recommended prose stylists
December 23, 2010 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend some great prose stylists!

I love reading the essays of EB White, DFW, Michael Chabon, Joan Didion, Philip Lopate, Calvin Trillin, Annie Dillard, Virgnia Woolf, etc. in large part because I admire the elegance and beauty of their prose. I admire the craft. Please recommend more great prose stylists I may not have read.

I'm especially interested in contemporary writers and writers who specialize in the essay form. Not interested in writers who may write about interesting topics but who are merely competent writers (Malcolm Gladwell for example).
posted by AceRock to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Woody Allen writes some amazing prose.
posted by griphus at 8:26 AM on December 23, 2010

Note: I have already explored these previous threads: 1,2.
posted by AceRock at 8:30 AM on December 23, 2010

Paul Auster is my favorite writer, period. But if you're looking just for essays and not fiction, The Art of Hunger is very good.
posted by litnerd at 8:34 AM on December 23, 2010

BR Cohen.
posted by The White Hat at 8:35 AM on December 23, 2010

You like much of the same stuff I like, so you might end up in agreement with me that Janet Malcolm is the greatest contemporary essayist. I would start with "In the Freud Archives."
posted by escabeche at 8:37 AM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Adam Phillips!
posted by RogerB at 8:41 AM on December 23, 2010

Two come to mind for me:
Arthur Golden's book Memoirs of a Geisha
A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:44 AM on December 23, 2010

I know they're not contemporary, but the essays of William Hazlitt and George Orwell (some essays) are great.
posted by mattn at 8:53 AM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

This is a bit off the path, but I've always found Frank Herbert (of Dune fame) to be a great prose stylist, though perhaps that's because sci-fi tends to suffer a deficit in that regard so he looks good by comparison.
posted by fatbird at 9:03 AM on December 23, 2010

Patrick Leigh Fermor (especially in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water), Joseph Mitchell (start with Up in the Old Hotel), John Haines (his essays, and his memoir The Stars, The Snow, The Fire), Edward Hoagland (start with The Tugman's Passage and Notes from the Century Before), St. Clair McKelway (Reporting at Wit's End compiles some of his best articles), W.G. Sebald (his book of essays On the Natural History of Destruction is a good place to start) - also, everything that Burkhard Bilger and Alec Wilkinson have written for the "New Yorker" is worth checking out (as are Wilkinson's books Midnights, and Mr. Apology and Other Essays.)
posted by ryanshepard at 9:08 AM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

John McPhee
Orwell, yes.
Stephen Hunter's film reviews.
Joy Williams
Ron Rosenbaum
Anthony Bailey
Jonathan Raban
posted by fivesavagepalms at 9:38 AM on December 23, 2010

I have the same interest in fine prose. Anthologies are great places to explore new essays and authors. I've got:

Writing Prose
The Oxford book of Essays

I also have heard good things about:

The Art of the Personal Essay.
posted by storybored at 10:12 AM on December 23, 2010

Thirding Orwell.
posted by Dragonness at 10:38 AM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hugely seconding John McPhee!
posted by timetoevolve at 11:39 AM on December 23, 2010

Cynthia Ozick
Ian Frazier
John McPhee
Jan Morris
Paul Theroux (some people hate him)
Bill Bryson (don't let the humor fool you)
Kurt Vonnegut
Susan Orlean
Roger Angell
Hendrik Hertzberg
Anthony Lane (film critic for the New Yorker)
C.S. Lewis
George Orwell
E.B. White
Norman Mailer
Lewis Lapham
W.G. Sebald

And not nonfiction, but marvelous: Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mitchell
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:57 AM on December 23, 2010

S.J. Perelman.
posted by Dr.Pill at 3:51 PM on December 23, 2010

A.J. Liebling
posted by Rangeboy at 5:13 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

C.S.Lewis' was good, his brother W.H.Lewis was better.

Norman Douglas is of his age, but for the effortless display of much learning, he's hard to beat. Old Calabria is an example.

Ludwig Bemelmans did some fun stuff on hotels and restaurants. Seek out his Hotel Bemelmans (intro by Anthony Bourdain, who is a dab hand himself). (For a taste, try here.)

Amos Pettingill is the goods. He can be had in hardcover here.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:23 PM on December 23, 2010

Vladimir Nabokov.

Don't listen to any one else here....
posted by curtm at 6:33 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow, I find Orwell's ideas okay but his prose pedestrian.

How about Langston Hughes? His "Salvation" is one of my favorites. Dave Eggers' shorts are great ("Should you lie about having read that book?" for example). Michael Lemonick can write. Uh...Brian Massumi (if yr into critical theory and philo)...
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:53 PM on December 23, 2010

Also, William Maxwell - he wrote nonfiction and published a book of essays, but the place to start is with his short novel So Long, See You Tomorrow. It's spare, beautiful, and moving.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:55 PM on December 23, 2010

The poet Albert Goldbarth has a few books of essays I've greatly enjoyed, including Many Circles and Great Topics of the World. Or, just, you know, subscribe to The New Yorker and browse the archives.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 7:47 AM on December 26, 2010

Richard Mitchell
posted by BigSky at 5:50 PM on December 29, 2010

Doubt anyone is still listening but re Janet Malcolm, the second sentence of the Freud Archives reads:

"He was an analyst in training at the Toronto Institute of Psychoanalists, but he wasn’t like the others analytical candidates one sees at congresses – quiet and serious and somewhat cowed-looking young psychiatrists who stand about together like shy plain girls at dances talking to one another with exaggerated animation. Masson (to continue the metaphor) not only assiduously steered clear of the wall flowers but was dancing with some of the most attractive and desirable partners at the ball….”.”

First read through I assumed "quiet and serious and somewhat cowed-looking" referred to he, not to young psychiatrists. A better stylist would have erased even the possibility of ambiguity.

The continuing metaphor is clumsy. The wall flowers are female. Is he distinct from them because he is an aggressive (presumably male) dance-initiator of hot psychiatrists (which breaks down the parallelism) or because he is in all other respects just like the wall flowers but for his being an aggressive (presumably female) dance-initiator of hot psychiatrists (which ruins the 1950ish wall flower imagery).

I've not read Ms Malcolm, and I may try again, but on this evidence, she's not a very good or careful writer.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:17 PM on March 9, 2011

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