There's this activity in one my book clubs (The Filipino Groups there in Goodreads), where the moderator told us to list down our top ten favorite authors of all time.
So okay, challenge accepted.
I'm glad it's top ten favorite authors and not top ten best authors because it's easier to just rely on my biased opinions (from which the latter is based on), rather than try to be an objective reviewer (from which the former is based on).
So anyway, here's my top ten favorite authors (in alphabetical order):
I like how polarizing Jane Austen can be. After all, most of her characters are very much preoccupied with parties, social chit chat, and other trivial matters. In a time when social standing and connection is a matter of life and death (sometimes literally), marriage is an essential undertaking, most especially for women. In a time when people are judged by their superficial looks and manners, how you bear yourself is very important, most especially for women. Austen wrote her books much like how women must present themselves in her time: seemingly modest, seemingly simple, seemingly light, seemingly trivial. To appreciate Austen, one must read deeper. Modesty belies the intensity of her drama (which, rather than explode outwards in Bronte-like bursts of passion, her characters prefer to implode inwards, with minimalist but accurate language). Modesty also veils the wit and the satirical tone of her texts, the ironies and (surprisingly for some people) the realism.
New readers should start with: Persuasion (then follow with Northanger Abbey)
I find it unfair when people describe Ray Bradbury merely as a science fiction writer. This is because while most of his story has some science fiction or fantastical aspects in them, it is the "heart" - the warmth, the optimism for the future, the down-to-earth human-ness - in his stories which makes them very good, and what defines them. There is a lyrical simplicity and honesty to his language. It is a language of sadness but also of hope, of kindness but also of cruelty brought simply because we are all merely human.
New readers should start with: The Martian Chronicles (then follow with his short stories, particularly There Will Come Soft Rains)
Anton Chekhov knew people. He knew how they think and how they react. He knew that lives can be funny, melancholic, exciting, and mundane all the same time. His stories are a reflection of these. He wrote stories of characters who are both ordinary and strange. Of small dramas that have good and bad endings. He wrote of stories that are heartrendingly familiar, even to modern readers (for example, the very short story, "The Head of the Family" suddenly took me back to my childhood). He even wrote stories of oppression and cruelty, not just of the rich, but also by the poor. Rationality is seldom the focus, and his characters are primarily swayed by their emotions. No solution comes in endings, but mostly a complete presentation of the issue at hand. Life is such a complicated mess, and Anton Chekhov knew that.
New readers should start with: The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories (particularly the titular story, and Ionitch)
Arthur Conan Doyle
Yes, I know that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote other stories besides the Sherlock Holmes canon. Unfortunately for Professor Challenger (I swear I'll try to put his stories in my TBR), it is Sherlock Holmes that I love the most. Arthur Conan Doyle had the ability to write characters that are so well fleshed out they seem to be real people (heck, some people really do believe that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson were real as you and me). His stories are a nice blend of comfortable tropes and brilliant storytelling. They are not meant to be deep (remember that these stories were first serialized in Strand Magazine), but there is a timeless quality to them and the characters, such at more that 120 years later, people still loves everything Sherlock Holmes.
New readers should start with: A Study in Scarlet (then follow with The Sign of the Four)
Unsettling is the word that comes into my mind when I think of Franz Kafka. His stories are like dreams - strange things happen in it, and you recognize its strangeness, but you accept it anyway. Most of his story are familiar frustrations and anxieties: futile struggles against the bureaucracy, striving fruitlessly for one's goals, and of loneliness and alienation. I had found reading Kafka to be a personal experience - because it is useless to comprehend his stories rationally, your interpretation is as valid as anyone else's.
New readers should start with: The Metamorphosis (then follow with Amerika)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The same way with Ray Bradbury, I find it unfair to call Gabriel Garcia Marquez as solely a magical realist author, simply because he is so much more. The way he described scenes, places, and people are just so vivid. When he described the plantations of Macondo (for example), you can almost see the bananas swaying with the hot wind, while you shield your eyes from the unyielding tropical sun. And my God, the stories. The words present themselves as such that you feel them rather than read. You feel the slowness of time and the frustrations of the Colonel while waiting for his letter. You feel like the dread of the inevitable fate of Santiago Nasar. And One Hundred Years of Solitude is not a read, it is an experience.
New readers should start with: No two ways about it. Begin with the awesome One Hundred Years of Solitude.
I was angry with Vladimir Nabokov in college. He manipulated my emotions. He made me like Humbert Humbert. Only on the second read (and with the help of my other book club) did I saw Humbert as the monster that he really is. It's not that there were no clues. It's just that Nabokov wrote Humbert Humbert with such charm that I had unconsciously ignored the alarms. Only in later years did I appreciate the preciseness of Nabokov's prose, the careful arrangement of words that had made me fall under Humbert's charm. My takeaway lesson from Nabokov is that readers should not judge books as good or bad merely from their empathetic reaction with the story or characters ("the story made me sad/the main character is a terrible person, and that is why I rate this as 0 stars"). One should also think of the way the story is made, the style, the prose, the character development, and many many more.
New readers should start with: Lolita (then follow with the wonderful Pnin)
One day in college, despite having a report deadline in PI 100, I finished the Ambeth Ocampo book collection in the UP Main Library. That's six books in two hours. That just show how accessible and easy to read Professor Ocampo's books are. He had made history so approachable and alive, especially for the young folks (I'm not sure I'm still included in this lot, hahaha!). Personally, I like reading Ambeth Ocampo's books in between heavy fictions. They are the perfect palate cleansers, not because they are pieces of fluff (for example, Meaning and History and Bones of Contention are meaty reads), but because of the welcome change of topic, and easier pace and tone.
New readers should start with: Rizal Without the Overcoat (then follow with Aguinaldo's Breakfast)
Tony Perez dwells in the unusual. Not just the supernatural, mind you, (although he does head the Spirit Questors) but those that are beyond the normal. I hesitate to call it bizarre, after all bizarre is in the eyes of the beholder. Take Cubao, for example. The day gives it a matter-of-fact, business-as-usual look. But at night, Cubao takes a mysterious, seductive, and dangerous sheen. Tony Perez's stories are rife with characters with subversive thoughts and intentions. His language is gritty, grimy, and disturbing, and his story are full of twists and turns, sometimes for good, but most of the times, for the worse.
New readers should start with: Cubao Midnight Express (then follow with Cubao Pagkagat ng Dilim)
Finally, J.R.R. Tolkien. Many of the fantasy tropes in fiction began with him. Because of the familiarity, people tend to get bored with him. Not me. I had re-read Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion so many times that I lost count. Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, and the rest of the Fellowship had become dear friends that every read's end brings a tear in my eye (yes, literally). I'm not really sure why I love Tolkien's stories to bits. Maybe it is the comfort that chaos and evil does not last, and that order will sometimes be restored, not exactly the way it was, but at least to some satisfaction of most people. That journeys does not really end, and people return from these journeys quite changed. And that stories goes on and on, even after you had read the last page, even after you had closed the book.
New readers should start with: The Lord of the Rings, (then follow with The Hobbit)