Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Calling for Christmastime Recommendations: Favorite Essayists/Prose Writers

As swarms of newcomers continue to swell the ranks of our 2011 book reading venture, I wanted to ask for recommendations from any readers who might have something to share. Specifically, I am looking for new and worthwhile essayists to read.

My five favorite living writers of prose (in the English language, of course, though that is probably as obvious as it is regrettable) are, in no particular order, Marilynne Robinson, Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Christopher Hitchens. When I say "prose" I mean especially the essay or nonfiction occasional form -- steering away, with purpose, from my co-religionists in the field of theology, or for that matter any academically housed discipline. These five writers, apart from their insight and wit and diversity of topics covered and much other besides, are simply a joy to read, whatever it is they are writing about; and reading each of them has made me an incalculably better writer myself, literally by the page -- even by the microscopic harmony of each solitary sentence they whip and tender my eager way.

What I realized recently, however, as I concluded Christopher Hitchens' memoir, is that beyond these five, I know precious few others like them, or at least -- what is the same -- I have read little else which is similar (less in style than in flavor or quality). But I would like that to change, and quickly.

So I would love to hear from others: who are your (say) five favorite essayists, beloved writers of prose, polymath explorers carving their way in unfabricated worlds with only tools of grammar and verbiage? I know David Foster Wallace, of course, and Terry Eagleton, and Chuck Klosterman; and a few more well-known names. But I also know my severe ignorance is matched by knowing minds in love with various works and writers. So I say, with expectation: enlighten me!


  1. Eagleton and Hitchens are both among my favourites, although in my opinion the latter has slipped in the last 5-10 years. Not so much in his quality of writing as perhaps his incisive political skepticism and originality. I bracket off his truculent atheism (heck, he made contemporary written vitriol a thing of beauty!), but as a prime example, his continued defense of hawkish foreign policy has made for some disappointing reading.

    Others I find particularly stimulating and entertaining are Umberto Eco and Stanley Fish. For Eco, if you've not read them, I'd recommend How To Travel With A Salmon & Other Essays, and Turning Back The Clock. Fish writes regularly for the Times.

    You did specify living, but I can't resist waving the flag for Borges as one of my favourite writers of prose... and fiction!

  2. Brad,

    I love your list! I am eager to read Robinson, and Berry is among my favorite authors.

    You should consider James Prosek. He is in an interesting figure. He is an artist, writer, and fly-fisherman. He wrote a book about following Izaak Walton's fishing journey around is very interesting. He also calls fly-fishing his religion (he does this on an interview of NPR's "speaking of faith" or now called "on being." Anyway, you might find him interesting.