The other day I shared a post that had originally appeared on Facebook, about books that stayed with me for whatever reason. Most of them were favorites, though not all. When I expanded it here on my blog, it seemed to me that the discussion was bigger than just a list of ten or twenty books. I think it’s also about what we look for in books. Mostly I think this applies to fiction, though I’m already thinking of doing a post where it both will and won’t. (Yes, I know I’m being rambly and confusing, also parenthetical, so I’ll just move on here…)
What I thought I’d talk about today are the genres that I return to over and over. Genres are slippery things. My favorite ones are fantasy and science fiction, but they’re hardly discrete, there’s always a lot of overlap between them, and in turn they can often overlap into horror. There are a lot of sub-genres floating around here as well, and like everyone I have sub-genres I read more often than others. However, if I was to try to break down my reading by sub-genres I’d be here all night, and someone would take issue with the way I’d categorized at least one of the books in my list. So let’s just call this my list of Fantasy/SF books that have stayed with me.
I talked about Tolkien on the original post, so I won’t belabor that. But one of his contemporaries, and friends, C. S. Lewis, wrote a series that I loved when I first read it. Ah, you thought I was going to talk about Narnia, didn’t you? Nope, I’m thinking of the space trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. I haven’t reread it since I first encountered it back in college, but reading it was an amazing experience for me. So much so that I really don’t want to reread it. I’m afraid it won’t hold up.
The same is true of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy. Yes, I know there are more books, but I never read them. I read the trilogy in school for a “Science Fiction as Literature” class with a remarkable, and amiable professor named Tom Hoberg. I believe it’s where I met, Barbara, one of my dearest friends, too. The trilogy was being sold as a children’s series, but as Professor Hoberg so aptly said, “I defy any child to understand this third book.”
I was reading in this genre in grammar school. One of my favorite books of those years was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I did eventually read the next two books, but never the fourth. And these days, I’ll go back to Wrinkle, but not the others.
A Canticle for Liebowitz was probably my first post-apocalyptic novel. I suspect it colored my view of the future.
It’s been more than thirty-five years, but I remember exactly where I found my used copy of Re-Birth, by John Wyndham. There was a used bookstore on Montrose, just off of Milwaukee, and the book was on a shelf near the front window. (I have a freakish visual memory.) I devoured that book, and the very first thing I took from it was a passion for the idea of telepathy. The subject still interests me, but the deeper lesson I gleaned from this book was how dangerous it can be to be different.
I couldn’t get through high school without reading Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, and I fell in love with the book for about six months, but the Heinlein that stays with me is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It’s a funny, surprisingly humane book coming from someone like Heinlein who had an agenda that I still think of as a little questionable. I think I need to reread it.
Lammas Night by Katherine Kurtz, has been out of print since God was a boy. I still have my mass market paperback copy which is falling apart now because I’ve reread it so many times. It’s a story about using magic to help defeat Hitler, and it draws on the mythology of the divine king. It’s one of those books which, even if I could get a copy for my Kindle, I’d keep in hard copy too. Even a hard copy that’s going to bits. It speaks to the mythmaker in me.
Moonheart was the first Charles de Lint novel I read, and I still think it’s his best. I found the mass market paperback at Kroch’s and Brentano’s Wabash street store, and though I didn’t know a single thing about it, I bought it anyway. I got my friends to read it, they fell in love too. Three of us (Karen, Glinda, and myself) ordered hard cover copies from the UK for the then astronomical price of $25. De Lint’s world is so rich and fully realized that as I read, I truly believe in the magic.
The Left Hand of Darkness was the book that really introduced me to the idea that gender could be a fluid thing, androgyny a real state of being, and how to view humanity from the outside. An absolute jewel of a book.
William Gibson’s Neuromancer absorbed me for months. I wanted to inhabit cyberspace. I still sort of do. My first cyberpunk book.
The Mists of Avalon by Bradley, was a curious book that enthralled me all the way up to the section told from Gwenhwyfar’s point of view. She lost me there three times. On the fourth (and I promised myself last) try, I powered through the section and finished the book. I’m glad I did, I enjoyed it, but the thing that really stays with me is how completely it fell apart when she was telling the story of Gwenhwyfar.
The Once and Future King, by T. H. White was my very first Arthurian novel, and remains the standard by which all others are judged. And I’ve read (or tried to read) a lot of them. It held my interest even as I sat in a hospital waiting room while my father was having surgery. In fact I think it actually helped me through that. Even if I hadn’t loved it, I’d be grateful. But I did and do love it.
I’m not going to go any further because I realized that there are so many other books I could list here that the list itself would become pointless. I have another couple of posts in mind. I hope I’m not boring anyone.