He who does not read is no better than he who cannot.
I mentioned in a recent blog the book His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman as a new author whose work I enjoyed. That got me to thinking. Just who are my all-time favorite authors? I do this with this caveat: I almost always read for enjoyment, so there is not much room for non-fiction writers in my list of favorite authors.
I had a teacher in freshman lit at Auburn who told us, “Ladies and gentlemen, in this class, there is no one right way to interpret Red Badge of Courage,” which was the book we were reading at the time. However, when exam time came around, I guess she changed her mind because there was one correct way – her way!
Since college, I have read what gives me pleasure. I have been enlightened many times along the way, but that was seldom my purpose.
I just got interrupted by Boomer and Chloe, who came to explore my new office, which included a little lap-time. There are many interruptions in life that should be avoided; however, a dog who hops into your lap is not one of them!
My experience through years in high schools from Alabama to Kentucky to Indiana to North Carolina is that most high school lit teachers unintentionally teach kids to hate to read at worst and to endure it at best. I still believe that. Therefore, in overcoming my trauma-by-literature-teachers, I tend to shy away from the literary best sellers and the classics by DWEM. I find my own set of authors whose works I read religiously.
With all of that in mind, here are my baker’s dozen of favorite authors.
Thirteen. Henning Mankell writes wonderfully deep and dark Kurt Wallander mysteries set in and around the southern Swedish town of Ystad such that you can see the landscapes and feel Wallander’s internal battles with good and evil.
Twelve. I don’t usually read, hoping to be moved and changed by what I read. I read for pleasure. But that is not true for William Barclay’s commentaries on the Bible. Barclay was a Scottish theologian and minister in the Church of Scotland. His insights into the history behind scriptures and and their meanings for modern mankind are as fresh as when he first published them.
Eleven. Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch is a detective’s detective fighting the good fight in L.A. Great character. Very complicated cop.
Ten. Len Deighton is the spymaster of the cold war tales. Better than John le Carré, in my estimation. No James Bond shootouts here. Double agents and double-dealing in East Berlin make Deighton’s works most readable.
Nine. James D. McDonald’s Travis McGee novels paved the way for every other modern American private detective story. McGee lives on a houseboat named the Busted Flush – a lush boat that he won in a poker game. He only ever has enough money to buy groceries, pay the slip fees for his boat, and stake him in the next card game, and that is the way he wants it. Need more money? Solve a mystery of lost money or goods and get half the value as a salvage fee.
Eight. Dennis Lehane earned his writing chops on the HBO series, The Wire. These days he brings Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood to life as a character as much as the people who live there.
Seven. England’s Bernard Cornwell brings the historical novel to life with remarkable detail and guts and glory from the Vikings and Saxons to the Napoleonic Wars to America’s Revolution. Want to learn history and enjoy yourself at the same time, Cornwell is your author!
Six. Read Mila 18, and you will agree that Leon Uris belongs in this group. I started my journey with Uris withTrinity, the story of Ireland, and its troubles. But don’t miss Exodus or the Haj.
Five. Nelson DeMille brings the unique talent of infusing subtle humor into his characters even as they fight for their lives. His Charm School is the best U.S. and Soviet spy novel ever written. Hands down.
Four. Robert Parker is the preeminent author of the understated private eye. His style of simple, yet complex language, has never been equaled. His Spenser and Jesse Stone characters are icons of the genre. No one is yet his equal.
Three. Shelby Foote’s three-volume history of the Civil War is the best pure history you will ever read. Want to understand the War? You must read Shelby Foote. But before you begin, seek a YouTube video so you will have his Southern accent firmly implanted in your head as you read.
Two. James Lee Burke is surpassed as the best Southern writer of our time only by Pat Conroy. There is no one better whose word-choice in his writing will stir every one of your senses. He is the unmatched master today of the descriptive written word. Read any of his works for his command of the English language, and you will weep the next time you read the drivel that passes as literature.
One. Pat Conroy is the South. Southerners need to read him to understand our land and our culture. Non-Southerners – especially those residing on our sacred soil – should read him if you are ever to know why we redneck hillbillies act the way we do and are so damn proud of it!
The following are far from also-rans. They all came close to making the list. I could easily argue for each one. Ann Cleeves, Ian Fleming, Ken Bruen, Harper Lee, Agatha Christie, Harlan Coben, Tom Clancy, W.E.B. Griffin Craig Johnson, Daniel Silva, and Lee Child.
Have your list of favorites? I would really like to hear about them, so let’s keep the conversation going here on Southern Exposures or on Facebook. Until next time, wherever you find yourself on life’s remarkable journey, remember these words from Winston Churchill after the English had defeated the Germans in Africa after many German victories in Europe: Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.