Friday, August 20, 2010

The Top Shelf

Were you expecting Long Island Iced Teas? Sadly, so was I.

     Our prompt this week was to answer the following question: “Who are the great authors writing today?” Thankfully, there was a second prompt. 

     What I mean by this is the fact that I don’t necessarily feel as if I read enough to be able to answer that kind of question. When I was a teenager I used to read all of the time. Even in the early years of my marriage, when the plant used to shut down for a week here or there during the slow season, I was able to lie around the apartment, reading to my heart’s content. Eventually, as life became more hectic, I was only able to read my favorite authors' new releases. Now, I am attempting to read more, but it is a discipline that I am having to master. If I had the time I would read so much more.

     Our secondary prompt was: “Who are your favorite authors writing today?”

     Now we’re talking…

[caption id="attachment_3245" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="A view of one shelf"][/caption]

As I mentioned there was a time when I was only able to follow my favorites. Over the years that list has included: Stephen King, the late Michael Crichton, Patricia Cornwell, Michael Slade, Clive Barker and Pat Conroy. 

     Citing Stephen King as a favorite author is like rock bands citing The Beatles or Led Zeppelin as influences, but in my case it is still a fact. I must say that I do not read everything that Uncle Stevie puts out. As prolific and as varied as he is, I tend to examine each novel and see whether it strikes my fancy before putting it into my cart or e-cart. I love when people tell me that they refuse to read his work because it is too creepy, frightening, etc. Of course, that’s when I ask them whether they liked The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me or The Green Mile. When they answer that they loved those films, that is when I rock their world.

     My favorites in the cannon that is Mr. King would be The Stand, Pet Sematary, Misery, The Dark Half, Gerald’s Game, Bag of Bones and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. The latter is a particular favorite of mine, and not because of the baseball references. I like it because of the young girl's strength and determination as she deals with finding herself lost in the deep woods.

     Michael Crichton was brilliant at filling his fiction with so much science that by the time he was done, none would question whether it might be possible for dinosaurs to roam the earth. Some might suggest that it was too much, but I think it gave his work so much believability. I thought Congo and Sphere were good books, but the terrible films really put a bad taste in my mouth. Uncle Stevie's fans can say the same about some of his as well. I was fairly dedicated between those two and Airframe, although it and Disclosure were very similar. I did not read again until Prey and State of Fear.

[caption id="attachment_3246" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Some Slade for your day."][/caption]

Patricia Cornwell hooked me with her Doctor Kay Scarpetta Series. My wife and I have followed religiously since Postmortem. We have followed her, FBI Profiler Benton Wesley, Detective Pete Marino and Scarpetta's niece Lucy, through the highs and lows of their lives as well as the peaks and valleys that is Ms. Cornwell’s creativity. There have been some great ones, a couple of lackluster ones, but for the most part she keeps us coming back for more.

     Which brings us to Michael Slade. I did a guest post on this subject just recently (, so I will not bore the Wicked Readers with a rehash; however, I will say that he should be given a chance, especially if one likes their horror on the cutting edge. Why he remains largely undiscovered after all of these years, I still cannot figure out. Those of us who do know Slade enthusiastically consider ourselves “Sladists”.

     “Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we’re opened, we’re red.” So began my interest in Clive Barker. You may recall Pinhead from the Hellraiser series of films. That’s him. I started with his collection of shorts, Books of Blood. Eventually I followed him along from The Damnation Game, The Great and Secret Show, Imajica, Everville and The Thief of Always. I highly recommend that last one. It is a fable and suitable for children. I read that one to my two boys while they were growing up.

     Lastly, I will leave you with Pat Conroy. Writers of every flavor very often like to show off their mastery of the English Language. As a reader, we can easily find ourselves tripping up and losing interest in the characters, plot and ultimately in the book itself. Pat Conroy is not one of those. His prose simply must be some of the most beautiful ever published; reading his sentences just has to be like fine dining at it's finest. I have an image in my head of a non-wine drinker, tasting the bouquet that are his sentences and falling in love immediately with the vintage.

     This past year I did a book review over on my blog on Mr. Conroy’s latest release, South of Broad ( In it, I answered the following: “How did a horror enthusiast end up reading Pat Conroy?” I explained that a sister-in-law highly recommended what I would call his masterpiece, Beach Music. I had proclaimed that I never read anything unless someone died in the first chapter. As it turned out, the first page recounted the story of how Shyla McCall leapt from the Silas Pearlman Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina, setting off an amazing and unforgettable chain of events. Encompassing many years, multiple characters and almost too many subplots to count, it is simply the finest piece of fiction that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I have read it many times and sometimes pick it up not necessarily intending to finish. I’ll grab it off of my bookshelf as if the intent is to give myself a delightful snack. It’s that good. How he tied every loose end into perfect and beautiful little bows, I’ll never know, and could only hope to be able to emulate.

     It is so good that I refused to read any of his other works, fearing that they would be such a colossal let down. In the end, I finally buckled and have read a few more, though I have yet to work my way through his bibliography. I have also read The Prince of Tides, and Conroy’s memoir, My Losing Season. I have not been disappointed as of yet. He is a fantastic writer.

     We read different things and we read them for different reasons. This was not an exhaustive list, but a list. What might be on your list? What might you recommend? I'd love to hear what others think. Hopefully, you can leave me with something new to discover as I hope I have left you.

[caption id="attachment_3247" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Thorn Birds? How the hell did that get there?"][/caption]

I would like to thank Julie Musil for commenting two weeks ago during our contest then about being interested in reading my e-book, Dance on Fire. You, my dear, are getting that chance. Thank you for participating. I hope you enjoy it.


  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nimble Books LLC, Open Road Media. Open Road Media said: How did a horror enthusiast wind up loving Conroy? "His prose simply must be some of the most beautiful ever published" [...]

  2. Great post - I never really was a Steven King reader until I read 'On Writing.' Since then, I have picked up a few of his books - including the base ball one. That one was great!

    However, I am curious - since you really went after your favorites with zest - (and felt comfortable answering the second prompt) do you not think we have "Great" writers today?

    Just curious - as I know we all have our opinion (I for one, feel the true 'greats' are lacking in modern society = in the past 50 years.)

    But then again, I am an odd duck.

  3. )h - P.S. Loved the title - the top shelf. Yeah, that's where my favorites go too. And that was too funny about the Thorn Birds - loved watching the movie with Richard Chamberlain, though....

  4. Hi, George. Thanks for the comments. I'll get to your first question later. I did want to leave you with something about "The Thorn Birds". I have never read it. It's my wife's book. I didn't see it there until after I had taken the photo and was inserting it into the post. I did buy my wife the DVD of the miniseries, but she still has not sat down to watch it with me. I have only seen parts of it, myself. I know she adored it. What gives?
    Running off to dinner now. Thanks again for your notes.

  5. James, great post. It's great that you couldn't pinpoint just one author and talked about a few of them. I laughed when you made you comment about people not reading Stephen King because he's too scary, then listing a few titles written by him that weren't his normal horror. I LOVE Shawshank Redemption and didn't know until about a year ago that it was a King story. Blew me away! King also has some fantasy books out that I'd like to get my hands on, just haven't had the time to get them. So, I guess I'll say that I don't - and won't -read his horror books, but will pick up almost anything else he has out there. *wink*

  6. Hi, Ana. Thanks so much for commenting.
    I typically tell people that I have climbed on and fallen back off the bandwagon that is Stephen King many times. I would compare him to the musician Prince, in a way. We all agree, or should agree, that Prince is brilliant, but often he is interested in making music that the masses might not be interested in listening to. King has written some brilliant stories of differing lengths, and then some others that did not strike me as interesting at all.
    I have not read the "Dark Tower" series, simply because I hear it is fantasy and that isn't necessarily my thing; however, those who have, swear by it.
    I read "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" to my kids because it is about a kid who gets lost in the deep woods. She is there for about a week or so, and seems to be stalked by a rather large bear. There are frightening moments, but not too frightening. That and Clive Barker's "The Thief of Always" were stories that I read to my kids and highly recommend.
    Thanks again and have a great week.

  7. George, thanks again for the comments.
    I do think that there are some great authors out there, but you may have a point. Could it be that we have spent altogether too much time attempting to please the masses and make money, rather than write that great American novel, as they used to say when I was a kid?
    Then again, because I have gone through great periods where I only read 2-3 books a year, mainly focusing on my favs, that I did not branch out and see what was causing a stir amongst the best seller lists or amongst the critics. One great thing about blogging as much as I do now is the fact that I can see what everyone is talking about. I'm reading Justin Cronin's "The Passage" right now for that very reason.
    On the other hand, the masses label "The Catcher in the Rye" as a great book and I, frankly, did not get it. Perhaps because I was reading it in 2005 instead of the decade that it was published. I thought it had moments, but do not think I will be reading it again or recommending it either. I love old movies and I didn't get "Breakfast at Tiffanys", either.
    I guess everything is subjective.
    Have a great week, my friend.

  8. James,
    How did I miss this post the first time around? Friday was a blur for me. Getting up early to go to a 8:00 writers meeting 2 hours away...I faded and went to bed early Friday, I think.
    I haven't read but 10% of the books you listed. I think my tastes run so hot and cold and now I have so many in my genre, I'll never get outside that box. Your book was a nice distraction for me there.
    One of my favorite authors is Paul Theroux, who wrote Mosquito Coast. The book was great, the movie, even though it's watchable with Harrison Ford doing a pretty good job, was so-so. Ford's character was unbelievable, the story through the eyes of his son. It didn't have a happy ending, but had some funny and tragic scenes combined. Wish he wrote more fiction.
    Like George, I honestly began to respect Stephen King (rather than hating him for all those bloody teenage movies I would never see) as a writer when I read his book On Writing. I love the part when he tells people where he gets his ideas, and then cites the some 200 books he has read over the past few months. Amazing. I think he said you have to write lM words to consider yourself someone ready to write. He is for horror what Nora Roberts is to romance. She has some 198 books, writes one every 45 days, every 5 minutes someone buys one of her books, has 125 in active print at any one time and makes a boatload of money. Some would say she has helped the publishing industry all by herself.
    It's late. I'll call you Stephen and you can call me Nora, okay my friend?

  9. Hello, Nora! ;)
    Thanks for stumbling upon my little post. I may not have read many in the grand scheme of things, but I always notice. My wife might have read some Roberts. I'll have to ask her about it. Don't you think Patterson will catch her? I know he writes with others, but doesn't he release a new book with his name on it somewhere, every month? Probably before he's done, one or more of us will have published as a cowriter with him!!
    Thanks for taking the time.
    I also want to make certain that I thank you for that review you posted on for me. You are too kind and I am glad you enjoyed it.
    Your friend, Stephen.

  10. Yes, Stephen. I think you're correct about Patterson.
    Nora Roberts made a wonderful speech at the RWA convention this year (I'm getting a CD), basically saying she thought the plethora of romance books that sell are helping the publishing industry as a whole, and without them, there would likely be very bad news for many NYT "bestselling" authors that actually lose money for their houses. She was telling us to hold our heads up high, and not let people make little or criticize our genre. The average romance reader reads 3 books a week. What an audience! No wonder there are so many.
    And did you see my little post on your blog too? We have some common roots. Always nice to know someone who is a friend, is also part of the family.
    --Fondly (she would say it this way)----Nora