Literary Corner Cafe

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sixteen "One Hit" Wonders

The authors below really aren't "one hit wonders." Even though some of them only wrote one book, that one book, like Wuthering Heights is one for the ages. The authors who wrote more than one book often wrote other very, very good books, but still, they remain known primarily for one book and one book only as opposed to Kazuo Ishiguro, for example, who is known, not only for his Booker winning The Remains of the Day, but for A Pale View of Hills, An Artist of the Floating World, and Never Let Me Go as well as several others.

If you have a "one hit wonder" you'd like to add to this list, please leave me a comment. Thanks for reading.

1. Bram Stoker - Dracula - Though Stoker wrote other books, none ever came close to the impact of Dracula, the classic vampire tale, which is still read and loved and imitated (though never successfully) today.

2. J.D. Salinger - The Catcher in the Rye - Salinger became a beloved American author despite his reclusive and somewhat abrasive personality. His forte seemed to be short stories, and though he wrote other novels, he's known as the author of The Catcher in the Rye and its frustrated and confused protagonist/narrator, Holden Caulfield.

3. Margaret Mitchell - Gone With the Wind - When you write a book as wildly popular and enduring as Gone With the Wind, I guess you don't need to write any other and Margaret Mitchell didn't. The 1937 Pulitzer Prize winner, this is one of the bestselling books of all time. The 1939 movie adaptation is beloved by many. It's controversial because of its views on slavery, but most historians say those views truly reflected the times.

4. Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird - The winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize, this is the only book Harper Lee ever finished, though she did begin others. This book takes place during the Great Depression and follows two children as they watch their father, Atticus Finch defend a black man. This is one of the best, and most enduring novels in American literature.

5. Herman Melville - Moby-Dick - A big, messy book, this is still regarded as one of the first great American novels, and it's opening line, "Call me Ishmael," is one of the most recognizable. Melville did write a novella and several short stories (some of them excellent), but almost everyone knows him for Moby-Dick.

6. William Golding - Lord of the Flies - An allegory that has become a classic. William Golding won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983, and some of his other books are very, very good, but probably because of its popularity in high school literature curricula, Golding will always be identified with Lord of the Flies rather than with his entire body of work.

7. Anna Sewell - Black Beauty - A heartbreaking young adult classic, written in 1877, this novel about a horse, who is passed from owner to owner is one of the bestselling books of all time. Unfortunately, it's the only one Sewell wrote. Tragically, she died only five months after the book was published, probably due to hepatitis.

8. Antoine de Saint-Exupery - The Little Prince - Originally written in French and titled Le petit prince, this book has been so wildly successful through the years that it's a classic not only in the original French, but all around the world as well. Saint-Exupery was an aviator as well as a writer, and during an attempted flight from Paris to Saigon, he crashed in the Sahara, which was his inspiration for The Little Prince. The book is often thought of as one for children, but it can be read by adults for its philosophical commentary as well. Saint-Exupery wrote several books on aviation, but he is best known for The Little Prince, one of the bestselling books of all time.

9. Marguerite Duras - The Lover - Marguerite Duras wrote many novels, plays, films, interviews, essays, and short stories, but mention her name, and people will immediately think of the novel, The Lover. Originally written in French and titled L'Amant, the book won the Prix Goncourt in 1984. The novel is written in a dreamy and hallucinatory style and details the illicit affair between a teenage French girl and a wealthy Chinese man in 1929 French Indochina.

10. Ralph Ellison - The Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison's best known work won the National Book Award in 1953, the only book of Ellison's to be published during his lifetime. It deals with issues of race facing African Americans in the early 20th century.

11. Jack Kerouac - On the Road - Kerouac, one of the "Beat authors" wrote several other novels, all in the same, "Beat" style, but it's On the Road that everyone remembers and identifies with Kerouac's name. Published in 1957, the book is largely autobiographical and details Kerouac's own trips around the country with friends as they did drugs, listened to music, and wrote poetry.

12. Joseph Heller - Catch-22 - This book has become so widely known that its very title has worked its way into our modern lexicon as representative of a "no win" situation. A satire, the novel takes place during World War II and is recognized as one of the greatest depictions of the absurdities of modern war. Joseph Heller did write other books, even books that were critically well-received, but it's Catch-22 for which he's remembered.

13. Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights - Though she also wrote poetry, this is the only book Emily Bronte ever wrote, probably due to her untimely death. It's a marvelous book, though, the best example of Romanticism to be found - anywhere - and the best book written in Victorian times. This is a love story to eclipse all other love stories, revolving around the wild and tortured characters of Catherine and Heathcliff. People seem to either love or hate this book (I love it), but there's no denying its popularity of that it will cause the name of "Emily Bronte" to live forever.

14. Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte wrote three other novels, but none is as well known or as beloved as is Jane Eyre, her masterpiece. The story of a governess who finds true happiness ("Reader, I married him.") is a book beloved by generations, and its popularity shows no sign of slowing down. (Emily and Charlotte had a sister, Anne, who also wrote, but she is almost totally eclipsed by her siblings.)

15. Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde was primarily a poet and a playwright (his masterpiece is "The Importance of Being Earnest"), but it's his one novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray that people most readily identify him with. The story of a beautiful man who doesn't age, even as his portrait does, this short novel is a wonderful example of Gothic horror fiction with a strong Faustian theme.

16. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra - Don Quixote - Yes, Cervantes wrote other books. He wrote short stories. But he's known for the magnificent Don Quixote, perhaps the first modern novel. A picaresque novel chronicling the exploits of Don Quixote and his loyal servant, Sancho Panza, this book regularly appears on lists of "all time greats" and it secured Cervantes place in history forever.

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