I was wondering how I was going to break the drought this blog has been under. Funnily enough the reason I haven’t been writing is that I was writing. I finished my novel, I’m just waiting for mentor edits currently. I’d wanted to update the blog last week, but found I didn’t have much to say beyond ‘woo!’
Not that there’s anything wrong with saying woo, it just doesn’t make for a whole blog.
Then I came across this post from Chuck Wendig about ten books that got under his skin and stuck with him. Like Chuck I’m not going to go for my ten favourite books, I don’t know if I could name ten favourites anyway, not without having to post a different list at a later date when they all change.
But ten books that stuck with me whether I wanted them to or not? That I can do:*
I read this book when I was nine years old. I’d never heard of Edgar Allen Poe and the closest I’d come to reading a horror story was Where the Wild Things Are. I can’t even really be sure that this particular edition was the one I read, but it’s a likely candidate. I read the Masque of the Red Death first, marvelling at the illustrations and feeling the uncomfortable fear/excitement that good horror can bring out in a reader. After that I was hooked, The Pit and the Pendulum was next, then The Raven, which I didn’t really understand until I was older. I discovered I could be scared by a story, but more importantly, that was a good thing.
I can trace my fascination with scary stories back to this book, and I still remember the illustrations.
2. American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
American Gods is a weird book. I thought it was perfect the first time I read it, back in 2002, but despite seeing its flaws now that I’ve read it at least eight times, it sticks in my brain and refuses to leave, like a very eloquent demon. I still think about the implications of its universe and storylines, and Mister Saturday is one of my all time favourite characters.
There are some dark, messed up moments in American Gods but the book is that much stronger for them.
3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I’m sorry I didn’t read Pride and Prejudice when I was younger. I didn’t get to it until my wife found out that I’d never read it and leant me her copy. It was an abject lesson that classic literature didn’t have to be boring, that romance didn’t have to be stupid (although to be fair I could have learned that lesson from any one of a number of well written romances) and that the lessons of satire can live on for hundreds of years.
I’ve been thinking about why this stuck with me so much and I can’t pin down a single reason. It’s just an all around fun, fast paced, ridiculous yet somehow plausible near future sci-fi that’s so chock full of nerdy nerdy goodness that if you didn’t grow up in the eighties you’ll need to read it with Wikipedia at hand to get the references (unless of course you’re like the main character Wade and already know everything there is to know about the 1980’s).
5. Night Watch: A Discworld Novel by Terry Pratchett
Night Watch is my favourite Discworld novel. Practhett was always good, but this book hammered home the fact that he was great. Night Watch is a story that takes a fantasy setting and then uses it to tell a tale of cops, killers, politics and humanity’s relationship to the past without ever losing the sense of fun that drives the book’s narrative along. Sam Vimes is one of the all time great characters in fiction, and I was genuinely sad when this book was over.
Pennywise. ‘Nuff said.
7. Prayers for Rain by Dennis Lehane
While not all of the books on this list would make my top ten favourites, Prayers for Rain would. It’s the third in the Kenzie Gennaro series of detective novels set in Boston, but I didn’t know that when I read it. I was quite literally dying when I first started reading it, and thanks to life saving surgery, I got to finish Prayers for Rain. As a detective novel it’s pretty good, but what makes it shine are the ways that the characters are rendered from the ‘doing the best I can’ gumshoe Patrick Kenzie to the psychopathic Bubba Rogowski. One of those books I was sad to finish, even though I had to find out what happened.
8. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Unlike the other books on this list, I’ve only read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time once, yet it’s stuck with me so hard I can still tell you about the protagonist’s spiral search method and that he doesn’t like the colour yellow. I haven’t gone back to it because it’s a tough book to read, and once the implications of the story sink in, it’s downright painful. Yet it’s also a brilliant book, one that broke the run of terrible literary novels I’d been reading at the time. Like Pride and Prejudice The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time opened my eyes to genres and writing styles I’d never considered before.
9. Chickenhawk by Robert Mason
There are a lot of books out there on the horrors of war, and I’ve read plenty of them. I’ve been duly horrified, and then I’ve forgotten about those books. Yet Chickenhawk stuck with me when all the others had faded. Robert Mason is an excellent writer, and brings the stupidity and despair of war to the forefront, but that’s not what makes Chickenhawk stick. I think it’s the fact that Mason includes a lot of human touches that other authors either leave out, or hammer too hard. When I first read this I was already old enough to know war wasn’t the fantasy of glory I’d thought it was when I was a little kid, yet Chickenhawk was still a shock, and the mental images it left me with still make me stop to this day.
10. Odd Thomas
Odd Thomas is not a perfect book, but it might be the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a writer hitting the perfect voice for a character. On top of this Koontz paces the book incredibly well, and keeps a last act twist as an almost complete surprise. It didn’t last, sadly, and subsequent books weren’t nearly as good, but Odd Thomas lingers in my mind as one of the best urban fantasy books I’ve ever read.
Honorable mentions: Everything by Terry Pratchett, Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, several short stories by Mary Robinette Kowal, A Dirty Job and Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore, The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien and so, so many more.
So, how about you? What has stuck with you and why?
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