Read Like an Author: Recommending Books to Classic Authors

Suggesting books to those who need a recommendation is one of my favorite duties as a librarian. We all have elements we look for in a good book, and I wonder which elements my favorite authors would enjoy most. How would I respond if they happened to ask me for reading advice? 

The Brothers Grimm, the German collectors of old fables and folktales who created the very first compendium of fairy tales for children, Kinder-und Hausmarchen, were heavily influenced by tales from Italy, France and Asia. For the brothers, I'd recommend Jean de La Fontaine's Selected Fables, a collection of tales written in rhyming verse and adapted from the Oriental tradition as well as from one of the oldest known storytellers, Aesop. This edition features prints of enchanting engravings by Gustav Dore. 

Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books of all time. As an English writer of the Victorian era, Bronte might be interested in a book that was published four years after her death, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, which, similar to Bronte's style, is fast-paced yet lengthy, dramatic, romantic, sensational and taps into British class relations with virtuoso. 

David Foster Wallace, whose magnum opus Infinite Jest is highly regarded as one of the greatest American novels ever written, should give some of China Mieville's weird fiction a try, specifically Perdido Street Station. I've recommended this book before, but for Wallace, I'd tell him to give it a try for the protagonist's understanding of dedication to hard, meaningful work, for its theories of crisis (in society and at large), for its portrayal of friendship and for themes representative of the postmodern condition.

Franz Kafka, a 20th century, i.e. modern, writer, would most likely be intrigued by Ovid's Metamorphoses. Dealing with trials in all their folkloric iterations and, as the title suggests, the concept of transformation, this ancient Roman text may provide a welcome traditional yet pagan holism as a break from Kafka's worldview of surrealism and absurdity. 

For Henry David Thoreau, lover of nature and American essayist extraordinaire, I recommend Paul Valery's Sea Shells, a small but beautiful book holding poetic meditations on the scientific and mathematical wonder and structure of seashells. Translated from the French.

One of J.R.R. Tolkien's best friends was C.S. Lewis. They met at Oxford University in 1926 and developed a mostly intellectual bond. If Lewis didn't hand this saga over to Tolkien himself, then I'd recommend it to him. Lewis' Space Trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, puts a science fiction twist on fantasy where scholars, scientists and other hopefuls travel to outer space and bargain with strange and volatile species up to no good. 


Do you have any reading suggestions for your favorite authors? Let me know in the comments!

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