MIND MELD: Members of Book View Cafe Reveal Their Favorite Books
After a brief respite from our Mind Meld interview feature, we’re back!
This week we accosted the good folks over at Book View Cafe, a group blog made up of more than 20 professionally published authors seeking to reach a wider audience by distributing their work directly to readers. We asked them a deceptively simple question:
Read on to see how they responded…
I have to say this is a hard one. Of all time or what? Back in high school it would have been a toss up between Childhood’s End (for it’s optimism) and Cat’s Cradle (for it’s pessimism). I gave up reading science fiction once I got to college but several years after I graduated a friend of mine demanded that I read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. That pretty much did it for me. I remembered how great sf could be, even with Monty Python in the mix. I got sucked right back in. I can’t remember half of what I’ve read since then, but two writers stand out: Joanna Russ and Neal Stephenson. And the winner is: Snow Crash by Stephenson.
There’s so much in this book that I like, the sardonic humor, the themes, the settings. What really kills me though is the very first section where he describes pizza delivery in California. It’s so funny and exhilarating at the same time. Stephenson’s ability to make the story fantastic and at the same time very real, logical, possible, maybe even likely makes him a great writer in my opinion. And Snow Crash a great book.
Gotta go insert the head set now. See you in Second Life.
After thumbing through my library of books I cannot possibly part with, ever, I finally settled on Riddle Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip. This book came to me at a time when I was just beginning to explore the possibility of taking my writing serious. The lush language dragged me into a new and fully conceived world where I wanted to live. The characters felt like my best friends. I needed to share with them their problems and ultimately triumph with them.
By the time I finished the book and anxiously began search for the sequel, I knew that if I could write half so well, I’d be satisfied. So when the idea for The Glass Dragon hit me full in the face I had to sit down and write it. But not before re-reading Riddlemaster and figuring out how and why she made the book work. Time to read it again.
God, John. I love EASY questions like this (not). If I had to pick one single “favorite” among SF/F novels, it would have to be Lord of the Rings. I read the three books (I have a single-volume copy and they were always intended to be one single, enormous book) over and over the summer I was 13, and got the infamous “pancake tan” (i.e., lying on back in order to read, resulting in one “tanned” side and one “not tanned” pancake side). I think I read it at least six or seven times, right in order. I’d finish and start right back in again. At 13, I loved it because it seemed “real” to me at the time. Reading the book as an adult, I think every aspect of the book is overwhelming, from the characters to the world to the language. It’s so imaginative and so good in so many ways. I’d have to say that my science fiction favorite is probably Dune, another that I read more than one time when I was young. “Favorite” means to me, a book that you simply love and feel very affectionate toward, and, I think, would enjoy reading over and over again. I’ve enjoyed many books, but Lord of the Rings – yes, it’s my favorite of the SF/F novels that I have read – or “reread” as the case may be. More quirky favorite novels are a little different. I love All the Bells on Earth best of all of Jim Blaylock’s books, for reasons that could be very dumb — for example, I adore the idea of the devil snatching someone out of his white Pat Boone shoes in downtown Orange. As somebody who’s right in there with the Louvin Brothers (“Satan is Real!”), any book with Mr. B.L. Zebub in it is going to interest me. I was absorbed by the language and story in Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. So now it will be a movie, perhaps!
My favorite genre novel is Something Wicked This Way Comes because it is probably the most evocative piece of fiction I’ve ever read and contains some of the most beautiful prose in the English language. Thanks to Ray Bradbury I have strong, deep delicious feelings about circuses, libraries, the month of October, the rattling of tree limbs, and the wail of train whistles — which I hear every night when I curl up to sleep. It’s amazing to me that so much about human existence can be captured in such a small book, but somehow Bradbury has done it.
At this moment my favorite genre novel is Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold. It’s character driven and a major turning point in the career of her hero Miles Vorkosigan.
What is my favorite genre novel of all time? When I got the question, I stood in the middle of my library and started turning in place. How could I even START to choose? How could I pick Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles over LeGuin’s The Tombs of Autuan over Susannah Clark’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell? But I saw it, sitting crooked on the top shelf, and I knew.
My favorite genre novel of all time is The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. I loved it as a child, reading it and its sequels repeatedly. I’m now reading it to my son. I love the story for its own simple, but not simplistic sake, and I love the read you can put on American culture out of its pages. I love the worldbuilding with its mix of magic, courage, hope and humbug. And frankly, it’s a genre novel (admittedly primarily through the movie but still…) that has been a mainstay of the popular culture for over a hundred years now.
I’ve been reading genre since I was a pre-teen, and making my living in the mines of publishing since I was in my early 20’s (as both professional editor and writer), so there’s an awful lot of genre on my shelves and in my head. I enjoy hard sf, ‘soft’ sf, traditional fantasy, experimental fantasy, near-future SF and historical fantasy and SF both, horror, mysteries, caper novels, and all mixes and combinations imaginable. It should make the choice of ‘favorite” genre novel difficult, if not impossible.
It’s actually simple: Peter Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place. There are certainly more genre-iffic books out there — if you’re looking for wild action, overt magic or hard/near-future science, you should keep browsing. Nothing gets shot, exploded, hardwired, spell-cast, or transmogrified in this book. But for a firm-yet-delicate take on the magic of the human heart, soul, and ego, I don’t think there’s anything better ever written. Plus, best raven since Poe.
And because even now, when I pick up this book, I open to a specific paragraph and read it out loud, and am all at once comforted and annoyed and provoked and inspired:
“I love you, more, I think, than I know, but our kind of love isn’t a sword. It’s a light. Not a fire. A small light, just bright enough to read love letters by and keep the animals at a growling distance. In time it will go out. All lights go out. So do all fires, it it’s any comfort. Love me and look at me, and remember me, as I’ll remember you. There’s nothing more. Sit close and shut up.”
Not that Peter’s ego needs any help from me, but he’s damn genius.
What is my favorite genre novel? Only ONE? Can I have favorites in all genres? Well…I have favorites of different kinds of genre novels. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s SF Liaden novels rock. You will definitely like all of them, if you want a nice mix of great characters, alien cultures and occasional mayhem. Start with Agent of Change and continue on. Several Liaden novels are at a tangent to the main line, and are character-driven. You’ll probably enjoy them, but they will mean even more if you read the main line first. Agent Of Change, Carpe Diem, Plan B, and I Dare. They are worth a trip to the bookstore, even in the snow.
For fantasy, it has to be The Lord of the Rings. I first found it while in fourth grade, and it’s one of the few books always in my top ten fiction choices. Why? Because although LOTR is cleanly, even sparingly written, it has layers of nuance, of history, even of myth, all in one great story. There are uneducated sentients who nonetheless are wise, men of great education and training who are truly humble, and talking trees of a like you have not seen before. There are elves, dwarfs, magical horses, wizards and talismans – there’s a sorceress princess to win and a king restored to his kingdom. There are enough battles to satisfy the most bloodthirsty kid, even as it shows that there is nothing glamorous about war. There are threads of romance and of friendship, of heroism and great evil. Perhaps best of all, we see that a happy ending is possible, even if not for every character there. So sorrow and joy are mixed.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read these stories. Read them!
Alas, I’m entirely predictable. My favorite genre novel is The Lord of the Rings. Why? It’s a world I can get lost in, again and again. Possibly it’s my favorite because I first read it in my early teens, and it’s imprinted in my brain from that impressionable time. I can see flaws in it now that didn’t bother me then, but it’s still a story I go back to when I want to escape the current reality.
I love the desperate hope that drives the story. I love the yearning to defeat evil for the sake of preserving innocence and good. These are old-fashioned values; one might even say they are out of fashion at the moment, and that makes me love LotR all the more. So many stories nowadays are about awful people doing awful things to one another. When I read LotR, I get to cheer for nobility of mind and spirit.
Since I have to narrow it down to only one book, I have to go all the way back to one of the first sf novels I read that had a profound impact on me — Stranger in a Strange Land. I love Robert Heinlein despite the fact that his work is dated, but Stranger still holds its own. What’s not to love? It’s got Martians, religion-bending concepts, and is practically a primer in polyamory and sexual freedom. My current copy is tattered but it’s not even the first copy I’ve owned. Reading Stranger prompted me to go out and buy every one of Heinlein’s novels I could find. As a writer, it taught me that no matter what you have to say, tell a ripping good story while you’re at it.
This sounds like that horrible poser about the New Library of Alexandria. It holds every book in the world, it’s burning, and you can save ten. Which ten will yours be?
Names and titles fly past: romance, Georgette Heyer, discovered at about ten, still a stand-by. Ah, the comedy. The light touch. The period voice…Science fiction, Eluki Bes Shahar’s Hellflower series. Ah, the pace, the gimmicks, and above all, the argot, techspeak, slang…Fantasy, The Lord of the Rings. Around for forty years, still read. The world-building. The writing. The characters. The flashes of comedy, the tragedy so masterfully modulated at the last…Mystery, detective novels. Tony Hillerman, a recent discovery. Sacred Clowns, so very funny and so irredeemably sad, so rooted in the Four Corners Indian country…
But I smell smoke. And the Library poser has one let-out. Other people can save too. Hordes will save all of the above. Somewhere else entirely, then. Discovered after childhood, but still beloved, Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books. Because alone perhaps among the writers of the genre and the time, Ransome never lets the adult world, viewpoint, superiority obtrude.
I hear crackling. Tuck Great Northern tightly under an elbow, then, and runnnnn…
I cherish many books I’ve read over the years, so I decided to redefine “favorite novel” as “novel that most obsessed me recently.” And I cheated a bit, because my choice is a five-book series by Gwyneth Jones: Bold as Love, Castles Made of Sand, Midnight Lamp, Band of Gypsys, and Rainbow Bridge. I submit that I’m not cheating very much, because all these books taken together comprise one story. They’re good individually, but together they’re a masterpiece that provides entirely new ways of looking at the near future.
Obsession, in my case, means that I read them over and over, spent ridiculous sums of money ordering a couple of them from the UK – only Bold as Love is published in the US (by Nightshade Books) – and felt a strong desire to live in the world Jones created even though the first word that comes to mind to describe it is dystopia.
Here’s the story, in a nutshell: The worldwide economy has collapsed (sound familiar?) and climate change has become a reality (even more familiar?). The countries of the UK have split up, and England is on its own. And rockstars – young, talented, troubled, and bright rockstars – replace the royal family. At their heart, the books are science fiction, but there’s plenty of magic involved as well.
Fortunately, Jones is in the process of making the books available as downloads, with the first two now available. Background information on the whole series – including music playlists – is available at http://www.boldaslove.co.uk/.
Filed under: Mind Meld
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