Monday, September 8, 2014

10 Books That Have Stayed With Me

So this meme is making the rounds at the moment and it is called "10 Books That Have Stayed With Me." I've always gotten kind of a kick from doing lists like this, much because it's another opportunity to opine on something and I am nothing if not opinionated. So, it's been on facebook and some bloggers, (most recently, the fantastic Chuck Wendig) have even given their list. So now I'm going to play the trend whore and throw my thoughts out there.

First, a couple of points worth clarifying.
1 - This is not a list of favourite books. These are books that, having read, constantly come to mind and that, no matter how much I enjoyed them, I can't get them out of my head. These aren't just good books, these are books with impact.
2 - They're not in any order. I'm writing about them as I think of them. Any lasting impact a book has is high praise and it doesn't need to be ranked more than that.

1. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
I wish I'd never read this book. I regret reading this book. It was nothing short of brilliant. It's one of the best books I've ever read and I hated every moment of it. While I read American Psycho, I only wanted to stop. When I stopped, I could hardly think of anything but reading what happened next. It's horrific and gory and frightening and tragic and funny - actually, it's damned funny. It's the sickest, darkest comedy I know. This book made me physically sick. My stomach churned as I read. I will never read it again and I hate that this book is so damned well written and so damned intelligent.

2. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore & 3. Watchmen by Alan Moore
I'm going to lump these two together and talk about them at the same time. These are the kinds of comics every aspiring comic writer needs to read. They're full of superhero tropes and fairly typical superhero characters and settings. But they use those familiar ideas to get you comfortable before they hit you with some of the most intense and engaging political and personal dramas ever seen in the pages of comic books. We could all aspire to put words onto the page that are this intelligent. Alan Moore practically invented the deconstruction of superheroes and we'd never have had books like Kick Ass or films like Super without Alan Moore. It's also telling that nobody has done it quite as well as he did, either.

4. Brave New World by Alduous Huxley
The best book about dystopian utopias you'll ever read. While some of the themes and symbolism isn't exactly painted with a subtle brush, it certainly gets the point across. But I think what makes Huxley's novel such a unique exploration of these fairly common sci-fi and sociopolitical themes is that he seems to be writing from a position on the fence. Is the atheist, industrialist and totalitarian world so bad? Do we gain more than we lose as we distance ourselves from nature? Huxley is kind enough to let us make up our own mind, while he keeps trying to make up his. I'll let you know if I ever make up mine.

5. The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain
Mark Twain wrote a lot of his better works (in my opinion) late in his life, when he seemed to be struggling with the terrifying notion that he was going to die. He even quite accurately predicted the year he would die, so that couldn't have helped. The Mysterious Stranger reads like the culmination of his final years as a cynical and tired writer and philosopher. Comedy has been replaced by tragedy and satire has given way to angst. Mark Twain challenges death and religion and society and sanity in this book and, like Huxley, draws no obvious conclusions. It's not just an engaging and unique story, it is a fascinating insight into Twain's world view before death.

6. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
As with The Mysterious Stranger, I've written about Fear and Loathing before. This book is funny and confusing and frustrating and leaves your head spinning. It moves at a break-neck speed from one self inflicted disaster to the next and never gives you a moment to be bored. And that's impressive for a book in which nothing happens. It's the world's longest action scene about two guys walking around taking drugs and accomplishing nothing. Ultimately, it's Thompson's voice that makes this book work and once you hear it, it's hard to get it out of your head.

7. The Shining by Stephen King
I went through an awkward and misguided phase as a teenager in which I said to myself, "I don't need to read books. I write my own!" Of course I never finished any of those books and most of the stuff I wrote sucked. Then one day a friend bought a new Role Playing Game called World of Darkness. He bought it, but I inevitably ended up running the game and so I figured if I am going to write horror, I should read some. Not knowing any horror authors other than Stephen King, I picked up his short story collection, Night Shift, and started reading. By the end of the week, I'd bought The Shining and was reading that. This not only convinced me to read real books by real authors, it also convinced me to stop pretending I was Tolkein. Sadly I decided to pretend I was Stephen King for the next year and a bit, but eventually I outgrew that. There's not much to say about The Shining other than it is damned good and it did me a wonderful service by reminding me that reading is AWESOME. I'll forever love it for that.

8. Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda
Much like The Shining, Rowan of Rin is just a good book. It's nothing particularly special or as intelligent as many of the books on this list, it's just fun. But also, like The Shining, it's a book that made me like books. A teacher handed it to me during a time when I was seriously starting to think I was incapable of enjoying literature. I loved it immediately and, being such a short and easily digestible book (it is for children, after all,) I still often pick it up and reread it. Without knowing that books could be this much fun, I may have given up on writing a long time ago.

9. MARS by Fuyumi Soryo
I think this is cheating. Okay, sorry, I'm cheating. MARS isn't actually a book, it's a series. A comic series that ran in Japan from 1996 to 2000 and is something of a guilty pleasure of mine. MARS is a high school romance story and plays out more than a little like a soap opera. But from the moment I picked up the book (on a whim, no less) I have been hooked on it. It's extremely melodramatic and, at times, it really pushes the boundaries of realism. But screw it, for a book written for teenage girls, it really hits on some hard topics and it gets downright dark in some places. But that darkness only serves to contrast just how powerful the love between the protagonists is. At the end of the day, I'm a romantic, and MARS speaks to that part of me like no other story ever has,

10. Loop by Koji Suzuki
All right, let's end on another intelligent note. Loop is the final installment of Koji Suzuki's Ring trilogy (Yes, that Ring, the horror movie one) and is actually probably my least favourite of the series. But, truth be told, it's the one I think about the most because it's just so damned weird. I honestly can't tell you how the Ring series went from being a supernatural thriller to a high concept science fiction story, but it did and I still can't make sense of it. Was Koji Suzuki making a point? Was he high? Was he just fucking with us? I don't know. Loop is weird but that really makes it one of a kind and it exists to ask a lot of big questions about humanity, the universe, the nature of our existence and the future of our species. Much like Huxley, Suzuki doesn't seem to have any answers, either. He poses the big questions, then just shrugs his shoulders and invites you to think it out with him. And perhaps that's the best thing an author can achieve. Our first goal should always be to entertain but if you can do that and make your audience really think about difficult ideas, without turning your story into a sermon, then you've gone from good to great.

Okay, your turn. Post your lists in the comments or your own blog and post the link below. I'd like to know what books got glued to your brain meats and wouldn't come off.

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