Amanda Luedeke

December 5, 2013

Thursdays with Amanda: My Favorite Authors and Books


Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

(I’m taking a break from all-things-marketing for the rest of 2013…so if you’re here for posts on platforms and promotions, stay tuned…they’ll come with the new year).


They say (okay, maybe ‘they’ don’t say it, but I’ve heard it on occasion) that the best way to get to know what an agent or editor likes is to find out what they read. What books they cherish. What authors they drool over. The thought is that if you can find an agent or editor who loves books and authors that are similar to what you write, you’re that much closer to getting picked up.

I don’t know how much truth there is in this. Fact is, most industry professionals tend to enjoy literary fiction…and yet as an agent I’m lucky if I get to sell one lit fiction book a year. I think I had somewhere around twenty books come out last year that I had agented. None of them were literary fiction. In fact in my three-year career, I’ve sold one literary fiction title. One.

BUT still. The idea stands. I love literary fiction. I love great speculative fiction. I love gothic fiction. Show me a book that fits these categories and I’m that much more likely to consider it.

So with that being said, I thought I’d take today and go over my favorite authors and books of all time. These are the best of the best, in my humble opinion. And if what you write matches them…well, then. I’d suggest you introduce yourself the next time we’re at conference together.


THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is quite possibly my favorite book of all time, because it changed me. I mean it really did. I read it in high school, and you have to understand that up to that point in my life I had primarily only read super old classics (Jane Eyre-style) and light childrens books (Goosebumps). Gatsby not only gave me a forever love of the 20s, but it showed me that prose doesn’t have to be long-winded and old-fashioned. It taught me about voice. It opened my eyes to how books…even “old” books…can sound and feel and be different. It made me want to write more than any other book ever had.



Best love story of all time. You can call me a creep. You can call me a psycho for thinking Heathcliff is awesome and dreamy, but I can’t help it. *swoon*


MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides

I read this in college when I was fairly close-minded and judgmental. This book tore me open and made me rethink EVERYTHING. It took a subject that is so very black and white for some (it’s about a person who is born as both a male and a female due to some family incest years before), and it proved the gray. It forever changed the way I approach and view certain things and I am thankful for that. That’s what a great book does. It takes what you believe and challenges you to really think through it. Doesn’t matter whether you change your belief or not. It’s all about getting people to think through what they believe and why.



I was gushing about The Grapes of Wrath once, and a friend of mine looked at me with the most confused expression and said, “He spent an entire chapter writing about a turtle that was trying to cross the road.” And this is true. Pages and pages are spent on what seems like nothingness in an attempt to take a break (but not a meaningless break!) from the main storyline. And I loved every minute of it. Steinbeck’s voice and approach grip me so much that he can write about a turtle crossing a road, and I’M RIGHT THERE WITH HIM.



To say that Meno is the voice of a generation would be a bit over the top. But guys, he’s the voice of a generation. Or at least a decade. Hairstyles of the Damned is a hip lit punk rock piece of awesome. And The Boy Detective Fails, Meno’s follow-up full length novel, is so opposite in nature and yet similar at the same time. It follows a man who refuses to grow up, playing boy detective to unearth the mystery behind his sister’s death. I love Meno’s style. He’s one of my favorite contemporary authors. And, he’s super nice.



I’m a slow reader. Painfully slow. I try to tell my authors this and they’re like “yeah, yeah” and then a week later they’re like “Have you read my book?” and I’m like “I’m only halfway done!” and they’re sad. Because I’m so slow, I tend to avoid big books (though my recent obsession with George Martin has thrown this out the window). And at the same time, I can’t ignore a challenge. A book-related challenge, that is. The only reason this book and Middlesex are on the list is because a friend of mine practically dared me to read them. And her dare had nothing to do with the content and everything to do with length. But I am so glad she did. Because of my love for old-timey books, Jonathan Strange will forever be one of my favorites. It’s like Harry Potter for adults… For Bronte-sister-reading, English literature-loving adults.



I have a huge soft spot for Black Literary Fiction, and I owe it all to this amazing, amazing book. I don’t even have words for how much I love this book. It follows the main character’s relationships with three different men. Set in the south in the 20s or so, the setting also takes a strong role in the story. Of all the books on this list, this is the one I’d recommend first. It’s all in the voice and how REAL the main character comes across.



I have this strange love affair with Chicago. I grew up in the suburbs, which is NOT the same thing as the city, butI’ve always tried to position myself in a way that makes people think I’m from the city. This, of course, drives my friends nuts. But anyway, this book is the only bit of nonfiction on the list, but it’s probably the most epic of them all. Chicago World’s Fair. 1893. The city is rebuilding after the fire. Daniel Burnham, famous architect, is one of the key players in getting the city ready for what would turn it into a major player for top US cities. And just a few miles away in Englewood, H.H. Holmes is doing an architectural project of his own. He’s turning the building that holds his storefront into a hotel. But not just any hotel. This hotel has secret passageways, peepholes, an incinerator, a gas chamber, and more. Many of the guests who check in, won’t check out. Thus begins the story of America’s first serial killer.


This is what’s on my list. What’s on yours?


Wondering what to get your writer friends for Christmas? Grab my marketing book!




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  • Shaun Ryan says:

    So many great stories over the years. A few favorites:

    No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
    The Lost Get-Back Boogie by James Lee Burke
    Grendel by John Gardner
    The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
    Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King
    Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
    Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
    Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

  • :Donna Marie says:

    I hated THE GREAT GATSBY as a high schooler, then taking a course online I had to reread it. As an adult and writer, I was so impressed by the language, the quality of writing—but I still didn’t enjoy the story and the characters! lol

  • Anna Labno says:

    I have never read The Great Gatsby. I remember my sister reading it in high school. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know why my English teachers never assigned it. But that’s what I’m going to read over Christmas! 🙂 You all can be jealous now because I’m going to read it for the first time.

    My favorite book is The Letters of Nicodemus by Jan Dobraczynski. It’s really hard to find. And Amazon carries one used copy for 60$. And most likely I would grab it if not for Holidays approaching so fast. I read it in Polish but never in English translation.

    Anna Labno

  • Sally Bradley says:

    I love, love, love the Great GAtsby. Wuthering Heights, meh. As a Chicagoan (yes, suburbs!), I should probably read Devil in the White City. Adding it to my list now…

  • Ginger Garrett says:

    I, too, love Wuthering Heights to an unhealthy degree. I share several more best-ever books with you, but I am excited to see Grendel from John Gardner in the comments! That one is forever dear to me. I even named my dog Grendel, and nothing brought me more snarky delight than having the vet refer to me politely as “Grendel’s mom.” Only a book geek appreciates the irony. 🙂

    • Shaun Ryan says:

      I even named my dog Grendel, and nothing brought me more snarky delight than having the vet refer to me politely as “Grendel’s mom.” Only a book geek appreciates the irony. 🙂

      Now that’s funny.

  • Cecelia Dowdy says:

    Middlesex!!! I loved that book! I still think about it often. There was just something about that book that grabbed a hold of me and wouldn’t let me go!!

  • Ron Estrada says:

    I’m with you on The Grapes of Wrath. Read it when I was a teenager and it changed my life. My favorite of all time is Watership Down. Another book I read as a teen because I thought it was about naval warfare. The Big Fisherman impacted me before I became a Christian and probably had some influence over that eventual decision. I have to give credit to the King of Horror for inspiring me to write. My favorite of his is The Shining…I still check behind the shower curtain. and then there’s Clancy’s Cardinal and the Kremlin…

    better stop before this turns into a blog post.

  • Lindsay Harrel says:

    Ooo, how did I know Wuthering Heights was going to be on your list?! 😉 Also, I LOVED Their Eyes Were Watching God when I read it in high school. Ah-mazing, just like you said!

    I’m a Jane Austen girl through and through, so one of my faves is Pride and Prejudice. I know, I’m cliche. What can I say?

  • Hey, this is why I like you so much! 🙂 I read Their Eyes Were Watching God when I was in high school and adored it. And Wuthering Heights was the first classic I ever fell in love with. Alice Hoffman did a retelling of it (Here on Earth) that I also really loved. Though Heathcliff is more of a monster in that one, so I’m not sure how you’d do with it 🙂

  • Iola Goulton says:

    You *liked* one of the books they made you read for high school English? Weird. I found once I’d been forced to analyse a book, I’d analysed out any potential for enjoyment. Fortunately I was never made to read Jane Austen at school.
    I could share my favourite books, but there are several I haven’t read for five years or more, and I’d be afraid I might not like them any more. I find I have less and less patience for ‘classic’ storytelling as the years go by. And I think Emily Bronte is overrated – I liked Anne best.

  • Lee Thompson says:

    Great post, Amanda! My favorite books are: Grendel by John Gardner, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, White Doves at Morning by James Lee Burke, Galilee by Clive Barker, A Choir of Ill Children by Tom Piccirilli, The Night We Buried Road Dog by Jack Cady, and The Sound and The Fury by Faulkner.

    I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas!

    • Shaun Ryan says:

      I have to read some Cady.

    • Lee Thompson says:

      I should have loaned you The Haunting of Hood Canal when you were over to my apartment, man! And yes, read some Cady! He’s a huge influence for me, and he was Pic’s mentor (it’s how I found out about Cady.)

  • Katie Clark says:

    I love John Steinbeck. It’s hard to make me cry, but he got me.

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