Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Faves #2 - Favorite female authors

I have to talk about books. I can't help it. I'll try and mix up the themes of these from week to week and I did a listening/watching one last week so we'll go with books this week.

I had been thinking about female authors a lot this week for a few reasons. One, I'm reading a collection of short stories by women. Two, I just got done reading a not particularly enjoyable book written by a woman. Three, I got to thinking a lot about a trio of my favorite women authors and their capacity to write more than one excellent book. I figured I'm thinking about them anyway, I might as well write about them.

So here we are.

#1 Laura Hillenbrand - One of the things I was thinking about this week, after reading Joseph Monninger's latest novel, was the difficulty in writing more than one masterpiece. I loved Monninger's A Barn in New England and I approached his new book with a lot of trepidation. Could he possibly match the quality of Barn in New England? No. It was a really good book but creating multiple masterpieces is a hard thing to do. I tried to think of, say, my top fifty books. Who would have two or more on there? Not Michael Chabon. Not T.C. Boyle. After thinking and thinking, I came up with two. Jonathan Safron Foer and Laura Hillenbrand. And Hillenbrand is questionable. I loved Seabiscuit. You can't do a non-fiction book better than that. I don't care what your interest in horses, non-fiction, or reading is, you'll enjoy Seabiscuit. Unbroken was superb as well. Top 50? I don't know. I gave it two-stars. But I'm nitpicking the right tail of the bell curve. Hillenbrand is immensely talented and that's why she's number one on this list.

#2 Aimee Bender - based on two excellent novels - The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and An Invisible Sign of My Own and a short story in the collection I'm reading which should be reviewed in the next couple of weeks. Bender is really quirky and I think that's what appeals to me the most about her writing.

#3 Elizabeth Gilbert - based on her TED talk and two excellent non-fiction books - Eat, Pray, Love and The Last American Man. Eat, Pray, Love is funny in that I think I regard it more highly now than I did at the time I read it. I may have bought into the hype a bit. I didn't care as much for Committed and I still need to read some of her fiction.

#4 Alison McGhee - likely the least recognized name on this list. Four strong novels, all of which probably made me tear up. Rainlight, Shadow Baby, Was it Beautiful? (my favorite), and All Rivers Flow to the Sea. She seems to have made the transition to children's books which I find disappointing. Her books tend to be about families and grief, which is what makes them so sad. They're lovely, though, too.

#5 Jeanette Winterson - very much in danger of becoming a Friday Fave Emeritus in that she's in my top five based on two awesome books - Written on the Body and Sexing the Cherry - which were published in 1993 and 1990, respectively. She went downhill from there. I enjoyed the writing, but not the stories, of Gut Symmetries, The Powerbook and Lighthousekeeping. I picked up The Stone Gods not too long ago and put it back because it looked goofy. Like McGhee, she seems to be turning towards a younger audiences (although not as young as McGhee). Winterson released a memoir a few weeks ago which I might read.

Honorable Mention:
Suzanne Clarke - Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is one of my favorite books. Like top five favorite. I read a collection of short stories by her which paled in comparison and one book isn't going to get you into the top five, no matter how fantastic.

Mary Roach - really oddball non-fiction in Packing for Mars and Stiff. Before I read her books, I used to read her column in Reader's Digest, the only reason I even picked up the magazine.

Pre-hack Anne Rice - the first female author I really enjoyed. Feast of All Saints and Cry to Heaven were incredibly enjoyable and the first two books of The Vampire Chronicles are almost legendary. What came after and the stuff she wrote under a pseudonym is just a mess of horrible.

What do I mean by pre-hack? Interview with the Vampire came out in 1976, Feast of All Saints in 1979, Cry to Heaven in 1982, and The Vampire Lestat in 1985. See a trend? Three years, like clockwork. With The Vampire Lestat, the Vampire Chronicles put Rice on the map and people started buying the brand. Her next books came out in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 (x2), 2001, 2002 (x2), and 2003 (x2). That's ridiculous, especially when you consider she had health problems and spent time in a coma.


jtorrey13 said...

I don't see Audrey Niffenegger on here!

I know I read "Was It Beautiful?", both of Aimee Bender's books and "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" because of talking with you (or probably more likely reading your words in blog or email form.) Those are some damn fine books. Now, since I've also read "Seabiscuit", I'm going to have to put "Unbroken" on my list.

Realized that I'm doing reviews (and I use that term VERY loosely) of books lately on another site. You might like it.

Talk to you soon.

JJ said...

Eat, Pray, Love is a bit mainstream for you, don't you think? And Unbroken too. Both really popular book club books. I'm a little disappointed in you. I'm mid Invisible Sign of My Own right now and am enjoying it. Meaningful to me for reasons other than the numbers... I can def see why you are so in love with Bender.