Today’s Top 10 Tuesday topic, suggested by the lovely Jamie at The Broke and the Bookish blog, is popular authors you (somehow) have never read. Since my blog is about women authors, I’ve limited my list by gender. I’ve encountered several pieces like this in recent weeks; the gist seems to be that even well-read people (including famous writers) have not read everyone people assume they’ve read, and in fact have many key gaps in their personal reading history. As many authors and books as I’ve read, there are far more I haven’t read. And that’s the way it will always be. I’ll be interested to read your comments and suggestions.
1. Julia Alvarez — While I have read other Latina novelists, for some reason I have yet to read a book by the highly-regarded Alvarez. I recently picked up a copy of what is said to be her best book, In the Time of Butterflies, which sounds like a gripping read (it’s set in the Dominican Republic in 1960 during the Trujillo dictatorship and is based on the true story of the three Mirabal sisters, who were murdered for their part in a plot to overthrow the government). Everything I know about Alvarez and this book tells me I will love it.
2. Margaret Atwood — I’m mystified by this omission in my reading history and somewhat ashamed to admit it. I’ve had a copy of Alias Grace on my living room bookcase for well over a decade. My wife read and loved Cat’s Eye many years ago (I think I gave it to her). I’ve read so much about Atwood’s recent speculative fiction trilogy (Oryx & Crake, The Year of the Flood, and Madd Adam), but have yet to dive in to what sounds like a series I would love.
3. Emily Bronte and Charlotte Bronte — This is a two-fer! What can I say? I studiously avoided Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre as “women’s books” for ages, even though I was an English major. (Same for Jane Austen.) I read Austen for the first time in the last five years and loved her writing. I know how great WH and JE are supposed to be, and I trust the judgment of many people who swear they are two of the greatest books ever written. So I WILL read them.
4. Joan Didion — Unless you count her famous essay, “The Santa Ana” from her early essay collection, Slouching to Bethlehem, I am still a Didion virgin. I haven’t read Slouching or her recent bestsellers, The Year of Magical Thinking, about the death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, and Blue Nights, about the illness and death of her daughter, Quintana Roo. I need to remedy that, don’t I?
5. George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) — Like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, Eliot always seemed daunting in terms of both her writing style and the length of her books. If I were going to read one of her novels, it was going to be a serious commitment. (Ironically, I didn’t feel this way with the works of Dickens, about whom the same things could be said.) Then I read that Jane Smiley thinks Eliot’s Middlemarch is the best novel ever written. And I keep coming across other writers raving about Eliot and this book in particular. So I need to make a commitment and read Middlemarch at long last.
6. Jane Hamilton — At one point in the 90s, everyone seemed to be reading and talking about Hamilton’s A Map of the World. The plot sounded compelling but perhaps too intense for someone who loves babies and children too much. Just thinking about the premise made me shudder and say, “Could you imagine?” Her previous novel, The Book of Ruth, also caught fire. My wife read both books and recommended them. I’ve sort of lost track of Hamilton in recent years, but I probably need to reconsider her work.
7. Shirley Hazzard — The Transit of Venus is a modern classic, and many writers speak glowingly of her writing. Someone gave me a copy of Great Fire when it came out, and I intended to read it but never got around to it. Recently, author Roxana Robinson exhorted me to read Hazzard, starting with Venus, so I picked up a copy. So I’m one step closer to reading her!
8. Grace Paley — I wasn’t even familiar with Paley’s name until a few years ago. Recently her name seems to be everywhere. She is listed as an inspiration by several writers whose books I’ve read in the past year (as diverse as Ann Patchett and Leora Skolkin-Smith). Her name shows up in book reviews and interviews on a regular basis. And my wife just bought her Collected Stories. From what I’ve read, I have every reason to believe I will both enjoy and admire Paley’s writing. Just gotta get to it!
9. Carole Shields — Shields came to my attention when her novel The Stone Diaries was published to great acclaim and sales in 1995. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize that year. As with Jane Hamilton, I was always aware of her but never read her. Then she seemed to fall below the radar in the last decade or so. But with my newfound love of fellow Canadian Alice Munro, I became interested in Canadian literature and Shields came to mind. I just bought her Collected Stories and plan to read a couple stories in between each novel I read. I suspect I’m going to regret taking so long to discover her writing.
10. Alice Walker — As with Joan Didion, I’ve only read a single story by Walker (“Everyday Use” is in the sophomore English textbook I teach). I know all about The Color Purple but never read the book or saw the movie. And while I know she is well-regarded as a novelist, feminist, and civil rights activist, her subsequent novels haven’t caught my attention. If you’re a Walker fan, which book should I read as an introduction to her work (Once, Meridian, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Possessing the Secret of Joy, You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down)?
I have always found ‘Jane Eyre’ to be more accessible than ‘Wuthering Heights’ but I think WH is probably the better book even if it is deeply troubling. One good approach to getting into ‘Middlemarch’ (which I have loved since I read it in my late teens) is to read Rebecca Mead’s excellent ‘My Life in Middlemarch’ which will not only give you a sense of what makes the book so amazing, but also place it solidly in the context of Eliot’s life. It’s a quick read and as soon as you put it down you will want to pick up and wrap yourself in ‘Middlemarch’.
George Eliot! Every year I keep telling myself that I will finally read Middlemarch but then I end up putting it off. Maybe this year! *fingers crossed*
Great list! My TTT
Maybe I should try to start an online book club headquartered at my blog, and we could start with Middlemarch. There’s no shortage of people who want to read it but have just never got around to it.
The Stone Diaries is brilliant – I highly recommend it!
I picked up a copy of Shields’ Collected Stories and really liked the first few. I’ll probably read The Stone Diaries during my summer vacation. Thanks for reading my blog.