Benchmarking (or, the 5 Authors I Wish to Be When I Grow Up)

I am a fan of reading.

Okay, that’s kinda obvious so I really didn’t need to say that. Anyway, I choose books the way I choose shoes: I buy them if I like them. But unlike shoes, I seem to not be able to hold out on buying books.

I usually browse around, pick a book with an interesting title or cover design (yes, titles and cover designs work on me the way shiny things work on babies), and read the synopsis at the back. If I like it, I buy it. This is the reason I have many books of unheard of authors or even of first novels . I scour book sales and second hand book stores for these kinds of books.

Same operation for the classics. I don’t read them just because (mostly snobbish) people say that they should be read. I would rather say I haven’t read it than force myself to read something I absolutely have no interest in. Though me not being interested in a book rarely happens.

Then there are authors that I absolutely love. These are the authors that I follow, whose books I buy regardless of whether there’s a synopsis at the back or not. I buy their books because they have never failed me before and I’m 99.9% sure that I’ll like whatever story they now offer. It’s like chocolate. It doesn’t matter what name, shape, or form it takes, if it’s chocolate, I’ll like it.

So, here’s the list of the 5 authors I follow:

1. Nora Roberts

I started reading her novels back when I was in high school and hers constitute a large percentage of all books collectively owned by our family. My mom is a fan, my sister is too, and by the time I’m in high school my mom thought I was mature enough to deal with the content. See, Nora Roberts is the queen of romance novels and she never shied away from writing about love and sex in minute detail. Emphasis on “sex” and “minute detail”. The thing I like about her novels is that though they are predictable (girl meets boy, conflict ensues, conflict resolved, then they live happily ever after), she seems to have a bottomless pit of ideas of how to tell the story in such a way that you don’t lose interest. She writes about magic, international espionage, evil (both the demonic and regular human variety), police/firefighter/soldier life, artists, wizards, and whatever else you can think of.

Yes, sometimes the situations are just not realistic but, hey, it’s fiction. And she falls into the standard trappings of romantic novels (all the characters are described as either gorgeous or hot, main characters always end up together no matter what issues come up, etc.) and some characters are simply just not believable even in the realm of fiction (a princess stealing jewels from rich people, an almost omniscient trust fund baby, to name a few) but I have to admit, her novels feed the hopeless romantic in me that I keep buried very, very deep down inside.

 

2. Paolo Coelho

Oddly enough, The Alchemist isn’t the first book of Coelho’s that I read. The first Coelho book I read was By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept and (though I am ashamed to admit it but it has to be said) I almost cried while reading it.  It talks about love and faith, and how those two is always hand in hand. The Alchemist is also one book I credit in actually having a hand in shaping the way I look at my life. I find myself getting goosebumps while reading his books, and there are times when I had to stop reading simply because my breath is hitching up. No, I am not overreacting and no, I am not crazy. There really are just moments that what he says are things that make me think, “yes, that is exactly what I needed to hear.”

Okay, so he looks like a biker dude in his website’s photo but Coelho has an almost lyrical way of putting into words all the things that we know but cannot fully wrap our mind around. To have that kind of power to use words to actually affect lives is, well, terrifying, but really very rare and beautiful. As of the moment, he is the only author I’ve read that can actually change or guide the way people see life. I cannot stress how many times reading a Coelho book has helped illuminate something for me, or has helped me quell  a growing concern or fear about the direction of my life.

 

3. Rick Riordan

This is who I really wish I can be when I grow up. Or now, I don’t mind. Rick Riordan has a way of writing that just brings you there to wherever it is that he is writing about. Camp Half-Blood? The Duat? They all seem to become real when he writes about them. I have not yet met a Riordan book that bored me or that I didn’t like. He has the ability of writing the ancient gods into the modern times without losing the essence that made them ancient and wise. His stories are usually about good and evil (or order and chaos) and features young men and women of great courage making unspeakable sacrifices; yet peppered with things like fear, errors, and even bitchiness that makes them more human and accessible.

Though his books are somewhat humorous, the one thing that is central to all of them is that they illustrate the costs of doing the right things. It also impresses on the reader the fact that there is always, always a choice and that whether you choose to do what is wrong or what is right, there will always be sacrifices.  And he illustrates that though those sacrifices may sometimes be tremendous, doing the right thing will always, always be right. It may not always seem to be worth all the trouble (as it is in real life) but you sleep better at night knowing that you did what was right. Seemingly heavy for young adult fiction, yes,  but I think books like these are exactly what young adults need now. And some old adults too.

 

4. Tom Clancy

For me, he is the master. My whole family loves him (parents, aunts, cousins). He seems to have the pulse of international affairs, government agencies, terrorists, and everything in between. Indeed, he was the first to write about terrorists crashing a plane into a United States structure way before September 9/11 attacks happened. He wrote about the military, about international espionage, and about government internal and external power struggles in so much technical detail that you feel pulled into it. My favorite is the beloved (my beloved) Jack Ryan series which includes titles made into movies such as Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. They were pretty much popular that he recently started writing more Jack Ryan novels. He also penned the Op Center series, a series of novels about a group of military and administrative personnel specially formed to combat terrorists. I believe there’s also a game produced based on it.

I am a self-confessed action movie fangirl and, apparently, the action-loving fangirl in me does not stop in movies. The trouble in writing these kinds of books is that some authors get so immersed in the technical details it starts to sound like a non-fiction instructional material. I’ve also read books of the same genre that has characters so efficient in their work that they become so unrealistic, or so cut and dried that you know exactly who to root for. Tom Clancy has struck that very precarious balance of technical precision and humanity. His characters, though terrifyingly efficient military men or politicians, are visibly human – with family, fears, ambition, and values (warped or otherwise). And his characters are never, ever, cut-and-dried. Sometimes, you hate the hero, sometimes you feel for the villain – both of which may not remain hero and villain for long.

 

5. Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I have read two novels by Zafon: The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game. I really, absolutely, love them, and have come to realize that yes, I know that I will love whatever this author pulls out of his head. Sometimes, it’s just that quick. He writes about the supernatural, the mysterious, and writes it in a way that it just hovers above the line between what is real or not. His imagery is just beautiful. The way he describes a place or a person, or even a sound just flows beautifully. It makes you think that you are right there, looking at the scene with him. He writes about emotions as if he feels every single emotion that his characters feel, and he writes about Spain as if it is a living, breathing person.

Zafon writes about books and Spain; two things that I am quite interested in. I’ve always had a thing for Spain – the language, the history, the general idea of the place, and reading Zafon has not only fueled the interest more but had also, in my head, brought me there.

 

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