My Five Favorite Dead Authors

vintage-books-stacked ([image by Maegan Tintari])

If you know me at all, you’d expect a list of five entries, each C.S. Lewis! He is definitely my hands-down favorite author. I have grown so much from his books, both fiction and non.

But, there’s still room in my heart and on my bookshelf for others. We should all choose our books like we choose our friends – wisely. So here’s a list of my top five favorite dead authors and my favorite book from each of them. Well actually, every book Lewis wrote is my favorite, so I picked just one of his (one you may not expect!).

As author Franz Kafka wrote, “A book should serve as an axe for the frozen sea within.”

So, choose an axe and get chopping!

1. Persuasion – Jane Austen

I think Austen’s last novel is the best of her matchless career. Heroine Anne Elliot, a woman of integrity, high breeding and great emotional and intellectual depth, stands in stark contrast to the hypocrisy around her. It’s a tale of a self-controlled spinster persuaded to give up her engagement to the man she loves. This book has a quiet intensity that makes it hard to put down. Like haunting poetry or a masterful painting, its beauty still warms me and gives me something to ponder. I love it!

2. Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis

This novel is first in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. The fantasy notes that earth has become corrupt by the “bent” one and is therefore called “silent.” Even though I’m a die-hard Lewis fan, I’m not usually a science fiction fan. However, this story didn’t come off as a science fiction story to me. Instead, reads more as a human story–a spiritual narrative of sin and redemption.

3. The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Written in 1850, this is one of my favorite dead author works! It’s set in seventeenth-century Massachusetts when a strict Puritan influence governed the people.

I love the way Hawthorne, on one page, allows me to identify with the protagonist Hester, and on another next page, connects me to another character, Dimmesdale. Lewis even makes me see I have the same potential as Chillingworth at times.

To me, this book is less about adultery and more about the liberty of truth, the strength and cost of loyalty and the desecrating effect of secrets, unforgiveness and revenge. It’s best read as a participant, not a spectator. When I see myself in the story, I gain humility and awareness of my own frailty.

We should all choose our books like we choose our friends – wisely. So here’s a list of my top five favorite dead authors and my favorite book from each of them.
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4. The Princess and the Goblin – George MacDonald

J.R.R. Tolkien once said he was fascinated by this 1871 fantasy tale and I’d say, I have to agree! MacDonald’s story illustrates the importance of believing without seeing. Told in the fashion of folk tales, this book is simple enough for children to enjoy, yet compelling enough for adults to love its fantastical images of goblins, burning roses and an invisible fine thread strong enough to guide to safety. I featured this book at my summer classic lit chat–the women loved it.

5. The Portrait of a Lady – Henry James

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea … ”

Ah, the lovely opening to my favorite Henry James novel! James is considered by some critics to be of the greatest novelists of modern times.

First published as a serial in The Atlantic Monthly in 1880, and then as a book in 1881, the well spun story revolves around “our heroine,” Isabel Archer. She explores deep themes of personal freedom, independence, betrayal and romance. I love James’ insight, his phrasing and his characters. I’ve read it twice and it seemed just as new the second time around!

I intend to read it again. I’m sure I will find new treasures I hadn’t found before—that’s one of the marks of a master writer and story-teller.

I would love to know who your favorite dead authors are. I am always looking for new reads from the old masters!

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