Top-Ten Time! (Our Favorite Novels)

We all like to discuss the novels we love most, so I thought I’d formalize that this week by listing my ten all-time favorite novels and then asking for yours.

To make things more interesting, I’ll tally up everyone’s favorites mentioned in comments here, in comments on Facebook, and in comments on Twitter. Then I’ll rank them and post the results this Friday, March 31. (Ten points for each first-place mention, nine points for each second-place mention, etc.) I realize better-known novels might have an advantage, but, heck, there’s little that’s scientific about this little poll.  🙂

Needless to say, your lists can include everything from literary novels to mass-audience books to genre fiction.

My sometimes-hard-to-rank list, which includes novels by six women and four men – and authors from the United Kingdom (4), Canada (1), France (1), Germany (1), Italy (1), Russia (1), and the United States (1):

10. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Incredible tale of false imprisonment and epic revenge.

9. The Night in Lisbon by Erich Maria Remarque. The most gripping World War II novel I’ve ever read focuses on two German refugees.

8. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. A diagnosis of terminal illness changes a young woman’s life for the better. (Not a depressing book, I assure you.)

7. Possession by A.S. Byatt. An intricate tour de force that includes 19th- and 20th-century love affairs with some similarities.

6. History by Elsa Morante. Another riveting World War II novel, about a beleaguered woman and her two very different sons. Each chapter opens with a historical timeline.

5. The seven Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling (series are okay to include in your lists  🙂 ). Wizardry, friendship, cliffhangers, distinctive heroes/heroines/villains, humor, much more.

4. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Feverish writing and psychological fireworks that glue you to the page.

3. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. Magnificent and heartbreaking (and one of the few 19th-century novels with three-dimensional Jewish characters).

2. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Powerful saga of the Joad family in particular and injustice in general.

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. A fiercely independent protagonist and one of literature’s great love stories — plus gothic/mystery elements.

And here’s my incomplete list of novels, mentioned alphabetically by author, that would rank somewhere between 11 and 100:

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, The Robber Bride and Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Old Goriot and Eugenie Grandet by Honoré de Balzac, If I Never Get Back by Darryl Brock, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, Kindred by Octavia Butler, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child, Shogun by James Clavell, Claudine at School and The Vagabond by Colette, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper, The Pickwick Papers and Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Middlemarch, The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner, and Adam Bede by George Eliot.

Also: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Time and Again by Jack Finney, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Lost Horizon by James Hilton, The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels by Stieg Larsson, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Sea-Wolf and Martin Eden by Jack London, Suttree and Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, and Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers.

Also: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, Arch of Triumph by Erich Maria Remarque, Old Mortality and The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott, The Last Man by Mary Shelley, So Much for That by Lionel Shriver, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, His Dog by Albert Payson Terhune, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, Native Son by Richard Wright, Candide by Voltaire, and Germinal by Emile Zola.

Your top-ten favorites? Of, if you prefer, you could list your top five or just one favorite.

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.

Next Sunday (April 2), I’ll be posting a piece 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.

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.

Reading an Author for the First Time

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?

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 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.

Authors of One Country Who Set Their Novels in Another Country

Because I think internationalism is important in a world where Donald Trump is wedded to “America First” (his fourth marriage?), I’ve mentioned various countries in recent blog posts.

For instance, last month I wrote about “Loving Literature from Other Countries.” The month before, I focused on “Authors Who Do and Don’t Set Their Fiction in One Place.”

I’m going internationalist again today with a somewhat different angle: authors who set a novel in a different country from the one in which they live.

The “pros” of that? Writers can look at a culture from an outside perspective, potentially interest readers in that culture, show how people from different nations are similar or different, get themselves and their readers out of their comfort zones, show the ill effects of things like colonialism, etc.

The “cons”? Authors might not know the other country well and thus might depict it inaccurately or superficially, they might consciously or subconsciously depict the nation as inferior to their own, they might make someone from their own country the most important character, etc.

Of course, it helps if authors — whether they end up portraying another country in a positive or negative light — visited that nation, or, better yet, lived there for several months or years.

Some examples of authors who set novels in countries other than their own? Glad you asked! Sir Walter Scott, who usually placed his novels in his native Scotland, put Quentin Durward in France. English author Charlotte Bronte also turned to France for Villette. Another iconic English author, Charles Dickens, set portions of A Tales of Two Cities and Martin Chuzzlewit in France and the U.S., respectively.

U.S. authors Barbara Kingsolver and Harriet Doerr put The Lacuna and Stones for Ibarra, respectively, partly or mostly in Mexico. Kingsolver used what was then called the Belgian Congo as the milieu for the American family in The Poisonwood Bible. American writer Paul Theroux set most of The Mosquito Coast in Honduras.

Mark Twain, one of the most famous U.S. authors of all, turned to England for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and to France for Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. New Englander Nathaniel Hawthorne used Italy as the backdrop for The Marble Faun after a several-year sojourn in Europe. American writer James Baldwin, who lived in France for a number of years, set Giovanni’s Room in that country.

American author Willa Cather located Shadows on the Rock in Canada, and Canadian author Margaret Atwood set The Handmaid’s Tale in the U.S.

French authors? Stendhal put The Charterhouse of Parma in Italy, Alexandre Dumas set Georges in what is now called Mauritius, and J.M.G. Le Clezio placed much of Desert in Morocco.

North Africa was also the setting for The Sheltering Sky by American writer Paul Bowles.

Erich Maria Remarque, who was forced to flee his native Germany because of the Nazis, placed Arch of Triumph in France and Shadows in Paradise in America.

Australian-born Brit (and later U.S. resident) James Clavell set Shogun in Japan, and Australian author Frank Moorhouse placed Grand Days in Switzerland.

Last but not least, American author James Michener set novels in many non-U.S. places — including the Caribbean, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Spain, and the South Pacific.

What are your favorite novels (either those I mentioned or didn’t mention) set in a different country from where the author lives or lived?

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 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.

Fictional Religious Hypocrites Seem All Too Real These Days

Religious hypocrisy is on my mind at a time when many Christian evangelicals support Donald Trump despite America’s so-called president being an immoral person who has no compassion, cheated on his wives, sexually assaulted women, is racist to the core, is endlessly greedy, is a blatant liar, is pathologically narcissistic, and more. Anything to get their right-wing agenda enacted, I suppose.

Literature includes many hypocrites resembling those evangelicals and the many “religious” Republican politicians who espouse “values” (ha ha). I’ll discuss some of those fictional characters today.

For instance, Benjamin Blake’s Ireland-set A Death in Summer, which I read recently, includes a priest character who runs an institution for troubled boys. Despite his pious exterior, he is well aware that the institution’s rich benefactor is a vile pedophile taking advantage of those boys.

(I followed Blake’s absorbing murder mystery with Alexander Pushkin’s 1836 adventure-romance The Captain’s Daughter, which depicted little religious hypocrisy but is a great novella containing fluid prose and dialogue that seems more 20th century than 19th century.)

The priest in A Death in Summer reminded me a bit of the faux-religious Mr. Brocklehurst, wealthy “benefactor” of the Lowood institution in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The girls at Lowood get crummy/inadequate food, little heat in the winter, and are treated in other awful ways — with some dying as a result. St. John Rivers is a more ethical religious figure in Bronte’s book, yet is a rather coldhearted man who displays a colonialist mentality in his desire to become a third-world missionary.

Nathan Price of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is a missionary in Africa — and that American is as hateful, racist, and sexist as many right-wing evangelicals and Republican politicians are today.

Then there’s the unnamed priest in Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory who’s on the run from Mexican authorities. Not a totally bad guy, but he’s an alcoholic who fathered a child he barely sees. Hardly a religious role model.

The cast of James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain includes Gabriel Grimes, a mean-spirited minister who also fathered a child out of wedlock and left the mother to fend for herself.

Sinclair Lewis might be best known these days for his It Can’t Happen Here novel about a fascist elected U.S. president (sound familiar?). But another of his novels relevant to our times is Elmer Gantry, whose charismatic preacher title character is a hard-drinking, ambitious womanizer.

Friar Tuck of the Robin Hood stories is a jovial figure who loves his food and wine. Maybe not hypocritical, but certainly not as ascetic as one might expect from someone in a religious position.

In the drama realm, we have the supposedly religious title character in Moliere’s play Tartuffe. He’s actually a two-faced guy who tries to seduce a married woman.

Who are some fictional religious hypocrites you’ve found memorable?

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.

My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for Baristanet.com. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

When Debut Novelists Aren’t Young

Back in November 2014, I posted a piece about authors who wrote their first published novels in their 20s. Now that I’ve aged more than two years, I’m going to turn that topic upside down and talk about authors who wrote their first published novels when much older — in their 40s, 50s, 60s, or even 70s.

Some of those older authors wrote earlier novels that didn’t get published. Others wrote nonfiction books, or perhaps short stories or poetry, in their younger years before turning to novels. Still others worked in non-literary professions before trying their hand at fiction.

Writing a debut novel later in life has its advantages — the book might be more mature than a younger author’s debut novel for the simple reason that the older writer is (usually) more mature, and has more life experience. But there are downsides, too — debut novels by older authors might lack a bit of youthful energy, and readers might lament about all the potentially great books not written by those novelists when they were in their 20s or 30s.

One of the oldest writers to have a debut novel was Harriet Doerr, who joined the ranks of published authors at the age of 74 with her absorbing Stones for Ibarra — a semi-autobiographical 1984 book about an American couple living in a remote section of Mexico.

Moving down to a somewhat younger older age, we have Laura Ingalls Wilder being 65 when the first of her eight renowned Little House books was published.

Billie Letts, who spent much of her life as a college educator, was 57 the year (1995) her debut novel Where the Heart Is came out. It did quite well with the help of being an Oprah’s Book Club selection in 1998 and getting turned into a movie starring Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, and Stockard Channing in 2000.

Alex Haley was 55 the year (1976) that saw publication of his blockbuster novel Roots, which inspired the 1977 TV miniseries that became even more of a blockbuster. Haley of course previously wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), which was based on many interviews with its subject. Before becoming an author, Haley served in the U.S. Coast Guard for 20 years (even ghostwriting shipmates’ letters to their girlfriends) and then became a prominent magazine interviewer.

Detective-fiction author extraordinaire Raymond Chandler was 51 when The Big Sleep became his first novel in 1939. Chandler was actually an oil company executive when he lost that job during the Depression, after which he turned to writing — initially with short stories.

And James Michener was 40 when his first novel, Tales of the South Pacific, was published in 1947 — and it won a Pulitzer Prize. Michener, who had penned one nonfiction book before that, subsequently made up for lost time by writing a whopping 25 more novels and 30-plus more nonfiction books — many very long and heavily researched — after Tales.

A few other older debut novelists and the ages their first books were published: Belva Plain (63), Charles Bukowski (51), Sir Walter Scott and Bram Stoker (each 43), and P.D. James and Elizabeth Strout (each 42). Scott was a renowned poet before turning to books, and Bukowski also had his verse published before becoming novelistic.

Then there was the 1896-born Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, whose extraordinary first (and only) novel The Leopard wasn’t published until 1958 — a year after he died.

And several people I know from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists wrote their first novels when well beyond 40. They include Kathy Eliscu, Robert Haught, and Susan Moore Jordan, among others.

In the nonfiction area, Frank McCourt was 66 the year (1996) his mega-best-selling memoir Angela’s Ashes came out. That book certainly contains literary flourishes.

Who are some of your favorite late-starting novelists (either ones I’ve named or not named)? What are the pros and cons of having a debut novel come out when the author is older?

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.

My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for Baristanet.com. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

Real People in Fictional Realms

Today is the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the 1809-born 16th president who would have been 208 if he were alive in 2017 — meaning 143 years of Social Security payments.

But, seriously, I’m reminded that many fictional works — and not just historical novels — feature actual famous people.

That can of course be very attractive to readers who want to “get in the heads” of often-long-dead notables, see the times they lived in, see the way authors depict those luminaries, and see how real personages interact with fictional characters. Many readers find this a more palatable way than nonfiction history books to learn about high-profile people of the past — whether those people were heroes, villains, or something in between.

“Honest Abe” himself has appeared in everything from Gore Vidal’s Lincoln to Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.

Another president — Ulysses Grant, commander of the Union army during the American Civil War that marked Lincoln’s presidency — shows up in Darryl Brock’s If I Never Get Back, along with various real players from the legendary 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings baseball team. Brock’s sequel, Two in the Field, includes a deservedly scathing depiction of General Custer.

Also set in the 1800s is Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which of course includes Napoleon among its large cast of mostly fictional characters; and Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, which features a real-life person (Grace Marks) accused of murder. Not the best way to become famous, or infamous, but Marks is a known name — especially in Canada.

Moving to literature set in more recent years, there’s the novel containing more real people than most fiction: E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime — in which we see Henry Ford, Sigmund Freud, Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Booker T. Washington, and other well-known figures.

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna devotes quite a few pages and conversations to artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.

Fannie Flagg’s Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! includes a memorable scene with playwright Tennessee Williams as he discusses the downside of fame.

And moving to fiction set many centuries ago, we have such novels as Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and its sequels (which feature King Louis XIII, etc.), and Anthony Burgess’ The Kingdom of the Wicked (which includes Jesus Christ. One can argue about whether he was “the son of God,” but he may have existed as a person).

Which real people have you noticed in fictional works? Bonus question: Who’s the better president — Lincoln or Donald Trump? (Hint: The Electoral College can’t help Trump this time!  🙂 )

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.

My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for Baristanet.com. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.