People are struck by a given writer due to their personal circumstances as much as anything. This probably includes also their social/historical milieu. That is, a literate hillbilly will probably put the Bible at top of their list.... A 1950s hipster will name Satre, and Marx...
A favorite school teacher, what a would-be girlfriend suggested years ago....what grandma liked to read to you....Something that resonates with a particular landscape or milieu with which you happen to identify in some way....
Whatever people are reading today, if anything, I don't know and ....Its like church: you like going? So go....
Another, the thread is about best writers, not best books. It's easy to confuse the two. I kind of merged them when discussed the Great American Novel. Still, if you're suggesting that the Bible is tripe, you need to reconsider your criteria.
Some of my best friends are literate hillbillies. No I didn't make my point clear. It's that the reader must determine value. Obviously the reader's experience of value varies according to various aspects of the reader's personal context.
Wanna climb; you read guidebooks. Looking for God, then it's religious texts...etc. To say X book is "best" begs question "best for what?" Best for who and in what circumstance.
Climbing: Deep Play by Paul Pritchard seems to always enthrall me. It stays on my nightstand. I also really love anything by Andy Kirkpatrick. I know he's on ST and I dont want to sound all fanboy, but I really dig Greg Crouch's style, topics and ability to tell a story.
Americana: I'm crazy about Cormack McCarthy these days.
They rode on. They rode like men invested with a purpose whose origins were antecedent to them, like blood legatees of an order both imperative and remote. For although each man among them was discrete unto himself, conjoined they made a thing that had not been before and in that communal soul were wastes hardly reckonable more than those whited regions on old maps where monsters do live and where there is nothing other of the known world save conjectural winds.
I've always been a victim of the enthrallment spun by these great storytellers:
Isaac B. Singer
How BM starts:
"See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullary fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves. His folks are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water but in truth his father has been a schoolmaster. He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost. The boy crouches by the fire and watches him.
Night of your birth. Thirty-three. The Leonids they were called. God how the stars did fall. I looked for blackness, holes in the heavens. The dipper stove.
The mother dead these fourteen years did incubate in her bosom the creature who would carry her off. The father never speaks her name, the child does not know it. He has a sister in this world that he will not see again. He watches, pale and unwashed. He can neither read nor write and in him broods already a taste for mindless violence. All history present in that visage, the child the father of the man."
Buhl's "Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage" is still a good read...
If I know one thing, it's this: The world needs more readers.
Since we're talking writers, let me throw some sunshine on the narrative non-fiction crowd: Laura Hillenbrand, Barbara Tuchman, David McCullough, Simon Winchester, Stephen Ambrose, Rich Atkinson, and our own Jon Krakauer. I think I've read the collected works of them all, with the exception of one or two Winchesters and one McCullough. Also Doris Kearns Goodwin and Ian Toll.
And Ed Douglas is one of the chosen few, a magician of a writer. At present I'm reading his "The Magician's Glass. Character and fate: eight essays on climbing and the mountain life". Foreword by Katie Ives.
Since the thread has drifted away from climbing books, I'll promote an upcoming one - Lands of Lost Borders, by Kate Harris. (She climbs, too, and the literary quality far surpasses most climbing authors.) Story and rumination about bicycling the Silk Road, sneaking through Chinese border posts at night, biking over 17,000'. A superb writer. Here's a couple of blurbs:
“Kate Harris packs more exuberant spirit, intrepid charm, wit, poetry and beauty
into her every paragraph than most of us can manage in a lifetime. Lands of
Lost Borders carried me up into a state of openness and excitement I haven’t felt
for years. It’s a modern classic.”
— Pico Iyer
“Kate Harris arrives among us like a meteor—a hurtling intelligence,
inquiring into the nature of political borders and the meaning of crossing
over. The honesty behind her selfdoubt,her championing of simple
human friendship, and her sheer determination to explore what she does
not know, compel you to travel happily alongside her in Lands of Lost
— Barry Lopez
Canada edition out Jan. 30. US edition is out in September.