These are a few of my favourite booksPosted: June 19, 2011
I am deliberately not fulfilling the purpose of this essay. If you’ve read my second essay, you’ll know I had a not so positive experience with liking, or rather definitely not liking, certain ‘classics.’ As such I find myself a tad unwilling to suggest that everyone should read a book based on my own, highly subjective, opinion. Luckily, the description of the topic indicates that I can instead write about books I “can’t stop talking about.”
With that in mind I went to my bookshelf and chose some books which I have read and re-read countless times. They aren’t so much deep or sophisticated books so much as books that I devoured the first time, went back to for seconds, then thirds, and casually nibble at when I’m bored.
Quick note: The Harry Potter books, Lord of the Rings and Terry Pratchett’s Books all deserve to be here. I excluded these because I figured you’d already know enough about the first two, and I find it very difficult to choose just one of Terry Pratchett’s books.
Reader Beware: [very minor] spoilers ahead. There will be further warnings.
Author: Wendelin Van Draanen
Age I was when I first read it: 13
At first glance, the plot of this book is underwhelming. Bryce and Juli meet at the age of seven when he moves into her neighbourhood. For her, it’s the start of a years-long crush, for him it’s the beginning of “six years of strategic avoidance and social discomfort.”
What I really love about this story is the way it’s told. It’s literally a he said/she said book; events are related first by Bryce and then re-told by Juli. As expected, they often interpret events in completely different ways. What makes this book work so well is Juli and Bryce. They are relatable, sympathetic, and perhaps most importantly, are voiced realistically and distinct from one another. It’s an elegant demonstration of how one can completely misinterpret someone’s actions and character despite ‘knowing’ them. Hence the title of the book: as Bryce begins to realize that Juli might actually be pretty cool, she starts to wonder whether his pretty boy face hides a rotten interior.
To this day, this book has one of my favourite endings ever, both in plot and actual writing. I won’t spoil it though, so go read it if you want to know!
Title: Airborn Trilogy (Airborn, Skybreaker, Starclimber)
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Age I first read it: 14
Pirates! Airships! Romance that Defies Class Distinctions! Need I say more? Ok, I will. Space Travel! Lost Treasure! Being Stranded on an Uninhabited Island!
These books are set in some Victorian-esque period but with differences (hello, steampunk). In this world there exists the mango-scented element Hydrium, which has all the lift of hydrogen and none of the explosiveness. This convenient property allows balloon airships to dominate the skies. The heroine of the books, Kate de Vries, is rich, pretty, intelligent, and extremely stubborn. In short: a believable and likable character. But it’s really the hero and narrator, Matt Cruse, that steals the show. In Airborn, he is the youngest crew member and cabin boy of the airship Aurora. He’s honest, hard-working, quick-thinking and a wee bit prone to jealousy. To be honest I like him so much I kind of wish he were real. So I could date him. Possibly marry him. And maybe even have his babies. That sort of thing. Alas, it is not to be, for he lives in the fictional world and I in this thing called reality. (Jasper Fforde, this is where you come in!)
Action-y books such as these work best when the writing doesn’t get in the way of the action. That is generally the case with Kenneth Oppel, but when you do notice the writing, it’s because it’s really good. Especially the endings. The man knows how to end a book. If his books were a present, and the final words a ribbon, that package would sport a very fine bow, a very fine bow indeed.
Title: Howl’s Moving Castle
Author: Diana Wynne Jones (RIP)
Age I first read it: not sure…high school sometime…maybe 15?
This book is the only book I have ever read that I wanted to read all over again immediately after I finished it. But I didn’t. I waited as long as I could so that the book could retain that first-read charm for as long as possible. I lasted a month.
There are two things I love most about DWJ books: the characters and the magic. Magic in her books is not of the Harry Potter wand and spell variety. It’s a little of the symbols and incantations type, but mostly its just unpredictable and a bit incomprehensible. It’s not consistent from person to person or book to book, and she rarely bothers to totally explain it. (In her book Fire and Hemlock I still don’t understand the ending. I’m pretty sure it was a happy ending, but as to how they got there…Interestingly enough, this has no bearing on my enjoyment of the book: it was excellent and I plan to read it again someday). *minor spoiler (the text is white, so highlight if you want to read it)* For instance, Sophie’s magical ability in this book is channeled through verbal encouragement. Only Sophie’s brand of encouragement isn’t gentle, it’s more abrupt and forceful. It’s kind of like good-natured bullying, if that makes any sense. *spoiler over*
Which brings us to Sophie. The story starts rolling when she accidentally offends the Witch of the Waste, who then turns Sophie into a 90-year-old woman. As a young woman Sophie is timid and shy. As an old woman she’s cranky, opinionated, stubborn and just generally awesome. A perfect match to Howl, who is irresponsible, lazy, immature and a wuss. Add to that a sarcastic fire demon, parallel worlds, and castle that actually does move, and you’ve got a recipe for a delightful book.
And that’s it. I probably could have written much, much more about each of these books. But I won’t. Read them yourself! Or, you know, don’t. Whatever strikes your fancy, floats your boat etc.
NB: I’ve noticed in the past few months that I rarely use similes or metaphors in my writing. If you feel there is an excess of imagery in this post, it is because I am experimenting with them at the moment.