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Top Five: Junk Food Literature

dog-readingI 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.

16 comments to Top Five: Junk Food Literature

  • Matt Helm

    What is it with the Threedonia rulers pointing out, or being apologetic, about what is “high” or “low” art? I’m a classically trained artist, and a writer (published as both), but the only category that exists for me is whether I like an artist or writer, or not. Rich, you don’t have to classify your favorite books as junk food. Just tell us what you like and that’s fine. From what I’ve seen so far, the regulars who leave comments here aren’t art snobs, and have read the authors that you’ve listed.

  • junk food literature does not describe Tom Wolfe — or Thomas Wolfe either.

  • I adore Dick Francis, have for years & years! My favorites include “Bolt” and “Whip Hand” and “Nerve” — the first two featuring Kit Fielding and Sid Halley, respectively, his only two repeat heroes. All the novels connect with horses in some ways — the hero is almost always a jockey or a retired jockey. Fascinating stuff.
    My greatest love was a Dick Francis hero in real life. A strong sense of right & wrong and the gumption to do something about it. But never priggish.
    And, as opposed to many other of the genre, his heroes get beat up — REALLLLY beat up — but persevere. One hero gets thrown from a hotel balcony. And you feel it.
    I highly recommend this author. A good man in real life, too. He was the Queen Mother’s jockey for years!

  • I’m an art snob, T.
    Example:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erPnyi90cIc
    Even a rocker like me listens to symphonies.

  • Dwaz

    Not necessarily in this order

    Steve Stirling
    Harry Turtledove
    Bernard Cornwell
    George MacDonald Fraser
    Terry Pratchett

  • Jake Was Here

    I am convinced that someday the works of Agatha Christie will go down as one of our most valuable windows into the milieu of England in the first half of the 20th century. She was one of those rare popular authors that the “intellectuals” weren’t ashamed to admit they liked.

    Other popular novelists I like:
    Dean Koontz
    Tom Clancy
    JOHN D. MACDONALD

    Re Clive Cussler: I read one of his books (SAHARA, I believe) while I was in the hospital about eight years ago. Literally every page brought a cringe at the dialogue, as well as a gleam of hope — if even THIS can get published, then I may still have a chance to put my own novels out someday.

  • Scott M.

    Always enjoy hearing book recommendations.I enjoy Elmore Leonard very much:he did a book about Spanish Cuba a few years ago called “Cuba Libre” which was excellent.I would also recommend a novel by Tim Willocks,”The Religion”,about the siege of Malta by the Ottoman Turks in 1565.If you want blood and guts and sex,check this one out.

  • I dig chick authors mainly:

    Ellis Peters: love her Cadfael series. She gets a little liberal sometimes but he’s a good guy. I like the solving of mysteries without being able to rely on fingerprints or a lab.

    Elizabeth Peters: Amelia Peabody is a raging feminist for the early 1900′s but would be a prude in today’s world, and she’s funny.

    Jan Karon: don’t typically do Christian fiction, usually way too sticky sweet, but I love Father Tim.

    Does Sayers count? Eh, it’s not dickens, but fine mystery at any rate.

    Orson Scott Card: a card carrying Dem, but I like his characters and that he makes me think. Plus I went to hear him speak and he went off on how 0 was the worst idea for our country ever and it was President Bush who had tried to save us from ourselves a couple of years ago. It was hilarious, as 1/2 the audience was wearing Obama/Biden shirts and had been practically worshipping Card for most of the time. They all got reeeeeal quiet.

    Thanks for the list, I need some new material.

  • Agatha Christie, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” — perfect plot.
    Josephine Tey, “The Daughter of Time” — detective in a hospital bed, solving the mystery of Richard III; wowzer.
    Dorothy Sayers, “Murder Must Advertise” — the best of the Lord Peter Wimseys.

    If you like the English, try Ngaio Marsh. Love her detective.

  • Scott M.

    Wankette…did you ever see the old Masterpiece Theatre Lord Peter Whimsey’s? They were so good

  • Scott, I’ve seen the ones with Harriet Walter as Harriet…and I’ll have to chek imdb for the actor who played Wimsey — but I loved him, and the shows.
    Edward Petherbridge!! God, he was a perfect Peter.

    (all right guys…go ahead…)

  • Scott M.

    This was Ian Carmichael as Sir Peter…early ’70s

  • +JMJ+

    Notice that it’s genre fiction that gets the “junk food” reputation?

    My own list:
    1) Jo Beverley
    2) Diana Gabaldon
    3) Anthony Horowitz
    4) Julia Quinn
    5) J.R.R. Tolkien

    Yes, to many intellectuals, Tolkien qualifies for my list.

    PS — At first I thought this post was on authors who write about junk food. =P I was ready to recommend Louis Sachar, whose “use of junk food” (as a Literature professor would say) made me nostalgic for my sugar-fueled 1980s childhood!

  • oohhhh wanks… I love your photog. Sexay

  • Thanks June…that’s me after a visit from my barista Robbie.

    Scott — Petherbridge did the series in ’87.

  • JimmyC

    -Dean Koontz

    -Janet Evanovich – her Stephanie Plum series (about a female bounty hunter from New Jersey) are fast-paced and hilarious.

    -Tom Clancy

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