The List of Contemporary English-Language Authors to Read

With a big assist from the commenters on this post, here’s what I think I need to read. Point out everything I missed in the comments. And please let me know of anyone overrated that I shouldn’t waste my time with.

Lorrie Moore. People were pretty clear that I should avoid her latest novel and give the stories a try. So I suppose I’ll start with her first collection, Self-Help.

Brian Evenson. Seems like the place to start with Brian Evenson is Last Days (an endorsement that seems to be echoed in Matt Bell’s excellent essay), although I already have a copy of Fugue State, so I might just start there.

A.M. Homes. I’m not really sure where to start with her, but I found Music for Torching at a garage sale yesterday for a buck, so that’s probably going to be it.

Curtis White. At that same garage sale (actually, it was a “block sale,” I found Requiem by Curtis White, one of the American postmodernists I haven’t yet gotten to.

David Markson. Speaking of White, David Markson is a known quantity, but he should definitely be on this list.

Chris Adrian. I have yet to find anyone who doesn’t absolutely love this guy’s work. I myself was amazed by The Children’s Hospital. Looks like next I’ll go with A Better Angel, the latest story collection.

Percival Everett. This guy has been in the back of my mind for a while now. Definitely someone to try out. I was recommended to start with American Desert . . . any ideas?

Kevin Wilson. Was told to give this guy a shot in the company of George Saunders (someone I should read a little more systematically). So is Tunneling to the Center of the Earth the place to start?

Margaret Atwood. Reading the coverage of her most recent novel, I am reminded again of what a strong body of work she has put together. I should really at least get started with her. The Handmaid’s Tale is the obvious place to start, but from there where to?

Steven Millhauser. He definitely seems like someone doing good work. Is Dangerous Laughter the one to start with?

Aleksandar Hemon. Seems pretty clearly worth keeping an eye on.

Tom McCarthy. His body of work is only three books deep at this point, but Tom Mccarthy definitely seems like someone to watch.

Joe Meno. His latest
has been getting good reviews, and he has a lot out there. Worth it?

Ron Currie, Jr. Although he has just a short story collection and a first novel to his name, we’ve given each very strong reviews, and he seems like an extremely promising author.

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Millhauser: You should read either Edwin Mullhouse or Martin Dressler
the original post referred to American authors, otherwise I would have repped, again, for Gabriel Josipovici.

I also recommend Hugo Wilcken, whose two novels, The Execution and Colony, are both excellent.
And someone mentioned Lydia Davis in the original post… she’s well worth reading, all of it, as far as I know (not having yet read the new collection).

I’m with Richard on Edwin Mullhouse. And for stories, The Barnum Museum is great, too.
Re: Kevin Wilson: yes. Quite a few of the stories are online. “Blowing Up on the Spot” in Ploughshares is the one I’d start with . . .

Curtis White: I highly recommend Memories Of My Father Watching Television.
Atwood: The Edible Woman was one of the books that really changed my life as a teenager.

I decided it didn’t make much sense to restrict it to the U.S. Yes, Josipovici definitely.

Haven’t read him, but he was in my mind while I made up this list. So, I take it you would advocate to add him?

You should definitely include Lydia Davis and Anne Enright, both outstanding authors.

Great list — I’ll resist adding to it, because this is plenty for you! (Actually, no, I lie. I would not be me if I didn’t recommend one book by Samuel Delany: Atlantis: Three Tales, which you might really like, or be utterly indifferent to. Hard to say.) I’d definitely say you should check out Laird Hunt, though I’ve only read The Exquisite. Don’t give up on Brian Evenson if at first you don’t like him; a lot of people, myself included, respond very differently to each of his writings. Last Days didn’t do much for me, but I like some of the stories in Fugue State and The Wavering Knife very much, and prefer The Open Curtain to any of his other novels that I’ve tried. I know serious readers who feel entirely differently about Evenson, loving all the stuff I don’t and vice versa. It’s an interesting effect for a writer to have.

Well, then, let me be the first to not be amazed by Chris Adrian. I loved the first few stories in A Better Angel–I remember very clearly feeling thrilled and horrified and impacted by them–but as the book continued my opinion changed drastically. It’s one thing to have one or two jawdropping stories about troubled and ill children, but when every single story carries that plot germ, and most follow the same arc, it seems repetitive and formulaic. The book made me feel voyeuristic and morbid, and maybe I was just in a particularly sensitive phase of my mind, but I found it all troubling, and not in a good, “oh I’m thinking so much and deepening my mind” sort of way.
A few months ago I tried his first novel, Gob’s Grief but put it down after only about 20 pages–not for the reasons above, but because I found it profoundly dull.
Lorrie Moore is only okay. Sort of a b-author for me. I’m always happy to be reading her, but move on quickly without any lasting effect. I remember a couple of pleasing sentences from her stories, but can’t recall any one standout title.
So, the short story format is clearly not my favorite. But I must say that I’ve been thrilled by everything Aleksander Hemon has written, especially his short stories are excellent. If you haven’t read them I’d definitely recommend seeking them out. I’ve only read one of his novels, The Lazarus Project, and though I liked it, the stories are definitely not to be missed. The Question of Bruno.

I also do not think that Chris Adrian is that great. I read Children’s Hospital and was really disappointed. I was so put off by the bad writing and weak characteres (in my opinion, of course) that I doubt I will ever read anything by him again.

Joe Meno is certainly worth it, Hairstyles of the Damned in particular. I haven’t heard great things about the recent book but Hairstyles really captures Chicago’s southwest side.

Def. It’s hard to say where to start, except to recommend that you not trust any one of his books to give anything resembling a complete portrait of him as an artist. I mean, obviously, but, in his case, I think you can see a real sense of evolution and risk taking place over his four novels.
FWIW, I have some thoughts on his latest book here:

Tom McCarthy should be more widely read on the basis of his Remainder alone. Amazing novel.

Great list, I’m printing it out and looking at some of your selections and those of the commenters. Also, not a Laurie Moore fan, but others are new to me. Now, just find a great garage sale . . .

I’m so happy to see Percival Everett on this list! I might start with The Water Cure.
Brian Evenson’s The Open Curtain does things with fiction I’ve never seen done before. The same goes for Tom McCarthy’s Remainder. Both amazing books.

I recommend Wells Tower’s “Everything Ravaged: Everything Burned”. Deborah Eisenberg’s review of it in the NYRB is also a pleasure to read.

Not Lorrie Moore (I just don’t get why people rate her but lots of women do in particular); Homes I would go with Safety of Objects, or Things You Should Know). Millhauser I read and find curiously empty and Bad Barthes. Tom McCarthy’s remainder is a genuine original but with a Hollywood ending (not a spoiler, just think he mucked up the ending, much as Ford did with Lay of the Land. The only Irish Short stories book I can think of that might fit into this company is Mick McCormack

I would start with P. Everett’s latest, I am Not Sidney Poitier. I think it’s the best novel out there built around the Who’s on First joke.

Right on with the Lorrie Moore stories and Percival Everett in particular–they’re wonderful.
Writers I’d add to your list, if you haven’t already read them:
Andrea Barrett (especially short stories)
Amy Hempel
Kelly Link
Edward P. Jones
Binyavanga Wainana
Marilynne Robinson
Ursula Le Guinn
Anne Michaels (the novel “Fugitive Pieces”)

Great list. I would try to find as early a Percival Everett book as you can and start there. He really doesn’t have any that I’d suggest passing on.
I love Last Days but still think The Open Curtain may be the place to start with Evenson if you’re looking at a novel. His stories are great too though.

I gotta plump for The Barnum Museum, too, or The Knife Thrower (whose “The Dream of the Consortium” does almost everything Martin Dressler does in a tenth the space or less). I also have a soft spot for Millhauser’s gentle, Bradbury-esque Enchanted Night.

I would second/third the rec for starting with The Open Curtain re: Evenson. It’s just an outstanding piece of work, and I think is a good precursor for reading Last Days.
Regarding Chris Adrian, I’d have to agree about the short story collection. Most of the stories in A BETTER ANGEL are really good, and one of them completely blew my socks off, but as a collection it becomes atonal, or maybe monotonal – there’s actually a line, in one of the later stories of the collection, that is so encapsulating of the same repeating story germ that it feels like you’re getting hit over the head with the repetitiousness of it. I was left with a sense that Adrian may have gone back to that particular vein of story material one too many times, and that whatever he comes up with next will need to be pretty divergent from the prior stuff, or it’ll be stale.

Oh, and: McCarthy’s REMAINDER? Blew the socks off of the socks of my socks.

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