Saturday, February 13, 2016

Since you asked... an annotated reading list

A reader asked in a comment on my post about reading fiction, what books I would recommend. You know, I sit around just waiting for questions like that. Really, I love nothing more than sharing my favorite books with people. Many of these I have written about before in previous posts, but this blog has been going for a while and since I write a lot of posts, and those posts tend to have a lot of words, it can be difficult to find things without the handy search engine available to the blog owner. Besides, I don't think people can really write about good books too much.

So, my rather eclectic and stream of consciousness reading list (for brevity's sake, I'll constrain myself by listing only books aimed at adult readers)...

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth - This is a long book... well over 1000 pages. This, to my mind, is a real plus. Good books that end too soon are a disappointment. This book is set in India in the 1950's and follows the lives of several characters. As well as a good story, it is also a great history lesson on what was happening in India during those tumultuous years. I would read so much of this book at a time (because I couldn't put it down) that the characters would inhabit my dreams at night. Oh, and I'll spare you the embarrassment, the author's last name is pronounced, "Sate," with a long 'a' sound.

Since we're in India, I'll move onto...

The Vish Puri mystery series by Tarquin Hall, the books, in order, are:
The Case of the Missing Servant
The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken
The Case of the Love Commandos - These books are just fun. They give you a sense of India and the detective is just a really likable guy. Like some of the best mysteries, the books are not just about the puzzle, but have more going on as well. I am eagerly awaiting the next one to come out. I hope there is a next one...

In the category of a set of good books by one author...

To Say Nothing of the Dog
The Domesday Book
Blackout
All Clear - all by Connie Willis - I have grouped these four books together because they are set in the same story line, with some characters who move from book to book. They are also stand alone books, except for All Clear which is more of a part 2 of Blackout and which you really need to have ready for when you finish Blackout, since it doesn't end so much as stop mid story line. (I'm sure this was an editor's decision because it then creates two long books rather than one extremely long book.) Anyway, the basic scenario is, sometime in the future in England, time travel has been discovered, but is used for historic research. This allows Ms. Willis to set her modern characters in historical settings and tell history from their point of view. To Say Nothing of the Dog is more of a comedy than the others and not quite so much historical fiction. The Domesday Book is set in England during the Black Plague and Blackout and All Clear are set during World War II, particularly during the London Blitz. while none of these settings sounds as though it would be light or entertaining reading, it is so well done that I didn't mind the upsetting parts. I would recommend saving the Blackout/All Clear pair for after having read one of the other two, It will just make more sense as you will already be familiar with the time travel part. One other warning, there are a lot (A LOT) of different story lines which are introduced in Blackout and it takes a while to have them start to fit all together. Be patient and keep going, the payoff is well worth it.

More vast, multi-volume historical fictions which will keep you in books for a good long time...

The House of Niccolo series by Dorothy Dunnett (In order they are: Niccolo Rising, The Spring of the Ram, Race of Scorpions, Scales of Gold, The Unicorn Hunt, To Lie with Lions, and Caprice and Rondo) - The first book starts in Bruges in 1460 and follows Niccolo (and the Renaissance) across Europe. They are exciting and challenging and thought provoking. If you are out of the reading habit, I might suggest you practice with some lighter books before tackling these, as they can be challenging reading. They are worth it, but do work up to them if you have only been scanning facebook and reading the newspaper for a while, otherwise you might not like them as much as you would otherwise. It has been quite a few years since I read the series, but I still find myself thinking about the characters and the story lines. They are the type of books that stick with you well after you are finished. Ms. Dunnett also has a second series, The Lymond Chronicles. J. has read it (and possibly enjoyed it more than Niccolo) and we own them all, but I have yet to tackle it. I know I will enjoy it once I do, but I'm just not sure I'm ready to devote the next several months to one series, which is what will happen once I begin.

In the same file folder labelled, 'books that are difficult, but worth it"...

Middlemarch by George Elliot - This books always makes my top ten list and I read it for fun about fifteen years ago. I picked it up because so many authors had named it their favorite book and I was curious about it. I really loved it, and was surprised to discover later that it is considered "hard." I didn't find it all that hard. It's long and was written in the 19th century, but once your ear gets used to the language, it's just a good story. Once again, it is one of those books that still come to mind often, even though it's been years since I read it. Give it a try.

Other books that you "should" read that are worth it...

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin - Will it surprise you to know that up until a couple of years ago, I had never actually read this book? Well, I hadn't and when my children's theater group did a stage version of it, I decided I needed to read it, if only to be able to discuss the play adaptation. I'm so glad I did! I think I binge read it over a weekend and loved every minute of it. I'm not sure I can join the Darcy fan club, though.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - Another classic I read as an adult. It earns its reputation and is a good story with lots to think about. It is also worth getting over the older language hurdle. Besides, if you read Jane Eyre, it helps you to enjoy these next books even more.

The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde (In order: The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten, First Among Sequels, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, The Woman Who Died A Lot) - What's not to like? Book-loving characters who jump into and out of books. There is the special operations book world with the agents coming from literature (Miss Havisham, from Great Expectations, being one of the best). It is set in England, but an alternative England where mammoths still migrate, but now through people's gardens and dodo birds are a popular pet, provided you purchased the home-cloning kit and made it work. Time travel exists and it tightly regulated, except when it is not. What's there not to like? They are just good rollicking fun.

Also just for fun, particularly if you have ever followed the English royal family at all...

Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin - Mark Helprin is a fantastic writer and excels at magic realism. I think this is his funniest book and there were parts in which I laughed out loud. This is not something I do terribly often when I am reading. It was the type of book that I would stop and be so taken by a passage that I would want to read it out loud to J. He would politely listen, but things are never as funny taken out of context, and he would good naturedly chuckle lightly. There are some definite pokes at the Prince of Wales and the whole thing is just fun. Well, its really quite fun if you enjoy magic realism. If it drives you a little mad, so will this book.

And two other books which have made me laugh out loud...

Life Among the Savages
Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson (Yes, that would be the same Shirley Jackson of "The Lottery" fame, the short-story which traumatized entire generations of high school students.) - I'm stretching the rules a bit as these two books are not fiction, but memoirs. I'm allowing it because they really do read like fiction. And they are hilarious. I find it a wee bit difficult to believe that this is the same woman who wrote the above named short story. These two books are some that I reread every few years just because they make me laugh.

Moving onto books I reread every so often (just two more series and I'll stop)...

Any of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers, though hands down, Gaudy Night is the best and doesn't deserve to be limited to mystery readers. These are extremely well done mysteries with one of the most intriguing detectives in all fiction. I think it is because there is so much more going on than just the mystery. Do try them if you have never read them before, but read a few to get the lay of the land and to get to know the main characters before tackling Gaudy Night. You'll get so much more out of it if you do.

The Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. I'm not going to list all the titles, because there are so many of them. But, do read them in order as the characters age and grow up and that is the best part of the series. They really do start to feel a little as though you really, really know them. In brief, Amelia Peabody and her husband Emerson are English Egyptologists  at the turn of the last century. These are the ultimate escapist reading book as they are light-hearted, well-written, and just plain fun. The first of the series, to get you going, is Crocodile on the Sandbank.

There you go. That should keep everyone in books for a little while. As you can see, I do read a lot. I used to keep track of every book I read, and that was really useful, especially for going back and checking on titles. I stopped, probably about the time baby five came along. I also used to write a short review of each book. I think that probably is what did in my record keeping. I've decided I'm going back to keep track, but minus the review. I have no idea how many books I actually read in a year and I'd kind of like to see the number. I'm only up to four this year, which seems very few, but we did do a three week adoption trip with its consequent jet lag and needy children. I'm sure I'll catch up.

1 comment:

Shecki Grtlyblesd said...

Great minds think alike! I just mentioned on my blog that I'm re-reading the Amelia Peabody books. :)

I also went through a Dorothy Sayers phase.

I think I'm at 12 books so far this year, between book reviews and library reading. The one I'm working on now is just dragging. I'm not impressed.

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