Editor's Choice, June 2002

Back to Literature, Past
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Breaking Old Reading Habits

Ten Literary Works That Might Convince You to Love Literary

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Author of "This is the Place."

Because I so often hear, "I don't read literary novels," or even, "What's a literary novel?" I've compiled a list that I think might convince those who think they hate them to try reading them--at least once in awhile. Those of you who already love literary, will find at least one or two books that aren’t already in your library.

None of these books are "real" classics--the kind you may have detested in high school.  Most have been popular in relatively recent history and a couple are books that Oprah should have picked if she had been doing that when these books were released.  (It doesn't seem like it, but she's only been sharing her favorites for a couple of years.)  

Why not give one or all a try?  Sandwich them in somewhere between the romance, crime, and psycho-stuff that we all  keep on our night stands.  

Here goes:

"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee.  This is one of my favorites of all time.

"A Painted House" by John Grisham.  A recent favorite that few called "literary" but got blasted by Grisham’s fans anyway because, I think, they were all expecting the same old, same old.

"The Chinchilla Farm" by Judith Freeman.  It’s been around awhile but it one of the few good pieces of fiction set in Utah where I set my first novel.

"Dear Corpus Christi" by Eve Caram.  This is a lovely little piece by my first writing teacher at UCLA.  It deserves wider readership.

" A Child of Alcatraz" by Tara Ison.  This writer is relatively unknown.  She is a novelist and a  screenwriter (no one ever gives screenwriters much credit so very few are famous regardless of the fact that their talent or the lack thereof can make or break a movie). She has taught writing at UCLA and is now teaching at Antioch University.

"The Sixteen Pleasures" by Robert Hellenga.  Apart from an occasional lapse in drawing his female characters truly, this book, set in Florence during the Arno’s infamous destruction, is a winner.

"Angle of Repose" by Wallace Stegner.  You can’t go wrong with this one or any other title written by this novelist and journalist.

"The Wedding" by Dorothy West.  This was her first and only novel because she didn’t get around to storytelling until she was in her last decade.  She breaks rules and makes it work.  She also makes us understand a portion of black history and black intolerance that many of us didn’t know existed.

"Travels with Charlie” by John Steinbeck is not fiction but it is literary.  You might enjoy seeing nonfiction written with passion and style and artistry. “Charlie”was the last book Steinbeck wrote, the culmination of years of honing his craft.

"Dandelion Wine" by Ray Bradbury is a touching novel that will be loved by those who liked the first book on this list.

"Dr. Zhivago" by Boris Pasternak. This book is worth the struggle required to sort out the Russian names  Hundreds of thousands of readers did it a few decades ago when we weren’t all so spoiled by authors who too often now cater to short attention spans and formulaic writing.

Okay.  So that's 11.  I'll make it a baker’s dozen. 

“Anna Karinina” by Leo Tolstoy.  This is a novel that holds up over the decades, especially for women (and men) who still suffer from gender prejudices.

"This is the Place" by Carolyn Howard-Johnson.  It's a little romantic, a little memoirish, a little historical, a little women's.  They're all good categories but I prefer "a little literary." If I didn’t include this book among my favorites, I wouldn’t be giving you a the truest list possible. Maybe my next novel should examine the mirror image twins of false pride and false modesty as its premise.

Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn plans to list a writing tidbit or promotion tip that will help those authors (who now will never be found by Oprah) to make themselves known and to help readers to find a treasure long-neglected or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbit: Sign up for Leslie King's newsletter, Authors' Almanac. Send an e-mail to authors_almanac@sendfree.com for a sample. If you want to sign up, just leave Leslie a note to that effect.

Readers' Tip: A brand new book, West of Kabul, East of New York, is nonfiction but handles a serious subject much like the world's best literature. The author is Tamin Ansary. The publisher is Farrar, Straus and Giroux.