Today, lucky readers, is Day 3 of 28 Authors, 28 Variations on a List. Brian Doyle Day! Doyle was the first author to submit his list to us—within hours of our asking. That stream of consciousness thing he does, that’s for real. He even provided his own headline. He wrote his bio, too: “Brian Doyle is, in order, a dad, a dad, a dad, a husband, the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, a guy who tries to be a decent son and friend and brother, and a writer who recently committed the sprawling epic Oregon novel Mink River.”
Doyle’s favorite store is Broadway Books in Portland, which, he says, is: “(a) run by a brilliant funny honest salty gentle soul named Roberta Dyer, (b) was saved from bankruptcy by burritos, I kid you not, and that’s a sentence you have not read in a while, eh, and (c) is a kick to read in because it’s small and long and you can shout happily in public without being, for once, talked to politely by police officers.”
We give you his book list, which you can shout happily if you want:
The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary. The greatest novel no one has ever read, as opposed to the supposedly great novels that no one reads, like Finnegan’s Wake, which I did read, a page a day for more than a year, and it’s awful, O my God, you can’t make head nor tail of the story. Finnegan’s Wake might be a work of philological genius, but as an accessible narrative it is well and truly and egregiously bad. Whereas The Horse’s Mouth, made into a terrific movie with Alec Guinness, is blissful glory. Hilarious, poignant, wild, and by an Irish guy who ought to be ranked with the alps of Irish literature, seems to me.
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. The single best Australian novel I ever read, period, and I say that with enormous respect for Helen Garner’s lean little perfect fictions, like The Spare Room and The Children’s Bach, and David Malouf’s superb novels, like his recent Ransom. Cloudstreet is like Melville and Tolstoy mixed with wry humor and dust and sunlight and fish and laughter and tears and somehow it’s joyous and oceanic.
Fool’s Hill by John Quick. Another totally great book that I think about eight people read when it came out in 1995, and it sometimes seems to me one of the very best Oregon books ever, and it’s such a wry funny odd sideways book, written in a way that no one has written before or since, that I know, and I am really old and have read a lot of books. Quick grew up before the Second World War in Port Orford, and I swear if you start this book you will zoom through it laughing and never think of the Coast in quite the same way. In the last year, having committed a novel set on the Oregon coast, I am a real student of Oregon coast books, and there’s Kesey and LeGuin and Berry and John Quick, and maybe the nutty brilliant Matt Love now, and that’s about it, and don’t mention Washington Irving to me. His book about Astoria is dull dull dull and you know it. You could choke a beaver with old Washington Irving.
The Dazzle of Day by Molly Gloss. You know, total respect for her other great books, but I thought this was her best book, and it was another book that sold about eight copies, and she says she will never write another speculative fiction novel, although she will, bless me, write stories, but I press this on anyone I know who digs speculative fiction, which is unfairly painted as sci-fi or fantasy, whereas really it’s imagination on steroids, which ultimately is rather the point of fiction, isn’t it? So there.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. The single best novel I have read in ten years, I think, and it’s absolutely beautifully eerily scrily note-perfect. It’s like she hits a note in the beginning and then miraculously keeps in tune the entire book. I cannot imagine writing a book so lovely and tone-glorious. Boy. And it’s one of those books where you think in the beginning, ‘Is anything going to actually happen? Isn’t there any sex or death or fistfights or adulteresses?’ and then you get sucked into the quietly powerful story and emerge at the end blinking and saying quietly holy moly, that was terrific. A book where the air shimmers after the last page, wow.