These are the writers whose books I buy whenever I can. They write clear, straightforward prose that expresses mood, place and character so vividly you can see and feel them. For some people this is old-fashioned; it has nothing to do with web-based text, emails, tweets and all the other forms of abbreviated communication we're so used to today. Nor, with the possible exception of Gerald Kersh, is it writing that calls attention to itself. It's not what crime writer John D MacDonald called, "Gee Ma, look how cute I'm writing."
The thing I love about them most: they're all terrific storytellers.
If you're interested, I write a blog about the books I read. I started it in June 2017. It's here.
Nevil Shute was always that boring guy my parents read. (I was 10, so Parents = Boring.) Then years later, I picked up Pied Piper in a bookshop, read the first page and was hooked. When I realised I was on page 10, I bought it and have been buying all the others ever since. His books are as sleek and streamlined as the aircraft he began his working life designing. and very, very effective. Try forgetting the final pages of On the Beach, the crash of the yacht on the reef in Trustee from the Toolroom, or the slow, meticulous construction of a deal to rescue an abandoned shipyard in Ruined City.
Profane, violent, horrific, with the most totally unexpected plot twists... and often very, very funny. He writes in a conversational style that's most definitely VERY carefully written, and it's a lot more complex than it looks. Try it sometime and see. My only complaint: he writes so much I can't keep up with him.
Because she ‘just’ wrote comedy, most people don't give her credit for her fabulous turns of phrase and a talent for dialogue the equal of Alan Bennett. (Acorn Antiques is packed with them - "He put the triplets in the Wolseley and I haven't seen him since." Use any other brand of car and it's not as funny.) If you can ever find copies of any of her scripts - such as this omnibus - buy it. Because even on the page, her words are as delightful as they are when spoken on television.
Film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times for over 40 years, a man who genuinely loved films and who never failed to communicate that love. Even when he was knocking a film, he could do it so wittily that you were glad the film existed... to have inspired Ebert's review. (See Stealth.) One of the few critics whose work I read just for the way it's written.
Holes is my favourite children’s story. I’ve read it twice - both times in one sitting - and I marvel at its pace, its humour and the way its complicated plot clicks so beautifully into place by the final page. It’s a masterpiece. If none of his other books quite reach that level of perfection, that’s fine with me. Because they come so awfully close it just doesn’t matter. He’s a wonderful writer.
Little known now. Or so I thought until I checked on Amazon and found recent editions with introductions by Harlan Ellison and Michael Moorcock. So he IS still known, even though I've never drawn anything but a blank look when I mention his name. Exhaustingly prolific, with a style totally unlike anything I've ever read. In his hands words spin, dive and swoop, hurling you along until you have to put the book down and take a deep breath.
Another writer not so much heard of these days. But in the 70s and 80s, his crime and spy novels were like nothing else on the market. Cool, detached and clever, with a dry - very dry - sense of humour. In Briarpatch, a woman hands a suitcase full of illicit money to a fixer, to pay for illegal undercover work- and then asks him to sign for it. He does. Which prompts the following exchange:
'Benjamin Franklin,' she said. 'That's funny.'
'Yes. Almost as funny as you asking me to sign for it.'
All his books grab you from the first page . Don't make the mistake of assuming that because he writes for children his stories will be nothing but cuddly fluff. Shadow puts you right in with refugees fleeing a war zone, and makes you feel the danger. Born to Run so chronicles the pain and cruelty often inflicted on greyhounds in the name of profit that makes you want to rescue every one. Private Peaceful takes its time to describe a whole life - from child to adulthood - that will later be ended in the trenches of World War I. And because the book has taken the time to let you know the characters so well, that ending is doubly moving.
(War Horse is brilliant too. But so many people have said that so many times it doesn't need repeating here.)
Frank Cottrell Boyce
just read any of these three books and tell me he isn't one of your favourite writers too.
I've been hooked since The Lost Continent since it was first published. (Although I’d been enjoying - and still do - his The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words for at least six years without knowing that it was the same Bill Bryson who’d written it.) A Short History of Nearly Everything is my favourite book. (I've read it four times and will very likely read it four more times before becoming one with the universe it so vividly describes.) The Thunderbolt Kid's description of an abortive swimming pool dive made me laugh so hard I cried. Notes from a Big Country is a fascinating snapshot of the USA in the 1990s. He's the only writer whose books I buy in hardback because I can't wait to read them.
He's been writing since the 1970s - and I've read and enjoyed almost all his stories of the LAPD. But my favourites are the series of books he began writing about the officers of the Hollywood station in 2006. They all follow a pattern: a single plot strand running throughout the book, interspersed with episodes detailing the adventures and encounters of his recurring cast of police men and women (including 'Flotsam' and 'Jetsam', the two surfer dude patrolmen). Sad, funny, violent, unexpected and sometimes just downright weird. But so readable, so very, very readable.
After I read Salem’s Lot in 1979, I started buying everything he wrote. I kept on buying all the way up to Cell and From a Buick 8, when it seemed like SK had run out of steam. Then along came Under the Dome, Joyland and 11.22.63, one after the other (not to mention the short story 1408, which had me looking over my shoulder in daylight - something written stories rarely do.) So now I'm back to buying everything he writes again - except for The Dark Tower. I've just never managed to get around to those. At the rate he writes, I probably never will.
He gets criticised for not knowing how a live comedy show works, or how a newsroom really operates. It seems to me that's missing the point. I'm not watching a documentary about newsrooms and television studios; I'm watching an entertainment - with terrific dialogue. For which he also gets criticised because 'It's not how people really speak'. Well, I've been to the Sistine Chapel and I'm not sure that heaven looks like that either - but nobody disputes the painting's achievement. And no, I'm not saying Sorkin is Da Vinci. What I am saying is that he's a wonderful writer, someone you want to listen to again and again and again.
Nobody knows much about this man. He doesn't have a website. He rarely gives interviews. He likes his privacy and uses a pseudonym for the series of crime novels set in the fictional town of Rocksburg, Pennsylvania. Although the mystery is always solved by the end of each book, he's more interested in the characters and the setting than the actual crime. He brings both memorably to life. And while everyone talks a lot the dialogue - for which he has a fabulous ear - never overwhelms the story. (Well,most of the time it doesn't.) With Constantine, you feel like you're reading about real people in a real world. He's written 17 novels. I wish he'd written 17 more.
I disliked Zodiac intensely, couldn't finish The Diamond Age and never got past page 50 of the first volume of The Baroque Cycle. But Snow Crash is fabulous and Seveneves engrossing. Cryptonomicon and Reamde belong to the tiny group of books that made every moment I wasn't reading them seem wasted; I longed for the evenings so I could get back to them. I think he's a wonderful writer. And I haven't even mentioned Cobweb and Interface - two more gems.
He's a great storyteller. That's the key attraction for me. His books may not meet the exacting standards of academic history - backed up with footnotes and extracts from documents of the time - but what they do do is bring history alive. You keep turning the pages to find out more. I can't think of a greater compliment.