the authors

This new portion of the website is devoted to the authors I love. There are hundreds in all (some are brief affairs and others life long romances), and this project will take some time to finish. Writers will be added and then annotated as I can find the time and in some measure of the degree of my passion. They’ll be kept in alphabetical order to avoid decisions about whom I love the most–but you must understand that Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, and Victor Hugo are sufficient proof to me that the human heart is big enough to love more than one. Making lists is easy. The annotation will take the most effort over time because I will want to say just what it is that makes these authors so special to me. So, please be patient. I am compiling a separate list elsewhere on this site for my favorite books under the heading ‘Good Books’. That will also be the venue for the many singularly fine books by authors who wrote little else.

Jane Austen–1775 to 1817. An English novelist who worked outside of any ordination or proscribed expectation other than her own sense of what was right and what might entertain and thus created a splendid but too small body of work. I know a lot of very literate guys who have never read Jane Austen. A sad thing. She understands men as well as any: Persuasion; Sense and Sensibility; Emma; Pride and Prejudice; Mansfield Park, are all great novels–but I am partial to Persuasion.

James Boswell–1740 to 1795. It is not that the pupil outshone the master, but that genius is always unique: London Journal; A Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides; Life of Samuel Johnson.

Anton Chekhov–1860 to 1904. You must remember that he was once a child, a boy, a young man. He bled. He shed a tear. The control he flaunts in his writing is illusion. The rabbits are not in his hat but his head. Read anything, but avoid the cannon until the last. The difference between the Constance Garnett and the Robert Payne translations makes me wish I could read Russian. .

Joseph Conrad (Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzenioski)–1857 to 1924. Polish born and raised, a merchant seaman, fluent in French, who became British subject and wrote in his third language: Youth (a narrative originally published with Heart of Darkness and The end of the Tether); Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands; Typhoon; Secret Agent; anything else–especially the short stories.

Charles Dickens–1812 to 1870. I am re-thinking my previous thought about this general favorite of English novelists. I’ll get back to him in time.

Arthur Conan Doyle–1859 to 1830. The unintended consequences of curiosity and persistence: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

Patrick Leigh Fermor–1915 to 2011. English-Irish wanderer, school drop-out, scholar and true war hero: A Time of Gifts; Between Woods and Water; Mani; Roumeli; and just about anything else.

Robert Frost–1874 to 1963. This poet of the laboring soul, and the rural life is happily a product of a mill town (Lawrence, Massachusetts) who worked a New Hampshire farm long enough to find the rock where his talent was hidden. The greatest American poet, for all his fame, is under appreciated for being over-exposed (Yeats has a similar problem). Frost’s problem from the first was that he took himself seriously and wanted to be the best. His work is studied, and in an age when we are taught that’ anyone can be a poet’ his sin is the simple excellence of what he wrote. As a friend pointed out to me recently, you can take many of his works and turn them into movies for both their visual impact and story content: North of Boston; Mountain Interval; Further Range. . .Heck, just get a copy of the Complete Poems.

Robert Graves–1895 to 1985. The most extraordinary writer of his time in too many ways to recount. Brave and foolhardy, a henpecked coward, a scholar, a poet and a hack. A genius. I, Claudius; Count Belisarius; Sergeant Lamb; The Greek Myths; Good-bye To All That.

Robert Heinlein–1907 to 1988. For those who do not understand the world of difference between prejudice and bigotry, Heinlein may be a bitter cup of coffee, but he was one of the best, most innovative and creative writers in a genre which quickly ages and often ages badly. My favorite of his works are: The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress; Time Enough For Love; and naturally for an old baby boomer like me, Stranger In A Strange Land.

Victor Hugo–1802 to 1885–French (this was not his fault) poet, playwright, essayist, novelist, historian and unwitting namesake of a boulevard in Paris the name of which was borrowed by a small bookshop in Boston with pretensions: Les Miserables; Notre Dame de Paris; Ninety Three; Toilers of the Sea; and almost anything else–there is a lot else.

Sarah Orne Jewett–1849 to 1909. Like Austen before her, an independent voice of unique quality and sweet perception. Forever underrated except by those who have read her. The Country of the Pointed Firs; Deephaven; A Country Doctor.

Elmer Kelton–1926 to 2009. A newspaperman and rancher and a fine and possibly great author of the ‘western’ genre. A Texan in every regard, my only wish is that he had written more about himself. His characters are not given to navel musings. His prose is hard and sturdy and often beautiful of line. He writes about the things that matter. My favorites are: The Time It Never Rained; Buffalo Wagons; and The Day the Cowboys Quit, and though the shorter books reflect the constraints of a man who was doing other things beside writing, they are all true to the best of the genre.

Rudyard Kipling–1865 to 1936. Born in Bombay and raised in India and England. Kipling’s reputation has born the weight of being the greatest poet of his time; but he must be appreciated for his prose as well. As he entered the twentieth century the wrongheaded criticism of those who placed politics above all shadowed an accomplishment which has finally outlasted his detractors and is alive and still fabulous today: Kim; Collected Poems; Rikki-Tikki-Tavi; Plain Tales from the Hills; Just So Stories; Phantom Rickshaw; and almost anything else.

Frederick Manfred–1912 to 1994. A friend about whom I have many prejudices, but one certainty: he was a fine and much unappreciated writer. Born just over the border in Doon, Iowa, he was very certainly a Minnesota man of brave disposition and proud opinion. This often put him at odds with even those who loved him. I think his greatest works are his novels Conquering Horse; Lord Grizzly, Scarlet Plume; King of Spade; Riders of Judgement.

Herman Melville–1819 to 1891. Born and died in New York, but thankfully he did not spend too much time there in between: Moby Dick (Yes!); The Piazza Tales; White Jacket; Omoo; Bartleby the Scrivener; and much else.

H.L. Mencken (Henry Louis Mencken (1880 to 1956)–The Baltimore son. The patron saint of all newspapermen and the greatest critic of American society and culture: Prejudices; Treatise on the Gods; Happy Days; Newspaper Days; Heathen Days; and the rest.

Eric Newby–1919 to 2006. Another fabulous Englishman, born to Wanda: A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush; Slowly Down the Ganges; Love and War in the Apennines (When the Snows Come they Will Take You Away); anything else.

Flannery O’Connor–1925 to 1964. Born and died in Georgia. Forget the ‘Southern Gothic’ crap and listen to what she’s trying to tell you: The Violent Bear it Away; A Good Man is Heard to Find; Everything That Rises Must Converge; but NOT Wise Blood (not until you have read the others).

George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair)–1903 to 1950: Must be ranked as one of the four or five greatest authors of the twentieth century by any standard of style, content, and impact: Burmese Days; Animal Farm; Nineteen Eighty-Four; Down and Out in Paris and London; Homage to Catalonia; The Road to Wiggin Pier; anything else.

Ayn Rand (Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum)–1905 to 1982. Playwright, novelist, essayist, philosopher. One of the most engaging and thoughtful authors of the twentieth century, Rand provokes ugly reaction from the religious left and right which has resulted in an underestimation of her work as an artist and prose stylist: Atlas Shrugged; The Fountainhead; We The Living; and the essays.

Rafael Sabatini–1875 to 1950. A sense of the operatic infuses all of Sabatini’s work, (he was raised in it) and if a flare for the dramatic does not tickle your cockles than you will not like him–but a fifteen year old boy trapped in his bed room on a cold winter’s night trying to avoid his homework could find no better escape–nor a fifty year old office bound day dreamer: Scaramouche; Captain Blood; and after them, anything else.

Nevil Shute (Nevil Shute Norway)–1899 to 1960. Probably the writer who has influenced me the most by example, though he seldom used those ten penny words I like to play with and I would never know what to say to him over a beer at the pub down the road from the great aerodrome. English engineer and pilot: Trustee from the Toolroom; A Town Like Alice; On The Beach; Round the Bend; In Old Captivity; No Highway; Pastoral; Slide Rule; etc.

Henryk Sienkiewicz–1846 to 1916. Poland’s Tolstoy, but with an even greater sense of history: With Fire and Sword; The Deluge; Fire on the Steppe.

Robert Louis Stevenson–1850 to 1894. Invalid Scottish novelist and poet who made a liar of all those writing teachers who tell you to only write about what you know. If you’re a genius you can write what you want: Kidnapped; Treasure Island; The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; The Master of Ballantrae; New Arabian Nights; A Child’s Garden of Verses; and most everything else not played with by others.

Henry David Thoreau–1817 to 1862. Born and died in Concord. Essayist, prose poet, and pencil pusher. Proof that even a philosophical snot can write clear and beautiful prose: Walden; A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers; Civil Disobedience; Cape Cod; The Maine Woods; and almost everything else.

Alexis de Tocqueville–1805 to 1859. Modern political philosophy seldom has the daring, the insight, the wisdom, or the true purpose of this still very readable portrait of what America was and what it was destined to become, both good and bad. Democracy in America.

Anthony Trollope–1815 to 1882. English novelist. His ‘chronicles of Barsetshire’ (The Warden; Barchester Towers; Doctor Thorne; Framely Parsonage; The Small House at Allington; Last Chronical of Barset) come as close to rivaling the genius of Jane Austen as anything else; His ‘Palliser’ series (Can You Forgive Her?; Phineas Finn; The Eustace Diamonds; Phineas Redux; The Prime Minister; The Dukes Children) capture England in its prime in a way mere history cannot. He was a workman of a writer who weighed the sturdiness of his work first (much like Nevil Shute) but often wandered into exquisite portraiture and near perfect prose.

Mark Twain–1835 to 1910. Like Shakespeare, the greatness of his achievement makes it unfair to include him in any list, and like Shakespeare, another man wrote his work.

Tom Wolfe (Thomas Kennerly Wolfe) 1931 to present. Might be the finest writer of his time. I feel too close to him to be sure. But I am most thankful that he turned to writing novels. The sheer and glorious pyrotechnics of Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-flake Streamline Baby; Electric Cool-aid Acid Test; Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers; The Pump House Gang; Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine; became the more deeply considered but still hot The Right Stuff; The Painted Word; From Bauhaus to Our House. The social critique of his novels is worthy of a modern Trollope but with a larger sense of humor.

William Butler Yeats–1865 to 1939. It is notable that he is the one Irish poet that the English want to claim. I recommend the Complete Poems collection because though his work evolved through his life, there is mere greatness in almost every period.

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I have been informed by trusted authority that the short quip which I have placed here for the last year or so, by way of biography, lacks gravitas. “Over-paid by others for hyphenated jobs such as lawn-work, snow-shoveling, house-painting, office-boy, dish-washer, warehouse-grunt, table-waiter and hotel night-clerk–I’ve since chosen to be a writer, editor, publisher, and for most of my life, a bookseller, and even managed to occasionally pay myself. Hound is my first published novel.” And so it does. It is hard to be serious about so unserious a subject as oneself. But herewith, and keeping the ‘nasty bits’ (Brit expressions are so brilliant) to myself, I offer then, this ongoing post begun as posts at Small Beer Press. If anyone is interested, from time to time I will add something at the end to bring the epic closer to the present moment.