In general, I like escapist fiction, and have since I was young. From Narnia to Madeline L’Engels’ Wrinkle in Time series, that is what I have devoured. Now-a-days my taste runs more toward Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Charlene Harris, and J. K. Rowling. Just to name a few.
A few Lents ago, I gave up reading novels. It was good for me, as I discovered that I liked non-fiction. I just need it to be well-written, entertaining non-fiction. Bill Bryson is excellent for that. I’ve also developed a taste for Michael Pollan, Rachel Simmons, and Jon Krakauer. (I am always looking for suggestions, especially in non-fiction.)
I was surprised to learn that there are books I absolutely cannot read. Most of these have unlikable (to me) protagonists/lead characters. For example, Blue Angel by Francine Prose. The nominal protagonist is a whiny, married professor who starts an affair with one of his students. I remember that during their first tryst, he breaks a tooth. I don’t remember anything redeeming about him. I stopped reading it. With Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, I couldn’t even get through the first chapter. He describes his characters in such negative terms, I found myself thinking, “Why the hell should I care about these people?”
Now, unlikable and flawed, in my opinion, are two different things, the latter being more sympathetic. And mileage may vary. Wally Lamb’s characters are rife with faults, but I find his novels beautiful.
Here are a few of my favorites:
The Chicago Manual of Style — I’m sorry, I am a total grammar geek.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss — This book is an hysterical look at how to do punctuation correctly and why. I recommend it to fellow writers, editors, and/or language + grammar geeks everywhere.
The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis
I cannot count how many times I have read these seven books. From the time I was in grade school, right through reading all of them, aloud to my belly, when I was pregnant (and on modified bedrest) with Flora. When my children are old enough for chapter books, we are starting with these. I also want to add: until I was an adult (and newly returned to the Catholic Church) I did not get the parallels between Aslan and Jesus. They were just breathtakingly magical books to me. And that’s all I want them to be to my children until they, too, are old enough to see the parallels for themselves.
The Harry Potter novels, J. K. Rowling
What’s not to love? An orphaned boy discovers his past, his powers, and fights for his world’s future. The redemptive power of love, loyalty, friendship. Plus, they are a lot of fun! Quidditch!
The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper
In the days before Rowling, Susan Cooper set out to write a series of novels, set in the United Kingdom, about a magical world within our own world: light against dark, the legacy of the legendary King Arthur. My Aunt Joanne and Uncle Frank bought each one for me as it was published in paperback. I tore through them, and eagerly awaited the next installment. My current set of paperbacks are tattered, and the last book has literally fallen apart. Time for a new set to pass on.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
If you’ve read these — and loved these — you understand why I love them, too. If you like wry (dry, British) humor and word play, you will love these too.
Favorite Book by Favorite Author: The Stand, by Stephen King
I don’t know what to say about this book. It’s amazing. The scope, the narrative, the characters and their development. King is phenomenal.
My Favorite Book (if I have to pick just one): The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Atwood has been hit or miss for me. I hated Oryx and Crake; The Blind Assassin was only okay; Alias Grace was very well done; Bodily Harm, The Robber Bride, and Cat’s Eye are all amazing. But The Handmaid’s Tale is Atwood at the very, very top of her game, combining a feminine view of sexuality, a cynic’s view of religious politics, and a dystopian world view that narrates a clash between the two. I have lost track of how many times I have read it, and I could pick it up and read it again tomorrow. The first-person narration is so true and affecting. Atwood gives voice to the real and complicated nature of sex, sexuality, desire and love, from a woman’s point of view. I always find it moving.
How about you? What do you love or hate in books? What on my list do you disagree with? We’re all snow-bound right? All we have to do is sit around and read! (Ha.)