Authors I Wish Were Still Around

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John Steinbeck” by Sonya Noskowiak is licensed under CC BY 2.5

One of the realities of books is that (at least for the present), they must be written by a living person. Yesterday, as I wrote about the authors whose next books I would buy, I kept thinking of favorite authors who will never write another book. Here are some who came to mind:

Wallace Stegner. Whether writing about the American West, or about the passages of life, Stegner helps us to love what he loved, to think with him about life, with an economy of prose.

John Steinbeck. From Cannery Row to East of Eden, he left us with memorable characters capturing the struggle for existence, the joys of life, and the bonds and discords within families.

Elizabeth Peters. My wife and I delighted for years in her Amelia Peabody series, equal part Egyptology and rollicking adventure with Emerson, Ramses, Nefret, Sennia, and their friends.

Dorothy L. SayersHow I wish there were more Lord Peter Wimsey stories, especially with Harriet Vane! My favorite? Probably The Nine Tailors with Gaudy Night as a runner up.

Barbara Tuchman. Whether writing about 14th century France, or the onset of World War 1, or Joseph Stilwell, she brought history alive for the layperson with elegant prose and flowing narrative. Underneath it all, she portrayed the follies of war, brought together in her book The March of Folly.

William Manchester. He seemed uniquely able to write grandly about grand figures, whether John F. Kennedy or Winston Churchill. I personally wish he, rather than Paul Reid, had finished the final volume on Churchill. He captured the vainglory of Douglas MacArthur, and rise and fall of the Krupp dynasty.

Rachel Carson. She is most known for Silent Spring, her warning of the dangers of pesticides. Less known is her beautiful The Sea Around Us, on the wonders of the oceans. How I wish we had more science writing like this!

Ray Bradbury. He wrote great short stories, science fiction, the coming of age novel Dandelion Wine, and a dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451. Haven’t seen any modern science fiction writer quite like him.

Henri Nouwen. Whether it was his early The Wounded Healer, his book on leadership, In the Name of Jesus, or his reflections on Rembrandt’s painting in The Return of the Prodigal, Nouwen both opened your eyes to the pitfalls that lurk in our hearts and the healing intimacy of relationship with God.

John R. W. Stott. From his early Basic Christianity, which I gave to many friends who were exploring Christianity to classic The Cross of Christ, to his valedictory The Radical Disciple, Stott’s writing and preaching combined clarity of writing, theological orthodoxy, and a commitment to connecting Christian truth to the issues and concerns of any thoughtful person.

There are many others I could add but at the expense of brevity. Though I cannot read any new booksby these authors (unless they are previously unpublished works), they each are so good that their books are worth reading again. In the case of some on this list, I haven’t read all they’ve written, and so there are books by these people that will be new to me. Some I even have in one of my “to read” piles. There are others worth revisiting. How about you?

I’d Buy Their Next Books

One of the things about inveterate readers is that they have favorite authors. When the news comes that they have a new book coming out, we want to know when. We might even pre-order the book. Authors win that status with us in different ways. Some are great at writing page turners. Others simply write so beautifully that we revel in their prose. Some make sense of our world through their writing. Others make us think, or even re-examine our lives. So, here are some of those authors whose newest book I would buy.

Anthony Doerr. All the Light We Cannot See is probably the best work of fiction I have read in the past ten years. There are books that instill a sense of wonder as one reads. This was one of them. It’s been six years since this came out, so I hope there is a new one coming soon.

Kristen Hannah. I’ve remarked recently on how much I’ve enjoyed both The Nightingale and The Great Alone. Both had characters who take up residence in your head and plots that raise profound questions about the nature of evil and the possibility of goodness.

Louise Penny. I’ve discovered in the last year what many mystery lovers have long known–it’s a good thing Three Pines doesn’t really exist, or we’d all move there–just for the chance to get to know Chief Inspector Gamache. One of the great “thinking” detectives. Word is that the next in the series comes out this fall.

Ron Chernow. He’s given us some of the best biographies of the last few decades–Titan, The Warburgs, Alexander Hamilton, Washington, and Grant. The next will likely be a tome, but I will buy it for a great and long read.

Robert Caro. I dearly hope he (and I) live to see the final volume of his biography of Lyndon Johnson. I was in my early teens when he was president, and Caro draws out the complexity of this man who was both better and worse than I remember. His little volume, Working, was a fascinating glimpse into how he researches, sleuths for the truth, and his process of writing.

David McCullough. I think I’ve read everything he has written. His book Pioneers was fascinating, simply because he told the story of the people from the east who settle my home state of Ohio. I only wish he would have told more of the story of the people who were here before them. Maybe his next book will do that, if he has any more in him. My favorite was his biography of Harry S. Truman, who had the misfortune of coming between Roosevelt and Eisenhower.

Wendell Berry. He defines what it means to be a “curmudgeon” but provokes me in all he writes to think what it means to hold “membership” in a community, and to think of the land from which we derive our livelihood. Berry continually provokes me to think of what it means to love and care for a place and the desperate need for more such people in our country.

Fleming Rutledge. The Crucifixion was one of the most profound theological works I read in the past ten years, reading it over the course of Lent. Her emphasis both on the substitutionary death of Christ and the victory over evil that occurred in Christ’s death took my thinking about these things in fresh directions.

Matthew Levering. This, perhaps is a name you’ve not heard. He is a Catholic theologian. The last book I read was Dying and the Virtues, exploring the virtues that help us both die and live well. I’ve read three of his books, all of which brought me to fresh insight about theological truths I grew up with. I had the privilege to interview him, much of which was spent in wonder as I listened to him do what seems the theologian’s calling–to think and then teach great ideas about God, and our relation to God.

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. I have only read her book on Caring for Truth in a Culture of Lies. This is a woman who cares for words in a culture where there is so many of them and so little insight or truth. I want to read more of what she has written, and will keep an eye out for her newest work.

There are many I’ve not included. I’d love to know the ones you would list and why. I have to think that between good authors and their readers, there is kind of an unspoken contract where authors reward the effort of their readers with everything from wonder to insight, where they faithfully pass along the vision of reality that opens not only their world, but ours.

If You Could Meet One Author

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The author I would love to have met.

Over at the Bob on Books Facebook Page, one of the fun things I do is post a “Question of the Day.” Part of the fun is to see the diversity of answers that reflects the diversity of people who follow the page. This was certainly true of a recent question I posted: “Who is one author, living or dead, you’d like to meet?”

The winner was C. S. Lewis, who definitely would be a delightful author to meet, preferably over a brew at the Eagle and Child, perhaps with his Inkling friends, including J. R. R. Tolkien, who was the second most popular choice. I could hear Tolkien chiding Lewis over his children’s books, and everyone ribbing Tolkien about “more stories of Elves.”

I was surprised by the number of poets who turned up on the list: William Wordsworth, T. S. Eliot, Dr. Suess (!), Robert Frost, and Walt Whitman. It is heartening to know there are people out there who love poetry.

There were some really interesting choices, at least interesting to me. One person recommended Inger Wolf, a Danish writer. Another suggested Alice Munro, whom we have to thank for the modern short story. Ignazio Silone was a name I had not heard since I read Bread and Wine in college. Should I go back and re-read him? A fascinating choice was Lilian Jackson Braun, who has written a series of mysteries with titles that all begin, The Cat Who…. A mystery writer for cat lovers!

There are some who follow the page of a more theological turn. They would gather an impressive company: Paul the Apostle, St. John of the Cross, Thomas Merton, John Owen, Dallas Willard and Phyllis Tickle. Lewis, Tolkien, and Dorothy Sayers might be found at times with this group, and perhaps even Aristotle, another nominee, might have found some interesting conversation. On the other hand, I’m not sure Ayn Rand would have liked hanging out with these folk.

Of course, there were a number of contemporary authors: Richard Paul Evans, Jan Karon, Mary Karr, Dee Henderson, Jodi Picoult, Gaby Triana (a young adult author I’ve not heard of), Jean Hager, Terry Pratchett, Pat Conroy, Sue Grafton, and Stephen King. Then there were a couple of best-selling twentieth century authors, Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee. In this list, women outnumbered men nine to four.

I was also surprised that no one named William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway, or John Steinbeck. I’m sure you can think of others.

And my choice? Winston Churchill. The man could speak, write, paint, and even stage a genuine heroic escape during captivity in the Boer War. He was one of those who might be described as “often wrong, but never in doubt.’ If you love history, he wrote some of the most readable histories of both World Wars, of the English Speaking people, and of his coverage of the Boer War. I would love to know how he wrote so much and did so much else. I’m also curious about how he held the prodigious amounts of alcohol he drank. If I could get him to paint a plein air, I would love to see him “attack” the canvas.

Most of us won’t actually get to meet these authors. But perhaps the reason we want to is that we have met them–in their works.

Who would you add to the names in this article? Who is one author, living or dead, you would like to meet?