Thursday, September 04, 2008

An Unearthed Reading List

I was hunting through some old file folders on my iMac when I came across a book list that I'd shared with my friend Frank Shiers, master of all local media, about 11 years ago. This was before I'd encountered Linnea Sinclair or Joanne Harris, or Charlaine Harris and Syne Mitchell, all of whom I'd add to the list now, if I were to make another TBR recommendation.
Here's the list as I wrote it back in the year I got married (Frank was the best man at our wedding at the Museum of Flight).

DeAnns Booklist: (In No Particular Order, and excluding favorite authors you have already read, like Bradbury and Irving)

The Warriors Apprentice--Lois McMaster Bujold I chose this of all her titles not because its the best, but because its the first of her novels to introduce Miles Vorkosigan, a fascinating character unlike any in modern Science Fiction. If you like him, I highly recommend that you read “Borders of Infinity”, which places the character, who is small and physically vulnerable, on a prison planet inside a bubble with hundreds of thugs with literally nothing but his wits to save him. GREAT stuff. Bujolds first work was a masterful SF novel called “Falling Free” about genetically-created beings called “Quadies” who have hands for feet. You would love it, I bet!

The Flaming Corsage--William Kennedy If you like this book, its style and its magical ‘Irishness’. then I recommend that you read “Quinns Book”, which has an amazing resurrection scene and lots of Kennedys nearly perfect prose. He won the Pulitzer for “Ironweed”, which is the only book that I have ever fallen in love with that is about the horrible grind of poverty on people, and the toll that it takes. Vile subject matter rendered in such glorious prose that I wept copiously at the beauty of several passages. I had the chance to meet Mr. Kennedy at Elliot Bay Book Company. He is a dear, elderly Irishman who looks rather like a slight-bodied version of Einstein. I told him that his prose reads like beautiful music; he called me a “darlin’ lass” for saying so. I nearly left Jim and eloped with him on the spot....sigh.

Journey--Marta Randall (Marta Randall now teaches writing at some fancy-schmancy university, and has given that as the reason that she doesn’t write more SF novels. I have been praying for years that she gets fired and goes back to writing fiction instead of teaching it. She is a sublime storyteller. If you like this book, the sequel is called “Dangerous Games” and I have a copy you can borrow. Randall, like the late Zenna Henderson, has a knack for drawing people and breathing life into communities on far-away planets. I have a strong hunch that her work is so good because it takes her a long time to write each novel, and she hasn’t written more than 4 of them, that I know of...quality takes time.

To A God Unknown--John Steinbeck This is about as close to perfect as a short novel can get. Steinbeck is my favorite ‘classic’ lit author because there is no bullshit about the man. His prose is clean, elegant, simple and profound. He loved his country, and its people, and yet he knew all about Americas weaknesses and wherein lies our virtue. He is a tower of strength among American writers, and his sly wit endeared him to me from the beginning. He once said that he would only write with Blackhawk Indian-made, round, “Black Warrior” pencils on legal paper, longhand. {Berol owns the “black warrior” pencil company now--they aren’t easy to come by, but I always keep a few on hand in tribute to the master} the idea being that real writers must feel the page beneath their hand and have a direct connection to what they write. He was a brilliant man, and like Carl Sandburg, another literary hero, he died before I was out of infancy. I regret that I will never have the chance to meet either man, except through their work.

Winter Rose--Patricia McKillip The first Patricia McKillip novel that I read is a classic called “The Forgotten Beasts of Eld” that is often made fun of by male hard-core SF readers because it was a gorgeous female fantasy novel, and nearly every female who ever read it fell in love with it, myself included. It made a whole generation of women want to be veterinarians. If every man who laughed at it had actually read it, lots more of them would’ve understood the female heart and soul, and gotten laid. The loathsome Stephen Donaldson notwithstanding, his quote/blurb on all her book-jackets is essentially correct; “There are no better writers than Patricia McKillip”. She writes like butterflies. Her words soar, her colors are breathtaking, her metaphors float on flowers and her sentences laugh with song. I would sell relatives to be able to write like McKillip for even an hour. Like any author, there are those who just don’t “get” her poetic prose, but then, there are people who think butterflies are just insects.

The Electric Forest--Tanith Lee (Tanith Lee is not just notable for her prolific Fantasy/SF--she also wrote a number of SF-TV-series scripts, including “Sand”, the best Blakes 7 episode in existence. She is an odd little British woman with the wisdom of the world in her head, who must have had the most hideous parents known to mankind. Her works all have a character who breaks away from an evil, dominating parent or husband. However, she does so in a subtle and fascinating manner--and in the process, brings up issues of how society treats those who are different. Reading “The Electric Forest” and “The Silver-Metal Lover” was a revelation for me as a teenager. No other author spoke so clearly about being considered ‘ugly’ in a world where ‘beauty’ is so highly valued as to be almost sacred. I KNEW exactly what Magda Cled felt like, alone and reviled...and I knew what Jayne, the chubby girl with the domineering mother felt like in “SilverMetal Lover”. I haven’t seen many authors deal with this subject as elegantly as Tanith Lee, which leads me to wonder if anyone could write so clearly about that kind of pain without actually having felt it.

The Falconer--Elaine McCarthy I give you fair warning--this book will make you cry. Its worth the extra tissues, believe me. I was stunned at how beautiful the story and the prose were, and that I had never heard of the author--talk about hiding your light under a bushel! If I could write first-novels like this, I would never leave the computer. This is the best death I’ve ever read about, and God knows I have seen enough real cancer deaths and read about enough of them to know. This is one of those rare books that can make you cry and uplift you at the same time--after reading this, you’ll want to run outside and frolic with joy at being least I did. If nothing else, its certainly a good antidote to whining about all the stupid crap that provides speedbumps in the road of our lives. It also made me wonder about the virtue of settling for comfort and happiness over “real” love...and I wondered how many people ever feel this kind of earth-shattering amore. (Please feel free to talk amongst yourselves--discuss!)

Short Stories:

Miss Lonelyhearts--Nathaniel West (this is a rich broth of a story--very satisfying)
Jeeves and the Song of Songs--PG Wodehouse (The pinnacle of British humor, in my opinion, lies in this mans Bertie and Jeeves stories. In the words of a college buddy of mine “Hes the only author whose stories can make me guffaw with laughter when I have dysentary.” ‘Nuff said)
Uncle Einar--Ray Bradbury The best short-short story ever written, in my opinion. Ray Bradbury does more with 5 pages of text than most writers do with 40. He is the King, the best SF short story writer ever to set foot on the planet, I believe. I worship his work, and I imagine I’d dissolve into a puddle of goo if I ever met the man.

Featured Alternate!
In case of emergency--in other words, you find that you just cannot stand one or another of the writers/novels listed above, proceed DIRECTLY to the following non-fiction tome and DIG IN!

Glass, Paper, Beans--Leah Hager Cohen This is the best non-fiction title I’ve ever read. Elegant, yet clean and spare prose combined with empathetic, no-nonsense storytelling. A noble and excellent read. It will surprise you, I guarantee. Highly recommended!

1 comment:

Nini said...

I have just spent the last hour or two reading bits of your blog here and I just want to say that YOU are one of my favorite authors. You write beautifully and from the soul and I think the time has come for to share your special gifts with the world in a form more lasting than a blog or periodical. Your audience is waiting.