Hey there, readers. I had a few ideas for today’s blog bouncing around in my head and had planned to save this one for Friday, as I already have one book blog post a week, but this thing just kept bouncing around my skull. First off, shout out to Cindy Young-Turner for tagging me in her post about the same subject. I’d encourage you to check out her list first, because she has some fantastic nominees, some of which just missed the cut on my list (especially Mistborn).
That said, here’s the deal: I name five of my favorite books. I’m taking it that these don’t have to be my top five or anything like that, and thank goodness because it could never be narrowed down that far. I’ve done a few lists like this before, so I tried to avoid listing too many duplicates, instead opting for books that have been both influential in my writing and had a wide-ranging scope when it comes my own tastes.
These are not in a “Top Five” format, by the way. That would be outright impossible. Instead, I’ve chosen to list these in chronological order of when I first read them.
So let’s start the show, shall we?
1. The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. The gold standard, the grandaddy of my “personal canon”. I had only just begun to peek my literary head out of its shell when this gem entered my life. I would have to tell the long story of how I even came to write fiction in the first place if I were to give you the entire context – let’s just say I had several encouraging teachers, one of whom noticed a similarity between my nascent style and that of Pat Conroy. I still go back to this one every few years to renew a hold on my roots, and it’s still good 20 years later. Some folks might be surprised by its inclusion here, but I’m not a die-hard genre reader; in fact, I can’t stand genre writing that doesn’t feature strong, interesting characters. It’s one of the things that set literary works like PoT apart, and I wish that more genre writers would dip their toes into this sort of fiction.
2. The Waste Lands by Stephen King. I’ve mentioned it on this site before as an influential work, but I’ll never stop beating the drum for The Waste Lands. Some people cite Drawing of the Three as the high point for King’s Dark Tower series, but this is the shining zenith for me. The characters are finally comfortable in one another’s company, and each experience significant arcs throughout the novel. King manages to weave these arcs together all while maintaining the overall narrative and infusing the story with a sense of wonder that took my breath away when I first read it and continues to enchant me all these years later.
3. The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker. I’ve mentioned Imajica many times before, so I thought it time to give TGaSS its due. This novel has significantly more flaws than the former, but it was the first to open my eyes to something wider. This, more than anything, shows the difference between King and Barker: King’s fantasy worlds have a more grounded feel. Even at its most creative and ambitious, the Dark Tower series maintains its ties to what is, essentially, our reality. Beginning with Weaveworld and working through this book to Imajica, Barker showed an increasing bifurcation between our reality and the realities visited by his characters. There’s something almost elegant to the fantasy worlds that Barker fashions, yet he still maintains a connection to our world that transcends the more workaday connection established by King. I aspire to find this elegance, and while I think I see how he got there, I’m nowhere near the same heights that Barker reached. Maybe one day.
4. Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman. This one is particularly funny, as I picked it up for superficial reasons: I loved Michael Whelan’s fantastic cover art. I read the back cover copy and it sounded all right, but I figured I would read it and forget about it. Now here I am, about 17 years later, ready to extol its virtues, and the virtues of its successors in the Cold Fire Trilogy. This book showed me that you could ignite the same sort of response that Barker and King’s works elicited while working in a more traditional fantasy framework. At first glance, Friedman’s world appears similar to a fantasy world that you would read about in any other book: there are magicians, lords and ladies, castles, swordplay, and strange creatures that resemble the old standbys of goblins and orcs, and yet Friedman turns those on their heads. I can’t give away too much lest I ruin the book, but I can say that the anti-hero on the cover kills his entire family in the opening pages in return for an unspeakable power, one that actually proves useful in his attempt to save humanity. Add in a strong female protagonist and it’s worth a read.
5. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Abnormal psychology has always fascinated me, and there’s something about Red Dragon that grabbed hold of that part of my psyche and refused to let go. It helps that the book defies expectations. Oh, sure, it’s about a detective trying to track down a serial killer who has become detached from humanity and believes he is becoming a creature from a painting with each murder, but the more fascinating story is how the detective is the one that’s truly being transformed by this experience. Strong characterization, tension that refuses to let up, and a clever plot make for a timeless read. Oh, and there’s also this Lecter guy.
Several China Mieville books get honorable mention here, especially the genius City in the City. My problem with Mieville is that he’s so very close to the elegance that I described with Barker, but no one book has quite managed to put it all together. Sooner or later I think he’ll get there, though.
Now then! I also need to tag five bloggers for this treatment. I’m in…