on top 3 thursday

Inspired by The Litness and A Cosy Reading Blog, which hosts a Top 3 Thursday meme each week, I’ll be discussing three of my favorite authors tonight: Rebecca Solnit, Danez Smith, and Édouard Louis.

1.) Rebecca Solnit: I first read Men Explain Things to Me the fall of my sophomore year of college, when Solnit first released the short essay collection, and it was instrumental in introducing me to contemporary feminist thought. The book changed the way I approach politics, and though I rarely had the desire to read for pleasure during college, it definitely marked the start of a new chapter in my life as a reader. Solnit is a strong thinker and writer, who can easily transition from the amusing anecdote to multifaceted discussions of gendered and racialized inequality, environmental catastrophe, feminist aesthetics, and more. Before moving to Philadelphia for the summer, I had the chance to come across a cheap copy of A Field Guide To Getting Lost, a collection of essays about the social and personal uses of becoming lost somewhere—or in something. I’m hoping to read much more of her work this month, starting with her most recent book, Call Them by Their True Names.

2.) Danez Smith: The author of [insert] boy, Black Movie, and Don’t Call Us Dead, Danez Smith is my favorite American poet. I first encountered Smith’s work earlier this year, after seeing Don’t Call Us Dead featured in the poetry section of an independent bookshop in Ann Arbor, and since then I’ve read all their work, though Don’t Call Us Dead still is my favorite. Smith writes fast-moving but powerful poems dealing with the experience of being Black and queer in a society built upon white supremacist oppression and the exploitation of Black bodies. Their range as a poet is astounding. They are at ease in both long and short forms, and they can call upon a wide range of emotions within a single poem, without appearing sloppy or careless. Smith also is a talented performer, and their work is widely available on YouTube. Their readings of “Alternate Heaven for Black Boys” (2016) and “Dear White America” (2014) stand out as some of their most moving, but all their performances leave a lasting impact.

3.) Édouard Louis: Although I read The End of Eddy and History of Violence only within the past few months, both have made Louis one of my favorite contemporary novelists. Louis writes short autobiographical books dealing with his life as a French gay male who grew up in a vehemently racist and homophobic small town. Both of his novels have their flaws: unnecessary digressions, sometimes-stilted dialogue, rushed endings. But History of Violence far outranks Eddy, and it’s hard not to have the impression that Louis has the makings of a great author, should he continue to grow as a writer. Louis self-consciously erases the line between fact and fiction in ways that are strange and audacious; he dramatizes his life to an excessive, even decadent, degree, but he also positions himself as a kind of ethnographer interested in recording the stories of the working-class people of his hometown. The tension between the social and the personal is electric in Louis’s work, and I’m looking forward to tracking the trajectory of his career.

I’d love to get to know your favorite authors as well! Who are some of the writers you care for the most? Have you read anything by any of my favorites, and if so, what were your reactions to their work?

4 thoughts on “on top 3 thursday

  1. My favourites change over time and probably because in the beginning the range of literature I had access to was limited and was so much narrower than what I can find out about now, through reading blogs and also reading more in translation and by authors from other countries.

    Maryse Condé is one of my favourites, she’s a Guadeloupean writer in her 80’s and almost blind now, but still writing and speaking at events. I began with her essays on childhood and then a book she wrote about the grandmother she never met and after that her masterpiece, Segu. (I was reminded of this one when I read Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, Maryse Condé was probably the first to write such a momentus historical novel on a turning point in the history of an African Kingdom).

    Ironically another of my favourite books is by another French Guadeloupean writer Simone Schwartz-Bart The Bridge of Beyond. What I like about these authors, and also Jamaica Kincaids The Autobiography of my Mother is their deep authenticity and uniqueness, they’re writers whose work you experience while reading, they’re neither shallow nor formulaic, they’re deep and sometimes troubling, but they succeed in making the reader experience something new, in understanding a little, and questioning even more. I really do enjoy discovering writers whose origins are from the Caribbean/Africa, authentic voices from those regions themselves.

    I also love nature writing and my favourite is Under the Sea-Wind by Rachel Carson, I love the sea and so her depiction of it, written from the point of view of three sea creatures is magnificent, creative and spellbinding – well it was for me. Kathleen Jamie’s Findings is also a favourite.

    I read a lot of French translations, because I live here, most recently, and perhaps a writer to watch out for as he’s still young is Gaël Faye, his novella (inspired by his childhood) Petit Pays (A Small Country in English) is exceptional, although I read it in French, but I’m sure the translation is equally good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment and recommendations, Claire! It’s great to meet a passionate reader 🙂

      I’d never heard of Maryse Condé, but I’ve added Segu and Victoire to my to-be-read list. I’m hoping to read a lot more work by authors from other countries, as well as works in translation, next year. When I have the chance to read Condé, I’ll plan on beginning with her book about her grandmother. It sounds like exactly the kind of memoir I enjoy, and it seems like it’d be a nice introduction to her style, before I read her masterpiece.

      You have a great point about Kincaid! Her work is very stimulating and experiential. It makes you question your surroundings and walk away feeling grown. I’ve always been impressed by how smoothly Kincaid’s prose flows and how she’s able to convey so much by focusing on small details that most would miss. I haven’t read The Autobiography of my Mother, but I’ll add it as well.

      I’ve not read anything by Carson other than parts of Silent Spring, but Under the Sea-Wind sounds very inventive. I don’t think I know of any other nature writer who’s written something quite like that. I enjoy reading nature writing in the early months of the year as a distraction from the winter, and I’ll look forward to reading the book then, along with Findings and A Small Country!

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