Best books

What makes an author become famous for one book over another?  Is it the beauty of the writing?  A movie adaptation?  The fact that this book wound up on school reading lists?  Some time ago I read this article in which the author debates several books- from Corelli’s Mandolin to Slaughterhouse Five– and offers up some suggestions of what he feels are the authors’ better works.  This article stuck in my mind because I’ve often thought that there are certain books, which while perfectly fine, or even excellent, don’t really reflect an author’s best work (or at least my favorite works of that author).  As you’ll see from the comments section of the Guardian piece, there are a lot of people who feel the same way.  A few of my own picks that would be different from most well known works of certain authors:

Othello: I’ve always loved this play.  Romeo and Juliet is a wonderful romantic tragedy, but Othello has always grabbed me in a way that Shakespeare’s other tragedies haven’t.  Maybe it’s because Iago makes such a great villain?  While this isn’t exactly a lesser-known play, it’s not one that gets quite as much hype as some of Shakespeare’s other works, and for my money it’s one of his best. 

Tender is the Night: I’m in no way knocking The Great Gatsby here, but Tender is the Night is the book that really made me love F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing. I think that while Gatsby is a somewhat tighter piece of writing, this book packs even more of a punch. 

Keep the Aspidistra Flying: No doubt that George Orwell’s 1984  is a classic, and one worth reading, but this story of a struggling young writer determined not to succumb to middle class values has always been much more appealing to me.  Orwell’s sometimes sharp tongue shines through a bit more subtly in this novel, and he gently satirizes both young artists and mainstream values while also penning a character who is very relatable. 

What do you think?  Are there books that you feel deserve more praise than they get? 



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7 responses to “Best books

  1. Scott

    Joseph Conrad might be best know for the novella _Heart of Darkness_, but for my money, _Nostromo_ remains his best work.

    Jack London’s _Sea Wolf_ does not enjoy nearly the credit that some of his other fiction works do. The book’s exploration into the roles of hero and anti-hero, and its deconstruction of the “nietzschean superman” via the Rolf Larsen character are wrapped neatly around a ripping-good nautical yarn.

    Great post, IY!

  2. Yay! F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of my all-time favorites. I LOVE his short stories better than all of his novels put together.

  3. Ian McEwan has become famous through Atonement, and of course the publicity it was given through the use of Keira Knightley. But I find his book Enduring Love to be a phenomenal piece of writing (and incidentally its film cast includes Daniel Craig just before James Bond). I find it a shame that authors aren’t always remembered for more of their work, but enjoy my secret pleasures.

    • Don

      Along the lines of short stories versus novels, there are three authors known predominately for their novels who are much better short story writers (besides Fitzgerald, Maria): D. H. Lawrence, Joyce Carol Oates, and Ernest Hemingway.

      In the fiction category, many people tout Steppenwolf or Demian as Hermann Hesse’s best book but, in my opinion, The Glass Bead Game (aka Magister Ludi) is his best.

      Kerouac’s On the Road? Nope, the little known novel Tristessa is his finest by far. And when it comes to poems, though Allen Ginsberg’s Howl is great, his poem Kaddish is even better.

      Nice post … I could go on for days (Austen, Atwood, Erdrich, Kesey …)!


  4. Romeo and Juliet is a really good book of all time. read it for quite some time and not just once………Macbeth is a good one too….

  5. I love this post. I recently discovered the contemporary writer Kate Christensen when a friend gave me her Pen Faulkner Award winning novel “The Great Man.” It is a wise, funny, beautifully written book. But since reading it, I’ve read all her other books, and her novel before “The Great Man,” “The Epicurian’s Lament,” is absolutely stunning and rich. It’s a shame it didn’t get more attention. And her most recent book, “The Astral,” is wonderful, too. She is well known in some circles, but deserves more attention.

    I must say one of my all time favorite authors is the British writer Penelope Fitzgerald. She won the National Book Award for her masterpiece “The Blue Flower,” which I love but is a little hard to get into. Her other novels like “The Bookshop,” “Offshore,” and “The Gate of Angels” are just as wonderful. I’d recommend them to anyone who enjoys smart, economical, humanistic writing and craft.
    Thanks for your blog. I look forward to keeping up with it!
    Alice Blunt

  6. Charles

    Sometimes it would be great to know what people at large think is a good books. Imagine harnessing the wisdom of crowds to rank all existing books.
    You would just have to search for children books or romantic novels and there would be the top lists. Looks like this website did it, and the lists are good, actually:

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