I read a lot. We all know this. But for the majority of my life as a reader, I was pretty terrible at trying new authors. I am much better at it now (about two-thirds of what I’ve read this year has been written by authors I hadn’t read before). And I feel like I have read from a pretty impressive roster of authors. I’ve read Tolstoy and Austen and King and Gaiman and Kafka and Chaucer. I’ve read a lot of the books on the “books to read before you die” lists.
But I also hadn’t read anything by Octavia Butler until last year. And it feels like kind of a bookworm crime to have not read a single Octavia Butler book until my thirties (seriously, if you haven’t read her books yet, stop reading this post and go do it right now).
Seriously, though, this isn’t me judging you for what you’ve read. I mean, I will strongly encourage you to read diversely (which if you read this blog, you probably already know) because it’s just a good thing to do as a human. But I am not going to tell you your wrong if you only read Jane Austen or Stephen King. That would probably be pretty boring, but you do you!
This post is me judging myself. Because I want to consider myself well-read, but it feels like my definition of that keeps changing. Read War & Peace and Moby Dick? Cool, but how many new release have I kept up with and do I read diversely enough? Basically, I’m super hard on myself and constantly feel the need to validate my master’s degree in English.
The authors I need to read
The first author that immediately came to mind when I thought of the idea for this post was James Baldwin. Over the last few years, I have been trying to read more diversely and read more of the authors of colors I was not exposed to growing up. James Baldwin just feels like a must-read author. Every time I think about what my personal education or library is missing, he is definitely one that I think of first. I have heard great things about both The Fire Next Time and Giovanni’s Room, so let me know which one you think I should read first.
I don’t think I had heard of Elena Ferrante until just a year or two ago, but she seems to be everywhere now. I am also trying to gain more exposure to international, especially translated, works. Ferrante’s books are translated from Italian. I think the only book I’ve read translated from Italian is The Decameron, so it might be fun to read a more contemporary work from Italy. I think the obvious choice to start with is My Brilliant Friend, so I think I’ll pick that one up first.
Yes, I know. I have read so many culturally significant black authors and have yet to read anything by Maya Angelou. Which feels like an even bigger sin that having not read James Baldwin. I’m pretty sure I have a copy of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings somewhere (I seriously need to deal with my bookshelves) so I definitely need to fix this soon.
Again, Chinua Achebe is just one of those authors I see every once in a while and just seems like an author who has made a mark on culture and literature. He has written many things exploring religion and African culture, most notably The African Trilogy, which just feels like something I should experience.
Ursula K. Le Guin
Basically every single fantasy author I love has said that Ursula K. Le Guin has inspired them. And I have yet to pick up a single one of her books. I think I’m a little intimidated simply because of how many she has written, but I do want to read her work at some point. I do think I want to start with A Wizard of Earthsea, but let me know if you think there’s a better place to jump in.
One of the two authors in this list I am actually planning on reading in 2021 is Isabel Wilkerson. I have been doing a lot of reading about racism – just as part of my own personal education – and have been especially interested in the history of racism (basically, how we ended up here). In that category, Wilkerson just feels like a must-read. I will be reading Caste later this year. But I am also very interested in The Warmth of Other Suns.
I cannot tell you how long Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has been sitting on my bookshelves (it’s been a very long time). And it terrifies me because, while it is not the longest book I own, it is visually the biggest (I think it just has thicker pages or something). But it seems like a big commitment. However, Piranesi was just released last year and it’s fairly short, so I think I’m going to go with that one first. Hopefully I love it and will be more motived to pick up Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It’s on my list for this year, so hopefully that happens soon.
I feel like I’m probably in the minority here, but I actually enjoyed reading Tolstoy (Anna Karenina more than War and Peace). And I have a feeling Russian literature might be something I will really enjoy. There are a few authors I want to try, but Dostoyevky is at the top of my list because my grandma recommended The Brothers Karamazov many years ago. Which means I picked up a copy immediately and never read it. Maybe I should prioritize this for 2022?
I have crossed a lot of authors off the list of “authors you need to read” over the years. But Victor Hugo isn’t one of them. I own several of his books, so I don’t really have an excuse. I’ve made it through quite a few classics so far this year (including a few I was pretty intimidated by), so Hugo might just make it onto my reading list for next year. Again, I think I’m going to go with the book that scares me the least first, which is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. We won’t talk about the multiple copies of Les Misérables I own.
Finally (for the authors I want to read) we have Zadie Smith. Again, she just feels like an author I need to experience at least once in my lifetime. I do like fiction that deals with social issues, which seems to be what her books are about. Pretty sure I’m going to start with White Teeth, just because it seems to be the most popular. It also just seems like the one I have the best chance of enjoying, so I will read it… eventually.
The authors I will never, ever read
Let me preface this by saying if you like these authors, that is totally fine, you do you. I just won’t be reading them.
I am sure James Patterson is fine. I don’t think he would have gotten where he is if he was a bad writer. However, I am not a fan of his “author factory”. It’s a not-so-secret thing in the book world that basically all of the books with his name on them coming out in recent years have not been written by him. Basically, he comes up with ideas and gives them to other people to write and puts his name on it. Which just makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s not something I personally want to support, but he is clearly not hurting for money without my support. I just don’t really respect him as a writer and have no interest in anything he’s doing.
Now, Elin Hilderbrand sort of seems like an author I might like. She writes the kind of historical fiction that, to me, seems like it’s probably good but maybe not great. And I would probably piss her off just by saying that. Which the issue I have with her. People like different books. I have hated books other people say is their favorite of all time. And that’s fine! Everyone has different tastes. But this author comes after people who give her not-amazing reviews. And like not even bad ones, she has a vendetta against four-star reviews. Which is really uncool, and I don’t think I’m missing out on anything by not supporting her.
I do actually own a copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora, which I picked up a few years ago when everyone was obsessed with it. It seemed fun, I just never picked it up. It is now at the top of my list to unhaul whenever I have the time and energy to seriously go through my library (hopefully sometime this year). And that is because… Scott Lynch is super problematic. You can read all about it here, but basically he and his wife were accused of exploiting and abusing a young woman (also an aspiring writer at the time) who considered them her mentors. Which is super not okay. I’ve looked into this quite a lot and it seems super messy and I can’t say who is right in this scenario, but I’m kind of okay just not jumping into his books. There are plenty of other things to read.
I honestly put Marissa Meyer on this list simply because I am not interested in her books. I think I was a little older than her target audience when she started becoming really popular. And I’ve just never been inclined to read her work. But in doing research I have discovered she has been accused of both racism and ableism in her books. Which means it’s a definite no from me. I know a lot of people like these books, but they are not for me.
Probably the least problematic author here (even though that one scene is iffy and basically rape) is Julia Quinn. I still don’t plan on reading any of her books. Partly because of that scene that makes me feel icky (I watched the show and know they made it less icky than the books), but also because I just have absolutely no desire to read a giant romance series. It’s not my thing, and I’ve been much preferring standalones lately, anyway.
And that’s it for this post! Have you read any of these authors? Which of the authors I haven’t read do you think I should read first?
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