Ten Books (Mostly)


Hold on to your butts, children, I’m going to blog about a meme: I’m going to cross the internet streams!  Explosions of cat pictures and a Korean man dancing like a horse are no doubt in our future, but I’m going to plunge on past that eye-wateringly terrible fate and do it anyway.

Lingering on Facebook recently has been a meme demanding (and tagging) you post 10 books.  It goes like this:

“Rules: in your status list 10 books that are important to you – not necessarily great works, just books that have influenced you (without thinking too hard) then tag 10 friends, including me.”

First, I like the “not necessarily great works.”  Don’t be a jerk and post “Well, how can I not include all seven volumes of Remembrance of Things Past by Proust” unless those books actually mean something to you.  But posting on Facebook gives limited space, and I don’t like tagging people, and…hey, I have a website, might as well pretend I know what to do with it.

These books are in no particular order.

1. The Drizzt series, by R.A. Salvatore.

Number one and I’m already cheating by including a series; it won’t get better folks.

2. The Dragonlance Chronicles Trilogy by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman

See, I told you it wouldn’t get better.  Both 1 and 2 for me represent my birth into being a fantasy reader.  I was in third grade when my step-father Spike handed me R.A. Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard, and I was hooked.  I read all of the Drizzt books, followed by all of the Time of Troubles book in the Forgotten Realms series.  And then I moved, on the recommendation of my friend Dustin, to the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy.

I don’t know what it was about the Heroes of the Lance that hooked me again, but it did hook me all over again.  Maybe it was the sense of camaraderie and friendship shared between these disparate people at a time when I had scarce few friends myself.  The Drizzt books had friendship but not the sense of old friends reuniting the way the Chronicles did.  And that is what made the story all the better for me, as the friendships change and sour and grow; it was not just epic events, but a group of friends facing them and finding the changes to their world reflected in themselves.  Both books were hugely influential on me as a person and what I would read for the rest of my life to date, but in stoking the nascent desire to be a writer.  They opened my eyes to epic fantasy, for which I still owe Spike and Dustin a huge debt of gratitude.  I still read Chronicles every couple of years.

3.  The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

Books have made me angry, jubilant, depressed, and even brought me to tears from time to time.  The Lovely Bones is the first book that was able to consistently bawl like an unflattering gender comparison.  I just…many feels.  Wow.  I’m going to go cry again now.  I don’t normally dip my toes into the Oprah Book Club pool, but this is an amazingly beautiful book.

4.  Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

Let’s make one thing very clear: Orson Scott Card is a foul, loathsome bigot upon whom I no longer wish to bestow a dime.  He declared “war” on the U.S. government over gay marriage, and there is nothing that isn’t ****ed up about that on three or four different (and incredibly stupid) levels.  But Ender’s Game, you guys.  Yes it’s got some weird subtexts and a lot of naked boys in the shower for a man who hates homosexuals, but…they spoke my language.  Anyone who has been a gifted child, intellectually older even if physically (and let’s be honest, emotionally) younger, can see themselves in the travails of battle school.  Buy it at a used bookstore if you haven’t read it, and remember: The enemy’s gate is down.

5.  The Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher and Kitty Norville series by Carrie Vaughn.

I read a lot of modern fantasy, and a lot of it is of…questionable quality.  I loved the Anita Blake series right up until she caught a disease that literally made her have sex all the time.  And then I kept reading for two books, guys, because I wanted to like it that much.  There is a lot of modern fantasy out there that is thinly veiled sex, because there is a kind of person who looks at wolves in the zoo and says “Yeah, I’d be down with that.”

I started these series fairly close on to one another, and they were breaths of fresh air.  Jim Butcher’s Harry is wise cracking, funny, bad at talking to women, not covered in sex and did I mention funny?  And Carrie Vaughn, who is a friend and a wonderful person, starts with a werewolf named Kitty and never forgets that this is inherently funny.  Ultimately that is what I love the most about both of these series: They remember that humans laugh.  Yes both of them go through terrible things, and there are some really terrible parts of them, but they smile.  They laugh.  They mess up, and they have good days and bad days.  Modern fantasy can tell us about the essential humanity in all of us, and can give us deeply human characters facing mind-bogglingly supernatural situations.  That is what Harry and Kitty are, real and fresh and blessedly human.

And when they do get laid, those scenes are mercifully under-described, as I said to Carrie once in person after her second book was published.  It is probably the oddest review I’ve ever given a book, but it’s pretty damn meaningful in comparison.

6.  The Caves of Steel, and the rest of the Robot series by Isaac Asimov, and the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold.

My brother loves the Foundation series, and I’ve never really been able to get in to them.  But the Robot series continues to change my life regularly.  It started as my introduction to Asimov, and the 3 Laws of Robotics, and whole large swaths of science fiction.  Later in life as a writer it taught me that Science Fiction isn’t really a genre, it is a way of viewing the world that can be applied to any genre—it expanded my view of the tropes and philosophies of sci-fi.  And on top of that they are really good stories, with interesting characters and the kind of forward looking consideration of consequences that characterizes the best science fiction.  Living in Bangkok for 18 months I promise you I frequently thought of Elijah Bailey and his mile high cities filled with men and women too terrified to leave their steel wombs.

The Vorkosigan Saga is similar in how it expanded my view of Sci-Fi.  Miles is funny, and flawed and human.  He broods, yes, but he also laughs; this is a common thing for me, it seems: i like characters who can look at their situations and see the humor.  Miles and his mother Cordelia change worlds and whole quadrants of space, but never lose their fundamental humanness and humor.  They are great science fiction with brilliant plotting and pacing, that run through genres from action/adventure to comedy of manners.  Again, expanding how I view science fiction tropes and realize it is a lens to view things–not the thing itself.  I credit three people for all telling me to read it.  My friends Pam and Cory (Wichita Cory), and my father Michael.  I then turned my mother and step-father on to it!

7.  Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

8.  Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson

9.  The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Another set of three al clumped together.  Like the Dresden/Norville entry and the Caves of Steel, these had an impact on me because they made me consider the tropes of the worlds I like to live in.  Mistborn starts off as a heist novel in a fantasy world, which blew my mind when I read it and made me wish I’d written it.  The Wheel of Time examines how badly it would suck to be the chosen one in a way that I hadn’t necessarily considered before.  Both of them helped me think about the field of magic as science, something that as a reader I find intriguing and as a writer I find maddening largey because I’m so bad at science.

Name of the Wind is a recent read (in fact I am still reading it as I type this), but it’s just so well written I had to fall in love with it at least in part.  I resisted reading it for a long time because it is a little cutesy and on the nose with some things (a story teller named Kvothe, pronounced like quoth?).  But it is almost a master class on unreliable narrators and finding the right voice for your characters.  You can hear Kvothe/Kote, and there is a luxuriant richness to the voice that makes him startlingly real.

And finally, All Seven Volumes of Remembrance of Things…nah, I’m just screwing with you.

10.   The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin

To this day The Westing Game remains one of my favorite stories, and one I still pick up from time to time.  I love it as a mystery, even though it has some “interesting” parts.  I love the puns, I love the characters, I love how it hooks middle-schoolers into mysteries.

11.  John Dies at the End, by David Wong

JDatE is, to state it plainly, f’ng hilarious.  I was presented this by my friend Cory (Denver Cory) as “This is what it would be like if we were in a horror movie.”  It’s brilliant, funny, deeply stupid, and awesome.  I read it in college when I was reinventing myself as a person, and it had a major impact on my humor today.  Non-sequiturs, the absurd, and some truly awe-inspiring turns of phrase make it one that I (again) turn back to regularly.

So there it is.  There’s an article here on recency in best of lists, wherein a number of these are things I read in the last three years and as such might just be fresher in my mind.  But each of these had a major impact on me as a person, a reader, or a writer.

4 thoughts on “Ten Books (Mostly)”

  1. Dear Matthew,

    I did this exercise also, and immediately felt bad for all of the books I didn’t list. Oh, well.
    Love, Dad

  2. Good choices! We’re kind of in the same boat on Ender’s Game… Great book written by a nasty little man. Which will probably come up again in my list, since I’d have to include the first two or three Sword of Truth books. You make an important point about Sci Fi that can be reiterated for Fantasy, especially Modern Fantasy: the elements therein are a great lens.

  3. The Sword of Truth books suffer for me a little bit because of all of them. I really liked the first book, the second book was pretty good…in the fourth book there were demon chickens, and in the later books he becomes a walking mouthpiece for Ayn Rand. Also, he gives really douchey interviews where he says if you think the series is fantasy you are too young to read it. So some interesting ideas seriously damaged by the surroundings.

  4. Great choices! I never read your #10 book, but somehow saw the odd movie bassed on it (I know, I know, Hank Green and the lot would cringe in despaire if they knew). I’ll have to pick it up. I know I’ve been tempted several times by the cover-art and title of the sequel. “This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It”

    Also if you haven’t already picked up the book following Name of The Wind (The Wise Man’s Fear) I would recommend you do so. It is as splendid as the first.

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