morning on business and was looking at the maps of the Underground Railroad, of which my town was a major stop, just over the line from Delaware, and home to many Quakers. Sorry, but my blood is boiling right now and I may not be making a lot of sense, but what can one do about this?

            Liked by 2 people

            • Sorry, Kat Lib, that you’re still having some posting problems. And, yes, the so-called “alt-right” (aka America’s Nazis and near-Nazis) dragging Jane Austen into their warped belief system is despicable. And as you astutely allude to, it’s even weirder given how sexist/misogynist/patriarchal the far right is. They’re sick, sick, sick.

              Liked by 1 person

          • Speaking of trolls…here it is

            The American trolls are claiming Jane Austen ?
            Is there any end to this uneducated stupidity ?
            She was an English Novelist died in 1817 in Winchester, United Kingdom.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Interesting piece, bebe. Thanks for linking to it! Ross Douthat gets on my nerves — and this is another example. He seems to kind of sneer and smirk at the fact that lovers of literature (and lovers of the other arts) as well as creators themselves tend to be more liberal and open-minded. Well, they are — with some exceptions, of course.

              There’s a reason Donald Trump is not named Darcy Trump… 🙂

              Liked by 2 people

              • Oh gosh….he gets on my nerve too, why make an op-ed column on this ? I wrote something but it will not be posted. Soon DT will tweet on that. Reality star Ivanka now has an office and will have classified information ?
                Is there any end to this corruption ?
                I am counting on three generals particularly Mattis to expose DT to the world .
                Oh did you hear Rex likes to take frequent naps ? 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

                • Sorry what you wrote won’t be posted, bebe. Does the NYT heavily “moderate” reader comments?

                  There seems to be no end to the corruption. Some politicians are ruined by one revelation of corruption. Trump and his family are corrupt in hundreds of ways and it barely hurts them.

                  I don’t hold out much hope of any general exposing Trump. They’re too happy with the proposed huge rise in the military budget (which is already way too high).

                  Naps? So that’s what Rex Tillerson is doing with his time! We have to get him and AH together… 🙂

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • You are too funny…ha ha..
                    Normally they post and there are times they don`t more lately. I`ll let you know if they do.
                    There are a few privileged ones who gets posted w/o moderation. I did ask on that was told their internal system does that with some calculations.
                    Who knows ?

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Maybe one reason is that the NYT is getting even more comments than usual these days, with all the legitimate anger at all things Trump? As you say, who knows. Not nice to hear that the NYT moderators (or moderation system) plays favorites, but not surprised, either. 😦

                      Liked by 1 person

              • Yes they did post what I wrote above which is mind..some posters are not so mild..one goes..just before mine..

                Not too many comments though..

                “What the alt-right likes are books like Atlas Shrugged and Camp of Saints. Stop trying to confuse things with a straw man. Oh, but wait, that’s how you address every issue. Your world is the true fiction, Mr. Douthat.” 😀

                Liked by 1 person

                • Great that they posted your comment, bebe! It’s an excellent one — with a fantastic last line! Douthat is indeed living in some alternate reality. And, yes, the white supremacist far right can have Ayn Rand, but it should leave Jane Austen alone.


              • dave,

                at the risk of starting a firestorm here, my dad, a great fan of liberal arts schools, and a liberal, “but i don’t know about this al franken, character” enjoyed playing with those (arch-) conservatives who couldn’t shed the idea that “liberal arts” somehow endorsed liberal politics. one needn’t speculate long on that idea. there was a conservative fellow, departed in the last decade, his name escapes me, but from a midwestern think tank who’d made it a crusade to conflate the mistaken association.

                as for douthat, i read him with a 10′ pole in hand.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Thanks for the comment, applemcg! Hmm…the word “liberal” in “liberal arts” is indeed…interesting. 🙂 As for Douthat, a 10-foot pole helps. (Ha!) I guess The New York Times always has to have one or two conservative columnists (currently David Brooks as well) to go along with its centrist and liberal ones.


  12. A bit more trivia about a few of the authors listed above:

    Ray Bradbury – Despite writing several stories about interplanetary travel and rocketships, Ray reportedly refused to fly on airplanes. He took a transatlantic boat to Ireland when he met with John Huston to write the ‘Moby-Dick’ screenplay.

    Nelle Harper Lee – I once had an office mate who was from Monroeville. She said that down there Harper Lee is known as ‘Nelle Harper Lee’ and those who knew her personally called her ‘Nelle’.

    P.D. James – She wrote the dystopian novel, ‘Children of Men’. I haven’t read the novel, which is about a future world in which women become infertile and the youngest person on the planet is now about 20. One woman becomes pregnant and gets sought after by various political/terrorist groups, some to use the pregnancy as a threat to the prevailing power structure and others to kill her/it. I haven’t read the novel, but the film version starring Clive Owen as the washed up, cynical journalist who gets sucked into the drama and becomes the pregnant woman’s protector/guide was one of the most intense, powerful films of the past 10 years. If the novel is half as powerful as the film it must be quite a novel.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for all that interesting information, bobess48!

      I didn’t know that, in addition to not driving, Ray Bradbury also didn’t fly. Ironic for a (partly) sci-fi writer who set some of his work on other planets. I guess phobias are phobias…

      From your excellent description, “Children of Men” sounds riveting! Just put it on my list for when I read my second P.D. James novel. (I’ve only gotten to “The Lighthouse” so far.)


  13. ‘Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014) was of course best known for his epic masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, which took eighteen months to write…’ I’m pretty sure it took me at least that long to read it! Am still looking forward to finally getting to “Love in the Time of Cholera” though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL, Susan! That was hilarious!

      “One Hundred Years of Solitude” IS a challenging read. As we might have discussed before, just the similar character names alone are confusing. Yet I ultimately found the novel pretty compelling.

      Good luck with “Love in the Time of Cholera”! That novel is not without issues, including some uncomfortable sexism, but worth reading. And much easier to get through than “Solitude.”


      • I keep forgetting about those two names! I found so much of “Solitude” to be unnecessary, which is a shame, because the writing was terrific in places. Definitely looking forward to “Cholera”.

        Liked by 1 person

        • It would have been interesting if “One Hundred Years of Solitude” were condensed — maybe 100 pages shorter. Might not have hurt it…

          In some ways, “Solitude” is like “The Brothers Karamazov” — absolutely brilliant in many sections, even as things drag a bit elsewhere.


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