I would love to claim that I spend all of my time reading the classics and works of great intellectual significance. I don’t. Like a lot of people – probably most people – I spend most of my time reading literary junk food. You know what I mean; books that just make you feel good, without particularly teaching you anything or challenging you. The books, in other words, that you can get lost in and use to wind down.
That doesn’t mean that the authors are bad writers. Not at all. There are great writers out there who are strictly entertainers – creative, innovative and with a flair for interesting, complex characters.
So, without further ado, here’s my top five junk food literature authors:
5. Dick Francis – His heroes are always the same: stoic, strong-willed loner with a heart of gold and a sense of honor. The good guys are very good and the bad guys are loathsome. There is no moral-equivelance in Dick Francis’ world and, if it’s the same cast of characters over and over again, I never tire of them. The way Francis explores different fields of endeavor (painting, aviation, gemstones, etc) is always interesting too. And, of course, there’s always horse poop around.
4. Clive Cussler – Cussler keeps the adreniline rushing, with at least half a dozen incredible escapes from impossible dangers per novel. It would strain one’s ability to suspend disbelief, but for the strength of his narrative and the novelty of the action. The fact that Cussler has no time for enviro-whackos is also near and dear to my heart, of course. My only criticism: his dialouge can be a bit formuliac at times.
3. W.E.B Griffin – An acquired taste perhaps, since Griffin is big on the details and I suspect it’s too much for some. Not for me. I love every last nuance. He’s also a master of weaving in historical figures in a way that rings absolutely true. Griffin’s signature character, Brig. Gen. Fleming Pickering (whom I am going to lobby to name our next cat after) is one of my favorites, with enough flaws to be believable, but so much integrity that you know that he’s the man you’d want to have your back.
2. Bernard Cornwell – Nobody does historical fiction better. Period. The guy can weave a tale and set a stage better than anyone. His heroes are strong-willed, yet clever, brutes who flirt with the dark side but ultimately redeem themselves, and that’s a theme I always enjoy. Brilliant dialogue too.
1. Tom Wolfe – I wrestled with including Wolfe on this list. He’s much more significant an author than the rest of the group. And he’s one of the most innovative, versatile authors of the last 100 years. Doesn’t hurt that he’s a conservative either. In many ways, Wolfe was out front in the culture wars way before anyone else (The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, From Brahaus to Our House, The Painted Word, etc.), but he’s such a joy to read, I think I’ll put him here too.