I realized recently that even though I've posted numerous lists on this blog, I've somehow neglected my favorite writers. For shame.
My taste has changed pretty radically over the years, so even though I was a devout Michael Crichton/John Grisham/Tom Clancy disciple for elementary school and most of high school, they will not be on this list, though they still hold a special place in my memory.
Honorable mentions go to Chuck Palahniuk (who used to be awesome and now regularly churns out garbage), Ethan Hawke (whose novels were a big deal to me in college), David Sedaris (who is fun and one of my favorites, but didn't make the cut) and James Franco (who hasn't quite earned his spot on this list yet.)
#10. David Benioff
I used to be obsessed with Edward Norton, so when 25th Hour came out a few years ago, I looked up the book version. As it turns out: awesome novel. It all takes place in the single day before a New York drug dealer gets sent off to prison. It has a great cast of characters, and alternates between hilarious and heart-wrenching scenes. The dialogue is flawless.
Most critics note that Benioff's prose is very cinematic, which makes sense because he also makes his living as a screenwriter. Unfortunately, he's written some fucking awful movies: Wolverine, Troy and Brothers, to name a few. But he also wrote the screenplay for 25th Hour, The Kite Runner and the upcoming HBO show Game of Thrones, which could be really good.
My advice: pick up City of Thieves, and if you like it, go find 25th Hour.
#9. Margaret Atwood
We read A Handmaid's Tale when I was in Grade 12, and I remember being stoked that they were letting us read something so intense. I read some of the explicit sex scenes out loud to the people in my class who were too lazy to actually finish it. If that was the only Atwood I ever read, she would still be my hero.
This summer, though, I checked out Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood, and though the former was a lot stronger than the latter, both were engaging and kept me reading . Atwood seems fascinated by the dark, perverted and evil side of humanity and she's at her best when she's showcasing our worst.
This semester we're reading her small chapbook Murder in the Dark for my class with Lorna Crozier, and her short story "Happy Endings" may be one of the funniest and best short stories I've ever read. Seriously, ignore all the haters: Atwood has earned her immortality as a Canadian literary giant.
#8. Chuck Klosterman
Everyone has read Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, and of course I loved it, but Klosterman earned his place on my list with his novel Downtown Owl.
My friend Bladon hated that book because, as he put it, "nothing happens and nothing matters", which is precisely why I love it. (We had essentially the same argument over Catcher in the Rye). Somehow, Klosterman can be utterly nihilistic and portray our lives as futile and meangingless, but at the same time make his readers appreciate the quirky beauty of everyday life.
Klosterman shows up writing articles and columns in most of my favorite magazines, and I'm just going to state it as fact: he is the best entertainment writer working today.
One of the funniest things I've ever read (from Esquire Magazine):
"As a longtime critic of both children and antigladiator legislation, you'd think I'd love a Website that calculates how many five-year-old kids I could theoretically defeat in a street brawl. Sadly, this is not the case.
Despite its promising concept, I see a lot of flaws in HowManyFiveYearOldsCouldYouTakeina Fight.com.
I question its scientific validity.
After punching my personal data (and my self-styled fighting philosophies) into the site's prompts, I was informed that I could maul about seventeen kindergartners, assuming the skirmish took place in an enclosed basketball court and we all wore groin cups.
Now, granted, this total does seem roughly accurate. However, I fear this Website only considers the "average" five-year-old.
What if these youths are like the kids from season four of The Wire? They'd kill me instantly. What if these five-year-olds are like all those fat, PlayStation-obsessed brats I see on youth soccer fields across America? I'm sure I could take eighty of those insecure motherfuckers.
Unless I see some real data showing what kind of five-year-olds I would be theoretically facing, I cannot support the soft methodology of this Website.
I'm sorry, HowManyFiveYearOldsCouldYouTakeinaFight.com.
#7. John Steinbeck
When I took an American Fiction class last semester, I assumed that Steinbeck would be on the syllabus. No such luck. Instead I got Gertrude Stein (kill me now!), Zora Neale Hurston and the indecipherable William Faulkner. According to our teacher, not many people take Steinbeck seriously anymore.
But regardless, Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday are still two of my favorite books of all time (I consider them one long story) and I also love Of Mice and Men, The Pearl, Tortilla Flat, East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath.
He's a little bit too syrupy-sweet nostalgic, but I like his sense of humor, I love his characters and I just fucking love his prose. Not to mention that he can tell one helluva story.
If my writing ever gets compared to Steinbeck's, that will make me a happy man.
#6. J.D. Salinger
When Salinger died last year, my friend Alexa said she took the day off school to go sit by the beach in mourning. If it was any other author I might have laughed it off, but with someone as beloved as Salinger, it made sense.
A Catcher in the Rye isn't for everyone. Neither are his short stories. But everyone who loves him really loves him. I read his short stories on a train ride through Laos last summer, and they really hit home with me. My favorite: "A Perfect Day for Bananafish".
When I recommended that story to my little sister, her response was simple: "I don't get it."
Fair enough. A lot of people don't. But there's a reason I've read Catcher fives times, and will probably read it five more times. And there's a reason no one has ever been able to knock him off his pedestal. Everyone wants to be JD Salinger, but ultimately they all fall short.
#5. Ernest Hemingway
This is where I admit that I've read much less Hemingway than I wish I had. It's also where I admit that yes, I'm in love with his legend just as much as I'm in love with his prose. Sue me.
"Hills Like White Elephants" is my second favorite short story of all time (for the first, keep reading) and I recently read The Sun Also Rises and fell deeply in love with Lady Brett Ashley, along with millions of other people over the last century.
People often use the "muscular prose" to describe Hemingway's writing, and I get compared to him a lot in workshop. (Mostly because of my fear of large words.) But every single time, I take it as an enormous compliment.
#4. Miranda July
My first experience with Miranda July was her movie Me and You and Everyone We Know. If you haven't seen it (and you probably haven't), see if you can rent it. If you have any trouble, I swear it's worth ordering it online.
When her book of short stories No One Belongs Here More Than You came out a year later, I picked it up right away. I'm going to let this quote speak for itself:
"Look at the sky: that is for you. Look at each person's face as you pass on the street: those faces are for you. And the street itself, and the ground under the street, and the ball of fire underneath the ground: all these things are for you. There are as much for you as they are for other people. Remember this when you wake up in the morning and think you have nothing."
#3. Alice Munro
The only problem with reading Alice Munro is it makes me depressed. I think there's no way I can ever write like this, why do I even try? Her short stories are so flawless she doesn't even need to bother trying to write anything longer. I have the collection called "My Best Stories" at home and it's thicker than the Bible.
Her stories may be short, but they can encapsulate entire lifetimes. She breaks one of the cardinal rules of short stories (keep the number of characters low) and inhabits her worlds with big, messy, complicated stories and intricate plot lines. Her sentences can be long, meandering and jarring or simple, short and direct.
I like this quote by her: "I can't play bridge. I don't play tennis. All those things that people learn, and I admire, there hasn't seemed time for. But what there is time for is looking out the window."
And, in case you were wondering, yes, Munro's Books in Downtown Victoria is named after her.
#2. Andre Dubus
Forget Hemingway for a moment. In my opinion, Dubus is the most badass, masculine, muscular prose stylist I've ever read. He's also the author of my NUMBER ONE favorite short story of all time: "A Father's Story".
I just realized, actually, that my two favorite authors on this list both wrote stories that center around the relationship between an aging father and his daughter. My short story that just won first place in the Fiddlehead's fiction contest, "Sea to Sky" is about the same thing. (I wonder where I got the idea...?)
You've probably seen movies based on Dubus' stories and not even realized it: In the Bedroom and We Don't Live Here Anymore are the most obvious examples. And his son Andre Dubus III is the author of The House of Sand and Fog. (Don't get them mixed up.)
Dubus was a man of contradictions. He was a devout Catholic, a notorious alcoholic and an avid baseball fan. (In other words, he was American.) I love the spirituality, the sex, the manliness of his stories, even though he can also expertly write from the perspective of women as well.
Dubus never wrote a novel, and never had to.
#1. Miriam Toews
Miriam Toews was the writer-in-residence at UBC last year, and that makes me sad because I missed her by one year!
Not gonna lie: I'm kind of in love with her.
I've read everything she ever wrote, including Swing Low: A Life, which is a CNF book written from the perspective of her death father (ballsy) and a pair of mediocre novels (A Boy of Good Breeding, Summer of My Amazing Luck)
And then, of course, there's her masterpiece A Complicated Kindness.
ACK is the story of Nomi, a teenage girl growing up in a Mennonite community with her father after her older sister and mother have fled the town. We get to experience the whole story through her eyes as she struggles with her faith and the repressive community she grew up in.
You may think I'm exaggerating when I say I've read it ten times, but I'm not. And I'll probably read it ten more times.
For years I said Cannery Row was my favorite book of all-time, because it was easier to have a readier answer than to stammer indecisively. But unlike Good Will Hunting, which has held on to its spot, Cannery Row has been knocked off its pedestal by this brilliant piece of fiction.
I know I'm mostly preaching to the choir, because pretty much everyone I know has read this book and agrees with me, but in case you haven't: what are you waiting for?
Thanks for reading!