Hello, all! How are we this lovely, lovely Friday?
It's lovely...isn't it?
It's also getting close to winter--and it's getting cold. No one wants to go outside, right? I mean, it's all cold and stuff, and that would just be unpleasant. Much better to stay inside with the heater/fireplace and read. Now, while I should just tell you to read my work (after all, I'm not ashamed of my shameless self-promotional ways), I won't (although, if you want to, I won't tell you not to read my work).
No, today is about those books I turn back to over and over--good, comfortable books that you can read by the fireplace every year or two and be more than okay with. I have ten of them, and I encourage you to read and enjoy these masterworks. No, they aren't all speculative fiction, if you were wondering, and they aren't in any particular order--each of them is individually too amazing to even attempt to order them.
For a lot of people, reading the Lord of the Rings Trilogy can be a bit of an undertaking--too much for yours truly, I can tell you that much. The Watershed Trilogy is a nice alternative--and without all of the pointless verbosity. Instead of Frodo from the Shire, you follow the story of Rudgar Appenfell, youngest of the Appenfell brothers, as he finds himself thrown into his fate feet first (I have a shiny, imaginary nickel for anyone that can say that three times fast). Along the way, you are introduced to a fascinating cast of characters: Raine, some bad-ass chick he falls in love with, the smart-lipped Anjell, Rudy's niece, Nicodareus, evil dragon lord of Duloth-Trol, Prince Garamis, evil servant of Nicodareus--and the list goes on. It's a classic epic fantasy feel without the investment of reading a classic epic fantasy--and a nice, strong romantic vein to boot. Besides: when has Douglas Niles ever disappointed?
The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem:
Hard sci-fi gives me hives. Too many specifications about the workings of a spaceship makes me vomit...not really, but I don't read hard sci-fi because it seems so dry. The Cyberiad is the antithesis of hard SF writing. It follows the varied 'sallies' of the two illustrious constructors, Trurl and Klapaucius. They are essentially God-like--able to move stars to form an interstellar billboard and replicate the history of the universe just to program a robotic poet--and are two of the most sought-after constructors in the universe. The pseudo-science presented by Lem, at first, looks like nothing but gibberish--but it is brilliant gibberish at a second look. Most importantly, though, is the layering--no matter how many times you read the stories in The Cyberiad, you can find something to latch on and love the next time you read them.
The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger:
Many of you have probably seen the movie--but have you read the book? It provides an elevated sense of familiarity to the movie the world fell in love with. On top of it all, the characters cemented in our minds by the brilliant performances of the actors and actresses in the film are soon forgotten for the caricatures of brilliance presented in the book. Miranda is more hideous--and hence more lovable--Emily is more lovably pathetic, and Andrea is simply more. The only warning I should provide is that this book is unquestionably chick lit--most football players out there probably won't enjoy it, cold day or otherwise.
His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) by Phillip Pullman:
Another read you're likely somewhat familiar with--does anyone remember the movie The Golden Compass? I thought so. That's from the first book in this trilogy. It's also a prime example of the difference between British and American children's literature--His Dark Materials is young adult, unequivocally, but it deals with themes darker by far than anything we would consider presenting to the same age group in America. Again, there is a warning--some of the Christian audience may take some very serious offense to this book. All in all, though, the trilogy is more than worth a read--and a reread--and a re reread.
This Perfect Day by Ira Levin:
One of the books I consider closest to my soul (and only share my copy with those people I think are deserving of the glory), This Perfect Day is The Giver (Lois Lowry) all grown up. The name Ira Levin is likely familiar to those people who have read the dystopian classic, The Stepford Wives, which he also authored. This Perfect Day tells us of another dystopic society made of our Earth, all controlled by the super-computer Uni. Fixed death dates, drugged states of complacency, and a cult-like obsession with keeping the society the same. The problem is that the main character, Chip, has a problem with it--and it's only compounded--or perhaps aided--by his grandfather. Another warning--there is a rape scene late in the book.
The da Vinci Code by Dan Brown:
Say what you will about it, but The da Vinci Code carries a special place in my heart. Rejoining Robert Langdon, professor of symbology, even after reading it so many times over is comforting. It also challenges the puzzle-solving nutcase in each of us--what does that particular spattering of symbols in that church mean, and where does it lead us? The movie may have been a flop by comparison, but here, in the pages of the original book, Silas, Sophie, and Sir Teabing come out in full force, twisting and turning the plot in ways we never saw coming--or, at least, I didn't.
The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling:
I can't help myself--I grew up reading the plight of young Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I cried when Hedwig died. I cried when Petunia showed fear over the return of Voldemort. I cried when Snape died. I threw the book across the room when they sacked Fudge. I cheered when Ron won the final game of the House Cup in Book Five. And I reread them at least once a year, most years more than that. They're quick reads, powerful stories, and they warm the spirit--who among us didn't wish we could have some butterbeer, or a chocolate frog, and didn't gasp when an owl got close to our house, a little bit of us waiting for our Hogwarts letter?
The Pendragon Series by D.J. Machale (the link only takes you to the first five books--the others should be below):
Another of my childhood books, the Pendragon Series is a quintessential retelling of the classic coming of age story--and it has one of the nastiest, foulest, vilest villains I can ever think of creating. Even his name drips evil--Saint Dane. You start looking on Bobby Pendragon, a normal 14 year old kid from Stony Brook, CT. That's where the normality of the book ends. Through the books, his life is essentially sent into ruin by the shape-shifting Saint Dane--everyone and everything he knows is killed, destroyed, eliminated--and all before his eighteenth birthday. I can still remember getting chills down my spine reading these books--even rereading these books, and that's a bit difficult.
The Looking Glass Wars Trilogy (The Looking Glass Wars, Seeing Redd, Archenemy) by Frank Beddor:
It hit right along with the recent resurgence in Lewis Carrol's original books--and it stuck for good reason. Fans of the original books can read these books and see where and how the characters of the classic have been re imagined--from the all powerful caterpillars and the nine-lived assassin known only as The Cat to General Doppleganger and the brilliant tutor, Bibwit Harte--and all through the war over the magic of imagination in Wonderland. If you liked the originals, give these a try--if you didn't, they are still more than worth a good read--besides, they take about two days a piece to get through at a leisurely pace, so it's no great loss of time invested.
Holes by Louis Sachar:
Finally, we reach the book that sort of defined my childhood. It was required reading in fourth grade. It was required reading in fifth grade. It was required reading in sixth grade. It was required reading in eighth grade. It was enjoyable reading from day one picking up the book. It sinks into you on a level so deep you can never extricate it from your being, even with a full body transplant. On top of the vile Warden, the whole cast is compelling, and all woven into the real story--which took place across the world, four generations before the book is set. Not many authors have been able to jump between two time periods so well. The book is a genre of its own--not quite paranormal, not quite contemporary--the only place it fits is mainstream, and I feel it's going to remain required reading for many generations.
There you go--I've given you a reading list for the winter season. Enjoy with a cup of chocolate and call me in the morning,,,no I mean it--a cup of chocolate. 8 ounces--no more, no less.