Writers Praising Writers: 15 of the Best Compliments from One Author to Another


We all know authors can insult one another with aplomb, but do those bitter wordsmiths ever have anything nice to say? Well, yes, of course. If we had to guess, we’d say that most authors’ biggest fans are other authors, who might understand a given piece of literature better than any mere mortal — or they might just be more likely to write about it. In the excellent collection Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story , which hit shelves last week, 20 famous writers choose and introduce the short stories from the periodical that moved and thrilled them. In honor of the book’s publication, we’ve put together a few of our favorite author-on-author compliments. Click through to spread the love, and if we’ve missed your favorite compliment, add to our list in the comments.

“Donald Barthelme was a magician of language, and it would be most respectful, perhaps even ethical, not to look too closely into the workings of his magic. But it’s to the brilliant Barthelme’s credit that analysis of his methods does nothing to erode the joy of his stories. Like all good magic, Barthelme’s just cannot be explained away. And thank God for that.” — Ben Marcus on Barthelme’s “Several Garlic Tales” in Object Lessons

“With Adverbs, Daniel Handler, who’s always been a great stylist, goes ten steps further, to become something like an American Nabokov. He and the Russian man share a rapturous love of words, a quick and delicate wit, and a lyrical elegance that makes every single sentence silly with pleasure. On a broader level, Adverbs describes adolescence, friendship, and love with such freshness and power that you feel drunk and beaten up but still wanting to leave your own world and enter the one Handler’s created. Anyone who lives to read gorgeous writing will want to lick this book and sleep with it between their legs.” — Dave Eggers

“Kelly Link is probably the best short story writer currently out there, in any genre or none. She puts one word after another and makes real magic with them — funny, moving, tender, brave and dangerous. She is unique, and should be declared a national treasure, and possibly surrounded at all times by a cordon of armed marines.” — Neil Gaiman

“Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written, that is, ecstatically.” — John Updike

“Mr. Giraldi’s story is an oily pig, slippery and fast and frustrating. But if you like your prose with meat and hair, what a catch when you pin it down in the mud.” — David Whitehouse on William Giraldi’s Busy Monsters in Salon

“Can one outgrow Kafka, our great poet of solitude, of tragedy comprehended as farce? I think so, yes. In the impatient, zestful still-youthful adulthood of one’s life. When at last one takes control of one’s life. Or believes one can, or has. … You outgrow Kafka. But then one day, abruptly, you return to Kafka. As the brash arc of youthful adulthood begins to wan. It’s like discovering yourself in a corridor you would have sworn you’d never been in before — yet you know it. This staircase, this door to be opened, this room. It’s all there. Always has been there. Unchanged. Waiting for you.” — Joyce Carol Oats in You’ve Got to Read This

“Reading Calvino, you’re constantly assailed by the notion that he is writing down what you have always known, except that you’ve never thought of it before. This is highly unnerving; fortunately, you’re usually too busy laughing to go mad. I can think of no finer writer to have beside me while Italy explodes, Britain burns, while the world ends.” — Salman Rushdie

“Where Hawthorne is known, he seems to be deemed a pleasant writer, with a pleasant style, — a sequestered, harmless man, from whom any deep and weighty thing would hardly be anticipated: — a man who means no meanings. But there is no man, in whom humor and love, like mountain peaks, soar to such a rapt height, as to receive the irradiations of the upper skies; — there is no man in whom humor and love are developed in that high form called genius; no such man can exist without also possessing, as the indispensable complement of these, a great, deep intellect, which drops down into the universe like a plummet. Or, love and humor are only the eyes, through which such an intellect views this world. The great beauty in such a mind is but the product of its strength.” — Herman Melville in “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” 1851

“[F. Scott Fitzgerald] had one of the rarest qualities in all literature, and it’s a great shame that the word for it has been thoroughly debased by the cosmetic racketeers, so that one is almost ashamed to use it to describe a real distinction. Nevertheless, the word is charm — charm as Keats would have used it. Who has it today? It’s not a matter of pretty writing or clear style. It’s a kind of subdued magic, controlled and exquisite, the sort of thing you get from good string quartettes.” — Raymond Chandler in a letter to Dale Warren, 1950

“Nobody had more class than Melville. To do what he did in Moby-Dick, to tell a story and to risk putting so much material into it. If you could weigh a book, I don’t know any book that would be more full. It’s more full than War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov. It has Saint Elmo’s fire, and great whales, and grand arguments between heroes, and secret passions. It risks wandering far, far out into the globe. Melville took on the whole world, saw it all in a vision, and risked everything in prose that sings. You have a sense from the very beginning that Melville had a vision in his mind of what this book was going to look like, and he trusted himself to follow it through all the way.” — Ken Kesey in The Paris Review , 1994

“Truly strangely innocent indeed. Also, forbidding, doctrinaire, witty, obsessed and almost inhumanly brave as her illness ground her along on her long passage to death.” — Joy Williams on Flannery O’Connor in The New York Times

“Teacher, man of letters, moralist, philosopher of culture, connoisseur of strong ideas, protean autobiographer… of all the intellectual notables who have emerged since World War II in Frances, Roland Barthes is the one whose work I am most certain will endure.” — Susan Sontag

“[George Saunders has] an astoundingly tuned voice — graceful, dark, authentic, and funny — telling just the kinds of stories we need to get us through these times.” — Thomas Pynchon

“This is the farthest thing from a scholarly introduction, because there was nothing scholarly or analytical about my first reading of Lord of the Flies. It was, so far as I can remember, the first book with hands – strong ones that reached out of the pages and seized me by the throat. It said to me, ‘This is not just entertainment; it’s life-or-death.’” — Stephen King in the introduction to the centenary edition of William Golding’s classic.

“The God I want to believe in has a voice and a sense of humor like Denis Johnson’s.” — Jonathan Franzen