Found via Floor-To-Ceiling Books, with additional credit to Un:bound. Normally I’d think of something original to write, like a rant about the irony of Nora Ephron lampooning Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy for being formulaic – something I found quite rich considering she’s been dining out on the same movie since When Harry Met Sally* – but I thought this meme might be a nice way to spend the evening thinking about books I like instead.
Anyway – putting a jump in because this will be lengthy.
One book that changed your life.
The Dark Half, by Stephen King.
I can’t really pin down when I discovered my love of books. One time that does loom large, however, is when I picked up a copy of The Dark Half, probably from the withdrawn and damaged table at my local library (later on in my mid-teens, the librarian gave up on cycling the books on the table and just opened the withdrawn cupboard for me to rifle through). I was probably thirteen or fourteen at the time, and I loved horrors and thrillers.
I got so drawn into the story of this book it was unreal. I was sitting reading it in the front room of the house while my mum ironed the washing. When she was done, she held out a pile of clothes and asked me, quite naturally, to take them upstairs and put them away. “Go away. I’m reading,” I snapped at her.
My parents were always keen on my brother and I following through on our education, but that was a touch too much for her. I earned myself a solid clout round the head and ended up half buried under a pile of freshly-ironed clothes.
Anyway, once I’d recovered the hearing in my right ear, and inspired by King’s writing, I applied myself to some English homework that included a writing assignment. There’s a scene in The Dark Half where a woman opens a door on it’s chain and peeks out, only to get shot through the eye for her trouble (at least there is in my memory – it’s been about sixteen years now since I read it). I went one better in my imitative piece. I wrote about a home invasion and execution where the victim gets choked to death with expanding foam filler; it got me pulled out of a class to explain myself to the head of English. Apparently the student teacher who was getting classroom experience in our school had been marking the stories, and hadn’t expected to find something so graphic – she’d been quite ill.
It was hard to look contrite when I couldn’t stop grinning.
One Book You Have To Read More Than Once
Espedair Street, by Iain Banks.
I used to read this book constantly. I used to take public transport a lot when I was at Uni, and when I first started working, and this is a great travel book. It helps that I recognise the majority of the locations in it: I even used to live in a student flat above the Griffin, a pub that the character visits. What I really like about it is that it’s so light to read. All these amazing things happen around the main character, and yet nothing seems to happen to him. He just bimbles through it all like a big, lanky dunderhead and although that shouldn’t be in his favour, it somehow is.
One Book You’d Want On A Desert Island
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
Dumas is one of my favourite writers. There’s just something brilliant about him, about his writing, his life, his career, his history; there are so many exciting facts about the man that you could just sit and talk about Dumas endlessly and never really find the time to discuss the actual fiction he wrote.
Monte Cristo is my absolute favourite of his books. I don’t travel a stupendous amount, but when I do travel I like to make space for this book. If I was stuck on a desert island, I would take this because it doesn’t represent just a story for me anymore – it represents a whole world of knowledge wrapped up in inference and reference throughout. It only takes a passage or two of the mad abbé Busoni scrabbling away at the walls of his cell in the Chateau d’If to conjure up the last days of Cagliostro in his cell at San Leo, and the frantic letters of his gaoler seeking to guard his career against the excessive resourcefulness of his wily charge. It only takes a brief reference to the Comte’s pale face and high forehead to conjure up Byron, Polidori and the tale of Lord Ruthwen.
Two Books That Made You Laugh
The Throwback, by Tom Sharpe
It was really hard to settle on this title because there are so many incredibly funny books out there, and it amazes me perpetually that people still lumber along under the misapprehension that you’re not meant to laugh at a book. I could have waxed lyrical along with the rest of the world about Terry Pratchett and how insanely sharp his wit is (and, having played Mirror’s Edge, I could wax lyrical about how Rhianna Pratchett is hilarious, but for an entirely different reason).
Instead, I decided to put The Throwback up, because I reckon not many people I know will have read it, and that’s a damn shame. It’s a disgustingly funny book, albeit a little unbalanced as the main climax of the comedy comes about two thirds of the way through as Lockhart Flawse clears Sandicott Crescent of its tenants (who cannot be evicted due to a legal precedent and must choose to leave of their own volition) by a cascading variety of nefarious means. Incident after incident piles up in his little corner of suburbia, each more ridiculous than the last, and yet it still feels somehow plausible – and all the funnier for it.
New Moon, by Stephenie Meyer
It’s no longer cool to slag off Twilight, or so io9 would have you believe, but I’m going to do it anyway.
I fully appreciate that the Twilight s..sa..sa…books** are aimed at a completely separate demographic than the one I occupy. I can see it on every single page, how hard the books have been canted towards serving that demographic and no other. I will happily agree that they are mega-successful and by that standard the writing cannot be called “bad” – it is, instead, “fit for purpose”.
However, I burst out laughing when I picked up New Moon and discovered the ten or so pages left completely blank when Edward leaves Bella. That was some hilarious shit right there folks. For all the earnestness that surrounds the Twilight phenomenon, that, for me, is the point where it dips into self-parody. How did they handle that in the movie? Can anyone who’s seen it tell me? Was there five minutes of just silence and a black screen, punctuated by the occasional title as the months roll by in high speed?
One Book That Made You Cry
Odd choice, I know, but at one point I had to put the book down and take a minute.
“Near the end of the war,” said Shiro, Mifune’s oldest son, “he was sent to another division in Kumamoto and was teaching fifteen and sixteen year old boys how to attack when the [Allied] invasion force came, but by then it was almost the end of the war.” Their supplies had run out. There were no guns, no ammunition left for them to train with. “The military taught its soldiers to say ‘Banzai‘ when they died, but he told them to say ‘okaasan‘…the young boys went to war, and they never came back.”
It wasn’t long after I’d been to Hiroshima and visited the museum there. Even so, typing that out just now made me feel a little sad.
One Book You’d Wish You’d Written
Fade Out, by Patrick Tilley
I adore the premise of this book. I adore the first two-thirds of it. It’s a brilliant blend of speculative and modern military thriller fiction, about how humanity copes with an alien presence that by simply being there negates the majority of our technology. It’s great! How do adaptable, intelligent minds respond and cope with something that is passively nullifying them but appears to invite investigation? There’s so much scope for where this novel could go, and the author ruins it all – for me at least – with a Chariot of the Gods inspired resolution about expanding consciousnesses. Even the Strangelove-esque moment where a bomber armed with a nuclear weapon is piloted right into the forbiddingly massive alien pyramid is sidestepped by having it dematerialise on impact.
Okay, so it has apparently never been out of print since the 70’s and that makes it a success, but I’m allowed to feel cheated. The potential for something bigger was there from the very first page and, for me, it was never borne out. I’d love the chance to play in the world Tilley started building, but that’s just not an option – I have to build my own worlds to piss about in.
One Book You Wish Was NEVER Written
Can’t I have two? No? Oh well.***
Wizard’s First Rule, by Terry Goodkind.
It’s not that it is, for the most part, Fantasy adventure by numbers. It’s not that the writing is pulpy and sluggish at best. It’s not the heavy influence of tweaker fuckwit Ayn Rand that’s stamped all over his work. It’s the 200-page break we take in the middle of the book to play out Goodkind’s BDSM fantasies, a relentless savage bit of mental meandering where Richard is broken by a dominatrix and turned into her sexytime funslave. What’s really amazing is how the prose picks up during it, like the author is really into that bit, and the rest is just window dressing to frame it. I couldn’t help but read it and think that he had somehow accidentally slipped a wad of his own private wank-fantasy into the draft that got sent to the printers and no-one noticed before it was too late.
Anyway, I despise the book and wish there was an office somewhere that I could submit a ticket to claim back the time it took me to read it. Normally I’d be all reticent about the idea of wishing something unmade, but it also helps that Goodkind, when interviewed, appears to be a monumental cockend.
Two books you are currently reading
Lord of Silence, by Mark Chadbourn – I wanted to buy Jack of Ravens, but for the life of me I could not find it. Damn all bookstores and their shitty backlists. Every store in town had volume three, some had volume two, none had the first. I bought a standalone instead.
The Lancashire Witches: Histories and Stories, edited by Robert Poole – I have been writing a book about a witch, about witches, and for the most part I’ve been making shit up. I was browsing the history shelves in a bookshop when I saw this and thought it might make for interesting reading. Thankfully, it does! A set of collected papers on the Lancashire witch trials, it offers a variety of insights into the trials themselves and the concept of English and continental witchcraft in the 17th century.
One Book You’ve Been Meaning To Read
The Divine Comedy.
I have read a lot of classics. A lot. I’ve even struggled through The Annals of Imperial Rome, which is not a task for the faint of heart. I have never managed to finish the Divine Comedy, to my eternal shame. I should do it. I know I should. it’s just…it’s a bastard to read. Seriously. I cannot bring myself to give a flying fuck about any of the people that Dante is insistent on namechecking throughout his journey, that’s something considering I happily sat reading all the notes at the back of my copy of the Decameron.
Right. Hope you enjoyed that, unless of course you work for or with, or indeed are, or are fans of, any of the authors I quite happily laid into while writing this up. Have a great weekend!
*Also it made me feel a little bit uncomfortable seeing as the guy died not long ago. Fair enough to slag off people who can choose to defend themselves, but it felt a bit too soon if you know what I mean. Also, it’s not a fucking umlaut – ä is a vowel in Swedish.
**IT’S NOT A FUCKING SAGA
***The other one is The Steel Remains, by Richard Morgan. I seem to be the only person in fantasy fandom that found this book to be almost aggressively bad. He’s gay, he loves cock, we get it. The narrative value of having the protagonist and the elf dude banging each other senseless wears off pretty quickly and yet we still have to sit through it. It’s like the songs in LOTR, but with anal sex – you read one, then skim a few more, then skip the rest while rolling your eyes and sighing heavily.