Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why is he your favorite author?

Wendy asked me this question earlier today. I admit I never thought about it much before. I just thought it was enough that when I read Kafka, I know I am enjoying myself more than when I'm reading any other author.

But maybe it's not enough. After hemming and hawing for a few minutes I was able to come up with these reasons:

- I find his philosophy (that life is a series of obstacles with death as the ultimate goal) incredibly resonant and human
- His prose is neither overwritten nor underwritten, but just in between; exactly in the golden medium where all writing should be
- His stuff is funny (David Foster Wallace explains this better than I could in this essay
- He writes stories with messages, but never forces them on the reader; you're allowed to read into it whatever you want, or just take the story at face value

That was the best I could do. I could also throw out these reasons:

- His opening sentences are always strong and hook you right away
- His ability to find humor in futility is inspiring in a weird way
- His plots are totally original (for their time)
- The entire point of his writing is that life has no meaning except for what we create for ourselves; I agree with this
- He only wrote three unfinished novels and a bunch of short stories, making his catalog accessible and easy to collect
- His style (mundane presentation of extraordinary circumstances) was postmodern before there was that term
- The fact that he only wrote part-time and held down a crappy job until he died (despite being one of the most influential writers of the 20th century) fills me with respect, fear and hope

None of that seems to matter to me. All that matters is I know I can pick up The Judgment or The Trial or The Castle any time and be amused, astonished and disturbed all at the same time.

What are your reasons for holding one author in the highest esteem? Why is your favorite author your favorite author?


Wendy McMillan said...

Sir Walter Scott - witty, hilarious, romantic, and I love how he criticized the Crusades and addressed ethnocentrism way ahead of his time

John Irving - what to say besides he's possibly the funniest writer of all time and has a magical way of weaving events together until they culminate in the most believable, ridiculous scenarios that reveal so much of the human character - also writes women sooo well, you can ALL learn from him!

Austin said...

Oscar Fingall O'Flahertie Wills Wilde.

Behind all the wit and sparkling dialogue there is much depth and wisdom as well as commentary in his writing. Not to mention structure and rhythm. He is the one author I have literally read everything he's ever written and had a philosophy and outlook on life I admire very much.

BTW, I don't think your David Foster Wallace link is working.

Austin said...

Nevermind. 'Tis working now.

Jacob I. McMillan said...

Austin indirectly raises a good point. Can you truly consider someone your favorite writer if you haven't read everything they ever published, and possibly more? I've only read the complete works of about three people in my lifetime.

Did you really read all of Wilde's poetry? I couldn't get into it.

Wendy, how can Irving teach us to write women better?

Austin said...

I really have read all of Wilde's poetry. At least, I've read all the poetry in the "Complete Works of Oscar Wilde" book Tracie got me.

His poetry is not my favorite, but poetry in general is not my favorite.

To answer the indirect point I brought up, I believe that yes, someone can be your favorite author whether you've read everything they've ever written. If not, we could only have dead authors as our favorites.

(I realize that you and I and 1/2 of Wendy mentioned dead authors, but I still don't believe that is the case.)

If we define (as I do) our favorite author as the writer whose work we enjoy reading more than any other, it could apply to even one thing they've ever written.

It's because Oscar Wilde wrote "The Importance of Being Earnest" that I read his other plays, then "The Picture of Dorian Gray," his short fiction, his children's stories and his poetry. Even if I hadn't, I enjoy "The Importance of Being Earnest" so much that I think he'd be my favorite even if I hadn't read the others.

Austin's rambling over.