Sunday, September 23, 2012

What Makes a Favorite Author?

When I was younger, a favorite author was all about favorite books. That seems like a natural thing, right? You have some favorite book, so the author of that book is your favorite author. It was all dependent upon the book.

So, in high school, my favorite authors were Tolkien, David Eddings, and Piers Anthony. Tolkien is probably self-evident enough that I don't need to explain him, but, even if not, I'm not going to explain him. I started reading Anthony during middle school. A friend of mine gave me one of his books, Split Infinity (a great title), as a birthday present, and I started reading everything he'd written. I followed him for years. I didn't quit reading his books because I quit liking him; there was just always something else I wanted to read more, because, well, it, whatever "it" was, was better. Eventually, I quit buying his books, and I haven't read anything new by him in nearly 20 years. Why? Because, honestly, his books just aren't all that good. At one point, I tried going back and reading some of the ones I'd loved as a teenager, and it made me wonder about myself. I mean, what was I thinking?

And then there was Eddings...
Eddings is the reason this post came into being, but that post is actually going to be the next post, because it made me think of this post instead. Eddings is all because of The Belgariad. I love The Belgariad; it's one of my favorite series ever, and, for a long time, I gave credit to Eddings as being one of my favorite authors based on my love for that series. But, you know, that's really all he has, and there came a time when I gave up on his books, too, and not just because there were other things I wanted to read more.

The whole "favorite" thing is tricky, which is why I don't have any favorites lists, but you can pop up to my "Of Significance..." tab to find out more about that.

Anyway... I remember when I realized that I couldn't claim Eddings as a favorite author anymore, not that I remember when it happened, but I remember it happening. I still loved The Belgariad, but I also realized that nothing else he did was ever going to be that good, or, even, close to that good, and I felt kind of betrayed. How could I love this one series so much and the author not be one of my favorite authors?

I had separation anxiety. Author/book separation anxiety to be exact. But that's really the point, an author is not the same as his work. That can be a hard thing to understand as a fan and as an author as so often we take someone's displeasure of our work as a personal attack. Well, sometimes that does happen, but, mostly, it's about the work.

These days, I'd say my top three favorite authors are Tolkien, Mary Doria Russel, and Neil Gaiman (yeah, I know, Tolkien hasn't changed and isn't likely to). I should probably make that four and include Stephen Lawhead. The interesting thing? There's not a book by Gaiman that I would point to as one of my favorite books ever. However, I love his style, and, pretty much, I will read whatever he puts out. Right now, anyway. The same with Lawhead, overall, although that could change after his Bright Empires series (you can read the review of the first one here). I wouldn't say any of Lawhead's books are among my favorite books ever, either.

And, then, there's Richard Adams and Watership Down. Watership Down has been one of my most beloved books for 30 years, and I know it is, because the only book I've read more than it is The Hobbit, but I've never considered Adams one of my favorite authors. He just wrote a book that I love.

I suppose what I'm getting at here is knowing how to separate what is a book you love from who is an author you love. What makes someone an author you love? For people that don't read much, it can really just come down to the author of their favorite book, like, right now, I bet there are women all over the place that would call that James woman their favorite author. But, for those of us that do read a lot, and read authors that write a lot, how do you deal with the disappointment of a bad book or string of books from an author you want to call your favorite? Do you cling desperately to calling that author your favorite even though s/he is writing stuff you hate, or do you toss that author aside in favor of some new shiny author that hasn't had the chance to disillusion you yet?

I'm not even sure that "favorite" is a term I can adequately use anymore. There's Jim Butcher and his Dresden books, and I love those. That's my "favorite" series fiction at the moment, and, when I was younger, that would have meant that Butcher made my favorite author list, but not anymore. His books are my popcorn, and, though I love popcorn, I don't want to live off of it. I need stuff with a little more substance and a little more to say as my regular diet.

Anyway... where I am now, my "favorites" are the authors that I read and think "wow! I want to write something that good some day. I want to write like that." However, I will never write like Tolkien. I'm not sure anyone ever will again. What I'm saying is that the author doesn't have to write my favorite story, s/he just has to write excellently. Sometimes, it's difficult to separate those things. At some point, maybe Gaiman will write a book that affects me like The Sparrow did, but it's not something he needs to do for me to look at the way he writes and really admire it. I might love The Belgariad, but I don't want to write like Eddings.

I don't normally do the whole question at the end of the post thing, but I am this time, because I'm curious as to how this works for you guys. Are your favorite authors just the writers of your favorite stories? Do you have favorite authors that have not written any of your favorite books? What do you do when a favorite author falls off the author wagon (starts producing the same old crap over and over again)? Who are your "favorite" authors/books and do they match up?


  1. I'm sitting here running through titles that I've read throughout my lifetime and the list is a long one. There's Vonnegut, Poe, Heinlen, Eddings, Harrison (Stainless Steel Rat), Ellison, Carol, Wilde, Stoker, Yeats, C.S. Lewis and of course his friend at Oxford, Tolkien.

    Many of these authors are Irish, but that's not the only reason they are on here. They're on my list and have always been there and will always be there because their work left a mark on me. These authors were not passing fancies for me, they've stood the test of time, have been read and re-read and will be read again.

    Dickens is on that list too, but he's different. He was the first to show me the difference between a story book and literature. I don't like everything he wrote, but that doesn't matter. I don't have to as my dislike of one of his works takes nothing away from him as an author. His works are greater than my opinions and will live far longer in the minds of men than I ever will.

  2. I still claim Terry Brooks as one of my favorite authors even though I haven't cared for his most recent work. Even my other favorite authors, Preston & Child, have had a couple misses lately.
    My favorite book has a lot of authors although it all comes from one source. You can probably guess that one.

  3. There were some authors I read back in the 80s-90s I really liked and then when I got older and more sophisticated I realized they weren't actually very good writers.

    None of my favorite authors has really produced anything I've wanted to read in a while. Of course some have the handicap of being dead, which makes it hard to put out anything new.

  4. For pure storytelling and excitement I love Diana Gabaldon. I've read six of the seven books she's written so far in her time travel series. Each book gets a little farther away from what I first loved about her original story, but I still love her.

    For pure beautiful writing I love Hilary Mantel and her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. She lights my brain on fire with her mix of poetic voice and gritty realism. LOVE.

    And I would love G.R.R. Martin, if someone would edit his books down by a hundred pages of description.

  5. It`s always disappointing when you read work by your fav author and don`t like it. What happened?

    Since I've been blogging and meeting more authors I have to say, I'm able to distinguish more from books I like and authors I like. Both don't always go hand in hand. lol.

  6. My fave's I can connect to their stories. I also used to read a lot of Harlequins and can remember thinking just opening the cover and reading was almost like visiting a new place each time :)

  7. The way I feel about Eddings is that he had one good idea. The Mallorean was the same story. The whole Diamond Throne books were the same story with the same characters and on and on.

    So yeah, I recommend kids read the Belgariad and just stop there and not go on to his other works. The dude had one good story.

    Tolkien's the same way. He had one good story.

    I don't have a favorite author (per se).

  8. Anne: I probably should have mentioned Lewis, too. He's been extremely influential, after all, and get a huge nod from me in House. They are listed on my significance page, though.

    Alex: I just never thought Brooks was that great a writer.

    PT: That was Piers Anthony for me.

    L.G.: I don't know these people you mention. Except for Martin, but I haven't read him. Still sounds too much like Jordan.

    Tanya: Welcome!
    They don't always, which is the problem. Or not the problem. I'm not sure if it's a problem.

    G_G: I read one of those once as part of a school assignment.

    Michael: That's pretty much my feeling about Eddings, too, but I'll be talking more about that in my next post.
    I don't agree about Tolkien, though. Unless you are talking about the entire scope of his stuff from Middle Earth as one story.

  9. I tend to cling to favorite authors like a child holds a teddy bear. My newest acquisition is John Hart. I love him so much, I want to be just like him when I grow up. Alas, he's relatively new and only has 4 books. It's gonna be a long wait 'til the 5th.

  10. I agree, the whole favorite thing can be tricky. I need to give your questions some thought.

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog today. It's great to meet you!

  11. This is a really nice post to read. Favorite authors and favorite books are really hard to differentiate.

  12. I just went over your Significant list and was pleased to find The Hardy Boys there! I read those and had all the Nancy Drew books as well. Those meant a lot to me as a little girls.

    And Dr. Who-yes!! An essential part of my life since childhood. It was fantastic when they did the reboots because then I got to share the tradition with my daughter.

    I'm bringing the Doctor and the Tardis into my story with miniatures. I'm going to build my own and it's going to be grand!

  13. Nancy: I know what that's like, but I've tried to become more rational about it.
    I don't know who John Hart is.

    Karen: And you!
    I hope to hear your answers.

    Gina: They can be for sure!

    Anne: There's actually mention of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew in House, too.
    And one reference to Dr. Who, I think. I'm not actually remembering at the moment.
    But I now have mini envy again! I wonder if they ever made Dr. Who miniatures? I'm going to have to look into that...

  14. I think Alastair Reynolds is my favorite author now. He's currently the best mix of entertaining stories and heady sci fi ideas.

    Although, I've not enjoyed his last two books as much.

    Stephen Baxter was my favorite for several years in the nineties, but after his Manifold books I don't think he's written anything great, and in the case of his Weaver quadrilogy, down right awful.

    Of course, I've discovered some writers in the past few years that might end up becoming my favorites given time... Peter V Brett comes to mind, Darryl Gregory does. But it'll take some consistency over a long period of time. A single book might be a masterpiece, but a true master will produce something great over and over.

    Anyway, I read some Piers Anthony when I first started reading Sci Fi seriously I thought I could start in the 'A's' and work my way through the alphabet.... I can't remember the novels I read, but it seems like I recall something about a a group of immortal humans that survive humanity's brutal history and end up taking a flight to the stars to explore the cosmos.

    I think that was him at least.

  15. I went through this with Stephen King. He was my favorite author. I liked how he wrote. Not to say I don't anymore, but I don't necessarily like every book he comes out with anymore. I did like everything coming from him for awhile, which is why I considered him my favorite.

    On the other hand, I love "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." However, I have yet to read anything else by Kesey. I love his writing, love the book, but never got around to anything else.

    Happily, I can say that when I re-read the King books I loved, I still love them. That's a relief.

  16. I have several favorite authors, and they're my favorite authors because I like their style, I like their personality, and generally speaking they are generous awesome people who I aspire to be like, as a person. Most of them have written a book that I would consider one of my favorite books, but not all of them, and many of them have written things that I didn't particularly care for, or thought were just all right but didn't strongly appeal to me personally.

    And that's all right.

    And some of my favorite books, I don't care for the authors at all, as people, don't like their ideals or stances, maybe have never liked another book they've written, but somehow they wrote one book that just really appeals to me.

    It happens.

  17. Rusty: That doesn't sound like any of the Anthony I ever read. That doesn't mean anything, though, especially if it's something he did after I quit reading him.

    Shannon: See, I keep meaning to read more Richard Adams, but I just have never been compelled to. Well, except for his collection of short stories related to Watership Down, but I don't remember enjoying those very much.

    Callie: I don't know enough about most of the authors I read to know if I would like them as people or not. Anthony, I think I would have found pretentious. Based on what I know about Jim Butcher, I think he'd be fun to hang out with.