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“Dolby’s Top 10 Writers of All Time”

Honorable Mention:

– Maya Angelou
– Saul Bellow
– Theodore Dreiser
– Ernest Hemingway
– D.H. Lawrence
– n scott momaday
– John G. Neihardt
– George Saunders
– Alexis de Tocqueville
– Neela Vaswani

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Sanctioned for writing a half-page sentence about Fitch Dandruff Remover:
– J.D. Salinger

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10 Delmore Schwartz
{Famous Works: In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories}

“‘Each of us,’” utters Schwartz’s character Jacob in the story “The World is a Wedding,” “‘has been disappointed and most of us will continue to be disappointed. It would be foolish to try to say that disappointment is not painful or that it is good for us or that it is necessary. Yet, on the other hand, which of us would really like to be dead? Not one of us would prefer that his life had ended in childhood or infancy, and that he had not lived through the years he has lived. Since this is true of the past, it is likely that it will be true of the future, and in the same way. By the same way, I mean that we will not get what we want; our desires will not be richly satisfied; but nonetheless we will be pleased to live through the years, to be conscious each day and to sleep every night.’”
This truth is slow, soothing, understandable and undeniable, and it’s written, the character utters in a way that’s deliberate, and though august, justified in this augustness for its central stature within the large friend group. It’s the spotlighted climax of this 60-page short story. There is no room in this discussion for semantics, and there is no room in this discussion for prefabricated notions. The message is, we’re all mortal, and the reader of this stuff is behooved, certainly, by already having perceived how the essence of life is aging, and is death — that these things are inescapable, are written in to the DNA of the world in which we live, thereby yielding a vision of life itself that’s intrinsically laced with emotional pain, and in this case, just the antidote.

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9 Jane Austen
{Famous works: Emma, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility}

So yup, that’s four, that’s more world-renowned novels than were put out by the entire sum total of the three Bronte sisters.
Any seasoned reader can just tell honest and cutthroat writing when they see it, and the ironic friction abounds in these tales of British socializing, like Pride and Prejudice, in which the main character Lady Catherine sees men not as static, inanimate objects either possessing of “pride” or not, but as practical tender to something entirely womanly, malleable sentients and conduits, inevitably, to an experience of love totally unique, given some stirring of the pot with a bit of her own love-gravy. She takes an active role in courtship. It’s like Pam Grier’s titular character says to Samuel L. Jackson’s in Jackie Brown: “No, you don’t understand, I am your manager!” The first upwardly mobile women in society were wizards of love, mid-19th century, rural Britain.

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8 William Makepeace Thackeray
{Famous works: Vanity Fair}

You have to be a lover of novels to read this entire book, there’s just no way around it. It’s actually longer, in word count, than James Joyce’ Ulysses. But while Ulysses, being albeit stylistically vanguard, basically just spews out little mini-tales of pastoral lust, Thackeray forges his epic plot with an almost psychotic detachment, illustrating a Dionysian mind in vivid detail in Rebecca, an uncannily shrewd socialite who proves monstrous to her own son, and then undergoes a denouement; but, more than ever before, it’s important here not to give away the ending. Artistic expression is undermined in the semantics of Vanity Fair by simple human morality, basic reliability and the penchant for standing up and being a man. The whole thing is, of course, belied by the unfortunate New York-based magazine of the same name. I usually think of D.H. Lawrence as wielding an irreplaceable influence on others, like Fitzgerald and Hemingway, but Thackeray, with his bloodlust for social loopholes and staggeringly concentrated situational execution, is without doubt whatsoever the primary Lawrence influence.

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7 Aldous Huxley
{Famous Works: Brave New World, Crome Yellow, Point Counterpoint}

“Everything that happens is intrinsically like the man it happens to,” pontificates Spandrell, in Huxley’s bulky roller coaster ride Point Counterpoint. Spandrell is a character of intense social and solitary juxtapositions, copious interaction with the mother and eventual fall from grace. Point Counterpoint examines increasingly modernizing London in the roaring ’20’s, romantic infidelity and religion ebullient motifs, satisfaction often coming to those who least expect it.
So combining this with the other two above listed works, the reader finds a novel of the urban, a novel of the rural, and a novel of the futuristic, all equally readable, humorous, authentic, and telling of Huxley’s prejudices, pet peeves, allures of beauty, but most of all, love of seemingly effortless novel crafting.

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6 Emily Dickinson
{Famous works: dragon roses adorned with figments of the pituitary thread line}

Emily Dickinson’s work is the quintessential case of the best writing done with the fewest words. Her words, individual, are like jags that stab you in the heart, and she never fails to elicit emotion by grafting her terse, clear poetic statements.
She named all her poems numbers, so even in my The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, a phone-book looking object with two or so poems jammed onto each page, carried over on page turns, I cannot look up in the table of contents and find “I heard a fly buzz when I died,” because the poem’s not called that. We discussed this poem in an undergrad class at IU though, it’s about the eventual insignificance of one life on this earth, even if it’s assessed from within, as flies around you continue to buzz, and later that night, after you’ve left, the sun will set, just as it ever has. But it sure doesn’t feel that way sometimes.

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5 Virginia Woolf
{Famous works: The Complete Shorter Fiction, Mrs. Dalloway, Jacob’s Room/The Waves, Orlando, To the Lighthouse}

Less famous, though being my favorite, is Night and Day, Woolf’s only thoroughly urban novel.
Before committing suicide, Virginia Woolf left us with an equally, and appropriately scathing indictment of our egotistical platitudes, dancing across the pages with words that painted pictures of life’s manifold angles. But at the end of the day, I find it hard to glean an overall message with her. What stands out is her readability, and her skill in garnering genuine sympathy. You can really get lost in the tonally monochromatic velocity of her prized literary portraits, like Jacob’s Room, Night and Day, or the haunting piece in The Complete Shorter Fiction, “The Mysterious Case of Miss V.” Her sentences are like a strong back, like a mother primate carrying five of its young on her back. But for as grand, and as inviting, as her sentences start, the never fail to end in little word curl-ups that summon the feel of traditional British classical music — but it’s a stately, solitary music, a soft ode on the harpsichord, not for reading over, necessarily, just for when you need a little break from this life of thought, for which, even through volumes and volumes of furious and unforgettable prose, you see no obvious solution.

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4 Louis-Ferdinand Celine
{Famous works: Death on the Installment Plan, Journey to the End of the Night}

Celine, after the war, was a doctor, who wrote. Considering this, it’s amazing to think of him finding the mental fortitude to do the simple task of medicine, all the while with this literary magma pumping through him. He wrote in a manic style full of ellipses, and detailed scenes like he was skinning a cat in his basement. He told of the lurid underbelly of Paris humanity, tales of child abuse and other violence, and of course good old, inescapable human attrition: “(Our neighbor) was an indefatigable enemy, she had detested us from the start”; there, see I even remember that exact line from Journey to the End of the Night.
The French have a way of just SEEMING naughty, and dirty, to Americans. At any given time they’re liable to delve shamelessly into vulgar, sexual or gross imagery, and then toggle back to normalcy without so much as the slightest apology. But really, I don’t think this is exactly what makes them great. I don’t think this is the exact reason why I’ve never met a French writer I even mildly disliked, from De Sade, through Descartes, Verlaine, Camus, Genet, de Tocqueville and even Jules Verne: France strikes me as a place of just such little convention… history’s own richness feeds objectively and impartially into the rich prose of her plangent writers, and what emerges are packages for the rest of the world to enjoy — crisp, taut sentences, virile honesty but most of all, probably something for late night Skinemax.

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3 Charles Bukowski
{Famous works: The Most Beautiful Woman in Town, Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit, Post Office}

But recommended from me, in the line of poetry is Betting on the Muse, in the line of short fiction is Tales of Ordinary Madness, and in the line of the novel is Hollywood, in the autobiographical tale of which his prospective Hollywood movie deal gets canceled and reinstated something like six times.
I’m sorry, but Bukowski is just my guy, there’s no other way to put it. Like probably half of the state of Indiana, I got into him in 2004, the year Modest Mouse with the ballooned mainstream hit “Float on,” had a song called “Bukowski” on their album.
But really, the song isn’t that good. It’s impossible to write music that would sum up Bukowski. Anyway, as readers of this site know, I am a huge Led Zeppelin fan, and I’d say the wild-horses-couldn’t-drag-me-away type relentlessness with which the Los Angeles lush penned poetry and fiction would be most simulated by “Achilles’ Last Stand,” the galloping 10-minute opener on the underrated late album Presence (Bukowski was even a fan of horses, and going to the horse tracks). [1]
My first experience with Bukowski’s actual writing was finding Tales of Ordinary Madness at the library, and this was a pivotal first exposure, because to this day it is my very favorite publication by the author. I believe I read it all in one day, and by the end of that summer had gotten through Hollywood and Post Office as well, but definitely wasn’t the same, through fits of out-loud laughter, and through this story about going to stay at the “poet’s cottage” in Tuscon, AZ where the temperature averaged 106 (one of the entire sentences, uncapitalized, is: “nothing to do but drink beer.”) Now THAT’S conversational writing.
At other times, he warns a misogynistic, hubristic, womanizing Jewish friend that “No one is immune, someday you’ll meet one with eyes like a little kid’s crayon drawing,” bemoans the fact in Tales that “I was lying there dying and no one was even interested. I wasn’t even interested”, and flanks his account of a movie protagonist who was successful in his original quest of finding “women, poetry and truth” with the quip: “You dumb son-of-a-bit**, you deserve all three.”
[1] I say this of course despite the fact that Bukowski was a strict known adherent to classical music.

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2 Alan Watts
{Famous works: The Book (on the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are), The Way of Zen, The Wisdom of Insecurity}

Each of Alan Watts’ books is essentially the same: it examines Western, or American attitudes in opposition with those of practicing Eastern zen, and frames the comparisons in a way that’s as commonplace as household object, for the American reader. Watts is a Briton married, and Christian, in suburban Chicago, eventually to migrate to California and deeply and thoroughly imbibe zen and Eastern tenets.
I read The Book first, of these, and to say it changed my life is anything but an overstatement. It singlehandedly taught me to be satisfied in the moment, basically preached successfully to me that any attempt of culture or society to mold me is essentially erroneous, since primarily I am a natural, integral member of the universe, and my identity is galvanized and molded every day by sensuous, undeniable knowledge, not abstract attempts at this thing called “success.” The Wisdom of Insecurity is a similarly palatable piece of pontification eschewing common American ideas of “success,” and sympathizing with the average discerning, complex mind which takes on sophisticated, human objectives, and is unsatisfied just pushing buttons and fitting in with the general consensus.
My most recent piece of reading is The Way of Zen, in which Watts, apropos of zen which describes as a “way of liberation… similar to Taoism, Vedanta (reincarnation theory), and Yoga,” professes that “For some reason we do not trust and do not fully use the ‘peripheral vision of our minds… We have hardly begun to realize its possibilities, and it seldom, if ever, occurs to us that one of its most important uses is for that ‘knowledge of reality’ which we try to attain by the cumbersome calculations of theology, metaphysics, and logical references.” It’s impossible not to feel purposeful and powerful in light of this reading, but in the same time it gives a feeling of being small, like a flower that can only do one thing, grow, but does so perfectly, to the judgment of anyone.

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1 Amiri Baraka
{Famous works: Blues People, Dutchman, Home: Social Essays, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note}

I see the chains of the amistad dangling within the words of this prose. You can behold the entire history of America in one foot of this guy’s poetry, in two words, and then turn the page, and get hit with a mountain breeze.
I rank this first, and I don’t think it’s partiality or bias at work… I mean to me it makes sense to rank a black American at the top of its list. But if I could point to one manifestation of the ranking’s tautological correctness, I’d put it this way: it’s impossible to be in the mood for reading anything else, after reading Baraka. The world equally breathes YOU in to you breathing IT in, and if your lawn needs mowing, you’ll mow it, and if your dog needs someone to kick that old deflated soccer ball at it, you’ll go kick that old deflated soccer ball at your dog, your fists like respiratory titans on the deluxe, orbiting planet.
I currently have a Baraka quote as my “Favorite Quote” on facebook: “‘Moral earnestness’ ought to be transformed into action… I know we think that to write a poem, and be Aristotle’s God is sufficient. But I can’t sleep… There is a right and a wrong. And it’s up to me, you, all of the so called minds, to find out. It is only knowledge of things that will bring this ‘moral earnestness.’” This was actually recovered from a letter he wrote to a friend, a Black Mountain poet, so we should surely be thankful for those hidden epistolary anecdotes; and certainly, “earnest” it is. There’s something just beautiful in these words, in the tone itself. The very TONE speaks of such self-rendered obligation, such accountability in how we live (to be sure a general characteristic of Baraka’s present habitat, New York), the language is picturesque, and the quest is metaphysical — “moral,” but only preaching at the self, and not religious in any way, let alone dogmatizing.
But Baraka was both an active agent and an object on which the world worked, and a lot of his poetry is suffused with anger, at the veritable coon show that is American pop culture in light of blacks: “This is the dance of the raised / leg.” Indulging in my copy of the Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader [1] was my first ever instance of actually transcribing POETRY, not prose but poetry, onto my computer as I read it [2]. The stuff was just too funny. That’s all it was, really. Just funny. And alive. So thanks.
[1] A book which I had to get on interlibrary loan, since what had been the library’s copy incurred a giant, golf-ball sized hole in the back cover (taking I guess the phrase “hunger for knowledge” to a whole new level, if you will).
[2] I once had a professor who defined “bad writing” or a “bad book” as “Anything I can read without a pen and paper handy.”

 

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