My Top 8 Favorite Authors: Ali, Contributing Editor

In My Top 8, various members of Team Autostraddle tell you which writers made us who we are today and invite you to like all the same things we like. Today, Contributing Editor Ali waxes poetic on her affection for great authors like Shakespeare and J.K. Rowling.


 

via americanplacetheatre.org

Junot Dìaz

Books Read: Drown (1996), The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
Books I Haven’t Read Yet : This Is How Your Lose Her (2012)
Favorite: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)

Junot Dìaz is the reason I write fiction. Here’s why:

“You guys know about vampires?” Diaz asked.  “You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror.  And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?” And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might seem themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”

Junot Dìaz is the reason I write about queer people. I write queer protagonists, genderqueer protagonists, because I create mirrors for myself and for others like me. He’s also an inspiration to writers because his stories are uphill slogs for him. He is painstaking. And he gets that shit done. Start with the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. He writes this book with footnotes that are hysterical and the story is in both Spanish and English.

via austinkleon.com

Alison Bechdel

Books Read: Fun Home (2006), Are You My Mother? (2012)
Books I Haven’t Read Yet : All of Dykes To Watch Out For (1986 to 2008)
Favorite: Fun Home (2006)

I don’t like her just because she’s gay, though it is nice to see a real-life mirror of our community. I like her for her structure. Both times I’ve read her books, her structure has felt so solid that I can’t imagine the story told any other way, in any other order. Her form and her plot also go hand-in-hand. I was just recently telling my girlfriend that I couldn’t picture Bechdel’s life story told as anything other than a graphic novel. I also love the way she weaves these epic themes and historical stories into her own memoirs, like Icarus into Fun Home and Virginia Woolf into Are You My Mother? When you’re examining a story for how specificity relates to universality, her stuff comes to mind for that reason– a grand myth intertwined with her family’s life. You can’t get more universal than Icarus and you can’t get more specific than the Bechdel family. Her story becomes universal in its specificity. And the illustrations are beautiful. Start with Fun Home and DO NOT READ ARE YOU MY MOTHER? UNTIL YOU’RE FINISHED WITH FUN HOME. Or I will come find you.

via guernicamag.com

Sherman Alexie

Books Read: The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian (2007), The Lone Ranger And Tonto Fist Fight In Heaven (1993), the Smoke Signals Screenplay (1993), assorted short stories and poems because Sherman Alexie is EVERYWHERE.
Books I Haven’t Read Yet : y’all, there are way too many to list here.
Favorite: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993)

Sherman Alexie is another reason I hold the views I do about writing characters that specifically share my identity. He is the embodiment, to me, of being universal through being specific. And he writes very specifically about a culture of which I am undereducated, so his topics fascinate me. He’s also got some beautiful language and some characters that are very positive in the face of being shat on. And also, this is how he speaks to other writers:

 

via marveloustales.wordpress.com

Tamora Pierce

Books Read: Alanna: The First Adventure (1983), In The Hand of the Goddess (1984), The Woman Who Rides Like a Man (1986), Lioness Rampant (1988), Wild Magic (1992), Wolf Speaker (1994), Emperor Mage (1995), In The Realms of the Gods (1996), First Test (1999), Page (2000), Squire (2001), Lady Knight (2002), Trickster’s Choice (2003), Trickster’s Queen (2004), Terrier (2006), Bloodhound (2009), Mastiff (2011), Sandry’s Book (1997), Tris’s Book (1998), Daja’s Book (1998), Briar’s Book (1999), Magic Steps (2000), Street Magic (2001), Cold Fire (2002), Shatterglass (2003), The Will of the Empress (2005), Melting Stones (2007).
Books I Haven’t Read Yet : Battle Magic (2013).
Favorite: Squire.

Tamora Pierce is a YA author, has been my favorite author since middle school, helped me survive my awkward childhood and taught me how to be a strong woman. Her female characters are wonderful, well-rounded people. People who want to be knights, who won’t accept the conventions that society throws at them, people who are confident, important, have flaws, have jealousies and joys. And I am a grown-ass woman and I will still buy and read everything this woman ever writes. Her books are my stress ball– if I feel out of control or shitty in any way, I re-read them. Perhaps I should have listed her at the top, because I have read more Tamora Pierce than anyone else. She had a real formative influence on who I am as a human, on my vocabulary as a child, on my feminism. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Pick up a Tamora Pierce book. Start at the beginning, with Alanna: The First Adventure. Work your way through from there, in order. You’ll fall in love.

via democraticunderground.com

William Shakespeare

Books Read: The Tempest , A Midsummer Night’s Dream , Much Ado About Nothing , Taming of the Shrew , Twelfth Night , Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and assorted sonnets. (First Folio 1623)
Books I Haven’t Read Yet : All’s Well That Ends Well , As You Like It , The Comedy of Errors , Cymbeline , Love’s Labours Lost , Measure For Measure , The Merry Wives of Windsor , The Merchant of Venice , Pericles, Troilus and Cressida , Two Gentlemen of Verona , Winter’s Tale , all the Histories, Antony and Cleopatra , Coriolanus , Timon of Athens , Titus Andronicus , other assorted sonnets. (First Folio 1623)
Favorite: The Tempest

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on

And our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

Act IV, The Tempest.

You cannot beat the language in Shakespeare. It is not possible. I used to be an actor. I’ve played a few roles, I’ve subbed in for assistant director in a bilingual version of Romeo and Juliet. I want to direct/produce The Tempest someday if anyone will give me the money to do it. I have been obsessed with Shakespeare since high school. I can’t even think of what to write about him and his work right now because my heart is beating so fast because Shakespeare. When I was in Stratford-Upon-Avon, I bought a huge green and gold-gilded complete works and transported that million pound wonder book back to the states, such is the love I feel for this work. I even named my cat after the fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Puck.

In fact, if you’d like to make the worthwhile investment in your brain and life by getting into Shakespeare, begin with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I find that this is one will really ease you into the style and vocabulary. It’s fairly simple to understand. And don’t shy away from it because you think it’s hard or because you hated it in high school– Shakespeare is not actually meant to be read, though I do it all the time. It’s meant to be watched. To dip your toe into these stories, you may want to see a production. Then grab the book. Don’t worry about “the story being ruined” because you’ll get something new out of each play every time. I’m on my fifth or sixth read of the Tempest and I’ve definitely done Hamlet at least three times.

David Sedaris

Books Read: Holidays on Ice (1998), Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000), When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008)
Books I Haven’t Read Yet : Barrel Fever (1994), Naked (1997), Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004), Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary (2010)
Favorite: When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008)

The thing I love about David Sedaris is he can make a story, and a good story too, out of anything at all. I always marvel at how so many interesting things can happen to one person, like moving to France or living in Japan for a while. And then I remember that some of his essays are about a bad babysitter he had, or the house he lived in right after college. Experiences we’ve all had, things we could all talk about. Basically, Sedaris is my reminder to continue on when I think I don’t have any stories. I close my eyes and recall my life and it turns out I do have things to say. Sedaris is also a) gay and b) hysterical. Begin anywhere you want, really, because these aren’t essays that have to go in order. But make sure you read the closing essay in When You Are Engulfed in Flames, entitled The Smoking Section. It’s about Sedaris attempting to quit smoking by moving to Japan and taking Japanese for a little while. It’s basically the best thing ever.

Walter Moers

Books Read: The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear (1999)
Books I Haven’t Read Yet : The City of Dreaming Books (2004), Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures (2003), A Wild Night Through the Night (2001), The Alchemaster’s Apprentice (2009), the Labyrinth of Dreaming Books (2012). All the books in German because I don’t speak German and probably never will.
Favorite: The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear (1999)

Yes, it is strange that I have only read one book by this man and I consider him one of my favorite. Walter Moers is a wonderful writer, but the fact that he is on my list has more to do with what he represents for me.

I lived in Paris during 2009 for school, and I lived with one of my best friends in the entire world. We decided we were going to spend a pretty penny that spring and take The Most Epic Spring Vacation Ever. So we took a train trip from Paris to Munich, then to Vienna, then to Prague. I finished reading the material I had brought and we had quite a long train ride from Prague back to Paris, so I ran into the bookstore at the train station and picked out the first thing that looked interesting. That thing was The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear.

Now I’m not sure you know how I feel about traveling. My heart rises to the surface of my chest when I think about it, especially traveling on trains. I love sitting and reading, sipping tea in the dining car and tipping my eyes over the top of my book to watch the world transform before (The Czech Republic looks like West Virginia.) And guys. The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear is HUGE. There was no way I’d run out of pages to read. And we both read and watched and wrote and slept in our sleeping car and met this great girl from Canada and finally we were back in Paris. But I wasn’t done with the book. Because HUGE.

So I spent the next few weeks sipping wine and coffee at various cafés as it began to get warmer, reading this book and watching the people transform before into the crazy images that existed in Moers’s world of Zamonia. His book is so imaginative and contains nothing of what could be in the real world, and yet they make perfect sense. It’s how I feel about travel. Everything is so different and everything clicks into place. The illustrations are also beautiful.

via the Washington Post

j.k. Rowling

Books Read: All the Harry Potter everything ever (1997 to 2007). And The Casual Vacancy (2012)
Books I Haven’t Read Yet : I have read every single thing with Rowling’s name on it.
Favorite: Harry Potter And the Goblet of Fire (2000).

I grew up with Harry Potter. The very same friend that lived with me in Paris also gave me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for my eleventh birthday. I was eleven and so was Mr. Potter– I so badly wanted my letter to come, but even when it didn’t I felt a connection with Harry. Before receiving this book, I wasn’t a big reader, at least not by myself (I loved when my mom read to me because she did all the voices for everything.) But I stayed up for three nights in a row with my flashlight reading because I couldn’t stop and they inexplicably wouldn’t let me read this through fifth grade math, to which I still say WTF ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, THIS IS WAY MORE IMPORTANT THAN FIFTH GRADE MATH. After that, I became obsessed. And I remained obsessed with reading. I remain obsessed with reading.

My favorite is the Goblet of Fire because this is where the series took a turn for the dark. This is where the deaths started. And I felt like Rowling was giving us a little nudge. Telling us it was time to grow up, just a bit. Letting us know that the world didn’t always have happy endings, not for every character. Not for every person. But that it was still important to do the right thing. Even when it’s hard. Even when the stakes are high and the cost could be more than you were ever willing to give. J.K. Rowling taught me morals. She helped me grow up. And she taught me that books contained the keys to the kingdom, the lessons for life, and my truest love.

Avatar of Ali

Freelance writer and fiction author, Geekery Editor for Autostraddle.com and Fiction Editor for qu.ee/r Magazine. Keep up with her at her website.

Ali has written 263 articles for us.

35 Comments

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    TAMORA PIERCE!!!!!! I cannot say more about the Lioness Quartet. My mom read them to be when I was little. Those 4 books changed my life and started me on the path of being a voracious reader. For real, do yourself a favor and pick them up!!!!

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    I re-read the Alanna and Keladry series this summer – best thing I did all summer. When I get nieces/nephews/kids of my own these are the books I’ll pass on to them – Tamora Pierce’s books really are stuffed full of good female role models.

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    I loved this whole piece Ali! Shakespeare is probably my favorite author of all time and yes I love, love, love his beautiful language, but it’s the performances that I love the most.

    I shared this in another piece on here a month or two ago, but I think I should share it again.

    The British arts council has an amazing site full of recorded theater productions, it’s incredible the amount of stuff on here, and a highlight for me is the Globe to Globe series the Globe did this past spring in honor of the Olympics. Great Shakespeare productions were being performed all over England at the time and the Globe theater had companies from all over the world to perform with each one doing a different play in their native language. It’s just a wonderful series and a beautiful illustration of Shakespeare’s universal appeal.

    http://thespace.org/items/s00001ns
    I hope the link works, but if not just search for thespace and you should find it.

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    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for letting me know that ‘Battle Magic’ is an upcoming thing, I am SO desperate to know what happened in Gyongxi. I don’t know why I’m this excited except maybe because Tamora Pierce basically IS my childhood. So thank you.

    Also I haven’t read Mastiff yet and I am so ashamed of myself.

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    Shakespeare! I took a 400 level literature class when I was a freshman in college which basically led to me switching my major from some sciency thing to English Literature. I love seeing productions of Shakespeare. There should be more.

    The rest of this list is top notch. I’ve only read like 3 Tamora Pierce’s though (The Will of the Empress and related stories because Autostraddle told me to)- and I don’t know if I want to start at the beginning. That’s a huge commitment!

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    I love that you waited for you Hogwarts letter :) a young friend of mine just turned 11 and got his letter. His mom turned the house into Hogwarts for the day. She got family friends to be professors and I got to be a prefect and quidditch captain. There were classes and the sorting and wands and robes… So much geeky love!!

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    Al Pacino’s “Looking for Richard,” about Shakespeare’s Richard III, is just awesome. It’s entertaining and educational, he talks to people on the street and kids and famous actors about Shakespeare. You see first read-throughs, looking for locations, quick history, and Pacino et al. performing final versions of key scenes. I came across the play in the library later and was amazed when I was reading it that I really got everything that was going on, and it was so affecting.

    Also “Shakespeare High,” about this annual Shakespeare performance competition for high schools in California, is on Netflix, both instant and DVD.

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    I had actually never read a Tamora Pierce book (David Eddings was my go-to high fantasy as a young’un) until last year, when she came to my school and gave a talk and was SO UNBELIEVABLY AWESOME that I was like HOT DAMN I MUST READ ALL HER THINGS NOW. and then I read all of The Song of the Lioness Quartet in two days. /cool story bro

    OH MAN SHAKESPEARE IF YOU ONLY READ ONE HISTORY READ HENRY IV PART ONE. bias reveal: I just finished an eight-show run playing Falstaff so obviously I am really really biased but Henry IV Part 1 is seriously the most amazing play, it has the beautiful language and a great complex group of protagonists and just…it’s amazing. It’s my absolute favorite Shakespeare. also the first “your face” joke in recorded history. The Globe has an amazing version with Jamie Parker as Hal and Roger Allam as Falstaff; I cried multiple times when I saw it (from laughter and also from sads, but that was only at the very end).

    also Cymbeline! Cymbeline reads like a Greatest Hits of Shakespeare because it has every major plot device from the famous plays.
    - Guy is wrongly convinced his wife is cheating on him!
    - Sleeping potion that makes people think you’re dead!
    - Long-lost sons!
    - Girls in drag!
    - Deux ex machina! (literally, Jupiter descends at one point)
    It also has the longest resolution scene in the Shakespearean canon. It’s a good one.

    I just really love Shakespeare y’all okay I’ll be quiet now

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    Knowing how many of you love Tamora Pierce as much as I do is the final confirmation that Autostraddlers are, in fact, the best people in the world. We are all strong, sexy heroines who will probably save the world in the next magical battle-plague.

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    I work with middle schoolers, and one of the favorite parts of my day is working with my six kid reading group. One day I asked the question “If you could dress up as your favorite character from any book, who would it be and why?” One little boy in the group said “Katniss because she’s cool and brave, like me.” The next day, the afternoon before we all left for Thanksgiving break, I brought in my old copy of Alanna: The First Adventure and gave it to him, saying that this was one of my favorite books when I was in middle school I thought he might like it too.

    When I got back from break this week, the first thing I saw in my office was the copy of Alanna on the bookshelf. I immediately thought that maybe he had just left the book there before break because he wasn’t really interested. It turned out he had come first thing in the morning to give it back, having read the whole thing over break and he wanted to borrow the next book too. Considering Tamora Pierce’s books were some of my most formative books growing up, with Keladry as my biggest fictional role model of what it could mean to be a strong, brave woman, I could not be happier with his excitement to be digging into series. So yeah, couldn’t agree with you more, Ali, and couldn’t be more excited to be heading in to school tomorrow with In The Hand of the Goddess in my bag, ready to inculcate feminism in the next generation.

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    I never read a single Tamora Pierce book as a child or a young adult and I’m still confused as to how this happened?

    Also, I still think I might be the only person whose favorite David Sedaris book is “Barrel Fever,” and I have read all of them. It might be my one favorite book out of all the books I’ve ever read, actually. It’s just so gotdamn funny. Also “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” is a super funny, quick read. I kind of wish he’d write more short fiction.

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    Did anyone mention that Tamora Pierce wrote really wonderful queer characters like it was no big deal? When Daja came out and everyone was so chill about my baby queer heart knew that maybe it’d be okay. And Rosethorn and Lark, it wasn’t even mentioned explicitly but whenever someone referenced it it was just to say that they were a wonderful family. I can’t even.

    Also I’m in a Shakespeare Society, so I understand your Shakespeare feels. He really is the best ever.

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    “And I am a grown-ass woman and I will still buy and read everything this woman ever writes. Her books are my stress ball– if I feel out of control or shitty in any way, I re-read them.”

    This is exactly how I feel about Tamora Pierce’s books. Rereading them calms me down so much, it’s like a reset button.
    I was in sp. ed for preschool-3rd grade because my teachers thought I couldn’t read (and also probably because I wouldn’t speak to anyone…) I wouldn’t read out loud and I couldn’t read along with a class EVER because I’d always have finished whatever we were reading, thus teachers thought I was pretending to read. Someone gave me Wolf-Speaker in second grade because in the rare instance I talked to anyone it was re: animals. TP’s books convinced teachers that not only could I read, but I was actually really good at it. I finished everything TP had written by the end of elementary school, then practically forced the town library’s librarian to preorder every new book as they came out in hardcover. The year or so between book releases gave me plenty of time to get into Harry Potter, too. I will never, ever stop loving her books and I’m psyched to give them all to my niece once she’s old enough.

  14. Pingback: My Top Ten Favourite Authors: All Women, Mostly Queer, Some Canadian | caseythecanadianlesbrarian

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