Living writers I admire
A classics teacher, Madeline’s first two novels, The Song of Achilles and Circe are reimaginings of Homer’s The Odyssey. Each story she decides to tell is a revelation.
Her biography Cleopatra left me limp with envy and admiration — not only for her staggeringly thorough research, but also for how funny she can be. (“A man of acrobatic ethics” was particularly fine.)
Vamped, Rapture, and Happy Doomsday are wonderful novels, full of keen observational humor and sharp insight into contempor contemporary American culture.
Karen Joy Fowler
Karen Fowler is incapable of writing an infelicitous sentence. Wry, sly, subversive stories. She’s written more, but start with The Sweetheart Season (about a women’s baseball team during the Second World War — and that was Karen’s idea before “A League of Their Own” was made) or The Jane Austen Book Club. My favorite by Karen is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, a funny, moving, entertaining novel that is also an important and unblinking look at a shameful chapter in the history of science.
I read his novel Philosophy Made Simple in two big gulps and enjoyed every word.This is a quiet and satisfying story. His latest is The Snakewoman of Little Egypt, about which I blurbed “Dead solid perfect. The truest and most moving portrait of the romance research and the lyricism of learning that you will ever find. Plus: a good solid story, right down the center. I loved this book.”
A Long Stay in a Distant Land is a comic portrait of a very American Chinese family. The chapter called Melvin’s Aphorisms made me laugh so hard my dogs started barking at me.
Mendel’s Dwarf deals with the ethics of genetic research in a fascinating and deeply personal way.
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Left Hand of Darkness is a science fiction classic that stands up to rereading nearly 30 years after it was written. It was a benchmark for me while I was writing The Sparrow.
Gone but not forgotten
A Canticle for Leibowitz is another classic SF novel, recently been reissued. I was thrilled to be asked to write a new introduction for it. This is one of my all-time favorite books.
You’ll either worship at Dunnett’s literary feet, or give up before you finish the first chapter of The Game of Kings. If you love her, this series has six more books, and you’ll wish she’d written more.
Season of the Jew is not what you think. The Jew in question is a real-life New Zealand Maori who led an uprising against the British in the mid-1800s. Shadbolt’s prose is economical and brilliant, funny and searing.