As promised, here is the equal opportunity follow-up to my Chicks Who can WRITE post.
I’m often asked for book recommendations (and giving them is one of my all-time favorite activities, just so you know), so I came up with these lists as a go-to guide for friends who are looking for their next great read.
This list is a bit more eclectic than my chick’s list – whereas those ladies all write literary fiction, my dudes include some biographers, an adventure writer, a scientist, and a couple of memoirists. (There’s a reason for this lopsidedness, which I’ll explain in a future post, but, hint: I generally prefer the way women write fiction.)
The criteria are the same, this time around: the author must be living, and I must have personally read and enjoyed at least two of their books. I have included my personal favorite(s) from each of them.
Here we go, in no particular order.
Rick Bragg. I’ve already written a post about Bragg’s writing. He writes memoir/biographies (mostly about his own ancestors) that are as lovely as the very best fiction. Nobody else can do what Bragg does; he’s simply a sorcerer with words. Treat yourself to one of his books. Really.
Favorites: All Over But the Shoutin’; Ava’s Man; The Prince of Frogtown
Leif Enger. He is one of several male exceptions to my “I prefer women’s fiction” rule. His Peace Like a River enjoyed huge popularity (and acclaim), but I thought his follow-up novel was even better. Enger’s prose is just beautiful: not too busy, not too flat, full of rich details and full of sentences that make you stop and read them over again.
Favorite: So Brave, Young, and Handsome
Stephen King. I also wrote a (lengthy) post on King a while back. King just squeaked onto this list; I’ve only read one of his novels, and have no plans to read another. But that novel (Under The Dome) astounded me, as it ran for 1074 pages and did not contain a single dull page. That, my friends, is genius. King earned his spot here, though, for his masterpiece On Writing, which is a must-read for writers.
Favorite: On Writing
David McCullough. He writes about historical figures and events in a way that’s both scholarly and literary, and his books are so full of detail, you’d swear he’d time traveled back and been present at the events he’s describing. He’s won the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (so, you know, he’s doing pretty well for himself.) Unreasonable bonus points: some of his books are printed on that thick paper with raggedy edges that I adore.
Favorite: John Adams
Edmund Morris. If you like your historical biographies a little more flowery (but no less ruthlessly researched and footnoted), Morris is your man. With the exception of his confusing Reagan book, Dutch (in which he fictionally inserted himself into Reagan’s story: FAIL), his books are a treat from start to finish. As only the best in the business can, he marries incredible detail and lyrical storytelling. Oh and he, too, has won a Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Award.
Favorites: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt; Theodore Rex
Bill Bryson. Ah, gentle Bill. Every time I read one of his books, I end up laughing out loud, over and over. Bryson writes about his very ordinary travel adventures (in America, England, Australia) with a wonderful, droll wit. (He’s also written several books on language and science, which I have not read.) Some of his books could be better edited, but no matter – they’re still delightful, and flat-out funny.
Favorite: A Walk in the Woods
Jeffrey Lent. Lent is another “guy who writes like a chick” (I mean it as a huge compliment.) Like Leif Enger and Charles Frazier, he sets his novels back a hundred years or so, which gives them a gorgeous, timeless feel. The stories (and the writing) are so engaging, once you’re a few pages in it becomes hard to set the books down. Here is the very first sentence of Lost Nation, in its entirety: “They went on.” When I read something like that, I literally want to stand up and applaud – I know I’m in excellent hands.
Favorites: In the Fall; Lost Nation
Simon Singh. Again: I have a previous post on this dude. Singh is the master at taking the most intricate mathematical details and making them perfectly understandable. His scientific books read like thrillers, and Fermat’s Enigma is one of my favorite non-fiction books of all time. The Code Book, about the history (and future) of code-making, is equally impressive, although it is longer and a bit harder to read.
Favorite: Fermat’s Enigma
Jon Krakauer. Here is another non-fiction writer who knows how to tell a story just as well as a novelist. He gained popularity as a freelance writer for Outside magazine, and found fame with his 1997 book Into Thin Air, about the tragic 1996 Mt. Everest expedition during which 8 people died (a climb that Krakauer happened to be on.) He is not a strict historian – his own philosophies color his writing, a bit – but he has nailed the true-adventure format.
Favorites: Into the Wild; Into Thin Air
Stephen L. Carter. He’s a smarty: a law professor at Yale and a former clerk for a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. He’s a respected columnist and writer of non-fiction books on a variety of subjects, including affirmative action, faith, and civility. And in 2002 he published his first novel, the bestselling thriller The Emperor of Ocean Park (he’s since written three more novels.) He writes intellectual legal mysteries – sort of a cross between John Grisham and John le Carre.
Favorite: The Emperor of Ocean Park
Honorable mention: James Frey, Tom Wolfe, Wally Lamb, Stephen Hawking, Dan Simmons, Charles Frazier, David Sedaris.
So, I wanna know…who would you add?