Great Authors and Literature

edited November 2013 in General Discussion Posts: 3,236
This grew out of a discussion on the "controversial opinions" thread. We'd gotten sidetracked into a discussion on our favorite/the greatest authors, and it left off with my being asked why I liked Shakespeare, Dickens, Homer, and Virgil. It almost goes without saying why I like Shakespeare, nearly everyone who can read likes him. First of all, his influence is enormous, and his plays are still being performed today, in both original and reimagined settings. His insight into the human condition is profound, and his tragedies provoke some of the deepest emotions possible. The fall of Macbeth and Hamlet are beautiful. His command of the English language is second to none; his monologues are breathtaking (to be or not to be, Marc Antony's speech at Caesar's funeral, Macbeth's tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow), not to mention the mention the many common expressions in the English language that can be traced to his writings. He had a fine gift for comedy, which is sadly lost to many modern readers because of changes in the language.

Dickens doesn't quite have Shakespeare's depth, but he makes up for it with his intricate plotlines and captivating characters. His influence is great too, with A Christmas Carol standing as an inspiration for much of the modern celebrations of Christmas. Despite its fame, A Christmas Carol is not his best offering. I personally like Great Expectations the best, but all of his novels, from A Tale of Two Cities to Bleak House have something to offer.

Homer and Virgil are both classical epic poets, and I'm more familiar with Virgil, so I'll focus on him. While his epic isn't as well known as Homer's two, he's still brilliant. The very form of his words on the page is beautiful, even if one doesn't speak Latin. The Aeneid probably isn't quite up to the standards of the Iliad or the Odyssey, but the story of Aeneas is still one of the classical world's greatest works. Like Shakespeare, he wrote many shorter poems, many of which are contained in the Eclogues and the Georgics.

What are your favorite authors and works, MI6Community, and why?


  • 4EverBonded4EverBonded Dancing at midnight under the BeBop Moon
    edited November 2013 Posts: 11,708
    I love Dickens - mainly because of the vividly drawn characters and a glimpse of old England. A Christmas Carol is my favorite, actually. And it is heading into the time of year for it; I read it annually (or more often).

    I love the little bits of Shakespeare I have read - it feels like having jewels in my mouth (to quote/paraphrase Frank McCourt). A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelth night, The Tempest. Hamlet and Richard III also, but it has been too long. I need to re-read them.

    Frank McCourt whom I just mentioned - Irish Pulitzer prize winning author of Angela's Ashes and Teacher Man in particular. Lyrical, beautiful writing. Wrote about extreme tragedy, difficulties, poverty, and more yet I found his writing to be so splendid it lifted me up. Sorry he passed away; he was not that old.

    A. Conan Doyle - I started the thread, A Study in Sherlock, along with 0Brady and Sandy due to my lifelong passion for this character. I find Doyle to be an excellent writer - so concise in drawing up unique characters that you can really visualize them, atmosphere you can smell and wrap yourself in. I love his Holmes stories.

    Seamus Heaney - amazingly insightful and memorable poetry, darn near life changing for me - poetry, not novels; but I love his writing so. I thoroughly enjoy his essays and speeches, too. His recent death also shook me up; I was hoping for more great writing from him. He received plenty of recognition during his life; I hope he was happy, too. He seemed to have a close family.

    And plenty of others, I will get around to listing later. I love to read; it is my greatest pasttime, even more than films.

  • edited November 2013 Posts: 7,587
    Arthur Conan Doyle, and not just his Sherlock Holmes novels, I did enjoy some others too.

    Leslie Charteris, discovered him before Ian Fleming the writing does evolve as does the character during the long period in his life (he used ghostwriters later who did pretty good). I mostly enjoy the early flippant Simon Templar before WOII.

    John Irving, the man is original and funny.

    Stephen King, the man can really tell a story and bring villages and people come alive. (not all his work is great though)

    Barbara Tuchman, just a great historian!

    Raymond Chandler / Robert B Parker / Samuel Dashiell Hammett / Erle Stanley Gardner / James M. Cain: all pioneers in the great genre of detectives

    Robert E Howard, the king and barbarian of the Pulp

    Jules Verne /H.G. Wells / Arthur C. Clarke / Isamov / Ursula K. Le Guin / Ray Bradbury / Jack Vance, all great authors in the field of scifi.

    Frank Herbert - Dune and its five sequels are brilliant

    J.R.R. Tolkien - Lord of the Rings & the Hobbit, nothing else needs to be said.
  • 4EverBonded4EverBonded Dancing at midnight under the BeBop Moon
    edited November 2013 Posts: 11,708
    Great list, @SaintMark! :)
    I'm going to add to mine today - quite an ecclectic group!

    C.S. Lewis - Many of his fine works, including of course the incredibly imaginative and thoughtful The Chronicles of Narnia

    P.G Wodehouse - What a wit! What a way with memorable characters! He still makes me laugh out loud; one of my favorites for sure.

    William Manchester, biographer - I recently mentioned him on another thread. A great writer who brings his subjects vividly to life with plenty of depth and detail. I like his writing very much indeed. I highly recommend his 3 volumes of biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion (by far, the best I have read), his biography of Douglas MacArthur entitled American Caesar, and his own stunning personal memoir, Goodbye, Darkness (memoir of the Pacific War). His writing earned several awards; I cannot recommend him highly enough.

    Alexandre Dumas - High adventure, a colorful and wonderful writer. The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.

    Louisa May Alcott - a lifelong favorite, especially Little Women (the combined version with Good Wives). It is beautifully written. I went back to it after a few decades and thoroughly enjoyed it; I had almost forgotten how truly well written it is. Far more than just a children's story.

    Bill Bryson - travel writer, essayist, and more. I have laughed my way through many of his books, especially Notes from a Small Island and A Walk in the Woods. But I discovered one of my favorites just a couple of years ago, and it is not about travel: At Home. Hard to describe, but he gives us the historical information about all the things common about our modern day home and I found all those tidbits and trivia fascinating (even the history of salt and pepper, or the background of Mssr. Eiffel and the building of his famous tower, or the building of The Crystal Palace for the Victorian Great Exhibition), thanks to his wonderful way with words, humor, and presentation.

    SaintMark, I have only read one of Barbara Tuchman's books, The Guns of August. What a splendid writer indeed. And I am a big fan of The Saint, so Leslie Charteris makes my list, too.
  • Posts: 1,817
    Umberto Eco- My all time favorite. I love both his novels and essays. A man that shows true erudition but knows how to entertain at the same time. Foucault's Pendulum and The name of the rose are masterpieces from fiction. In the non-fiction I learned a lot from Art and Beauty in the Medieval Aesthetics, Lector in Fabula, On literature and The Search for the Perfect Language.

    Italo Calvino- With a perfect commanding of the language, his novels create wonderful worlds and deep stories.

    Jorge Luis Borges- Another great fantastical writer with and impeccable writing style. It's amazing how he plays with ideas like the infinity of space and time.

    I also like Mario Vargas Llosa, Juan Rulfo, Mario Puzo, Dante, J.R.R. Tolkien, and of course Ian Fleming.

    Sadly - or fortunately - I still have many authors to read, specially americans, french, germans and russians. The thing is that I spend most of my reading time with academic stuff (which I actually like), but I try to read a novel from time to time. In Christmas break I plan to read Conversation in the Cathedral and to finish A Tale of Two Cities.
  • I love Stephen King. One of, if not, the greatest author of out time.
  • edited August 2017 Posts: 684
    Closest thing I could find to a 'favorite writers' thread. Happy to post elsewhere as directed. (Saw this one but seemed more geared to spy-stories generally.)

    Anyway —


    Wodehouse - The man wrote a sentence sharp enough to poke out an eye at twenty paces. And then he would write another to follow it, over and over. Hilaire Belloc put it better than I can:
    "The end of writing is the production in the reader's mind of a certain image and a certain emotion. And the means towards that end are the use of words in any particular language; and the complete use of that medium is the choosing of the right words and the putting of them in to the right order. It is this which Mr. Wodehouse does better, in the English language, than anyone else."

    Borges - The way he blends 'reality' and 'fiction' so that you're never sure where one stops and the other begins is an experience completely unique to itself.

    Douglas Adams - When he was young he wanted to grow up and be John Cleese, he said, and was disappointed when he realized the job was taken. Growing up I wanted to be Douglas. His stuff leaps from one marvelous idea to the next, all while keeping the humor flowing. I think his Dirk Gently novels are his best work.

    Shakespeare - The very best there ever was. When you're a kid and you're forced to read him in school, you just think he's stuffy and pretentious. I was fortunate enough to catch some glimmer of appeal in him, which lead me to revisit him as an adult. There's a Doctor Who episode where he's correctly referred to as the most "human human" who ever lived, which really might be the best description anyone could ever hope to warrant. If you have trouble getting interested in his work, check out the great PBS series called Shakespeare Uncovered and/or watch a great film called LOOKING FOR RICHARD.

    Stephen Leacock - Largely forgotten but still one of the funniest people to ever write. His short sketches are superior to his longer works. He has a wonderful way of swinging madly back and forth between hyperbole and meiosis. "My Financial Career" is one of my favorite short pieces of writing.

    Fleming - He wrote Bond of course, and that's why we're all here, but I do believe he has a claim towards being one of the best writers in the twentieth century. His eye for documenting and talent for evoking detail is unsurpassed.

    Jules Verne and H. Rider Haggard and Dumas and Conan Doyle - Lumping these guys together. I love a good 19th century adventure story, and though these guys were all interested in different things, they're very similar. At the end of the day they just wrote good stories.

    Dickens - Absolutely the giant which followed on from Shakespeare. Fundamentally knew how to tell a story. Despite the lengthy shape some of his pages took, his voice pulls you through his prose like a chain drive. He's stood the test of time in ways many of his contemporaries have not.

    Dostoyevsky - Somewhat hijacked over the years as an Important Author by the intelligentsia, I feel, but his work remains at its core pure sensationalism. No one's ever translated human psychology into prose like this man.

    Terry Pratchett - A consummate craftsman. Reading Pratchett, you know you are well in the hands of a capable storyteller. His humor is a bonus. He knows just where to break a scene, and how (like Dickens) to entertainingly transition from one item to the next. I love his Discworld stuff, but my favorite thing he's written is Nation.

    Jerome K. Jerome - Three Men In A Boat is why he's here but I enjoy his shorter works as well. "Clocks" is a fantastic piece.

    Vonnegut - No one has satirized the second half of the 20th century better. Not to confuse satire with comedy, of course; I've listed writers far funnier and more optimistic and kind. But sometimes the mood demands Vonnegut's more cynical approach.


    Roald Dahl- An author that kids feel is firmly on their side, because when you're a kid there are sides, and not enough kid lit writers write from the proper side of it.

    J.P. Martin - Perfect bedtime stories. His Uncle stories mimic the way a kid's imagination works to perfection.

    Louis Sachar - A very silly writer who knows silliness is paramount in children's literature.

    R.L. Stine - B movies as kid's books, each written in 8 days flat. What kid wouldn't love reading them?

    Lewis Carroll - Funny, playful, complete and utter wonderful nonsense. Math as story. Excellent.

    Clement Freud - Oftentimes the least interesting character of a kid's book is the main character, in order that the more varied other colorful personalities of the supporting character can shine through. Not so with Grimble. He's a big goofball, captivating enough to draw the readers in simply to see what he decides to do next. The posthumous allegations of child sexual abuse towards Freud surely diminish him and put an awful spin on his writing kids books, but the work must stand on its own, and it is good work.

    Short stories

    Roald Dahl again - His twisted sensibilities worked well for kids in their own way, but directing them towards the adult world takes things to a whole new level. Aside from that, his prose is wonderful and, like his children's books, evokes a kind of unique Old World storytelling.

    John Collier - Along with Dahl, the finest short story writer in a golden age of short stories.

    Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson - These guys brought their own voices to the sort of stories Dahl and Collier were doing. They understood the fundamental necessity of metaphor in a short story.

    Poe and Guy De Maupassant - The original Lords of the form. Compliment each other very well.

    Robert Sheckley - Somewhat overlooked, I think, as far as sci-fi writers go. Quite versatile. You never know what you are going to get starting one of his stories.

    Robert Aickman - Marvelous at creating an atmosphere very quickly.


    George Bernard Shaw (prefaces) and Chesterton (essays) - Funny, witty, opinionated. Great thinkers each, and their writing is simple and elegant and clearly expressed. They were sparing partners in real life, but also friends -- a good example of their maturity when it came to discourse and politics. The quality of thought and expression in their debates puts to shame the kind of 'debates' we were subjected to last year.

    Neil Postman - A wonderful, wonderful and prescient writer on media, technology, and education. I can't recommend his books enough. If anyone in a position of influence would've given his considerations the time of day decades ago, society would be in a much better place today.

    Chuck Klosterman - Funny, astute observer of popular culture. Takes the seemingly trivial and raises it for deft consideration. I love the self-reflexivity of his thinking.

    Bill Bryson - He has a knack for making the most banal things interesting. I like his humor by and large as well. His travel books are his true highlights.

    Nassim Taleb - His work has reigned in some concepts which have been lost floating in the ether for too long. He's convinced me of the wisdom in empirical skepticism and given me a new way of looking at the world.

    Otis Ferguson - A keen talent for watching film combined with a 'working class' turn of phrase provided film criticism with one of its most articulate film critics. Something major was lost when he was killed in action during WWII.

    Seneca - I enjoy the idea of having the last laugh.

    Alan Watts - Never come across anyone more wise or capable of imparting that wisdom.
  • ThunderfingerThunderfinger San Demonique
    Posts: 36,653
    Nothing has impressed me like Homer. It is all in dactylic hexameter.
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