You Read and Adore and Then You Can Read More

Night WitchesOne of literature’s pleasures is reading an established living author for the first time, loving the novel, and knowing you not only have past books but (most likely) future ones to enjoy by that writer.

That was certainly my feeling when I recently finished The Huntress. Set during the World War II era, Kate Quinn’s fabulous 2019 historical novel focuses on the attempt to bring to justice a Nazi woman who murdered many children and adults before changing her identity, escaping Europe, and marrying into an American family. Her young-adult Boston stepdaughter Jordan grows to love her but is also suspicious of her, even as three Nazi hunters (including English war correspondent Ian Graham and Soviet aviator Nina Markova) team up to try to find her. Nina — who grew up abused, uneducated, and in grinding rural poverty to become one of the USSR’s famed “Night Witches” bomber pilots (shown in real life in the above photo) — is an especially memorable character creation: brave, brainy, feisty, funny, profane, vengeful, and a bit nuts.

The Huntress is one of the best books I’ve read in years by a living novelist. It’s masterfully written (as it jumps between different years and characters), it’s a thriller, it’s romantic, etc.

So, I’m very happy that there will be more Kate Quinn reading in my future. She has authored about a dozen books, and, given that she’s only 38, many more are sure to come.

A sampling of several other living novelists who fit this theme? I’ll go alphabetically.

I didn’t read Isabel Allende’s classic The House of the Spirits until about 20 years after its 1982 publication, so by that time there were plenty of other books in the Allende canon. (I’ve read Zorro, and am now in the middle of Daughter of Fortune, which is terrific so far; I’ll discuss it as part of next week’s post.) And Allende is still churning out fiction in her 70s.

My reading of Lee Child’s thrillers started several years ago with 2010’s 61 Hours — the 14th book in the riveting Jack Reacher series about a roaming loner righting wrongs. I soon doubled back to Child’s earlier novels and also moved forward to his later novels. His newest was published this fall, and he’s still cranking out one a year.

It was about a quarter-century after it was written before I got to Fannie Flagg’s enduring 1987 gem Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe — meaning there were quite a few other Flagg novels to read by then. I’ve since polished off all but one, including two the author wrote after I finished Fried Green Tomatoes. The second was published in 2016 (The Whole Town’s Talking), so Flagg was still writing novels fairly recently.

I’ve mentioned novelist/neuroscientist Lisa Genova a couple of times in recent posts after reading Still Alice (2007) earlier this year. That moving chronicle of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s quickly led me to two other excellent works by Geneva, who’s still only 49 with a long writing future.

John Grisham? I read that compelling author for the first time when I picked up his fourth novel, 1993’s The Client, around 2012 or so. I’ve since read four of his other novels — one pre-’93 (1991’s The Firm) and three post-’93 — from among the 30-plus he’s penned. His writing pace has yet to slow at 64.

It was also a fourth novel — 2011’s The Hypnotist’s Love Story — that introduced me to one of today’s best authors: Australia’s Liane Moriarty. I’ve yet to read her first three (darn local library doesn’t stock them), but have “consumed” her fifth, sixth (the especially engrossing Big Little Lies), and seventh novels. She’s just 53.

I finally read Walter Mosley’s first two Easy Rawlins mysteries (1990’s Devil in a Blue Dress and 1991’s A Red Death) a couple of years ago, and now there are 12 others in that series from which to choose — as well as many other Mosley novels. He’s still going strong at 67, with a new book set for 2020 release.

Lionel Shriver? I read her superb So Much For That a few years after it came out in 2010, and have since enjoyed three of her 14 other novels. She’s now 62, and — like Mosley — has another novel in the 2020 pipeline.

I was introduced to Zadie Smith’s work with On Beauty (2005), and then doubled back to her even better debut novel White Teeth (2000). Few authors depict our multicultural world better, and there are surely many more books in the 44-year-old’s future.

More than three-dozen years went by before I finally picked up Martin Cruz Smith’s gripping 1981 novel Gorky Park. That led me to read seven Gorky sequels and two of his standalone novels. He’s still writing at 77.

And Donna Tartt? I first read her third and most recent novel, the great The Goldfinch (2013), before going back to The Little Friend (2002) and The Secret History (1992). Yes, Tartt has penned just one novel every decade or so — meaning, at age 55, perhaps we might see two or three more?

Which living authors (whether mentioned by me or not) were you gratified to read for the first time — and gratified that there were many more of their novels available from their pasts and in their futures?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which has a Thanksgiving theme — is here.

51 thoughts on “You Read and Adore and Then You Can Read More

  1. I look forward to new Walter Moseley books, and new Lee Childs books, as you do, but Donna Leon’s too– she continues to churn them out at a good rate, and with consistent high quality– and her setting is literally fabulous: Venice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! I’ve never read Donna Leon; I should give her work a try. And I LOVE Venice — been there twice, 25 years apart, and was enthralled each time despite the large crowds during my second visit. I relatively recently enjoyed reading the Venice-set “The Aspern Papers” (Henry James) and “The Girl from Venice” (Martin Cruz Smith). Also, I see from Wikipedia that Ms. Leon is from my town of Montclair, New Jersey!

      Like

      • I too have visited Venice– but only once, during the Festival of the Boats in summer,1970. Of course, being an ignorant young un, I was ignorant of the festival and largely ignorant of the city’s radiant charms. Experience was a marvelous teacher– I thought it was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen– I still do– and there were in those long-ago daze, fewer fellow travelers all over the place, inside and out. I loved getting lost there, and running into whatever I saw. I couldn’t go wrong.

        Stayed in a converted 17th century villa, and one morning I was awakened by the sound, as it turned out, of a very old woman lifting an iron culvert and pulling up water for home use. I felt i was eavesdropping on something that had been going on for centuries, and I was right. I also got poled about by a gondolier in the company of my lovely girlfriend at the time. And her parents, which is only right, perfection being unreachable on this mortal plane.

        I have a small collection of histories and guides to the city to which I occasionally return when I want to lose myself in loveliness.

        Donna Leon hardly dwells on such things in her quest to make and solve mysteries, and expose hypocrisies and corruption, but rather refers to them in passing and as the plot unfolds. I enjoy her anyway, and recommend her to you!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Nice description of your 1970 trip, including that iron culvert memory! Venice IS a stunningly beautiful city — it lives up to the hype! I was there in 1979 (alone) and in 2004 (with my wife). One of my main memories of the first strip was getting deliciously lost (like you did) trying to walk from a restaurant back to my hotel, and one of my fond recollections of the second trip was taking a water taxi at around 5 a.m. to the airport. Only time I’ve traveled to an airport via canals!

          Will look for Donna Leon in my local library. Or, rather, will look for one of her books. 🙂

          Like

  2. You surely know by now that you mentioned some of my favorite contemporary writers in this column; e.g. Lionel Shriver, Liane Moriarty, Lisa Genova. I’ve also read the two Mosley books, some of John Grisham, and the Isabel Allende novel you referenced.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kat Lit — and great to hear from you!

      Yes, Liane Moriarty, Lionel Shriver, and Lisa Genova are first-rate writers — as are Isabel Allende, Walter Mosley, and John Grisham.

      I finished Allende’s “Daughter of Fortune” after writing this week’s post, and loved it!

      Like

      • Dave, just to bring you up-to-date on my life, I am now living in Downingtown, PA, as of last Monday. Settlement on my house was yesterday, but I didn’t have to attend, I just signed the papers a little bit early. The past few weeks of November have been especially tough for me. I spent a little bit over a week staying in the hospital and getting another endoscopy, then I was released tor a short-term rehab stay in order to get much of my strength and appetite back. So far, so good! After finishing rehab the day after Thanksgiving, I had to get home for a few days ahead of finishing packing, though my dear friend did most of the work. I’d been quite worried that I wouldn’t be able to live alone in an apartment, but because of my ability to work really hard in rehab, I made it, though I still have a way to go.

        I’ve been very lax about emails, Facebook and, with so much going on, I decided to delete my FB account. I haven’t been spending much time on the things I really love, such as reading and playing my piano. I also hope to get back to commenting more on your blog. I’ve missed that a lot. .

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you for the update, Kat Lit. What an ordeal — the moving and the health issues. 😦 Glad you now have a new place, and that rehab has been of some help.

          Hope you can get back to reading and piano soon. And of course I and everyone else here look forward to you commenting more whenever that works for you! 🙂

          Like

  3. Hi Dave,

    Quite a few years back, I came across this page on Facebook about the top 100 books, and how my friends have only read six, how many have you read? Well I clicked the link and I’d read somewhere between twenty and thirty, but decided that I would eventually read 99 of them (I’m never going to read the bible in its entirety). I’m up to about eighty, and have discovered some wonderful authors who are no longer with us. I’d never read them before, so it’s all new and exciting for me, even if the dead authors probably won’t be releasing any more books!

    But that’s not what this topic is about. One of the books on the BBC list was A Prayer for Owen Meany and John Irving was probably the first author who popped into my head for your topic. I haven’t quite gotten around to any of his other books yet, but I have no doubt that I’ll enjoy them when I do.

    Much the same as Lionel Shriver. I’ve only read We need to talk about Kevin but I found every word riveting, and can’t wait to get to more of her books. And being that they’re set nowish (rather than in the eighteenth or nineteenth century which is when most of my favourite books are set) they’re obviously going to include topics that Jane Austen and Charles Dickens might have missed out on.

    Somebody who is still very much writing new books today is Margaret Atwood. I really enjoyed (if that’s the right word) The Handmaid’s Tale but I’m undecided about whether I want to delve into the sequel.

    Dave, I really wish I could say that I recently discovered an author like John Irving or Lionel Shriver and just gobbled up their books, but sadly, no matter how great they are, I push on with my never-ending TBR, and so I’ll have to keep saying that I’ve only read one of their books. At least for now…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susan! I totally understand your current reading approach, and am very impressed that you are now up to about 80 of those 100! Many, many enjoyable hours of “novelistic consumption.”

      When you do go back to Lionel Shriver and John Irving, I heartily recommend “So Much for That” by the former and “The Cider House Rules” by the latter. My favorites by those two authors!

      Margaret Atwood is indeed one of the great living authors. I’ve read 12 of her novels (just checked Wikipedia), and have never been disappointed.

      Ha! (Dead authors releasing more books.) One never knows — discovered manuscripts and all that… 🙂

      Like

      • Thanks Dave, both of those books are high on my TBR. As is In One Person after bebe’s high praise, and The Mandibles because I’m a sucker for anything with the word dystopian in it.

        I also through of Neil Gaiman this week as a living author who I’ve adored. I’m so excited to be reading Good Omens over Christmas which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett. Sadly, even if I fall in love with Pratchett and read everything he ever wrote, I can’t include him this week as he passed away in 2015. And there will be no magically discovered manuscripts as Gaiman followed Pratchett’s wishes and made sure everything was destroyed. Which I think is kind of sweet. I have to respect the artist’s desire to pick and choose what gets released to the public, even if there’s a great deal of curiosity about what might have been lurking around!

        Liked by 1 person

        • While I don’t feel it was Irving’s best novel, “In One Person” is a humane and fascinating chronicle of some LGBTQ characters. “The Mandibles” is also quite good — and, yes, VERY dystopian.

          Reading all of Terry Pratchett’s work would not be easy. Talk about prolific!

          Interesting about those destroyed manuscripts. I respect that from an author, too.

          Like

  4. Hi Dave! Thanks so much for your post. I think the living author I was most excited to discover was Anne Lamott (and she’s written enough that I’m still wading through the delights of her writing). Here’s a similar question, but slightly different: what living author’s work would you chose to come back to again and again over a lifetime?

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome, Nimbus of a Writer, and thank you for your comment! Glad you mentioned Anne Lamott! I’ve only read one of her many fiction and nonfiction books: the novel “Blue Shoe,” which I liked a lot. I should read more!

      As for your question, it’s tough to name one. Liane Moriarty, J.K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver… Maybe Moriarty. 🙂

      Like

  5. Thanks for the ideas of authors and books to pursue, Dave. Your topic is so timely for me, since I was thinking about this just yesterday, related to the author Alice Hoffman. Two of her books (“Rules of Magic” and “Faithful”) I’ve read for the library book club, and now I’m reading “The Story Sisters” of my own choosing. For me, these three books are similar in that the beginning makes me wonder if I want to keep reading, due to such difficult or strange situations in which we see the main characters. Her wonderful writing draws me in, and before I know it, I’m hooked! This author writes ‘redemption’ like it’s her middle name:)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The Huntress sounds fascinating!

    I recently got back into reading Robin Hobb’s epic fantasy books. I loved the Farseer books and she recently released a new trilogy in the series, which I have devoured. Highly recommend for anyone who loves truly epic fantasy.

    I also recently discovered Rosalind James’s Escape to New Zealand series. They’re romance novels featuring rugby players, which sounds like it could be really corny but she makes them work. They’re fun reads but she fits in all kinds of serious themes, like teen pregnancy, single motherhood, and interracial relationships. A lot of the books feature mixed-race or non-white protagonists, which is exciting to see in a mainstream romance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Elena!

      Given your wide reading in Russian literature, I think you would get a special kick out of the amazing Nina character in “The Huntress.”

      Good book series can definitely be gold mines in terms of past and future installments to read.

      Rosalind James’ series sounds like it has many interesting elements. Impressive!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Fannie Flagg is an imaginative writer. I had read “Standing In The Rainbow” which I had on my bookshelf but donated. I remember story about old time radio station.” Fried Green Tomatoes”was also a very good film. I have “Red Bird Christmas” on my list to read this month. I also remember,as a youngster, watching Fannie Flagg on MatchGame, a game show. Most of the humor went over my head, but she had a good sense of humor,that helped immensely as her books as she’s witty, has humor with intelligence.😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Michele! Really impressive the way Fannie Flagg made the transition from actress to excellent novelist. I like the way her (partly humorous) books often have a nostalgic feel but aren’t TOO sentimental — she doesn’t hesitate to deal with racism, sexism, bad people, etc. You’ll really enjoy “A Redbird Christmas” — a very enjoyable, moving novel.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the very kind words, Clanmother — and you’re very welcome! 🙂 But all credit goes to regular poster here (and an excellent blogger herself) M.B. Henry, who recommended Kate Quinn’s work in several comments. “The Huntress” totally bowled me over.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yay! I am so glad you enjoyed the book so much! Kate Quinn has definitely moved up fast on my favorite authors list – I can’t wait for more from her. I think she has one called “the Rose Code” that is forthcoming, not sure when it drops but hopefully soon! If you liked the Huntress, you would definitely enjoy the Alice Network. A character from that book (Eve) actually makes an appearance in the Huntress! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s