We all have a favorite book (or books). And authors are no exception. Just because they've written some of our favorites, doesn't mean they don't have beloved books of their own. From classic love stories by Jane Austen to Dashiell Hammett's thrillers, these books have helped mold the following authors into the readers and writers they are today.
North and South
Jakes said: "My fascination with the American Civil War began with a paperback copy of Ordeal by Fire by Fletcher Pratt, frequently reprinted as A Short History of the Civil War. Pratt's succinct but vivid style turned me on to a subject I knew virtually nothing about, and led to intensive study and ultimately writing about the subject. I still own a tattered copy of that book and wouldn't trade it for anything."
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
From an interview with The Paris Review on Joseph Conrad's Victory, Didion said: "Maybe my favorite book in the world ... I have never started a novel ... without rereading Victory. It opens up the possibilities of a novel. It makes it seem worth doing."
Zahn said: "This juvenile science fiction novel, [Assignment in Space with Rip Foster by Blake Savage], was one of the earliest books I remember from my childhood. Not only was it a good adventure, with characters I could understand and care about, but it also played fair with the science, incorporating important bits of nuclear and orbital physics into the plot. It's still one of my favorite examples of how to balance all the elements of good SF while at the same time not talking down to the reader or requiring any esoteric knowledge."
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
In a response to Reverend Charles D. Crane, which Twain wrote in 1887 after being asked about his favorite books, the author wrote: "In my list I know I should put Shakspeare [sic]; & Browning; & Carlyle (French Revolution only); Sir Thomas Malory (King Arthur); Parkman's Histories (a hundred of them if there were so many); Arabian Nights..."
The Jake Grafton Collection
Coonts said: "A Coffin for Dimitrios, a suspense novel by Eric Ambler, hit me hard when I read it in high school. Ambler proved that writing good suspense is high art. Fate Is the Hunter, by Ernest K. Gann, a collection of Gann’s real-life flying adventures as a professional pilot, convinced me that I wanted to learn to fly, so I joined the Navy so I could go to flight school. Fate is the classic primer on how to wring emotion and suspense from the chores pilots do in cockpits, lessons I tried to emulate in my first novel, Flight of the Intruder. Both books helped determine which of life’s roads I wanted to take."
Hightower said: "I started my first novel in the fifth grade—I had just read The Moon-Spinners by Mary Stewart, and was swept up by the voice of heroine Nicola Ferris, and the mysterious Englishman she found wounded and hiding in the mountains of Crete. Real life was simply not good enough, and writing my own novels meant I did not have to live in the real world. I could create my own."
The Bless Me, Father Series
Boyd said: "When I met James Herriot (real name Alfred Wight) he was the world’s best-selling author. In letting me join him on his trips to treat farm animals in the Yorkshire dales, he turned my life upside down. He encouraged me to write about my life as a priest in London in years gone by.
This picture of him (below) I took with his arm up the rear end of a cow says it all. This man was true in everything he wrote.
It was a very cold day and a hill farmer wanted Herriot to tell him if his cow was in calf. I remember Herriot calling out, ‘It’s ok, Jeff, there’s a fine wee calf in here.’
I was accompanying Herriot in my job as a radio producer, creating interview programs with him for the BBC. The woman in the photo is a sound technician; the taller man is the cow’s owner. What compelled me to grab my camera and take the picture? The warm light in the shed reminded me of Renaissance paintings of Nativity scenes. There were no smart phones in those days. I didn’t know till I was back in London whether my one and only picture had come out.
I knew Herriot had already sold 50 million books, which were the basis of a fine TV series and major movies. But he always spoke of himself as a vet who wrote books. He chose the daily gift of being a vet in a beautiful but harsh landscape almost until his dying day."
Archie Meets Nero Wolfe
Goldsborough said: "Reading Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon years ago first got me worked up about detective fiction. I loved the tight, no-nonsense dialogue and the tension among the principals in the story. That experience led me to then sample Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe stories, and I quickly got hooked on the genre, to the degree that, decades later, I was given the privilege of continuing the Wolfe series."
The Joy Luck Club
When asked for her "By the Book" with The New York Times what her favorite piece of classic Chinese literature is, Tan responded: "Jing Ping Mei (The Plum in the Golden Vase). The author is anonymous. I would describe it as a book of manners for the debauched. Its readers in the late Ming period likely hid it under their bedcovers, because it was banned as pornographic. It has a fairly modern, naturalistic style — “Show, don’t tell” — and there are a lot of sex scenes shown. For years, I didn’t know I had the expurgated edition that provided only elliptical hints of what went on between falling into bed and waking up refreshed. The unexpurgated edition is instructional."
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
The Harry Potter series author's favorite book is Emma, by Jane Austen. Rowling said, "Virginia Woolf said of Austen, 'For a great writer, she was the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness,' which is a fantastic line. You're drawn into the story, and you come out the other end, and you know you've seen something great in action. But you can't see the pyrotechnics; there's nothing flashy."
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou had several favorite books, including A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, and Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison. Of Invisible Man, Angelou said: "When I first read Ellison's 1952 novel, it was as if somebody turned a bright light on in a dark corridor. That which I thought was so frightening, so terrifying, was just a shadow."
Related: What It's Like to Read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man in 2020
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