The Authors We Should Have Read…

We have recently learned the sad news that author Doris Lessing has passed away. Whilst all the outpourings of love for her and praise for her work was going around the internet and social media I stayed rather quiet. You see I was rather embarrassed to admit that I had not read anything by the powerhouse that Lessing was. We all know, if we are being really honest with ourselves, that we are simply not going to read all the books in our lifetimes that we would like to. Sorry if any of you are in denial about this, but it is true, there is highly likely to be ‘just one more book’ or ‘just thirty five more books’ that you would like to read. The same is true for authors.

I have lost count of the times I have heard someone mention a marvellous book, and I am not just talking powerhouses in the literary world as it happens with debuts too, or declared their love of a certain authors writing and so I make a note to self that ‘I really must read x author’. Invariably I haven’t, and it irks me. I have been thinking it and these are the top five authors that I feel I really should have read and haven’t…

  • Maya Angelou
  • Elizabeth Bowen
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • John Irving
  • Rose Tremain

I am sure some of you might be reaching for the smelling salts and saying ‘out of all the authors in the world, those five’ but don’t forget that this list changes daily (because I am a bit fickle and whim prone) but also these are authors that I have read nothing by, not even a short story, nothing. Zilch. Authors I have read a book, or a few books, of and really must return to at some point is a whole other can of worms I don’t want to open right now, it may also really depress me.

You may have noticed that Doris Lessing isn’t on that list (no I am not being fickle again) and this is because I am rectifying that. After the sad news I was having a chat with the lovely Nathan Dunbar, all the way over the ocean, and we have decided to do #DorisInDecember and read The Grass is Singing over the coming weeks before talking about it on twitter on Sunday the 15th of December on Twitter using that hashtag (I know, it’s terribly modern, I will be popping a review on here too for discussion if you aren’t a tweeter) I have a lovely old small paperback of it I need to hunt down. We would love it if you would join in.

Back to the subject in hand though and those authors you should have read… Do you have a list of authors that you are rather surprised at yourself for still have not yet read even though you have been meaning to? Would you share who any of those authors are? What does it take to suddenly make you decide to give them a whirl? Or do you not pressurise yourself, consciously or not, with a list of authors you should have read? Divulge!

84 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

84 responses to “The Authors We Should Have Read…

  1. Doris Lessing is challenging to say the least. I’ve only read The Fifth Child. Wow it was depressing bur well-written. I’m interested in read The Grass is Singing. As for Maya Angelou, you need to get on it. Her works are really good and she’s had a full life and writes wonderful poetry. Love reading Irving! He really knows how to tell a story and so many different kinds. Some of my favourites are The World According to Garp, A Prayer fro Owen Meany, A Son of the Circus. I also like Hemingway. My favourite for the moment is The Sun Also Rises, but I’m dying to read A Moveable Feast. Haven’t read anything by Tremain and Bowen. Looks like I have some work too. When I read new authors I just jump in and do it or read with a buddy that always helps. Setting reading goals for the new year helps too, while looking at what you’ve read at the 6 month mark so that you always stay on track. So where will you start?

    • Louise Trolle

      Ooooh I read The Fifth Child in high school – I partly blame the teacher, but it wasn’t a positive experience, and I’ll probably never read Lessing again as a result…

    • Sounds like I have quite some reading to do Didi, I am shocked at myself about Maya Angelou in particular, my mother LOVES her books and I have read most authors my mother loves – she has the most stunning Virago editions too.

      I think I will have to make sure I read Angelou in the new year, that will be one of my first ports of call book wise.

  2. I haven’t yet finished an Elizabeth Gaskell novel. I haven’t even tried Alice Munro, and I’m sure the list extends for much further than I really want to think about. Always good intentions.🙂

    • AJ

      Gaskell’s North and South is really good –with a hero in the same league as Darcy — made into a very good TV movie with Richard Armitage.

      • Thanks, AJ! Looking forward to it. I expect it’ll be one of the first books I read in 2014.

      • I don’t think I could allow myself to go through another epic with Gaskell again. Weirdly though I would really like to try her ghost stories one day… maybe in another decade when Mary Barton has completely receded in my memory.

      • AJ

        North and South is the only Gaskell I’ve read so I can’t say how it compares but based on what I know of her life, it seems it is the book most closely based on her life in Manchester. But the movie adheres to the book pretty closely and you won’t miss much watching instead of reading. I have her Gothic Tales in my TBR bookshelf (the nightstand began to groan under the weight of the unread).

    • Oh I don’t blame you on that one. I had to read Mary Barton for a book group, I have NEVER disliked a book so much, never ever. Ugh.

  3. My ‘should read’ list is topped by Steinbeck. Reading The Pearl at secondary school really put me off but I think after all this time I should give him a go. Also realised today that although I’m read CHekhov’s plays, I’ve never read his short stories – so he’s going on the list too.

    • AJ

      I think Steinbeck’s novels are a mixed bag with Cannery Road, East of Eden Grapes of Wrath, and Of Mice and Men at the top of the list. There’s also a large edition of his letters (maybe out of print by now) that actually made me like him better as a man than as a writer.

    • I did Grapes of Wrath which wasn’t a good way in I don’t think, was too epic and too epically depressing. I might give him another whirl with something shorter though.

      • David

        I haven’t read any Steinbeck for quite a few years but I’ve loved pretty much everything of his I have read. We did ‘Of Mice and Men’ at school and inevitably that put me right off and I had to ‘discover’ him again for myself several years later when I devoured ‘East of Eden’ over a long weekend. I think I’d suggest ‘Cannery Row’ as a good starting point though – immensely readable, short, and addressing all the concerns you associate with his writing but without the heaviness of ‘Grapes’ or ‘Eden’.

      • Cannery Row is a lesser known one isn’t it? That might be a nice place to restart actually, thanks David.

      • AJ

        I agree with David about Cannery Row — probably has my favorite of his female characters.

  4. Gaskell and Eliot are the top two haven’t reads for me – but I’m in no hurry. If they call to me, I’ll read them, otherwise I have more books in my house to read than I can hope to finish before I shuffle off my mortal coil (yes, my TBR is that big),

    • I have tried and failed with both of these. I don’t think I am destined to love the ‘great English canon though’ I like a lot of stuff from around the same time which is a little left field or sensational.

  5. Some Lessing I find very accessible and enjoyable others, like her magnum opus The Golden Notebook, not so much. Quick and enjoyable Irving would be A Prayer for Owen Meany. You will wonder why you haven’t read it sooner. And for Maya Angelou you must start with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

  6. My list would be mostly classics I think, what a backlist there is there. I love Maya Angelou’s work, she writes with such compassion and her stories have evolved as has her perspective, she is well worth listening to and reading.

    I read a novel of Doris Lessing some years ago and remember finding it hard going. Since then I have read her excellent non-fiction book African Laughter – 4 Visits to Zimbabwe which I really enjoyed, because it provides an insight into her own character.

    • Angelou is the most popular author from my list that day of the authors I must read and so it seems I truly MUST read her.

      Oddly, whilst it sounds intriguing, I think I am best with fiction by Lessing first, I find non fiction a strange and crazy bookish field that I tend not to do so well with.

      • I used to feel the same way about non-fiction until I became freinds with an avid reader and writer of creative non-fiction and discovered there is a non-fiction genre that is as compelling to read as fiction, not that dry stuff that feels like it is related to the text book, but that which is closer to page turning poetic prose. I asked her for a list of recommendations and continue to do so and am now learning to discern it from the rest with more adeptness now.

        Maya Angelou’s work though, I would suggest is pure memoir. It’s not a whole of life biography, it’s more piecemeal. Great to have discovered early on. Speaking of memoir/creative non-fiction and Lessing, well she has done that rather well too🙂 Happy Reading whatever you choose Simon.

  7. I have never read Lessing either. Someone at work gave me a copy of The Golden Notebook a few years ago – I haven’t read it. I can’t get rid of the book because it’s not really mine, and I’m a bit scaredof reading it.
    Re your list – I have read something by all of those writers, though only one Rose Tremain which I liked and only one Hemingway which I didn’t. I have read alot of Irving (some years ago now) and quite liked them – especially Owen Meany and The Cider House Rules. I have started reading Elizabeth Bowen and love her work.
    I am often inspired to try people I have never read before by the enthusiastic ravings of other bloggers.

  8. I’m sorely tempted to join in Simon. I’ve only read The Golden Notebook which was challenging but rewarding. But I’m having trouble coping with the few reading commitments I do have!

    I only actually got round to reading Bowen this year and I love what I’ve read so far. Authors I must but I haven’t? Well, Hemingway, like you; Balzac; Zola; Faulkner; Thomas Mann. That’s a few off the top of my head but there are bound to be more…..

    • Oh do join in, the more the merrier as far as myself and Nathan are concerned. Would be lovely to have you reading along too. Zola was almost on my list too actually. Bowen I think I have completely the wrong idea about, so must try her soon.

      • kaggsysbookishramblings

        Ok – you’ve persuaded me…. Off to a certain online source to get a copy! Do read Bowen – she’s not an author you can rush through but her prose is so beautiful. I have “The Heat of the Day” near the top of my current reading list and the first few pages are lovely!

      • Hoorah. The more the merrier.

  9. Shhh, don’t tell anyone Simon, but… I’ve never read anything by Zadie Smith. *makes ashamed face*….

  10. Here are some authors I haven’t read yet and feel I should have

    Margaret Atwood
    Graham Greene
    Kate Atkinson
    E M Forster
    Mary Shelley
    Doris Lessing

    I hope I do get around to reading them. Sometimes adaptations help put the author back on my radar or I read something about that author somewhere. Sometimes I follow through and read them other and sometimes they just stay on my list of things to read.

  11. Lew

    ‘The House in Paris’ by Elizabeth Bowen is her masterpiece. It is an unsettling piece of work that stays with you.

    • AJ

      I love the hearing the word unsettling used to describe a work of fiction and have just popped over to Amazon to order this having only read a few Bowen short stories. Writers whose works I would apply the same adjective to are Muriel Spark (The Girls of Slender Means and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), Flannery O’Connor (Wise Blood and especially The Violent Bear It Away) and Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle). I almost never reread anything, but in the case of every one of these novels I did a second read as soon as I finished the first to see if I could figure out how these writers achieved their effects.

    • Oooh you have sold me on ‘unsettling’ sounds just my cup of tea thank you!

  12. sharkell

    A few years ago I read The Cleft by Doris Lessing and struggled with it, although the story has stayed with me. I’m not that keen on reading more of her work. I made a list of new-to-me-authors I would like to read at the beginning of this year including Nancy Mitford, Ernest Hemingway, Muriel Spark and Elizabeth Taylor. I was able to cross Graham Greene off my list as a result of Greene for Gran but I haven’t done very well apart from that….

    • Nancy Mitford is amazing, amazing, amazing, amazing. Very wry sense of humour which I love. Muriel Spark is just a writing genius. Elizabeth Taylor is one of the authors ‘I should read much more of’. Gran would be thrilled at you getting to Greene via her, most thrilled indeed.

  13. drharrietd

    I’ve never read anything by Lessing though I tried once, possibly The Golden Notebook, and gave up fast. I just think she is not for me. Lots of other people I haven’t read either. Elizabeth Bowen is a wonderful novelist, and my favourite of what I’ve read would be To the North. Good luck with Lessing!

  14. David

    The only Lessing I’ve read was ‘Mara & Dann’ and, I’ll be honest, I found it a slog and really didn’t enjoy it much. I do have a copy of ‘The Grandmothers’ somewhere which is three novellas or long short stories I think, and I do keep meaning to read it. Tremain and Hemingway… only tried one of each but I’m not in a hurry to read more.

    The list of authors I embarrassingly have never read but feel I ought to is as long as my arm. I’ll let myself off the ‘classics’ as I always tell myself I’m saving them until I’m old and have tired of new books (ha!). But I really feel I ought to have read (mainly because it seems like everyone else in the world has read them):

    John Cheever
    Richard Yates
    Philip Roth
    Don DeLillo
    John Updike (bought a collection of his stories a few months ago so will hopefully strike him off my list soon)
    John Irving (again, recently bought ‘The World According to Garp’)
    Katherine Mansfield
    Joseph Conrad (worse still: I have ALL his books in lovely Folio Society editions!)
    Mordecai Richler
    W Somerset Maugham
    Robertson Davies
    William Faulkner
    William Maxwell
    and many many more…

    But I am slowly tackling these gaps in my reading – if you’d asked this a year or two ago I’d have included Alice Munro, Raymond Carver and Hemingway, but I’ve now read something by each.

    • AJ

      Great list — I love Conrad’s shorter works and I think Cheever was a genius — his short story “The Swimmer” is beautiful and sad. Roth is sui generis … I read his books and always wonder how he manages to pack so much intelligence, anger, regret, desire, heart, sorrow, etc. into them.

      • David

        Yes, “The Swimmer” is the one story I really feel I should read, as I read another story (Karen Brown’s “Swimming”, collected in ‘Little Sinners’) last year that riffs on it and I’d have perhaps got more out of it if I’d known what she was referencing. A bit like how I read Nathan Englander’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” before reading Carver’s original, though that probably was to Englander’s benefit!

      • David

        PS: AJ (or anyone else) – where do you recommend starting with Roth? Should I go back to the beginning and start with ‘Goodbye, Columbus’ or would you start with one of his best-known ones like ‘American Pastoral’?

      • AJ

        David — Roth’s most accessible work for the newcomer is The Ghost Writer – a short work that features his recurrent character Zuckerman. But I would do the Good-bye Columbus first because that’s his first work and the place where you can see the themes that remain with him for the next 50 years, and follow it with The Ghost Writer. I’m not a fan of Portnoy but that’s likely because I read it at about 19 and have never revisited. His best book from his “mature” years is widely considered to be American Pastoral, but The Plot Against America and I Married a Communist are contenders. With Roth, it’s never going to be about the beauty of the prose. The man has something to say and he’d probably be willing to spill his own blood to get it on the page. He’s just fierce at this best. Some complain about his misogyny but he has written some very sympathetic women. Gosh — I feel like walking over the the bookshelf and picking up a Roth as soon as I finish Old Filth…

      • AJ, you have just really helped me with Roth too, thank you again.

    • Cleever, Roth, Mansfield are three author authors I think I should have read too. Maugham is one I think I should have read more of, I need to get thinking about a hit list and working through the next year.

      • AJ

        One summer I found a 4 volume paperback set of Maugham’s short stories in a used bookstore and I’d finished all four within a few weeks even though I am the world’s slowest reader — he just sucks you in. Rain is a great short story. He has one — I can’t remember the title — that is almost Conradian. His book “The Summing Up” is a great encouragement to fledging writers I think because he talks about how he tried to teach himself to do it. He knew he wasn’t a great writer but he also believd he could write a story people would want to read and a play people would want to see.

      • He is indeed superb, I must get to more of his novels and his short stories at some point.

      • David

        AJ: That’s great to hear that Maugham’s short stories are so readable – I’ve had the Folio Society boxed set of all four volumes sitting on a shelf for years now, which is largely why Maugham is on my ‘ought to have read’ list, but I’m always rather daunted by them. Maybe time to give them a go. Also, at the weekend I ordered the complete stories of John Cheever and am very much looking forward to trying them.

  15. Oh, there are so many authors and books I’ve never read. I have given up the attempt on diversity and just read what I like now.

    I paged through a couple of Doris Lessing books in the library when I heard about her passing away, but I just couldn’t get into the mood for those books.

  16. AJ

    I seem never to have had the remotest desire to read Lessing in spite of the plaudits. The gaps I am trying to rectify are Margaret Atwood, Italo Calvino, Hilary Mantel, Charles Lamb, and Updike’s Rabbit books (have read several of his essays and was underwhelmed). I dislike Hemingway and wish I could have back the hours I spent reading his books when I was assigned them in school — other than the first chapter of A Moveable Feast.

    • From social media and the literary press this last week how anyone on earth could not have read Lessing seems a mystery😉 Love Atwood, like Mantel a lot, Updike I should read more of, Calvino I have been put off for life!

  17. Virginia Woolf and Clarice Lispector, so I should fix that. I think that’s about it.

    Interesting list. I like Hemingway, haven’t read Bowen or Tremain (not even particularly familiar with Bowen actually, I’ll have to look her up). I was a big Irving fan as a teenager, but I suspect I’d not be a fan if I returned to them now – too much a part of that time of my life for me. When I tried Angelou I found her maudlin and obvious, really just not very good. Obviously I’m in a minority among these comments on that one.

    Hemingway’s a marmite writer. Reactions like AJ’s aren’t uncommon. I’m with Didi on that one, The Sun Also Rises is a good place to try him.

    • I won’t mention my relationship with Woolf, haha. I would love to read Clarice Lispector though very much. In fact I would like to read a lot more South American literature than I have.

  18. Louise Trolle

    Like Simon, my list will probably be different if you ask me a week or a month from now, but of the many many unread books I own, I most want to get to:
    Susanna Clarke
    Marisha Pessl
    Roger Zelazny
    Lois McMaster Bujold
    Théophile Gautier

  19. Ah youth!

    When I was young I had a large (mental) list of “Must Read” books and aurhtors and indeed started working my way through them. After some dreadful experiences with a couple of “classic novels” (and some very positive ones too) I came to the view there was no “must read” and since then I have essentially no such list. One author that I would like to “try again” is Proust since I only got to the end of Swann’s Way.

    I note AJ’s comment on Hemmingway (some of his books were set reading when I was at school) and I also disliked them. Unlike him I read Grass, Bellow, Colette, Turgenev etc. in my English classes instead. Still got an “A”🙂

    • AJ

      Her🙂

      I moved on from Hemingway to Hardy, Balzac, Hawthorne, and Melville. Unfortunately I hid them in my textbooks and read them during the math and science classes I didn’t like so I can’t claim As.

    • I don’t think it has anything to do with youth really DP. Gran had some authors she really, really wanted to try and she was 71. I think there will always be an author or book that is on our periphery or we wouldn’t read more would we?

      Proust… blimey, I tried and have decided he is for my retirement years!

  20. When i was a teenager one book stood out on my parents shelves and it was called ‘the four gated city – book five of children of violence’ by Doris Lessing, it was a big hardback. i remained curious about the book for several years, wondering partly why they had book five and not the other four. then at college i decided to find out and I bought and read the first four in the series, and then finally went on to read my parent’s copy of the fifth. I became a bit of a fan, went on to read the Jane Somer’s diaries and ‘the Fifth child’, followed much more recently by ‘Ben in the world’ which I did not like as much.
    I too should move on to Hemmingway.

    • I love stories like this, that is why I ask in the Other People’s Bookshelves series what book their parents had they always wanted to read. My mother has several, interestingly one was Angelou and on Gran’s shelves were always Tom Sharpe who I am now most pleased I have read even if the old covers used to traumatise me.

  21. You’re doing much better than when I asked people to confess in this line! My list was also much longer, but would have included four of these authors, since the only one I’ve read is Bowen. I’ve read one Lessing (Memoirs of a Survivor) and have had The Fifth Child lined up as a book group book for a few months – it’ll be particularly poignant now.

    • My list is realistically longer than my arm, those were the ones that first came to my head, it is different today, I have a hankering for Drabble for some unknown reason and I have never wanted to read her before.

  22. There are so many, Graham Green is the first that comes to mind. I feel as if there are more good books and authors than there are hours to read them.

  23. Pingback: RIP Doris Lessing |

  24. Yes, I felt very much the same at Lessing’s death as I’ve never read her either. We have listed her to read for my book club, but not until next April or May so I have been wondering if I should check out one of her other books before then.

    Who else is on my list? Far too many people! But right now the biggest names missing would be John Updike, Philip Roth, David Foster Wallace but also lots of the non-English-speaking/writing greats: Emile Zola, Simone de Beauvoir, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn… It’s really a very long list.

    As you say, most likely I’ll never get round to all the books I want to (and watching repeats of Gilmore Girls isn’t helping on that front!) and I’ve pretty much accepted that, but I’m not going to stop trying!

    • We need a bit of TV escapism now and again. I’m having some right now.

      Lessing for a book group is a good idea, there is support ha! David Foster Wallace terrifies me just from what I’ve read ABOUT his books let alone the actual things.

  25. Great post! I too have yet to read Maya Angelou though my I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has been sitting on my shelf for a few years now. My other have-not-yet-read authors include:

    Leo Tolstoy (!)
    Doris Lessing (just had my husband order The Golden Notebook for me for Christmas yesterday ;-))
    Alice Munro
    E.M. Forster
    John Updike
    Richard Ford
    Ian McEwan
    Kazuo Ishiguro
    Agatha Christie

    I finally got to cross Margaret Atwood off my unread list 3 weeks ago.

    I’m looking forward to #DorisInDecember!

    (Btw I’m sorry I somehow accidentally unfollowed your blog some time back…I must have hit a button by mistake!)

  26. Pingback: Other People’s Bookshelves #22 – Simon Sylvester | Savidge Reads

  27. Pingback: #DorisInDecember: reading The Grass is Singing | Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings

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