Do you have an Authors to Binge Read list?
Every now and then I come across a book that makes me want to read everything the author has ever written. It isn’t just a good book that inspires the quest. I’ve read a lot of books I enjoyed that didn’t send me to the library to fill my bags with everything the author has ever written.
It’s a hard to explain combination of things that starts the obsession. The best I can figure is that certain books are so perfectly enjoyed, so well written, or so fully experienced as a reader, that they leave me with an actual yearning for another one just like it. And when that happens, I go searching through the author’s entire catalog.
Sometimes one really great book experience will send me back for more, but then the passion fizzles out. The author’s next books don’t always have the same magic to kindle the spark.
The following authors, however, have written books that have kept me awake into the wee hours, filled the library hold shelves, weighed down my own bookshelves, and inspired so many quests for more books.
Authors to Binge Read
After the L.M. Montgomery obsession of my youth, this was probably the first of the authors to binge read that I discovered. I still remember that summer after my first semester of college, finding a copy of Cat’s Eye, which I devoured in a day and went back for the next ones on the shelf, The Robber Bride and The Edible Woman.
As an 18 year old, I was enthralled. Her prose was delicious, her style unique, and her female characters were so rich. I think I read four or five of her books just that summer, but I’ve been keeping up with her ever since. I’ve read nearly every book she’s written.
What makes her so fun to binge read is that her books are so different. Some authors, if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. Not Atwood. The Handmaid’s Tale is some of the very best Dystopian Fiction, but if that’s not your thing then Alias Grace, Historical Fiction about a murder in Canada, might be just your cup of tea. She has also written Mysteries, Feminist Fiction, and Contemporary Literary Fiction.
I haven’t loved everything she’s written, and I have to admit to not finishing The Heart Goes Last. But, I’ve loved the majority of her books and I always get excited when I hear she has something new coming out.
Even though she’s been writing since the 1960’s, I didn’t fall in love with Joan Didion until 2005. I think I pulled The Year of Magical Thinking off the shelf entirely because I loved the cover design. But while I may have judged the book by its cover, the pages in between did not disappoint. In fact, I’ve read that book three times now because it really is magical. The book is a memoir about the year after her husband’s unexpected death. Her writing was so beautiful, her observations so astute, her clarity in grief was brilliant. I immediately went looking for more.
I have not yet read everything Didion has written, but I’m working on it. I think I prefer her essays and memoirs to her fiction, but I did enjoy the fiction A Book of Common Prayer. So far, I haven’t been disappointed by anything Didion has written.
Making this list I realized that most of the authors on it are women, which wasn’t intentional but probably says something about the feminist in me. Richard Russo, however, is a wonderful exception. While it seems mostly female writers have that special magic that makes me want to binge read their words and live through their perspective over and over, Russo is one male author I adore.
The first Russo book I read was Empire Falls (probably because it won the Pulitzer and I normally try to read the award winners) and it was good, but it wasn’t the beginning of my author binge. It was a few years later that I came across Nobody’s Fool – the book that made me want to read everything Russo writes.
The thing that I love about Richard Russo is the he way captures the fullness of humanity in his characters, but most especially, the way he embraces even the worst of that humanity. His characters are always so real, but he writes them so generously that even with all their faults, you have to love them. I’ve enjoyed some of his books more than others, and all of his books read similarly (I bet I could recognize a Russo book from just a few paragraphs), but honestly, I’ve liked every single one.
Not so long ago, Russo wrote a memoir (Elsewhere) about growing up, about his mother, about the real town that inspired so many of his stories. It endeared me to him forever. It’s beautiful.
Margaret Atwood was the first of the authors to binge read that I fell in love with as a young adult. Barbara Kingsolver was the second. I read The Poisonwood Bible on the recommendation of a friend of my mother whose reading opinion I greatly respected. It blew me away! This is one of those books that I find readers seem to be pretty divided on – they LOVE it or they HATE it. I fall squarely in the Love camp.
Her prose alone was enough to make me go looking for more of her books, but I also thought the colonial/post colonial historical fiction story line was so captivating and so well done. Kingsolver always does such a good job with sense of place in her books. What really keeps me coming back for more Kingsolver though is her unique perspective and the naturalist in her that always come through in her stories. I just like the way she thinks.
With the exception of one book of short stories, and one book of essays, I’ve read everything she’s written thus far. I didn’t like The Lacuna, but I could write essays about my love for all of her other works of fiction, nonfiction narrative, and essays.
Rumer Godden is my most recent author obsession. I found a used book with three books in one. I read The Greengage Summer, The Battle of the Villa Fiorita, and An Episode of Sparrows. I was hooked. They were written in the 1950’s and they’re delightful.
Something that I always love in books is when an author really writes children and young adults well. It can be hard to do, but Godden does it perfectly (as does Elizabeth Jane Howard, but that’s another post). I don’t think adults always see the humanity and dimensions of young people even in real life, so to capture them well in fiction is a true feat. In Godden’s books, they are fully human, intelligent, with all the emotions and desires and questions that real children and teens have.
Most recently, I’ve been reading some of her more religious themed fiction and it’s masterful too. I’m not Catholic, but I have a strange and abiding interest in nuns. I picked up In This House of Brede, and though it starts a little slow, I was enthralled to the very last page. I wanted more. I read Black Narcissus next. I am now officially a Godden junkie.
The bad news is that most of her books were written in the 1950’s and 60’s, so they can be hard to find. The good news is that she wrote TONS of books. I love her writing style. I love that even though her books feel old fashioned, they also still feel relevant. I especially love the subtle (and not so subtle) themes of redemption in her books. Her short bio on wikipedia is intriguing too.
I love Elizabeth Strout. It’s always hard for me to pick favorites, but if I was really hard pressed, I’d probably name Strout as my favorite living author. Amy and Isabelle was the first of her books that I read, and though it’s my least favorite, it was the book that made me want to read all the Strout books I could get my hands on.
Like Russo, she writes characters that are so fully human with brilliance and compassion. Her books are such a pleasure to read, even though emotionally challenging at times. I’ve read every single one and wait anxiously for more.
I love Ann Patchett’s books and her writing, but I also just like who she is too. Having read almost everything she’s ever written, I feel (perhaps mistakenly) that I know her in some small way. And even if I only know a small self that she’s been willing to share in her essays, her books, her articles, I feel she’s a kindred spirit.
If you’re new to Ann (because I do want to be on a first name basis here), I’d start with Bel Canto. It was my gateway book and it is a masterpiece. It’s also pretty indicative of what her style and writing is like. But even if you’re not falling for her fiction, be sure to read her collection of essays, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, which will forever be one of my most favorite books. Her nonfiction account of her friendship with Lucy Grealy was a beautiful page turner for me too.
I have a big author crush on Gretchen Rubin. I just like her so much. She made it onto my authors to binge read list after I read The Happiness Project. I appreciated her humor, her perspective, her candidness, and her ambition and I went looking for more. I read Happier at Home next and it was even better! Since then, I’ve read everything she’s written and enjoyed all of it.
I listen religiously to her weekly podcast (Happier) and she feels like a friend I get to hear from every week, which is the best one could hope for when it comes to favorite authors. “Well, Gretchen Rubin says . . .” is a phrase that comes out of my mouth almost daily. Gretchen calls herself a happiness bully on her podcast, and if that’s true, then I’m one of her cronies. I make it a regular mission to get people to listen to her podcast or try her books – even resorting to a little bullying when necessary.
I made this list before the big announcement last week, but I’m not surprised at all to see that Kazuo Ishiguro has won the Nobel Prize in Literature. In the announcement, the academy described him as a writer “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” Precisely!
The first Ishiguro book I read was The Remains of the Day, and it is still my favorite. “Emotional force” is the perfect phrase to describe the impact of that book. Never Let Me Go, which I read five years ago, is still a book that I think about often.
Like Margaret Atwood, Ishiguro is a good author to binge read because his books read so differently. They are all masterfully written, but the themes and plots vary widely. The Remains of the Day tells the story of a butler in a formerly distinguished household. It’s historical fiction with beautiful emotional depth. Never Let Me Go, however, is dystopian science fiction with an ending that really packs a punch. His most recent book, The Buried Giant, is a Fantasy story that reads like an old fashioned fairy tale with a twist – giants, and knights, and a mysterious mist in the air.
Ishiguro is nothing if not incredibly creative! I haven’t made it through every book yet, but I’m on my way.
I had to fit some chick lit in here and Liane Moriarty is the perfect candidate. Her books are so compulsively readable! I started with Big Little Lies and worked my way through all the rest of her books immediately after finishing. Big Little Lies is my favorite, but really, she knows how to write books that you don’t want to stop reading!
Liane, aren’t you going to write another one soon? I’m waiting anxiously.
Last week I finished Possession by A.S. Byatt and it had that indescribable combination that sent me straight to the library for another. I brought home The Children’s Book. We’ll see . . . I may have a new author to add this list soon. I can see Elizabeth Jane Howard making this list too – but it’s still too early to tell.
Who are your favorite authors to binge read?