[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
We all have authors whose work, for whatever reason, inspire us more than the rest, whose books standout and can always be counted on to entertain, and even to comfort. These are the ones that we’ll instantly forgive a misstep or two (maybe even three), because we love them that much, and will buy, and read, anything that they write. So, we asked our panel…
Here’s what they said…
The list has changed over the years as I’ve changed and new writers have come onto the scene. There are so many good books out there, so many new worlds and viewpoints to explore. Potentially this list could get very long, but I’ll limit myself.
- Elizabeth Bear is an autoread for me. Her worldbuilding is stunning, her use of language is amazing, and her characters suck me right into whatever story she’s telling. The women in Bear’s books are strong and autonomous, and they play central roles in the narrative.
- Robin McKinley, for the beauty of her storytelling, and how a seemingly gentle story can kick me in the gut. The highest praise I can give a book is that it made me feel something: joy, sorrow, fear. McKinley’s books have made me cry more times than I can count. I love that.
- Rae Carson, a new writer on the YA scene. Excellent worldbuilding in a non-European setting, and a main character that grows into the role fate has handed her. Carson’s use of language is superb, and just because her protag is young doesn’t mean she gets off easily. Can’t wait to see more from her.
- Ian Tregillis, another new writer who pulls no punches. First rate storytelling, and characters that made me rethink my definitions of evil and what makes someone a monster. I can’t recommend his books highly enough.
There are more, but those are the top four on my current list.
I always read Robin McKinley. My all-time favorite book is Robin McKinley’s HERO AND THE CROWN. I read it when I was a pre-teen, and fell in love with fantasy ever after. It was the first book I’d read that had a female protagonist who slew her own dragons. I was hooked.
Lauren DeStefano is another favorite. The Chemical Garden Trilogy is a must-read. I love her characters and the dilemmas she places them in – just extraordinary work that really makes me feel. I can’t wait for The Internment Chronicles.
And Kij Johnson is always an automatic read for me. Her beautifully-drawn worlds and the way she breathes life into myths are simply gorgeous. FUDOKI was given to me as a gift several years ago, and I was in thrall.
J.G. Ballard: Ballard’s style ranged from the purely experimental (The Atrocity Exhibition) to sincere autobiography. Whatever he aimed his imagination at he makes new and fascinating, whether it was the
psychological mystery of The Terminal Beach, the vivisection of modern consumer life in High Rise, the speed fetishism of Crash, or his surreal memoir, Empire of the Sun. Ballard is a writer I can always come back to and find something new.
William Gibson: Gibson is a storyteller whose tales are exciting on their own, but become more than mere stories in that they both
experience and explain modernity in a unique and entertaining way.
William Burroughs: Burroughs loved stories and distrusted words. Naked Lunch is one of the funniest, bloodiest books you’ll ever read. Nova Express is as deeply experimental as anything by Joyce and more science fictional. Some of his other works, such as Queer, are as brave and unflinching as his so-called “edgier” stuff.
Cormac McCarthy: McCarthy writes like an Old Testament prophet let loose with a typewriter in one hand and the bloody, battered heart of the world in the other. Blood Meridian, his dark and twisted western, is a book I can go back to again and again for both the story and the elegiac language. His Border Trilogy, his harrowing SF novel, The Road, and his play, The Sunset Limited, are all worthy or repeated readings.
Angela Carter: Carter gets to the heart of fantasy and fairy tales, rips them apart and put them back together again, transformed and
transfigured. She creates new stories that both expose the psychological roots of the old tales, and brings a bloody life to her newer ones. Some of her best are The Bloody Chamber, Nights at the Circus, and The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman.
I confess, I’m a little mercenary when it comes to buying fiction. I rarely marry myself to the works of any living author, because I’ve been burned many a time by a lousy cash-in or unnecessary sequel. The bulk of my autoread list is populated by the long-dead – which seems like a cheat for the purpose of this question, because I’m able to evaluate the critical reception of their entire body of work before I take the proverbial plunge. I needn’t worry, for example, whether Ross Macdonald, P.G. Wodehouse, or Patricia Highsmith is ever going to write a clunker, do I?
That said, there are a few living authors whose stuff I’ll read regardless of topic or critical reception – folks whose voices or whose imaginations have so thoroughly captivated me, they’ve earned a lifetime pass. Tim Powers is one such author for me. Whether novel or short story, major work or minor, I’m in – regardless of premise. Lawrence Block, who hails from the crime side of my influences, is another. Donna Tartt’s THE SECRET HISTORY was so damned compelling, I’ll check out anything she puts her name on from here on out in the hopes she might catch lightning twice. The many charming worlds of Jasper Fforde have yet to let me down. Whatever Susanna Clarke elects to publish in the wake of JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL is guaranteed to leap to the top of my to-be-read pile. And of course – like many reading this, I’m sure – William Gibson and Neil Gaiman take up no shortage of shelf-space in my house.
And then, of course, there are those writers I fell hard for, that have since passed. Vonnegut. Adams. Matheson. Westlake. I have an odd relationship with them, in that I adore their work, but worry that once I read it all, they’ll then be well and truly dead to me. Their books, I dole out slowly, so I never have to live in a world in which there are no more words of theirs to be read.
Susanna Clarke. I’ll read anything she writes. Anything. All. I’ve crawled in and out of Jonathan Strange’s ample arms no less than three times, twice on audio with Simon Prebble’s brilliant narration. And Clarke’s collection of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu–I know it like the back of my hand. Clarke walks a seductive line between dry British wit and pitch dark fantasy. It brings me to my knees.
Scott Lynch. The Lies Of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies. Thieves, con artists, disguises, lies, revenge. I want to live in Lynch’s world. I want to be a Gentleman Bastard. The Republic Of Thieves comes out October 8 and I’m counting down the days.
George R. R. Martin. For all the obvious reasons.
Margo Lanagan. Her writing is often a bit too bleak for me, and her habit of switching perspectives leaves me reeling. But from Tender Morsels to her wild, dark, dark, dark short stories such as “A Thousand Flowers” in Zombies Vs. Unicorns, and “Singing My Sister Down” in Black Juice, Lanagan’s characters and worlds are unforgettable. They will weave themselves into your life and become part of you.
I’m something of a magpie when it comes to books. I have a lot of them, and I’m easily distracted by something shiny. Like most people who love books, too, it’s rare that I come out of a bookshop without at least one new thing to add to the pile by my bed – but there are always a few people who not only feature heavily on the TBR pile, they get to skip right to the top of it. I could probably read a shopping list written by any of these people and be happy with it.
The elephant (the, frankly, envy-inducingly brilliant elephant) in the room when it comes to talking about autoread lists is Neil Gaiman. How could he not be? The problem with having him on a list like this, though, is keeping up: you could fill an entire list with his work alone. And what a fantastic list it would be, full of novels and short stories and poems and comics and picture books and… So, with all possible respect to Mr Gaiman, we’ll take it as read that he’s on there and move on.
I’ve been reading Joanne Harris’s books since Chocolat was first published. I don’t always manage to get to them as soon as they’re released, but I’ll get to them as soon as I have the chance. There’s something magical about Harris’s writing: it’s atmospheric and rich and full of shadow and light. They’re subtle enough that if you aren’t paying attention you could miss them altogether, but there are things with sharp teeth lurking in the shadows, and the lights could easily be fireflies or fallen stars strung between trees. Her most famous creation, Vianne, deals in glamours – and so does Harris herself. She’s a prolific Twitter user, too, and every now and again she will post a story under the #storytime hashtag: sometimes there’s a moral (she had a particularly interesting take on the recent unmasking of JK Rowling’s pseudonym) and sometimes there isn’t – but they’re always worth reading.
Two YA authors whose work is pretty much guaranteed a place on my list are Will Hill and Kim Curran. Hill’s Department 19 series features one of my long-time loves: genuinely frightening vampires, most of whom are as twisted and as monstrous as you’d hope them to be. The books are very squarely YA, but there’s (literally) no pulling of punches – they’re brutal, bloody and have moments of real horror in them, not all of which is physical. They’re also fantastic fun, and reading them is sometimes a little like riding a rollercoaster which is also a ghost train through the middle of an action movie. Meanwhile, Curran’s Shift series is much more SF-based, involving quantum physics and a protagonist who can undo any decision he’s made… but must then deal with the consequences. These writers are a great example of some of the really exciting stuff happening in genre YA right now.
The absolute top of my autoread list, however, is Michael Marshall Smith – or Michael Marshall, or MM Smith, depending on which hat he happens to be wearing. He’s been my favourite author for years and I’m a sucker for his narrative voice. His latest book, We Are Here, is almost impossible to talk about without spoilering, but it left me looking around my empty house very nervously indeed – and if you haven’t read The Servants (his MM Smith novel, a story about a boy who moves to Brighton with his sick mother) then you’re missing out on a wonderful book. Look out for his short stories, too – but be careful: sometimes, they leave perfect, jagged, story-shaped scars which you’ll carry for a very long time.
Diana Gabaldon. Her big, fat historical time-travel fantasy romantic adventures (the Outlander series) feed every genre craving I have, all in one splendid package, and her offshoot Lord John mysteries are every bit as addicting. I’m currently drooling in anticipation of WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD, the eighth of the big novels. Jamie! Claire! Where are you? I need my fix!
Jim Butcher. Notably, the Dresden Files series—urban fantasy at its action-packed, loaded-with-fascinating-characters finest. Heck, I’m halfway in love with Harry Dresden. Who can resist a smartass wizard with a huge blasting rod? His brother Thomas, a White Court vampire—basically an incubus—has his charms, too. I devour these books as soon as I can get hold of them. They are just plain fun.
Vicki Pettersson. Her Signs of the Zodiac series got me hooked on urban fantasy, and I followed her over to the paranormal romance realm of her Celestial Blues series. Whether it’s hardcore kick-ass action or romance that will make your heart (and maybe a few other places) melt, Vicki always delivers. Her characters, both living and dead, resonate with me.
Resonance. That’s the key, for me, with all three of these authors. The proverbial “wow, that struck a chord” sensation you sometimes get while reading a book. It’s similar to what you feel with certain people you meet—an instant realization that you’re vibrating at the same frequency. Sometimes the chemistry is right, and you just click.
And sometimes you don’t. Have you ever read a book that you recognize as technically well-written, possibly even brilliant by some measures, but that leaves you flat? Like something is missing. That missing something—the vibe that resonates with you—is the “it” factor that brings me back to certain authors time after time.
The really cool thing about “it”? “It” can be different for every reader. I might love a book that you hate, or vice-versa. And that’s okay. The world would be a pretty boring place if “it” were the same for everyone. Vive la différence!
Neil Gaiman for mythic imagination and a gift for blending dread with humor, Clive Barker for his powerful vision and voice, Stephen King for empathy and storytelling that goes down as smooth as a milkshake, and David Mitchell for making every word count. If a dog barks in the distance in a David Mitchell book, that dog is saying something about a character, and I’m uncapping my highlighter.
I have a ridiculously long auto-buy list, but there are three authors that I pre-order every title and devour their books as soon as they hit my Kindle: Richelle Mead, Stacia Kane and Jeaniene Frost. While all three are stellar authors, they’re favorites for specific reasons.
I have a Richelle Mead keeper shelf in my office. Yes, an entire shelf. Both her young adult novels in the Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series and her adult books (Dark Swan, Georgina Kincaid and Age of X) are worth reading. Why do I come back to her stories over and over? Mead has a strong command of character. It’s one of the things I look for in every book I read, and Mead captures her main characters in a way that makes them feel real from page one.
Her heroines make bad decisions. All of them (but especially Eugenie from the Dark Swan books. She needed an intervention on some of those choices). The thing is, while they make poor choices that only complicate things, they’re absolutely the kind of choices those people would make. She never makes things easy for her characters, and conversely for readers. I like books that challenge me emotionally.
Stacia Kane has remarkable character development, too. There will be times in her Downside Ghosts books when you’ll want to look away from what’s happening on the page because your insides are twisting. That said, one the reasons she makes the pre-order favorites list is her stunning world building. Just like I want to feel like the characters are real people, I love a book that transports me to another place. I need to accept the rules of the world without anyone beating me over the head with them, and I want the chance to wish the places I visit in the book were real.
Kane does this in spades. Her alternative ‘verse Downside is much like our world with a twist. Bits of our history intertwine with elements unique to Downside. When I’m reading a Downside Ghosts book, I can smell the slaughterhouse on a hot summer night. I imagine the way my shoes would cling to the floor at Chuck’s. I understand why the main character Chess would want to hide out in the darker part of town. Kane makes Downside real, and every time I turn the page I slide a little closer to living there.
Finally, I buy everything Jeaniene Frost puts out. I don’t need to know the specifics. I don’t need to read the back cover. I know I want it regardless. You see, Frost manages to smash together enough romance and fighting into one book to make me a happy camper. I read novels on both sides of the spectrum there—lots of urban fantasy and plenty of paranormal romance. Frost gives me good doses of both. She delivers vampires, ghouls, shifters and Voodoo queens. She offers epic, bloody battles. And when the world is saved, people get to be in love. How could I not auto-buy that?
I don’t have that many auto-buy authors, but the ones I do have I am very loyal about buying their books. I’ll automatically buy books by: Robin Hobb, Scott Lynch, Margaret Atwood, Patrick Ness, Kate Atkinson, Michael Marshall (Smith), and Mo Hayder, What they all have in common are fantastic imagination and characterization. And even if a certain book doesn’t quite hit it for me (I didn’t enjoy The Crane Wife by Ness as much as his Chaos Walking trilogy, for example), I will still pick up their next book, because I know they can write books I’ll adore. Whenever I’m lazy and know I want to read something good, I’ll pick one of these authors, or re-read an old favourite by them. And, from a writer’s point of view, I’d be tickled pink if eventually I am on someone’s auto-read list, too!
There are a lot of authors whose work I’m always interested in reading, Joe Lansdale, Charlie Huston, Neal Stephenson, dozens more, but there’s really only one that’s an instant buy for me. That’s Terry Pratchett.
That might seem kind of odd considering some of those other authors I listed. Most of my go tos tend to be a lot darker and more cynical than Pratchett, though god knows he’s pretty cynical.
The thing about Pratchett, though, is that he never gets pessimistic. He has an approach to the human condition that says, yes, life is hard. People are messy. Some of them are right bastards. But at the end of the day justice and compassion exist in strange places and if you’re smart enough and lucky enough you just might find it.
It helps that his writing is funny. It helps more than it’s smart. For my money the best fiction is the kind that comments on modern social issues through the lens of an unrelated story. He takes it one better.
Have you read MAKING MONEY? Not my favorite (GUARDS! GUARDS! holds that place), but he somehow manages to get across convoluted concepts of fiscal policy across within the framework of a fantasy novel without making the readers realize they’re learning something until it’s too late. He does the same with GOING POSTAL about the modern-day postal system, investigative journalism with THE TRUTH. The list goes on.
But above all his books are pure fun. And though there is a long list of authors whose work I will gobble up the minute I can get my hands on it, Pratchett is the one I know will always deliver.
Like everyone else, I have a long list of favorite writers. I always read anything by Isabel Allende, Joanne Harris, Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, Aimee Bender, Francesca Lia Block, Carey Wallace, Diana Abu-Jaber… and other magic-loving ladies with A’s in their names. I tend to love a gorgeous blend of magic with realism, books that allow you to see the real world as more shimmery, more secret-filled, more exciting and strange, than you might see it normally. When I moved to Los Angeles for grad school in the mid-90s, I was lonely and missed the East Coast, hated all that glaring sunlight during what was supposed to be lovely, gloomy, rain-swept autumn. I even went to see the movie Seven in the theater five times, just for all that loud, pouring-down rain (and murder!). Then I read Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat and it made me see that city in a whole new way. Through her vision I learned to love the bougainvillea draped over everything, I sought out the funky spots she described in the book (Oki Dog! El Coyote!), and it just took on this whole sheen of sparkle and magic that I’d never seen before.
All the writers I listed above have that effect on me, and so I’ll forgive them anything. My favorite writer is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and one of my favorite moments in any book is at the opening of One Hundred Years of Solitude, when the gypsies bring ice to Macondo. Imagine seeing ice for the first time!
I also love historical novels by Phillipa Gregory and Sarah Dunant. I love anything by Jeanine Cummins, Jo-Ann Mapson, Ronlyn Domingue, MJ Rose, River Jordan… I love crime novels by Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain… They may not be alive, but I still count on them regularly and forgive them any missteps from beyond the grave.
When I sat down to think about, I realized this was actually a tricky question. There are plenty of series that I will always go out and grab the newest volume of when it’s released — George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, for example — but I can’t say that I’ve read everything he’s written in his long career, and there are other series he works on that I don’t follow. An intermediate category would be authors who well-known works are all in the same series, such as Joe Abercrombie, Lev Grossman, or Pat Rothfuss; I would probably snap up any new work from any of them, but I have yet to have the chance to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak.
That leaves a few authors that I’m willing to follow wherever they go, across series and genre. The ones I can think of are:
- Terry Pratchett — Obviously he’s most famous for his Discworld series, which I love. But some of his earlier non-Discworld works, such as the Bromeliad trilogy and the Johnny Maxwell books, are also fantastic and well worth a look. And then of course there is Good Omens, one of the best fantasies of all time, which brings us to —
- Neil Gaiman — A name I suspect that will show up on a lot of these lists. I got hooked on him with Sandman, read all his short story collections, and eagerly await every new novel. His style and prose skill make every one worth waiting for. (Favorites, aside from Good Omens and Sandman, are American Gods, his latest The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and Neverwhere.)
- China Miéville — After the first three Bas-Lag books, which I loved, Miéville has gone on a kind of wild genre-crossing ride, and I pick up his books just to see where he’s headed next. Not every installment works for me, but for every one that misses the mark there’s one where he blows me away. (My favorites are Iron Council, The City & The City, and Embassytown.)
- Charles Stross — Stross bounces between a few series with some independent stuff mixed in. Like Miéville, not everything he produces is a hit with me, but I read them all anyway for those moments when he knocks it out of the park. (I love The Laundry Files, especially The Jennifer Morgue, and recently had a great time with Neptune’s Brood. Accelerando is an SF classic.)
- Brian Selznick: I adored The Invention of Hugo Cabaret and the way Selznick intertwined history, fantasy, silent films, and spectacular illustrations to tell his story, so I grabbed a copy of his follow-up book, Wonderstruck, as soon as it was available. I just recently looked up whether or not he has another book on the way (sadly, I can’t find any hints at what’s up next for him), which proves to me this is one of my top autoread authors.
- Ruta Sepetys: Between Shades of Gray is a gorgeous, heartbreaking historical read that deserves the accolades it received. I picked up Sepetys’s second novel, Out of the Easy, right after the book debuted this past spring.
- Saundra Mitchell: I fell in love with Mitchell’s elegant prose and flare for the supernatural when I read her first novel, Shadowed Summer, and I followed her over to her magical young adult series that began with The Vespertine. Her next book, Mistwalker, will be out in early 2014, and you can bet I’ll be buying a copy. (Added bonus: Mitchell is extraordinarily kind and was the first author to blurb my debut novel.)
- Carlos Ruiz Zafón: The Shadow of the Wind is a complex, twisty, haunting, breathtaking mystery/historical thriller that made me an instant fan of the author. I’ve also read The Angel’s Game and The Prince of Mist, and I got the chance to see him discuss his newest book, The Prisoner of Heaven, in person during the past year.