By Gwen Cooper
Hello again, fellow shut-ins! We’re back for Part 2 of a three-part list of binge-worthy authors. Everyone on this list has written at least five novels or story collections that are independently worth reading. I’m trying to avoid authors likely to be on your radar already, either due to their status as a bona fide titan of the canon (I’m looking at you, Proust) or because they’ve appeared on a U.S. bestseller list within the last few years. Let’s get to it!
P.G. Wodehouse If you’ve read one “Bertie and Jeeves” story, you’ve read them all—but if you haven’t read any, then you’re missing out on one of the all-time great comedy duos. Set in the 1920s, these tales are comforting for the same reason your mom’s chicken soup is comforting: because it’s always the same. Here’s the typical setup: The aristocratic but doltish Bertie Wooster blunders into some sort of social snafu (thus rousing the anger of a persnickety lady friend, his gorgon of an aunt, or both), and his brilliant, if laconic, manservant Jeeves arrives at the very last moment to pull his fat out of the fire in a thoroughly ingenious way. If you can make it all the way through a “Bertie and Jeeves” collection without smiling once, it’s possible that you have no soul.
Start with: Any of them. It literally makes no difference.
You can skip: See above.
My favorite: Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit and Other Stories—Mostly because I read this cover to cover in one sitting the first time I ever went to London, and it inspires fond memories.
James M. Cain Waaaaaaaay at the other end of the feel-good spectrum comes James M. Cain, that terse traverser of the dark human heart. Cain is one of those writers who never uses two words where one will do, and the result is prose that grips you tight and speeds you breathlessly through crime-soaked noir masterpieces. Cain may have been one of the best Depression-era and postwar chroniclers of what the American Dream looks like when it turns ugly, which makes him an especially pertinent read right now. Not to mention he’ll give your newly cloistered lifestyle a much-needed infusion of unsavory gents and dishy dames with a nose for trouble and legs for days.
Start with: The Postman Always Rings Twice—Then watch the movie. Both of them. You’ll remember it as one of your very best quarantine days.
You can skip: Double Indemnity—Even Cain was the first to admit that his original novel was far inferior, in terms of both dialogue and plot twists, to the Billy Wilder/Raymond Chandler masterpiece based on it.
My favorite: Mildred Pierce—Twisted, fascinating, and (all due respect to Joan Crawford) so much better than the wan and moralizing first movie it inspired.
Helen Oyeyemi Helen Oyeyemi is, quite simply, the most exciting new writer I’ve discovered in the last ten years. Full stop. I’m actually going to quote extensively here from the Los Angeles Review of Books, because they say it better than I could: “[Oyeyemi] might be the only contemporary author for whom it’s not hyperbole to claim she’s sui generis, and I don’t think it’s a stretch either to say she’s a genius, as opposed to talented or newsworthy or relevant or accomplished, each of her novels daring more in storytelling than the one before. After reading any of her novels or her short story collection, you emerge as if from a dream, your sense of how things work pleasurably put out of order.” A wildly simplistic overview would be to say that Oyeyemi riffs on well-known fairy and
folk tales with bold and surprising results. That’s selling her short, though. Just read her—you’ll be incredibly glad you did.
Start with: Mr. Fox—Many writers have toyed with the whole “author’s creation comes to life and the two interact” motif, but almost none to such gorgeous and startling effect as Oyeyemi does here.
You can skip: None. Skip nothing. This woman is freakishly talented.
My favorite: What is Not Yours is Not Yours—This dazzling collection of interconnected stories, once I’d finished reading it, left me incapable of starting another book for a full week. It was that good.
Anthony Trollope One of my very favorite authors and, in my opinion, unfairly denied a place among other Victorian-era British greats like Charles Dickens or George Eliot. I love a sprawling, chatty writer, and Trollope fits that bill perfectly—and further brings to bear a keen sense of humor, a deep insight into human nature, and the ability to keep any
number of plots and subplots spinning over the course of slender 200-page novels as well as 800-page doorstoppers. Whether you’re reading a long Trollope or a short one, however, you’re always guaranteed an easy and engaging read, along with the inescapable feeling that you’re spending time among real-life people whom you’ve gotten to know very, very well.
Start with: Barchester Towers—Dive right in with Book 2 of Trollope’s Barsetshire series (it’s okay if you haven’t read Book 1). One of the flat-out funniest books I’ve ever read, and thick enough to keep you occupied for days.
You can skip: The Prime Minister—Book 5 of Trollope’s 6-book Palliser series, and uncharacteristically joyless and tough to slog through. Hey—when you write 50-plus novels, there are bound to be some clunkers!
My favorite: A close call between Barchester Towers and The Way We Live Now. But I’ll say The Way We Live Now, because its well-told tale of financial chicanery is—despite having been written 140 years ago—truly timeless, making it one of the most aptly titled novels of all times.
Gwen Cooper is the New York Times bestselling author of the memoirs Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat; My Life in a Cat House: True Tales of Love, Laughter, and Living with Five Felines; and Spray Anything, among numerous other titles. Her work has been published in more than two-dozen languages. She is a frequent speaker at shelter fundraisers, donates 10% of her royalties from Homer's Odyssey to organizations that serve abused, abandoned, and disabled animals, and has raised nearly $1,000,000 for rescue organizations worldwide. Her forthcoming “Homer Whodunit” cozy mystery series debuts in July 2020 with Book #1: You Only Live Nine Times. Gwen lives in New Jersey with her husband, Laurence. She also lives with her two perfect cats--Clayton "the Tripod" and his litter-mate, Fanny--who aren't impressed with any of it.