Friday, May 22, 2009

Benchmark books

I bought and dove into Rogue Males by Craig McDonald as soon as I could get my mitts on it. It's a collection of interviews with mystery writers including Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, Pete Dexter, Lee Child, James Crumley, Daniel Woodrell, James Sallis and others. There's not a name on that list I don't revere as a writer.

In the opening interview with James Crumley, Craig McDonald writes:
As Dennis Lehane confided to me in April 2003, speaking for himself and fellow crime authors George Pelecanos and Michael Connelly, "I think it's funny we all hold the same book in a certain high regard, which is James Crumley's Last Good Kiss."


I don't find it strange at all. I've always got my eye peeled for those books respected writers admire in common. Under The Volcano is an example: almost every serious literary writer I've met has not only read it but studied it carefully. Get a group of literary writers together, I guarantee you that they've all read that book.

And today I was reminded of another: Love, Loss and What I Wore. This is a small book, published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill in 1995. It's never been on a best-seller list; I don't think the author has ever been on Oprah. But, if you scratch an editor, agent, or writer who loves delightful books, you'll find a fan of Ilene Beckerman.


Thus it was with great delight I saw this announcement on Publishers Marketplace today:

NON-FICTION: MEMOIR
Antiques Roadshow author Carol Prisant's DOG HOUSE (pitched as in the tradition of Love, Loss, and What I Wore) a memoir of a 42 year marriage and the 9 dogs that sustained it, to Megan Newman at Gotham, for publication in summer 2010, by Emma Sweeney at Emma Sweeney Agency (NA).





What are your benchmark books- the ones that make you happy to find fellow devotees?

14 comments:

jseliger said...

I've always got my eye peeled for those books respected writers admire in common.It seems like Robertson Davies might apply under this category; I discovered him randomly in a bookstore, but he seems to get virtually no attention in U.S. classrooms and little from the lit media, but I often see writers mentioning him in passing.

jnantz said...

I write thrillers, but I'm always stoked to find people who really loved ENDER'S GAME. First read it years ago in High School, still love it today. King's THE GUNSLINGER and Connelly's THE BLACK ECHO are two others.

Margaret Yang said...

@jnantz, I was going to say ENDER'S GAME too! That is a touchstone book among SF writers.

Daisy said...

Not quite the same, but one of the first things that drew me to my boyfriend was that his username on the dating site was "dirkgently."

RRuin said...

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, Mark Haddon
Let Me In, John Ajvide Lindquist

Kennedy Smyth said...

"The Solace of Leaving Early" by Haven Kimmel. An absolutely wonderful novel.

Steve Ulfelder said...

When I run across another writer who groks Andrew Vachss' early Burke novels, especially HARD CANDY and BLUE BELLE, I know I've found a kindred spirit. Same goes for James Ellroy's THE COLD SIX THOUSAND; so many people *hated* that book that those of us who love it have a secret society.

Ricky Bush said...

Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove" does it for me. His "All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers" hooked me back in the early '70s. THEN John D. McDonald's Travis McGee series grabbed me and when he passed, Elmore took his place. Anyway--

Caroline said...

"Straight Man" by Richard Russo;
"Johnny Got His Gun" by Dalton Trumbo;
"Watership Down" by Richard Adams.

There are probably others, but those spring to mind. The Russo book because I was laughing out loud through most of it. The other two because they combine great writing with a powerful message.

Ink said...

My choice would be Strange Piece of Paradise, a memoir by Terri Jentz. And quite possibly the best book I've ever read. Terri and a friend decided to bicycle across America, but one night, while asleep in their tent, a man drove his truck over them, and then attacked them with an axe. They survived - barely. And the book chronicles this event, and what it meant to her life, as well as, years later, her search for the would-be murderer who had never been found. If you liked Truman Capote's In Cold Blood or Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song you have to read this book. It's better.

Betsy Ashton said...

I would add One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and anything by Clare Francis. In particular, I like Wolf Winter. She doesn't seem that well known on this side of the pond, so when I meet someone who has actually read her works, it's like old home week. Or, like meeting a fellow UCLA Bruin 2500 miles away from campus.

Steve Ulfelder said...

Wow, I'm mind-melding with Ricky Bush and Caroline! In addition to the stuff I mention above, LONESOME DOVE (my all-time fave and one of the very few books I make it a point to reread), Travis McGee, Russo and WATERSHIP DOWN are all touchstones. So I may as well throw in John Irving's amazing 4-book run that started with GARP and ended with OWEN MEANY (CIDER HOUSE RULES is my *other* all-time fave).

The Rogue Chef said...

The Last Good Kiss is a truly iconic book. Been a Crumley fan since 1988.

Southern Writer said...

Count me with Ricky Bush and Steve Ulfelder. Lonesome Dove is at the top of my list. Also there's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Peter Pan (which I didn't read for the first time until I was in my 30's.)

I'm always thrilled to meet someone who has read the astrological texts of Evangeline Adams and Jeffrey Wolf Green, because then we can talk shop.