Thursday, January 6, 2011

January Author Birthday: E. L. Doctorow

Celebrate authors' birthdays by reading their books!

American author E.L. (Edgar Laurence) Doctorow was born January 6, 1931—which means he's celebrating a big birthday this year: 80 years. Named after another important American author —Edgar Allen Poe—it seems Doctorow was destined to take up writing. Beginning in the 1960s, he has produced critically acclaimed novels: two and sometimes three each decade. His books frequently occupy historical settings: Doctorow is known for his habit of taking the details and personages of history and and re-imagining them through the eyes of characters of his own creation. He employs a variety of writing styles, but his ability to evoke the spirit of the time in which his works are set remains consistent.

Most recently, Doctorow is best known for his 2005 novel The March. Like many of Doctorow's novels, The March centres on a particular historical figure and event: in this case the moving of troops under the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman toward the end of the American Civil War. Booklist magazine said of the novel: "As Doctorow dramatizes the fury, conviction, and chaos of the Civil War, he portrays historical figures, as he is wont to do, most electrifyingly Sherman himself. But he focuses most on brilliantly imagined characters who embody the epic conflicts of that cataclysmic era..." The March was awarded the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction and the PEN/Faulkner award and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Fans of character driven novels that are descriptive and which can be stylistically complex will find much to enjoy in Doctorow's writing. In addition to the The March, Ragtime (a novel set in New York City during the first decades of the 20th Century) and The Book of Daniel (based on the Rosenberg Trial) are frequently cited as must reads. Fans who have read much or all of Doctorow's published works will be pleased to hear of a new book being released this spring: All the Time in the World: new and selected stories is due in March.

If you're an established fan of Doctorow, you might want to investigate the following books and authors.

For something from an earlier era, try John Dos Passos's USA a trilogy of novels from the 1930s. The Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors notes that "Doctorow's work belongs with much twentieth-century American political fiction" noting the Dos Passos book as a starting point for this reference.

Caleb Carr is a contemporary author that the library categorizes as a mystery author, but who is often noted as thematically and in some cases stylistically similar to Doctorow. In particular, a novel called The Alienist which centres around a serial killer at work in late 19th New York City is frequently mentioned when comparisons between the two authors are made.

Other authors to investigate include Thomas Berger and T. Coraghessan Boyle (both authors have written a mix of stories—look for their historical novels), and Kevin Baker.

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