Friday, February 23, 2007

Literary Greatness

There's apparently a debate raging in England -- who's the greatest living British author? It was apparently sparked when someone (Nanuk?) gave Martin Amis that title, leading to, seriously, threats of suicide.

Now, I can't really imagine such a debate entering the U.S. media. I'm not much of an Anglophile, but I'd rather live in a place where they debate the greatest living author, as opposed to "is Britney Spears as fucked up as Anna Nicole Smith was?"

That aside, it got me pondering who I'd consider the greatest living American writer. I guess I'd narrow it down to four -- Philip Roth, Don Delillo, Thomas Pynchon, and E.L. Doctorow. Of those ... geez. Pynchon, much as I love him, is sort of a genre all his own and isn't very representative of American novelists. I've probably enjoyed Doctorow the most consistently, and he touches on a lot of American themes, but ... not quite. Delillo, marvelous as he is, has a few out there that I don't enjoy. So -- Philip Roth it is. (I'm ignoring "Sabbath's Theater") I'm sure this ranks pretty high on his list of accomplishments.

Thinking about this drove home how many of the authors I read are either a) dead, b) foreign, or both. Who am I missing? I haven't read enough of Paul Auster or Cormac McCarthy to include them... Richard Powers, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem probably don't have bodies of work that are big enough yet. Other suggestions?


Nanuk of the North said...

The only one of your top 4 that I've read a lot of is DeLillo. I like him a lot.

What about David Foster Wallace? Okay, he's not the greatest, but he always makes me want to throw the book out the window...but in a good way. I don't even know what that means. He does that to my mind.*

*It would be criminal to post on DFW without adding a footnote.

gsdgsd13 said...

The only Wallace I've ever read was "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," which made me want to throw it out the window in a bad way.

I know eventually I've gotta read "Infinite Jest," but it's kind of intimidating.

Nanuk of the North said...

Infinite Jest is challenging. I'd say in a good way, but now I suspect you'd think it was in a bad way.

gsdgsd13 said...

I do know a bunch of people that swear by Infinite Jest, so I really should give it a try.

I just got so damn bored with "A Supposedly Fun Thing" -- it seemed like he wrote about twice as much as was interesting in each piece.

kynanreadabookordie said...

I'm admittedly out of my depth here, in the Land of the Giant Intellectual Tome. But if I'm gonna give my American dollar to any living writer right now, it's gonna be Barbara Kingsolver.

I know, she's a big obvious name on the bestseller lists, which may disqualify her from this list (which is also all men, strange, huh?).

However, she's not only crafty and a great read, she's also topical on a tangible level, which is more than I can say for a few authors mentioned here.

Dead American authors? Edward Abbey. Obviously this reveals my enviro-bias, but fuck it.

gsdgsd13 said...

Boy, a guy moves to Vancouver and he gets all snide. I've never read Kingsolver, though I have two of her novels on the shelf -- "Bean Trees" and "Pigs in Heaven," which I tried some years back but couldn't get into.

I should read her at some point, just because she lived in Tucson, and hey, I lived in Tucson. Senior year of high school, I had a class with a hot girl named "Kingsolver," who I always assumed was her daughter -- I only figured out last year that it wasn't the case.

Yeah, no women -- the one who might have made an argument for inclusion was E. Annie Proulx, actually. Though I think maybe she's "retired" from writing?