Tag: Stephen King

Top Ten Most Unique Books I’ve Read

  1. The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings is the trilogy that launched a thousand imitations, but no-one’s really tried taking on The Silmarillion. No-one who’s succeeded, anyway. It’s not really a novel, because it doesn’t really have characters. It’s not a fictional history, either – it’s too self-consciously literary. It’s a fictional myth cycle, and I’ve never heard of another one of those.
  2. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski. Oh, House of Leaves! A real puzzle-box of a novel, a horror story about the treacherous power of story, one that thinks about the intersection of text and space, the uncanny and the unheimlich, in such a fascinating way. It’s almost a literary essay in its own right.
  3. The Gormenghast Trilogy – Mervyn Peake. This is kind of impossible to place in any particular literary tradition. It’s definitely not realism, but it’s not quite fantasy either; by turns deeply, claustrophobically psychological and almost absurdly Dickensian in its caricature. It’s precisely that indefinability that makes it so interesting, though.
  4. Our Tragic Universe – Scarlett Thomas. This is quite recognisably literary fiction; but unlike most literary fiction I’ve read, its approach to the big questions in life feels specifically shaped by literary theory. It’s also bewitchingly charming in a way that I can’t quite pin down.
  5. Nova – Samuel Delaney. I read this a couple of weeks ago, and it’s very unusual indeed: sixties SF that’s formally innovative, eschewing scientific infodump in favour of sensory affect and literary theme.
  6. Evelina – Frances Burney. Evelina is a gem. Published in 1778, it’s a novel about a young woman coming out into society. It mixes sensational melodrama with sharp social comedy in a way that’s really quite interesting, and revolutionary, too, for a woman writer in the 18th century.
  7. The Gunslinger – Stephen King. I still haven’t read anything like the first few books of the Dark Tower series, with their apocalyptic dream-sequence landscapes, their uncanny echoes of our world; and I don’t expect I ever will.
  8. Palimpsest – Catherynne M. Valente. Each of Valente’s novels is different in theme and setting and approach, though they’re tied together by her approach to myth and story. Palimpsest isn’t my favourite – that would be Radiance – but it is the one I most wanted to savour: its meaning unclear and becoming ever more multiple the more you think about it.
  9. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe – Charles Yu. This was another surprisingly literary SF novel, one that plays with the inherent metafictional tendencies of SF to say something about science fiction and about reality.
  10. The Clockwork Rocket – Greg Egan. This is interesting because it talks about the intersection between science and culture, a theme that doesn’t crop up too often in SF. Also, feminism!

(The prompt for this post came from the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

My Top Ten “Gateway” Books

  1. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien. As with, I suspect, many other people, The Hobbit was my gateway into The Lord of the Rings, a book that, almost uniquely, sits deep in my psyche. And so it was a gateway, too, into a fandom and a way of writing and thinking and into a shared code of story.
  2. The Madwoman in the Attic – Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. This was my gateway into feminist thinking, and into serious, weighty literary criticism in general. It showed me what you can do with criticism, the anger you can wield with it and the worlds you can create.
  3. Titus Groan – Mervyn Peake. A gateway into the Gothic, a mode which holds so much interest for me, deep and dark and ambiguous and strange.
  4. The Crying of Lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon. This was the book that made me realise that postmodernism is actually pretty cool, definitely more cool than Modernism.
  5. Havelok the Dane – Anonymous. Havelok the Dane is a thirteenth-century narrative poem about, er, a Dane called Havelok who…invades Britain or something? I can’t even really remember what happens in it. Anyway, I read this a couple of weeks before I started at university, in a vague panic because I didn’t get the reading list when I was supposed to get it, and just being utterly enchanted because it was so Tolkien-y and fairy tale-esque. And it was that that made me choose to study Middle English instead of Old English in my first year, so I got to read lots of other wonderful works like it, including several Arthurian romances, and overall I had a great insight into a literary period that doesn’t get studied very often.
  6. Saga Volume 1 – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. This was my first graphic novel, and I couldn’t really have asked for a better introduction. It’s punchy and fearless and full of emotional truth.
  7. The Gunslinger – Stephen King. So this was my gateway into proper grown-up fantasy, really: fantasy in which worldbuilding is metaphor and metaphor is worldbuilding, in which our world is always half-glimpsed in the strangenesses of another one.
  8. Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens. I was quite lucky that this was my first Dickens novel: it’s sentimental and sprawling and right up my street, and it’s why I continue to read Dickens novels. (To be fair, there’s only been one real dud among the ones I’ve read.)
  9. The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova. This made me properly want to go to university and study things in dusty old libraries.
  10. Steampunk Your Wardrobe – Calista Taylor. I mean, I still haven’t made anything from this book, but it was my first steampunk reference book, so to speak. I now have three, and intend to collect lots more!

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Top Ten Things on My Bookish Bucket List

  1. Get a novel published. I mean, I have no intention of stopping at one if I can help it. But one is a start. One is the doorway.
  2. Have my own personal library, i.e. a room that is just for books. This is a goal that is very much for when I am Grown Up and am living in more than one room. I mean, you don’t really need a living room, right?
  3. Own one of Jay Johnstone’s Tolkien paintings. Like, one of the big oil paintings with a commensurately big price tag. They are gorgeous: very different to how Tolkien’s work traditionally gets represented visually, but at the same time instantly recognisable as Tolkien art. It would go in my library.
  4. Get a reader’s card at the British Library. You’re only supposed to use the BL’s collections if you can’t find the text easily elsewhere. So I need a good excuse to do some proper primary text research – which would, in itself, be very cool.
  5. Write a long research piece about how buildings and texts work in the Gothic. I did my undergraduate dissertation on “breathing buildings”: how crumbling Gothic piles take on lives of their own and threaten the reader as well as the characters. It had Freud in it. I got a First for it and I feel like I have so much more to say on the topic – so whether it’s a Master’s dissertation or something else, I definitely want an excuse to do some more work on it.
  6. Know more about book binding. Ever since I read Inkheart at age 12 I’ve wanted to be the kind of person who can look at a book and go, “Yes, that is a classic Coptic binding with oak boards,” or whatever. I went to a British Library conservation day the other week, which was fascinating, and I need more!
  7. Meet, have a book signed by or otherwise interact with China Mieville. Mieville is probably the one author I would fangirl at meeting. (Terry Pratchett would have been, too, but alas, that chance is gone forever. I have a birthday card signed by him, though. It has a cat on it.) Not only is he a stupidly clever fantasy author, he is also really quite attractive.
  8. Watch the upcoming film adaptation of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and pray that it is not terrible. I’m seriously nervous that it’s not a straight adaptation but an alternative take on the series – that could be a great decision, or…not. Plus, they seem to have cut Susannah? And Eddie? And Oy? This teaser poster, though. I approve.
  9. Read all of Saga. I think I got to…about #5 and stopped? This one is probably dependent on finding a library that has the volumes in it.
  10. Make one of the projects in my Steampunk Your Wardrobe book. This could be tricky as I am terrible at sewing – and, indeed, anything requiring more than a modicum of hand-eye coordination. I want to try doing a bustle skirt, though.

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Top Ten Worlds I’d Never Want to Visit

  1. Future Earth – Ready Player One, Ernest Cline. The Earth is fucked, everyone spends their time in a video game and whitewashing is the solution to oppression. Yeah, no thanks.
  2. Panem – The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins. Let’s get the obvious one out of the way.  Panem is a place of massive inequality, a system designed so that it’s near-impossible not to become complicit in the murder of children. Even the revolution is morally compromised.
  3. The silo – Wool, Hugh Howey. Another oppressive world, designed to keep its citizens in check. (Pesky citizens.) Pretty much every right you can think of is compromised: reproductive rights, freedom of expression, freedom of movement. Again: no thanks.
  4. Orthogonal – The Clockwork Rocket, Greg Egan. Misogyny! Treacherous biology! Extra-dimensional danger from the skies! All that bloody physics!
  5. End-World – The Gunslinger, Stephen King. It’s a world that’s literally winding down: echoes of our own world lie scattered amongst the desert dust. There’s just nothing any more to look forward to, except death, and the mountains.
  6. Umayma – God’s War, Kameron Hurley. Another desert world, this one in the throes of a holy war that’s gone on for so long no-one can remember why they’re fighting. And, let’s face it, I would be crap in a battle. Also, everything runs on bugs. Eurgh.
  7. The Wild West – Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne Valente. Rich, racist colonists? Dusty, filthy ruby mines? Woods full of bears? Sounds great! /sarcasm
  8. Kingsport/Arkham/Innsmouth – H.P. Lovecraft. I think the Dreamlands would probably be quite interesting – if they even allow women in – but in Lovecraft’s Massachusetts you can barely move for haunted houses, weird fishy things from the depths of the sea, night-ghasts, witches, sinister aliens and fungi from Yoggoth. And then you die. Or, more likely, go mad.
  9. The Solar System – Proxima, Stephen Baxter. Probably the only remotely interesting thing about this book was its depiction of over-population: the packed public transport, the domes on Mars and the moon where people live crammed together, the ratcheting international tensions. Smelly, crowded and busy – and nowhere to escape to.
  10. The Solar System – Jack Glass, Adam Roberts. Again, this solar system is a massively overpopulated one, with the vast crowds of the poor living in fragile plastic bubbles orbiting the sun and prisoners used to make asteroids habitable for the rich. I mean, what is there to visit?

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Top Ten Series Endings

  1. The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien. Yes, technically not a series, but this is my damn list. This is a pitch-perfect ending to all the horror and sadness of the War of the Ring: the chapter “The Field of Cormallen” in particular captures a sharp mixture of untold joy and terrible sorrow that’s just the best way to send the Dark Lord Sauron off.
  2. Abhorsen – Garth Nix. I don’t know if this counts as the end of the series now Goldenhand is out, but the original series feels self-contained enough that I’m counting it. This is another one that’s very good at capturing the full impact of its stakes.
  3. The Dark Tower – Stephen King. The last four books of the Dark Tower series are baggy and self-indulgent and often unforgivably long, but I think King came up with the best and most resonant ending he could have.
  4. The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman. Spyglass is not perfect by a long chalk, but it’s big and bold and ambitious and aware of how stories work.
  5. Ancillary Mercy – Ann Leckie. A solid and unassuming entry in Leckie’s Ancillary series, Ancillary Mercy is a story about doing what good you can.
  6. The Arrows of Time – Greg Egan. This is admittedly a slightly glib ending to Egan’s series, with some weirdly Catholic sexual guilt, but it is nevertheless nice to see the Peerless return to its home planet.
  7. Fly Trap – Frances Hardinge. It’s not necessarily an ending, as such, in that there’s no particular closure, but Mosca, Saracen and Eponymous are such great company.
  8. Wings – Terry Pratchett. Another ender that I like more for its characters and concept than for any actual closure it offers.
  9. Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins. I think it’s the moral ambiguity of Mockingjay, the way it makes both the Capitol and the rebels complicit in atrocity, that makes this such a powerful ending to the Hunger Games series.
  10. White Gold Wielder – Stephen Donaldson. This is the ending to The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and it’s laden with a redemptive power that’s also almost horrifying in its catharsis.

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Top Ten Dystopias; Or, True and Accurate Representations of Post-Trump America

  1. The Gunslinger – Stephen King. A lone gunfighter wanders across a desert wasteland, killing as he goes. There are mutants under the mountains and sex demons in stone circles. The one town he passes through tries to murder him.
  2. Perdido Street Station – China Mieville. A vast and corrupt ruling class keep the city in line with an iron fist. They research horrors without appropriate safeguards. Criminals are horribly and disproportionately punished.
  3. God’s War – Kameron Hurley. An endless religious war rages across an entire planet, but no-one can remember what it’s about or where it started. The government hires assassins to take out draft dodgers. Racial and gender intolerance abounds.
  4. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell. Corporations and institutions perpetuate endless injustice. Tiny steps forwards are met with enormous leaps back. Evil is easier and more common than good.
  5. Jack Glass – Adam Roberts. Poor people live crowded together in unstable and irradiated plastic bubbles in space. The only kind of revolutionary activity that works is the ultra-violent kind.
  6. Six-Gun Snow White – Catherynne Valente. Everybody gets the raw end of the deal. Abuse perpetuates abuse. You submit or you die.
  7. Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel. Everyone dies of flu. Religious intolerance is a thing.
  8. Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins. Children are sent to kill each other to keep the population in line. The working classes starve while the rich eat so much they vomit it up to make more room. The only kind of revolutionary activity that works is the ultra-violent kind.
  9. Wool – Hugh Howey. The people in power keep pulling the wool over your eyes (see what I did there?). What’s worse, they make you pull the wool over your own eyes, to keep you all safe and alive. Also, you live underground in a giant silo and have never seen the outside world.
  10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling. Hogwarts is taken over by an increasingly paranoid megalomaniac with a face like a toad. (Sound familiar?) Student clubs are banned. Magazines are banned. The aforesaid megalomaniac tortures her students and drives out all the sensible people.

Top Ten Books that Feature Travel

  1. The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien. I mean, obviously. LOTR is practically a Middle-earth travelogue – and Tolkien is so very good at describing landscapes.
  2. The Gunslinger – Stephen King. I love Roland’s lonely journey through the desert: atmospheric and apocalyptic.
  3. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – Catherynne M. Valente. A tour of a whimsical Fairyland cast in Valente’s gorgeous prose? Yes, please!
  4. The Scar – China Mieville. The Scar is set on a floating city made of ships: so its characters are travellers who never leave their homes. Plus it’s just a damn good book.
  5. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers. The journey of the Wayfarer‘s crew is so delightful that eventually it becomes more important than the destination.
  6. The Last Hero – Terry Pratchett. This illustrated fable tells the tale of the Disc’s first spaceship – it’s funny and humane and ever so delightful.
  7. The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant – Stephen Donaldson. Our Heroes traipse through a ruined Land. It’s bleak, but so cathartic.
  8. Sabriel – Garth Nix. The Old Kingdom is such a vividly realised world – there’s always this sense of everyday life going on just around the corner, even if we can’t quite see it.
  9. The Clockwork Rocket – Greg Egan. A clever meld of science and narrative – featuring, yes, a clockwork rocket.
  10. Fly By Night – Frances Hardinge. A picaresque romp through a country not unlike seventeenth-century England. Another one that’s saturated with clever little worldbuilding details.

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)