Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Favorite "Classic" Books

My list of favorite classic books confirms one fact about me: I'm a sucker for a tragic ending. Even the one story that ends "happily ever after" contains a death that hits the main character pretty hard (and it barely makes the list). I'm not sure why exactly I like tragic endings, except I always have. There is something poignant and beautiful about tragedy. Maybe it's because life is, in many ways, a tragedy.

A quick note on this list. Plays were allowed to be considered as "classics" and because plays are meant to be viewed, I allowed viewings to be considered as a read.

Number One: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
Number of Reads: 7
Rationale: I love existential plays, and I love how this play is a really a discussion on fiction. It's such a deep little play and it so insanely quotable. My favorite quote of all time comes from the play. "Words, words. They're all we have to go on." On surface level, it's just a comment on the fact that they're trying to decipher what's up with Hamlet from his words. Deeper, it's a comment on how all they have are the words of the play they're trapped in. Even deeper it's a comment on life. We live most of our lives trying to decipher words, the words of others, the words of books. And for me personally, it just makes me think of reading and writing and how nothing ever seems real to me without words put to it. And that's just one line. The entire play is like that. What's not to love?

Number Two: The Great Gatbsy by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Number of Reads: 5
Rationale: I read The Great Gatsby for the first time in the sixth grade. I was not forced to read it. Rather my older sister was, and she left the book laying around the house. I was bored, so I picked it up and read it in one sitting. Nick's voice just jumped off the page for me, and I was as taken with Gatsby and his struggles as Nick was. I re-read the book again in the eighth grade, and then was finally required to read it in eleventh. I enjoyed it each time. When I re-read it in college and then earlier this year, I was still taken with it. It pains me every time, how Gatsby struggles and fails to attain his dream. It's a statement on life, on the American Dream, on everything, and I think it's beautiful.

Number Three: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Number of Reads: 3
Rationale: I like Wuthering Heights, because I enjoy seeing how decisions made while young domino effect into the rest of the characters' lives. It's not often that a novel covers the entire life of the main characters and several generations of the family. I get enthralled by how one failed relationship essentially destroys two different families. That's not something we often see in modern novels, and I really like it.

Number Four: Othello by William Shakespeare
Number of Reads: 3
Rationale: This is my favorite Shakespeare play. My love of the tragic means my favorite play would be a tragedy, but why this play over Hamlet? Hamlet might seem more logical because of what my favorite classic is, but Othello wins because of Iago. Iago is simply the most amazing villain ever written, but even though Iago is the catalyst, Iago doesn't make anyone do anything they didn't already have the capability of doing. He just unearths the darkness within all of them. It's amazing and terrible. On both the page and stage, it's riveting.

Number Five: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Number of Reads: 2
Rationale: What's not to love about Little Women? I come from a family of mostly girls, so I can see all of us in the March sisters. As a writer, I identify with Jo. It's truly amazing how much I can identify with these girls in a novel written over one hundred years ago. They read like real modern characters. They read like girls I would be friends with. And it's a beautiful tale of sisterhood and family. 

So there it is. My favorite classic books! What are yours?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Favorite "Genre" Books

Though the word "genre" pretty much means anything that's not "literary" or strictly "contemporary", when it comes to my list of favorite books, it's pretty much exclusively Science Fiction and Fantasy. In fact, it's almost exclusively Science Fiction, with only one fantasy book narrowly making it as number five. I think the main reason for this split is that I have a tendency to really truly love Fantasy series (as you will see on Friday) while there are several standalone SF novels that I adore without any extra series. Apparently I like my fantasy epic, but like my science fiction standalone. 

So below are my list of favorite "genre" books in order from most favorite to least favorite. (Also so there is no confusion "number of reads" means the number of times I've read it, which is the metric I used to determine which book was my favorite.)

Number One: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Number of Reads: 12
Rationale: I was actually given Ender's Game in the seventh grade but didn't read it. It just didn't seem very appealing, though I can't particularly remember why. I joke it's because my dad recommended it to me, but considering my dad pointed me to Star Wars and Wheel of Time, which were both things I loved at that time, that reason doesn't really hold up. Then I finally did read in in the eighth grade and it blew my mind. I've re-read it every year since then. Every year.

I can still vividly remember reading the book the first time, how riveting it was, how I had to stop right before Chapter 14 because it was time for bed, but I literally couldn't sleep that night because I couldn't think about anything else. The next morning as soon as my alarm went off, I started reading the book again. I had to know how it finished. And it was perfect.

And it still holds up. Every time I read it, it's still riveting. Ender is this amazingly sympathetic character, that I just completely feel for. I know what it is to be Third. I know what it is to be a smart kid in a class of not so smart kids (though I would never claim to be the genius that Ender is). And everytime I re-read it, I identify with Ender in a different way. In fact the last time I read it, the twelfth time I read it, a passage that I never really noticed before, struck a deep chord in me. I had to stop and write it down and I was like "yes, this passage, this paragraph that Ender is experiencing here, is exactly what I'm experiencing now in my life." It was amazing. 

This is my favorite book of all time. Hands down.

Number Two: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Number of Reads: 9
Rationale: The first time I was exposed to A Wrinkle in Time was when my mom read it aloud to me when I was in kindergarten. I then later read it for myself in the fourth grade. I love this book because of the characters. Meg is a character I deeply identify with, and the other characters are all ones that I love. This also another book that has aged well, that I get something new from every time I read it. It's also the book I'm probably most likely to quote in a serious discussion about life. Usually in reference to the description of life being a sonnet. In fact, I've used that in a number of wedding speeches. Thank you, Madeliene L'Engle.

Number Three:  Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
Number of Reads: 7
Rationale: Though this is the sequel to Ender's Game, it's a classic SF novel in it's own right. I actually have a couple of friends who like this book better than Ender's Game. And then there are people who hate it, because it's a completely different book from Ender's Game. Where Ender's Game is more of a military SF, this is definitely more of an anthropological SF. Which is one of the reasons I love it. I love Ender's intense study of humantiy, what makes a human, and the whole piggies dilemna. I love Nova's family and how Ender comes in and starts to heal them. And I adore the little hints of who Ender was in his past life, whether it's playing a video game or figuring out his password. And I, of course, still adore the character of Ender Wiggin. The reason why I didn't wrap up this book with Ender's Game and put it in my favorite series categories is that I'm really iffy on the last two books in the series, they're not my favorite. But also because, in the past, I've occasionally read Speaker for the Dead as a standalone, without re-reading Ender's Game. Which means it's a good book in it's own right, and not just when tied to Ender's Game.

Number Four: Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
Number of Reads:
Rationale: When contemplating favorite books, this is one of the ones that I don't have a particularly good reason for. It is a classic in the sense that it was written by Isaac Asimov, but it's not a classic in the sense that I, Robot or the Foundation novels are. This book is basically a fairly straightforward murder mystery set in the future. But I love this book. I re-read it all the time. This is also a book I often recommend to people who just want to try out a SF novel, since it relies so heavily on the mystery genre. It's a comfortable gateway to SF

So why do I love this book? Well I adore R. Daneel Olivaw. He's one of my favorite characters of all time. I love how believable future Earth is, and how though it's clearly what we would label a "dystopia", this is not a dystopian novel. It's just the way the world is. And I love how the mystery is resolved, who the murderer is, and why Elijah had a hard time figuring it out. And somehow it manages to surprise me every time. It's like I always forget how the book ends until I re-read it. This is definitely one of my "I'm not feeling good, I just want to read something fun" books. And it's definitely fun. 

Number Five: Sabriel by Garth Nix
Number of Reads: 5 
Rationale: This book actually took me by surprise. I was sitting in my library, trying to figure out which books I had read the most often and I was like "wow, actually I've read Sabriel a lot." And while Sabriel is a part of  the Abhorsen trilogy, I haven't read the rest of the trilogy very often, which is why this book gets a standalone list instead of a series list. (Part of the reason for that is Sabriel came out years in advance of the other two books.)

So why have I read this book several times? I'm gonna be honest; there is a very soft place in my heart for necromancers. Necromancers are probably one of my favorite paranormal/supernatural beings, even more than wizards. There is just something sinister about them, but Garth Nix managed to find a way to make a necromancer good and in fact necessary to her society. And I love that.

Sabriel is also the first YA book I ever read, and I think that was one of the reasons it stuck with me. It's the only YA book I actually read as a teenager, and I loved it.

So those are my top five "genre" books. Any you are surprised by? What are you favorite genre books?  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Favorite Books: the Explanation

(Sorry for the long delay between posts. I have no excuse! I will hope to do better in the future.)

I've been meaning to write a "top three favorite books" post for a while, but for one reason or another I never got around to it. Then recently, a friend of mine asked me what my top 10 favorite books were. A friend of hers had given her a list of his favorite books and it made her curious what mine would be. 

Her friend had rather eclectic taste, but he created a list that included plays, classic novels, and Harry Potter (the entire series). She picked two books from his list to read, and I suppose asked me to do the same so she might look into reading two of my favorite books. 

Unlike her friend, I realized pretty quickly that my list would be mostly genre books (aka not classics), but that there were classic books I loved too. But I didn't want to make her an off the cuff list, so I took the day to think about it. I sat on the floor in the center of my library (yes, I have a library) and contemplated my shelves of books.

It was easy for me to pick a top three, but beyond that? What sort of metric should I use to determine which books were my "favorite"?

Though there is a tendency, I think, for people to fill their favorite books list with "classics", I decided that wouldn't be fair. I needed a metric that was as objective as possible. And there really seemed to be only one fair rubric: How often had I re-read the book?

This metric quickly knocked most classics out of my top ten, which seemed a little unfair. There are classics that I absolutely love, but they're harder to digest then say, The Prisoner of Azkaban (tPoA). tPoA is a book I re-read when I'm sick and brain dead. How can Wuthering Heights, which is a much harder to digest book compare to that?

It also seemed unfair to the series I had read. I've only read the entire Wheel of Time twice, but I've invested years of my life into this series. I've only read most Star Wars Expanded Universe books once, but I dedicated two years of my life to the EU, reading books from the EU exclusively. That needed to be captured somewhere in this.

So I decided to create three lists: my top five favorite "genre" books, my top five favorite "classic" books, and my top five favorite series. Genre books and classic books would be listed in order of how many times I've read them. Series would be listed in order of how much time I've invested in them over all. 

I don't want to leave you in too much anticipation, but I think I need to discuss why each book is where it is on the list, and which books came up as a surprise for me. So next week I'm going to post them. The schedule is:

Monday: Top Five "Genre" Novels
Wednesday: Top Five "Classic" Novels
Friday: Top Five Series

So please come back next week for the discussion and the reveal! And if you want to think about what your favorite books are. 

Also for the sake of these lists, especially in the "classics" list, plays count. So a Shakespeare play can definitely be your favorite classic "book".