Sunday, September 18, 2005

Over at Leftwich Neal was musing about America's "greatest living writer." This seems the sort of topic for which I'd easily be able to muster some suggestions--alas, nope. Here's a list, though, of currently living American writers who've been my favorite at one time or another:

Nicholson Baker
Russell Banks
Samuel R. Delany
Stephen Dixon
Norman Mailer
Philip Roth
Gore Vidal
Kurt Vonnegut

Wow, that's a short list. I suppose that's due to the fact that all the others are currently DEAD (i.e. not "currently living") or NOT AMERICAN. I'd also point out that five of these dudes (yes, they're all "dudes") are likely to be dead in the not-so-distant future, pointing out my lack of knowledge (interest?) in most of what passes as "current."

Neal mentioned Mamet in particular; I've read a few essays (including a recent rambling Harper's editorial about Hollywood), and have seen perhaps a half-dozen films based upon Mamet scripts/dramas, but that's it. This means I've not read adequately at least one potential America's Greatest Living Writer, and I'm sure there are dozens of others. Who am I to judge in that case? Mamet writes about politics, he writes drama, he writes screenplays--are we going to choose only writers of a variety of product? Those who move with facility betwixt fiction and non-? Can purveyors of non- alone qualify? Or those who are 'merely' novelists? Writers of criticism? philosophy? poetry...?

My brain always shuts down when asked to produce a superlative of this sort. Upon finding out I've got a graduate degree in English, for example, people at soirees will often ask:

Who's your favorite writer?


What's your favorite book?

Each question is unanswerable--and not just because of drunkeness--it's largely because the answers change regularly, as old enthusiasms become tiresome, or as new enthusiasms become obsessions. 20 years ago I was mad about Delany. Then it was Dostoevsky. Then it was John Hawkes, then Vidal/Mailer, then Roth; but all the time Henry James has been there, my favorite in-between those other favorites. William Gaddis, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Tolkien, Joyce, Umberto Eco. Typically the writer who's written the best book I recently read will get a nod, so suddenly Iris Murdoch will be my favorite, or Paula Fox, or Toby Olson, or Melville.

So, here are my Top Ten Books that Once Upon a Time were the Best Book I'd Ever Read:

[in no particular order, and only novels to make it simple]

More crowd in, I must stop. I've had dozens of Best Books Ever Read.