Sunday, October 23, 2005

The DebR Anti-Critic Favorite Modern Book List

Let's talk about books for a while today, shall we? Anyone who reads various blogs in the Artful Quilters' Web Ring will know what brought this on. First Julie mentioned Time Magazine's list of the "100 Best Novels since 1923". Then several others have talked about it, including Debra, Valeri, and Jen M. As I mentioned on Julie's blog, I've read almost nothing on that list, although there are several that I've started and not finished, or where I've seen movies based on the book so that I know the gist of the story. I've only finished 6 of those books. (I said 5 in Julie's comments, but I've been keeping track of titles of books I've read for the past 20 years and in looking over my notes, I discovered I'd actually read one more than I remembered finishing.) Out of the six on that list that I've read all the way through, I didn't particularly like two: "1984" and "The Bridge of San Luis Rey". One I think I liked but I don't remember much about it: "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe". (I'm sure the Christian slant of the Narnia chronicles flew completely over my head at the time I read them in my early teens. One of these days I should try re-reading them and see what I think as a somewhat religion-phobic adult!) Three I've liked enough to read more than once: "Gone With The Wind", "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and "To Kill a Mockingbird" (LOVE that one!). On her blog, Jen linked to a couple of other "top 100" book lists that didn't restrict their pool to just books published after 1923 and I'd read more on those lists, since they included authors like Jane Austen (sheer genius!), Dickens, Twain, Shakespeare, and many others. I still haven't read nearly all the books on those lists either, though. And the thing is, I really don't even want to read many of the books on those lists. Life is too short to slog my way through something I don't enjoy just because some critic - or even lots of critics - say it's a "classic". It will tell you something about my personality (and probably come as no surprise to anyone who reads RSR regularly!) if I say that when it comes to Shakespeare, I love the comedies, but detest the tragedies. I don't care how well-written or intricately plotted they are - when every single person in the story is annoying and often stupid, and most of them die in the end, that just isn't my cup of tea. I've always felt like "Othello" is the great-great-grandfather of every stupidly annoying formula romance ever written. You know the ones...where the hero and heroine supposedly love each other, but they don't trust each other and they fight constantly because of some idiotic misunderstanding that could be entirely cleared up if they'd just TALK to each other honestly for about 5 minutes! Don't get me wrong...I realize the problems went deeper than that in "Othello" but still, some decent communication skills and some kicking of Iago's ass could have gone a long way toward not having everyone kill each other, yes? (That is not, by the way, a dissing of romance novels in general. I like some romance novels. I just want to see the conflict in the story come from something other than the two main characters lacking anything resembling a functioning brain cell.) The books I love best - the ones I return to over and over again - are character driven. I love authors who create characters I wish were real people so I could meet them and talk to them in person. I love authors who create characters I'm glad are not real people because they're so very cruel, or crazy, or frightening that I don't want them on the same planet as me. I love authors who can make both types of characters come alive in my mind so I can see them, and hear them, and picture every action as if it was being played out in front of me. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that I think Jane Austen was a genius. She took the most ordinary - even dull - sorts of everyday situations and made them interesting through the eyes of her characters. My favorite modern authors do the same thing. They create characters who, whether living ordinary lives or involved in something completely extraordinary, come alive in my mind. Also, I like authors who end a story leaving me feeling hopeful about the fate of the characters I've come to care about. I don't necessarily mean a book has to have a perfect "good ending" for me to like it. I can handle sad. But I can't - or more correctly I refuse to - handle hopelessness. I have no use for books that leave me feeling like all is sorrow, and loss, and hopeless disillusionment, and then we become worm food, so why bother. Bleah!! And so MANY of the books that show up on these lists of "modern classics" have exactly that attitude. WHY?? I truly don't understand. If I want disillusionment I can read history, thanks. I don't need it in my fiction. So I decided to counter all those oh-so-serious top 100 book lists with the DebR Anti-Critic Favorite Modern Book List. The books on my list are not necessarily "classics". I'm not trying to say they should be required reading in literature classes or that people will be reading them hundreds of years from now. (Although who knows! Stranger things have happened!!) These are books that are my personal favorites. These are books that make me smile, or cry, or both. These are the books that I return to again and again...the ones I reach for when I can't sleep at 3:00 AM. In order to make it onto my list, a book had to be something I've read at least three times in the past and that I expect to read again in the future. (Which is the only reason you won't see some wonderful new books like "gods in Alabama". Come back in a couple of years, after I've had time to re-read it, and I bet that one will make my list.) It had to be written in the past 100 years, but it also had to not be on the Times top 100 list, just because I'm feeling perverse. [grin] I actually started out with a bigger list than this and then narrowed it down to 52 - one book per week for a year. That means I didn't include some of my favorite fun authors, like Janet Evanovich, Jennifer Crusie, Mary Janice Davidson, Charlaine Harris, Jayne Ann Krentz, and others, even though they totally fit the guidelines I just mentioned. It also means that for certain authors where I like nearly everything they write (three that come immediately to mind are Charles deLint, Dean Koontz, and Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters) I tried to narrow it down to choosing some particular favorites by those authors. So here, for what it's worth, is my personal list of 52 books I will always want on my shelves, in alphabetical order, and with occasional comments: "A Walk Out of the World", Ruth Nichols
"A Wrinkle in Time", Madeleine L'Engle (First in a series I love) "Above Suspicion", Helen MacInnes "Airs Above the Ground", Mary Stewart "Another Fine Myth", Robert Asprin (another "first in a series I love" book, hereafter abbreviated as "FIASIL", since I have several series openers on this list!) "Blood Lines", Tanya Huff (FIASIL) "Burning Water", Mercedes Lackey (FIASIL) "Conjure Wife", Fritz Leiber ( one of my dogs, Tansy, is named for a character in this book) "Crocodile on the Sandbank", Elizabeth Peters (FIASIL) "Devil's Cub", Georgette Heyer "Freaky Friday", Mary Rodgers (so much better than either movie version!) "From the Corner of His Eye", Dean Koontz (deals with quantum physics...way cool) "Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light", Tanya Huff "Greenmantle", Charles deLint "Harry Potter" series, J.K. Rowling (cliche to love these, I know, but I really, really do) "Ingathering: The Books of the People", Zenna Henderson (actually a collection of related short stories) "Jumper", Steven Gould "Lightning", Dean Koontz "Mairelon the Magician", Patricia Wrede (like a Regency romance set in an alternate!) "Mark One: The Dummy", John Ball (would make a great movie) "Moonheart", Charles deLint "Mr. Murder", Dean Koontz "Murder at the A.B.A.", Isaac Asimov (the king of SciFi doing a murder mystery instead, with himself as an annoying secondary character...hilarious) "One Door Away from Heaven", Dean Koontz "Operation Chaos", Poul Anderson (another one that's actually a series of related short stories) "Outlander", Diana Galbadon (FIASIL) "Rebecca", Daphne DuMaurier (the Gothic against which all other Gothics are measured) "Replay", Ken Grimwood "Someplace to be Flying", Charles deLint "Strangers", Dean Koontz "Summer of the Dragon", Elizabeth Peters (my favorite non-series E.P. book) "Summon the Keeper", Tanya Huff (FIASIL) "Tam Lin", Pamela Dean (modern retelling of an old fairy tale in Terry Wilding's series) "The Affair of the Mutilated Mink Coat", James Anderson (hilarious and well-crafted "English house party" murder mystery set in the 1930's) "The Anubis Gates", Tim Powers "The Bad Place", Dean Koontz "The Dark on the Other Side", Barbara Michaels "The Dragon and the George", Gordon Dickson (FIASIL) "The Grand Sophy", Georgette Heyer "The Ivy Tree", Mary Stewart "The Legacy of Heorot", by Niven, Pournelle, and Barnes "The Miracle Strain", Michael Cordy "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", Robert Heinlein (I'm not generally a huge fan of Heinlein, but I love this one) "The Postman", David Brin (forget the stupid Kevin Costner movie - the book is excellent) "The Practice Effect", David Brin "The Stand", Stephen King (I'm not generally a Stephen King fan either, but I like this one) "TickTock", Dean Koontz "Time and Again", Jack Finney "Trader", Charles deLint "Vertical Run", Joseph Garber "Watchers", Dean Koontz (the first D.K. book I ever read, and still one of my all-time favorites) "Wild Side", Steven Gould Anyone else want to ignore the critics and list your personal Fiction Favorites?