What would Spenser choose?

This one will require some ground-rules.

Several contemporary literary theories contend that the author is possibly the least important part of any writing. If that is true, should we then skip this question? Nope. Let’s pretend that the author is valuable and that we might be gullible enough to select our reading materials based on who wrote them. This will allow us to admit to a favorite author without considering how that is so unliterary.

Unliterary? Well, there is that word “favorite.”  Is there any suggestion in this word that the anointed author is a good writer? that the writer’s works are critical successes with critics and other literary types? that the author’s books will be up front at Barnes and Noble twenty years from now? Probably not. For instance, I know that James Joyce is the world’s greatest author (doesn’t everyone?) but I do not list him as my favorite author. I also enjoy reading Robert B. Parker and have, in fact, read everything he wrote but do I list him as my favorite author? Don’t be silly.

Readers have a tendency to forget even favorite books almost as fast as gentlemen forget the Playmate of the Month. Ask any six-year-old what their favorite food is and they will have a definite answer, but wait 20 minutes, ask again, and the kid is going to give you a different answer. That word “taste” covers a lot of territory, from French Fries to Finnegans Wake. But if we accept that favorite represents what we think we most enjoy at that moment and that as rational animals (we’ll refrain from debate at this time) we tend to remember what we craved or what pleased us in the past, then we can reach a consensus:  one’s favorite author is the one who most often is selected as one’s favorite author, subject to time, place, and bad guacamole.

Who is my favorite author? Well it’s not too much of a secret because I post my favorite authors on this weblog site. Here is the list and the one at the top is my favorite (subject to what I want for lunch today):

  1. Alain Robbe-Grillet
  2. James Joyce
  3. Georges Perec
  4. Naguib Mahfouz
  5. Juan Goytisolo
  6. Marcel Proust
  7. Leo Tolstoy
  8. William Faulkner
  9. Vladimir Nabokov
  10. W.G. Sebald
  11. William Gaddis
  12. William T. Vollmann
  13. Thomas Mann
  14. Gustave Flaubert
  15. William S. Burroughs
  16. Kathy Acker
  17. Marguerite Duras
  18. Yukio Mishima
  19. Robert Pinget
  20. David Markson
  21. William Golding
  22. Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  23. Virginia Woolf
  24. Victor Pelevin
  25. César Aira

But wait, now that I have revealed my favorite author I am expected to select a book by that author which, presumably, represents my favorite book by my favorite author, or is it just one of the random books this author wrote? Let’s assume first that I actually have read this book and that it was influential in leading me to select its author as my favorite. I realize that these restrictions as not included in the challenge question but I feel they will make the answer more representative. My next problem is deciding which of Robbe-Grillet’s works is my favorite:  is it the one I like the best? the one I recommend others to read most often? the one that received the most critical acclaim? the one that sold more copies? the one that periodically appears on the shelf at Barnes and Noble? the one with the naked blonde on the cover?

There we go again discovering that “favorite” is a matter of taste and that it changes without warning. Right now the Blonde sticks in my mind and that is on the cover of an old Grove Press paper edition of Le Voyeur I bought back in the 1960s at Papa Bach in West Lost Angeles. What a great choice for a favorite novel: it is also Robbe-Grillet’s most successful novel and most critically acclaimed novel. As favorite novels go, it hits all the bases and slides into the wicket for six points. I love it!

But it’s not my favorite novel by my favorite author after enjoying my favorite lunch:  my favorite is La Jalousie. Jalousie sold very few copies and even today has to share space in a volume with another novel by the author, but it’s still my favorite. I like it because it was the first Robbe-Grillet novel I read that I could make sense of:  I could follow the author’s narrative, even though it certainly was no less complex than, say, Le Voyeur. But I probably accept La Jalousie as my favorite because it allows me to recommend it to other readers who are unaware of the author and the greatness his fiction. I look at it this way:  if I can introduce a good or interesting author to others and have them get interested in reading that author further, I am a success.


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