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Monday, March 19, 2012

Gordon's favorite novels

After a recent post about scary stories, I was discussing the topic with a writer friend and she asked me if I only read paranormal fiction (which is pretty much all I write).  I was somewhat surprised by the question; I've never understood people who limit themselves to reading only a single genre.  I love good writing -- vivid, powerful language, strong characterization, engaging plot.  I'll read damn near any book that has those characteristics, regardless of the genre.

So then the topic turned to favorite books, and I started considering what novels were nearest and dearest to my heart -- and from there, we began to consider non-fiction.  So in this post and the next, I'm going to pass along some of my book recommendations, and (once again) maybe get a few in return.  See what you think of my list -- next time, I'll look at non-fiction.

Two notes: these are in no particular order, just as I thought of them.  A few of these are paranormal fiction -- but as you'll see, my tastes in reading are a good bit broader than my preferred writing genre.  Also, if you are concerned with such things, there are no real spoilers here -- nothing that you don't find out by reading the back of the jacket.

1) Ursula LeGuin, The Lathe of Heaven.  This is a phenomenal book, in my opinion the best of LeGuin's many stories, but far from her best known.  A young man finds out that when he dreams, his dream changes reality. When he wakes up, everything's different -- and no one realizes it but him.

2) Amy Tan, The Hundred Secret Senses.  This has the same basic setting and character types as several of Tan's books, the western US and immigrant families caught between China and America, but it adds in a unique feature -- a character, Kwan, who believes she has "yin eyes" that allow her to see, and speak with, ghosts.  The interaction between Kwan and her arrogant sister Olivia is sweet, mysterious, frustrating, and ultimately changes both of them.

3) Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes.  My favorite Bradbury.  Any book that features a haunted carnival called "Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show" is a winner in my estimation right from the get-go.  Has some seriously scary scenes.  I have had nightmares about the Dust Witch.

4) Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum.  Often the first one that comes to mind when someone asks, "What's your favorite book of all time?"  Some people get impatient with Eco's lengthy, complex, somewhat didactic style, but I revel in it.  Three skeptical publishers of books on the supernatural decide to skip the middlemen (the authors), and take it upon themselves to write the be-all-and-end-all book on the Mystical Secrets of the Hidden Cults.  It's made up out of whole cloth from beginning to end, but when they publish it, people believe it's true.  And the more they deny it, the more their denial makes them look like they're covering up actual knowledge of Ancient and Powerful Secrets.  And they don't realize -- yet -- how far some of their readers will go to find out what they're covering up.  It's an absurdist masterpiece.

5) Stephen King, The Stand.  In my opinion, he's never written another book that reached that plane, and this is coming from someone who really likes most of King's work.  The Stand is an epic story about the survivors of a plague that kills 99.5% of the people on earth, and how they rebuild society and try to combat the followers of the demonic entity Randall Flagg.  Has some of the most striking, well-delineated characters of any book I've ever read.

6) Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey.  This book changed my life when I first read it, at the age of 15.  A Spanish priest in 18th century Peru tries to figure out if God had any plan in mind when six strangers were brought together on a rope bridge at the same moment, just in time to die when the bridge snapped and dropped them to their deaths in a canyon.  What made those people, of all the thousands of people who had crossed the bridge, be there when the cable broke?  Is there a Grand Plan?  Or do things just happen because they happen?

7) Dave Barry, Big Trouble.  Quite possibly the funniest novel ever written.  I first read this when my kids were 6 and 9, and I woke them up in the middle of the night laughing while reading this book.  I wouldn't even know how to begin to summarize this plot, so you'll just have to read it.

8) Richard Adams, Watership Down.  When I tell people that this is a novel about rabbits, they usually look at me like I've lost my mind.  But this is the most riveting adventure novel I can think of, and has the single most satisfying end of any story I've read.  It still makes me cry every time I read it, but that's probably just me.

9) C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces.  Almost no one except the most diehard Lewis fans knows about this one, which is a retelling of the Greek myth of Psyche from the point of view of one of her evil sisters.  Long before Gregory Maguire came up with the switch-around-the-viewpoint idea for Wicked, Lewis did it, and did it much better.  Amazing story.

10) Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried.  The most heartwrenching take on the Vietnam War I've ever read. I got to hear O'Brien speak about his book, which was based upon his own experiences as a soldier in Vietnam, and his taking his teenage daughter to visit Vietnam twenty-five years later, and there wasn't a dry eye in the audience.

11) Christopher Moore, A Dirty Job.  A bookstore owner finds out he's been appointed to be Death.  That is only the beginning of his problems.  This book is by turns hilarious, exciting, and sad, and is classic absurd Moore.  My favorite of all of his books... and I like everything I've read by him.

12) Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett, Good Omens.  Two of my favorite authors team up to write a brilliant book about the Antichrist, a demon and an angel who team up to stop the end of the world, and a hell-hound named.... Dog.  It is brilliant from beginning to end.

So, those are my choices... a nice round dozen of amazing books.  What are yours?


  1. Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is one of my favorite books. The writing is incredible and it's just so damn moving and painful. Like you I enjoy reading across genres. Have you read The Road? Another favorite, dystopian novel with incredible spare writing.

    1. I haven't, but it's now on my list! Thanks!

  2. We've got some favorites overlap! With The Stand, anyway. I definitely agree with your assessment of it; Stephen King has not been as epically fantastic before or since. I had such high hopes with the Gunslinger....but nay.

    Watership Down is another novel I love dearly, recommend often, and defend as more than "just a story about rabbits".

    Another few (and I do agree that The Road is amazing):

    American Gods is my Neil Gaiman Favorite.
    The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier (or Frenchman's Creek. But the language in Rebecca.....)
    The Stranger, by Albert Camus
    The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
    Altered Carbon, Richard K. Morgan
    The Earthsea Trilogy, Ursula K. LeGuin

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      "The Haunting of Hill House" is amazing -- and scary! And "The Stranger" and "The Earthsea Trilogy" are classics, for different reasons, of course. The others I haven't read but will put on my list!

      Thanks for the recommends!