Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday for April 19, 2011

Once again, it's time for Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week, we get to choose from past topics. Since I'm new to the game, this provides me with a plethora of options.  Sooo. . .I decided to go with:

Top Ten Authors that Deserve More Recognition

In no particular order, here are the ten authors I'd like to see bandied about the blogosphere a bit more:

1. Kent Haruf
Oh, Kent Haruf. I love you. I want to sit on the front porch and people watch with you.  I loved Plainsong where the old bachelor McPheron brothers suddenly find themselves sheltering Victoria, a pregnant teenager who was kicked out of her house.  They're so used to their quiet routine that their idea of making conversation is to talk about stock prices.  But, they become this quirky little family. Then there's high school teacher Tom Guthrie whose wife became depressed and left him alone to raise his two boys.  We follow both Tom and the boys as they struggle to get by.  Eventide takes up where Plainsong leaves off and is equally enjoyable. He writes about the plains and the people that inhabit them with such compassion.

2. Lois-Ann Yamanaka
Lois-Ann Yamanaka is a Japanese-American poet and author who was born and raised in Hawaii. I have to admit, I've only read some of her poetry and only one novel, Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers, but I love her style and her subject matter and intend to seek out more of her work. In Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers we follow the life of Lovey Nariyoshi as she navigates her early teen years in Hawaii during the 1970s.  There is a constant push and pull between the desire to be just like the haole (white) girls at school with their seemingly perfect home life, complete with Dixie cups and homemade cookies and her real life with her offbeat family and their "embarrassing" habits, food and clothing. Yamanaka does a beautiful job of not just telling Lovey's story, but condemning the Western exotification of Hawaiian culture. By writing it in pidgin, Yamanaka not only claims but exalts her linguistic identity, something she has taken heat for with critics.  I don't know of any other authors who are writing about contemporary Hawaiians, particularly those of Japanese-American descent--if you have suggestions for further reading, please mention them in the comments!

3. Robert Cormier
This guy was writing young adult novels before "young adult" was even a genre (would you call it a genre?), anyway, before it was the hip and groovy thing to do.  Now The Chocolate War pops up on the occasional reading list, but he often gets lost in the shuffle, which is a real shame.  He writes compelling novels where things aren't always as they seem and he is not afraid to tackle the problem of evil. For example, Fade deals with such horrors as serial murders and incest, yet still leaves the reader with the feeling that humanity is redeemable.  Tunes for Bears to Dance To, a book about anti-semitism in the U.S., might be written for middle schoolers, but it doesn't speak down to them in any way and forces even adults to question their values.  Did you know that Cormier even included his real phone number in I am the Cheese? When teens called looking for Amy (one of the main characters) he would say he was her dad and talk to them for a while.

4. Anne Lamott
I have to admit, I haven't read Lamott's fiction, but her non-fiction is always exactly what I need when I'm feeling low. When I was pregnant with my first daughter a friend gave me Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year and I loved it.  She juxtaposes her pregnancy and subsequent new motherhood with her best friend's illness and eventual death from cancer. I think I especially related to this memoir because we were still living with my grandparents at that point.  In addition to all the normal hormones roiling about during late pregnancy, there was the added tumult of watching Alzheimer's continue to pull my grandpa under.  All this joy and pain and excitement and dread made for a very rocky time. Lamott captures all these emotions and comes to grip with them with honesty and grace.  I've since read Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Plan B.: Further Thoughts on Faith, and Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith.  She's big on social justice and forgiveness (especially of oneself) and holds her Christian faith very dearly but never judges or pontificates about it.  I like that.

5. Robertson Davies
I love this guy and not just because he reminds me of Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street.  He's best known for his trilogies: The Salterton Trilogy and The Deptford Trilogy, and The Cornish Trilogy.  Plus, he's written a number of plays and essays. He writes these great generational stories that delve into the psychological innerworkings of families.  They're all laced with humor and there are times when you belatedly realize he's been ribbing the reader all along.  I was introduced to the The Deptford Trilogy first, but I think he's at the top of his game with The Cornish Trilogy.

6. Clyde Edgerton
You like how I chose the picture of him playing the banjo?  (Side note: I bought a banjo off my college professor a few years back and can successfully play "Banjo in the Holler," "Boil them Cabbage Down," and "Cripple Creek.")  Anyways, Clyde Edgerton is great. He writes books about people that you know, or at least you feel like you do.  My favorite is Raney about a newlywed, bluegrass-performing couple and the trials they face as they learn to live together during the first few years of married life. Raney is a young, very innocent, Freewill Baptist girl and Charles is <gasp> a northerner. A very liberal Episcopalian northerner. Both of them have to learn to come to grips with the others' idiosyncrasies, not to mention set some boundaries for the family members (Raney is horrified when Charles insists on locking their doors and not giving a set of keys to her folks.)  It's great. Edgerton also wrote Walking Across Egypt (which I believe they made a movie about a few years back with Jonathan Taylor Thomas, the kid from Home Improvement).  In it, Mattie Rigsbee takes in a juvenile delinquent and a battle of the wills ensues.  Again, likable characters who may have misconceptions about things, but have good hearts.  If you're looking for a fast read that still has substance and lots of humor--give Edgerton a try.

7. Garth Nix
Back in library school, my YA Lit professor put Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy on the reading list--so glad she did!  These fantasy novels were great!  My husband (then fiance) and I devoured them.  I had never really read much fantasy before then, so when I started Sabriel and read that she was a necromancer who bound the dead with her charter marks and bells, I was a little unsure about whether or not I could follow all the "weirdness."  But, I was soon caught up in the world building and especially Sabriel's story as she tries to rescue her father.  The second book in the series, Lirael, was even more exciting.  I loved Lirael and not just because she was a librarian.  She starts out so unsure of herself but is able to dig deep and find that bad-girl moxie that you gotta love.  Abhorsen continues Lirael's story and completes the saga with a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat plot.  Reserve a weekend for this, you're not going to want to be interrupted. This series also has the best sidekicks ever, Mogget and the Disreputable Dog are the type of creatures I want to have my back when taking off on quests or trying to put the dead to rest. Nix also has two other series (which I haven't read yet): The Seventh Tower and Keys to the Kingdom.

8. Jo-Ann Mapson
Whenever I need a break from heavy reading (you know, too many Bookers in a row), I pick up something by Jo-Ann Mapson and I feel like I'm catching up with old friends.  I read Mapson for her characters.  She draws them with such compassion and humor.  Even the people you're not supposed to be rooting for are given motives and a back-story so you can't help but sympathize with them, no matter how wrong-headed they seem.  I also like that many of her books take place in Southern California, so I recognize the locales.  I recently read, though, that she moved up to Alaska, so I need to read some of her more recent stuff and see if we get to experience the far North. Most recently, I've read Shadow Ranch, Blue Rodeo, and Hank & Chloe (apparently there's a television movie of this last one with Kris Kristofferson and Ann-Margaret).

9. Chris Crutcher
Chris Crutcher is another YA author who was writing YA novels before it was the cool thing to do.  I love him like I love Robert Cormier.  Best thing is, he writes boy books!  (Do you have any idea how hard it is to get those kids books that they like?)  Chinese Handcuffs, Whale Talk, Ironman--such great books!  Admittedly, they're "issues" books (something I normally take "issue" with, but we'll leave that for another post), however they don't come off as teenage angst-y drivel. They're mature and they deal with the hard issues in a matter of fact way.  Since his primary occupation for a number of years was a family therapist and child protection specialist, he's writing from experience.  He's the author you want your students/kids who are having a hard time to discover.  His autobiography, King of the Mild Frontier, is pretty funny, too.  Not sure if you'd get teens to read it, but their parents would be able to identify.

10. Ana Menendez
 Ana Menendez writes about Cuba with such wistfulness.  Both Loving Che and In Cuba, I Was a German Shepherd deal with Cuban expatriates who long for a home and a way of life that is gone forever. Loving Che has the unnamed main character trying to discover her roots in Cuba. As an infant, she was swept away by her grandfather to America when Castro came into power. It's not until she's an adult that she attempts to track down her mother, still in Cuba, and discover who she really is.  In Cuba, I Was a German Shepherd is really the punchline of a joke that begins with a mangy mutt propositioning a stuck-up American poodle.  When the poodle questions what right this dog has to ask her out, he says, "Pardon me, your highness. . .here in America I might be a short, insignificant mutt, but in Cuba I was a German Shepherd."  That line says it all.  By the end of this book, I was laughing and crying along with the men sitting in the vacant lot playing dominoes and reminiscing about life before the revolution.


  1. What a wonderful list. I loved the variety, and every writer you mentioned does indeed deserve more recognition.

  2. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! It was so hard to stop at just ten authors. But these are some of my favorites.

  3. This was a great week in Top Tens. It built up my TBR. I always assign Lamott essays to my students. She's hilarious.

    Here is my list

  4. Yeah, Lamott is great. I own Bird by Bird, too, but it's been sitting on my shelf for ages. I really need to read it. Thanks for posting your list, I really enjoyed it!

  5. I didn't know Edgerton played the banjo. Were you aware that James Dickey was a very fine guitarist?

  6. I did not know that! One would think he would be the banjo-player.

  7. Most of these are new to me authors, I loved reading your comments about them. Esp Kent Haruf - I want to read Plainsong now, thanks for the intro!

    Mine is here;

  8. Thanks for stopping by! Kent Haruf is wonderful--I think you'll like him. I enjoyed your list, too! And "Books to the Ceiling" is a great name for a book blog!

  9. I couldn't agree more about Garth Nix! I loved and reviewed all his Anhorsen series at my blog. Nice post!

  10. Thanks for visiting my blog. I loved that series. I haven't found a fantasy trilogy that I like as much, though I do enjoy Lois McMaster Bujold a lot.