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 Hansen…
I’m a classics kind of girl. I’ve had the same eight favorite authors since I was 18. I just can’t stop loving everything about them, and no new loves will ever compare to the feelings these eight people have given me.
Books Read: Laughable Loves (1969), The Farewell Waltz (1972), Life Is Elsewhere (1973), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1978), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984)
Books I Haven’t Read Yet: The Joke (1967), Immortality (1990), Slowness (1995), Identity (1998), Ignorance (2000)
Favorite: The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the book that started my Kundera love. Kundera weaves philosophy with love and heartbreak and war so effortlessly. To this day, it remains my favorite book of all time and the book I always say I’d take on a desert island. My best friend gave it to me with her margin notes and underlined passages, and I underlined my favorite passages and sent it back to her. At the same time, my first love was reading it, and we raced to see who could read it faster. She won. I had to savor it, to stay up late and reread entire chapters because they were heartbreakingly lovely. The scene with the crow makes me cry every time. Also, I want a dog named Karenin.
I always give this book to people I want to know me better. Selfishly, I want the people I love to love the things I love. I’ve only dated one person who wouldn’t read this book and well, we’re not together anymore, so you can see how that worked out.
To say an author is your favorite because of a single book is a tall order, but I think Kundera deserves it. His other works are brilliant as well, but I’ve just never connected with them the same way I have with The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Kerouac is a man I have loved for many, many years now. I feel that On the Road changed the way I think about not just fiction, but also life in general. It was one of the first books I read more than once, and I have a thing about reading books more than once: I don’t do it that often. What I’m saying is, On The Road perfectly captured my wanderlust and intensity and curiosity better than any other book.
I’ve read some of his other works, and I particularly liked The Dharma Bums and The Subterraneans, but it doesn’t hold a candle to On the Road. Can anything, ever?
Also a weird anecdote about my life: I have a lot of Jack Kerouac reading poetry in my iTunes. I don’t know how it got there, but it’s really good and comforting, you guys.
Books Read: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), Northanger Abbey (1818), Persuasion (1818)
Books I Haven’t Read Yet : Her short fiction, juvenilia works, and unpublished works, but I really have no desire to read any of these.
Favorite: Persuasion (1818)
Oh, Jane Austen. What an obvious choice, you say. Well, it’s true. I’ve read every Austen novel and loved every word. I think it’s my desire for things to have closure — and optimistic closure, at that — that explains why I find Austen’s novels to be so satisfying. Things tie up in neat little packages. People are happy. I am happy. I finish each book with a sense of satisfaction that maybe things do work out in the world sometimes. That’s a good thing to feel once in awhile, I think.
Also, I cry every time someone confesses their love. I am an unashamedly romantic sap. Reading Persuasion, I had to set the book down and take a break because I was so overcome with emotion when things finally worked out in the end.
Books Read: The Sun Also Rises (1926), A Farewell to Arms (1929), Green Hills of Africa (1935), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), The Old Man and the Sea (1952), A Moveable Feast (1964)
Books I Haven’t Read Yet : The Torrents of Spring (1926), To Have and Have Not (1937), Across the River and Into the Trees (1950), Islands in the Stream (1970), The Garden of Eden (1986), True at First Light (1999), a million short story collections and non-fiction books.
Favorite: A Farewell to Arms (1929)
Hemingway has influenced my personal writing to such a great extent that I make a conscious effort not to read anything by him during any writing project for fear that people, especially my previous advisors, will say, “Sarah, calm that Hemingway shit down.”
Hemingway tells it like he sees it and he tells it so incredibly. His style is contagious. The Old Man and the Sea is one of the most beautiful and simple stories ever. If you haven’t read any Hemingway, start with The Old Man and the Sea. It goes by so fast and you’ll be thinking of lions on beaches for a long time.
I love Hemingway so much that I bought The Paris Wife by Paula McClain, a historical fiction novel told from the point of view of Hadley, his first wife. It’s incredible, you guys. If you’re a fan of Hemingway, buy it.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Books Read: Player Piano (1952), The Sirens of Titan (1959), Cat’s Cradle (1963), God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Breakfast of Champions or Goodbye Blue Monday (1973), Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! (1976), Jailbird (1979), Galapagos: A Novel (1985), and so, so many collections.
Books I Haven’t Read Yet : Mother Night (1961), Deadeye Dick (1982) Bluebeard, the Autobiography of Rabo Karabekian 1916-1988 (1987), Hocus Pocus (1990), Timequake (1997)
Favorite: The Sirens of Titan (1959)
I never read Slaughterhouse-Five in high school and I’m still bitter about that curriculum failure. I came to love Vonnegut through one of my good friends. We used to exchange Vonnegut novels back and forth, underlining our favorite passages (mine still remains the one pictured above). We’d sit in his room, reading passages back and forth, and thus sprang my intense love for Vonnegut.
Vonnegut’s novels have travelled with me everywhere. I love to read them while flying in order to forget where I am (I am the worst flyer ever, so this is saying something). That’s what Vonnegut’s writing does to you — it takes you somewhere else, to these imaginary lands without you even realizing Titan isn’t a real place to visit. Vonnegut manages to communicate the most intricate human truths, but he does so without smacking you in the face. That is unique.
Two days before my undergrad graduation, another good friend of mine got a tattoo of “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt” in Vonnegut’s writing on her shoulder and I still consider it one of the best tattoos ever.
Books Read: The House of Mirth (1905), The Fruit of the Tree (1907), Summer (1917), The Age of Innocence (1920), Old New York (1924), and a bunch of random short stories.
Books I Haven’t Read Yet : Oh my goodness, there are just so many.
Favorite: Ethan Frome (1911)
Edith Wharton and I began our love affair during my freshman year of high school with Ethan Frome. It was a slow burning love, and one that made me intensely protective of the book when everyone else in my class starting whining about how it was boring. Ethan Frome is a little hard to get into, just like a lot of classics, but it is such a rewarding read.
My mentor in college told me to read The House of Mirth as soon as I graduated, just as she had done. It is perhaps one of the most depressing novels of all time — wait, no. Maybe all of Wharton’s works are the most depressing of all time. It’s what she does well. She doesn’t sugarcoat it with flowery prose or convenient situations that work themselves out in the end. She doesn’t need to make things okay, because sometimes things aren’t okay. Sometimes you just need to finish a novel and feel awful about life and cry into your pillow. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Books Read: The Catcher in the Rye (1951), Nine Stories (1953), Franny and Zooey (1961), Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963)
Books I Haven’t Read Yet : I’ve read all of the books and have been hunting down random short stories ever since.
Favorite: Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963)
Okay, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that The Catcher in the Rye is not Salinger’s best work. It’s not! Read anything about the Glass family and you’ll be convinced it’s way better. The Catcher in the Rye is the snot-nosed younger brother to all of Salinger’s short stories about the Glass family. The Glass family was such a genius idea that I sometimes get mad that it wasn’t mine first.
The short story collection Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction are Salinger’s most beautiful works. Seymour Glass is such an incredible character that I search for him in every one of Salinger’s short stories, desperate for some small anecdote to help me understand, as if he’s a real person. I don’t think I’ve ever been so intrigued by a character. I read “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” at work one day (I worked really hard at that cashier job, obviously) and cried to the extent that my manager asked me if I needed to go home.
But really, The Catcher in the Rye is one of the best examples of voice in fiction of all time. I finished reading it and thought in Holden Caulfield’s voice for weeks. It got to the point I was calling people phonies and my friend Lauren had to take me aside and tell me I wasn’t a teen boy in the 50’s.
Books Read: Kew Gardens (1919), Monday or Tuesday (1921), Jacob’s Room (1922), Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1927), The Waves (1931), The Years (1937), A Haunted House and Other Short Stories (1944), Mrs Dalloway’s Party (1973) and a whole lot of non-fiction, including A Room of One’s Own (1929)
Books I Haven’t Read Yet : The Voyage Out (1915), Night and Day (1919), Flush: A Biography (1933) Between the Acts (1941), Roger Fry: A Biography (1940)
Favorite: Mrs Dalloway
Mrs Dalloway is another book that I try to make everyone read. I think my girlfriend is on page 10? It’s hard to get into, but I promise you, I promise you that if you get halfway in, you won’t be able to put it down and it will consume your thoughts for days. Woolf has this way of weaving beautiful prose passages into her works that affect you, and they stay in your head, and you think about them forever.
For a good introduction to Virginia Woolf, read her short story, “A Haunted House” because I have really strong emotions about that story and how beautiful it is.
When I read Orlando (under the counter at the same cashier job I read Salinger, don’t tell), I was really amazed that her gender-fuckery existed in the early twentieth century. I just couldn’t believe that she was writing about this in 1927. Also, I love that it’s basically just a really long love letter to Vita Sackville-West.
I always walk on the turf because of A Room of One’s Own. It’s like my own geeky personal “damn the man” gesture. I know, I’m out of control.