November 1 is one of our favorite days of the year—National Author’s Day! Today is all about applauding the authors we love. Here at Off the Shelf, we’re observing this national celebration by recognizing a few of the authors—and books—we love most.
I first discovered Patrick deWitt’s darkly funny literary writing in THE SISTERS BROTHERS, his take on a spaghetti western following two hit-man brothers on a picaresque journey to take down their last mark. I was so impressed by the suave satire wrapped in gloomy humor and surprisingly poignant characters in deWitt’s first book that I rushed to buy a copy of his newest, the folk-tale-inspired UNDERMAJORDOMO MINOR, the day it came out. Only two things to say on that novel: 1) there’s an entire side scene dedicated to a wheel of cheese tearing a marriage apart, and 2) read this book. —Elizabeth
As many OTS readers know, I love to binge read, whether it’s an author, a series, or a subject. I first discovered Edward Rutherford’s historical novels when I was in high school, and he’s the only author whose books I’ve ever deliberately spread out reading because I love them so much and don’t want the experience to end. He writes epic, beautiful, multigenerational novels that revolve around a place—New York, London, Paris, Ireland—weaving together his fictional characters with real people and events. I recently devoured PARIS while visiting the City of Light, and it was absolutely magical finding myself in the same neighborhoods and on the same street corners as his protagonists. Now, my only question is: WHEN IS HIS NEXT ONE COMING OUT!?!? —Julianna
Harriet Doerr published three books in her 92 years, 600 beautiful pages in total, and you should read every one of them. Born in 1910, she met her husband at age 16 and transferred from Smith College to Stanford University to be near him. They had two children and moved to Mexico in the late 1950s. After she was widowed in 1972, she finished her degree and began to write full-time. Her first novel about an American couple who move to Mexico when the husband takes a position running a mine, STONES FOR IBARRA, came out when she was 73 and won the American Book Award for first fiction (now called the National Book Award). Ten years later, she published CONSIDER THIS, SEÑORA which brought new ex-pats to central Mexico. Her final book, THE TIGER IN THE GRASS, is a collection of personal essays and stories that encapsulate her life story—from her privileged childhood with her beloved governess to her many years living in Mexico with her family to her middle-aged son dying of cancer. Her language is spare and poetic—watercolors not oil paints—deeply observed and compassionate. —Wendy
The first of Harriet Doerr’s two beautiful novels was published when she was seventy-three. Slim and evocative, it won the National Book Award. An American couple relocate to “a declining village of a thousand souls” where their lives are forever changed by the Mexican landscape and the people who inhabit it.
My first day at Simon & Schuster, I walked into the lobby and saw a dignified portrait of David McCullough hanging among the likes of Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Stephen King. McCullough’s ability to present richly detailed history in a way that makes you feel like you’re reading a thrilling novel has kept me coming back to his great works like 1776 and THE GREATER JOURNEY over and over again. I even got to meet him when he came for a celebratory toast after THE WRIGHT BROTHERS became a #1 New York Times bestseller. You can imagine my embarrassment when my boss introduced me and said, “This is Amy. She has a huge crush on you!” I think my face is still red. —Amy
In his book 1776, David McCullough illustrates the “OG” (aka “original gangster”) of American uprisings, led by General George Washington himself—the stirring story of our nation’s birth. This is an intensely human tale of the Americans in the ranks and the momentous 12 months of revolution in which they fought for independence.
Chris Cleave is perhaps one of the single most warm, interesting, and talented people I have ever come across. His novels are filled with heart and imagination, and inspire empathy in all who read them. Whenever I finish one of his books I have a moment of silence and think, I am so glad we have authors like this who write books like this living in our world today. If you are ready to feel all the emotions, I suggest picking up a copy of LITTLE BEE today, and if you have already read that one or want something completely different, I suggest EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN. Either way you are in for a beautiful, moving, wonderful ride. —Stu
From the beloved author of LITTLE BEE comes this masterful historical novel set in London during the blitz. Inspired by the real-life love letters between Chris Cleave’s grandparents, EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN is a moving wartime love story. Against the great theater of world events, it is the small battles and the daily human triumphs that change us the most.
Read a review of EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN here.
M. F. K. Fisher
I've read everything M. F. K. Fisher ever wrote and everything that was written about her. Although my feelings for her are complicated, her books, essays, and biographies are what I come back to again and again. She writes about food, as sustenance and metaphor, about hungers, but it's much more than that. Perhaps it can be summed up like this: she writes about our souls' connection to the pleasure and pain of the physical domain. And then some. —Allison
Ever since I read Karen Russell’s debut novel, SWAMPLANDIA!, I’ve been an avid fan of her work. She manages to spin tales that are quirky, fantastical, nightmarish, and wholly unique. Her mesmerizing short story collection, VAMPIRES IN THE LEMON GRAVE, features some of the most unique stories I have ever read—each one a strange and wondrous gem. You can’t go wrong with any of her books! —Sarah Jane
This blazingly original debut novel takes us to the swamps of the Florida Everglades. Set against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life, it is an utterly singular novel about one family’s struggle to stay afloat and one unforgettable young heroine on a harrowing odyssey.
Khaled Hosseini was the very first author I met. While on tour for his majestic novel AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED, Hosseini did a reading with Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. To this day, it remains one of the best author events I’ve ever attended. Hosseini was so smart, well-spoken, and kind. He took his time talking to every person in the signing line, listening to strangers tell him how much his books meant to them and answering every question. It was like meeting a famous celebrity and discovering that he is even more amazing in person than you had imagined. —Taylor
Being Ruth Ware’s book publicist is a dream job. Perhaps it’s because Ware started out as a book publicist herself and knows the ropes, or perhaps it’s just her charming personality and whip-smart sense of humor. She is one of my favorite authors because not only does she write intriguing, page-turning, bestselling books but she is also thoughtful, kind, and attentive to her readers, editors, and publicists. —Meagan
During a weekend away with a friend in an eerie glass house, crime writer Leonora wakes up in a hospital bed injured wondering not “What happened?” but “What have I done?” This one is for fans of GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN.
I wrote my first fan letter when I was eight and my mom warned me not to expect a response. Imagine her surprise when I received a handwritten postcard from Beverly Cleary—the author of the Ramona Quimby series and DEAR MR. HENSHAW. Had I just read her books, I would’ve been a lifelong fan. That she took the time to write back to a young girl demonstrates Cleary’s understanding and deep appreciation of her audience. More than a century old, Beverly Cleary deserves all the respect. —Kerry
I read Kate Morton’s THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN a few years ago and was instantly hooked by her creative stories and ability to immerse the reader in the past. Morton expertly blends her present-day characters with glimpses into their families’ histories. As a lover of historical fiction, I look forward to escaping into the often glamorous estates and mysterious dramas of her books. —Amy
From the #1 internationally bestselling author of The House at Riverton, a novel that takes the reader on an unforgettable journey through generations and across continents as two women try to uncover their family’s secret past.A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book—a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-fi rst birthday, they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on, "Nell" sets out to trace her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is not until her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the search after Nell’s death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled. A spellbinding tale of mystery and self-discovery, The Forgotten Garden will take hold of your imagination and never let go.
I’m a sucker for good narrative nonfiction, and I highly recommend anything by Jeffrey Toobin, whose career was launched with his New Yorker coverage of the O. J. Simpson trial (the recent hit FX miniseries was based on his book from the time, THE RUN OF HIS LIFE). His books read like novels, with strong characters and well-paced action that will have you turning pages at record speed. About a year ago, my friend and I attended an event for Mr. Toobin’s newest book, AMERICAN HEIRESS, which recounts the 1970s exploits of Patty Hearst, and agreed that we would try to make it through the rest of his canon together. We called it a #Toobinge (not-so-registered trademark), and it was the best kind of reading experience, seeing the versatility and wide-ranging interests a nonfiction author can have—from Patty Hearst to O.J. to the Supreme Court to the Clintons—while still doing what he does best: tell a thrilling story. —Julianna
I loved Celeste Ng before I even read her books. Her Twitter feed is glorious (@pronounced_ing). That said, her books are even better. I’ve read both her debut novel, EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU, and her recent novel LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE. I highly recommend reading them both, but especially LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE—a riveting novel tracing the fates of a picture-perfect family and the enigmatic mother and daughter duo who upend their lives. You, too, will fall in love with Ng’s beautiful storytelling. —Taylor