Some of my favourite books
This is not a
list of great books or must-reads. Some books at the top of other peopleís
lists are not here, either because I tried to read them and couldnít get
through them for one reason or another, or read them and felt no desire to
read them ever again. Others I just havenít gotten around to, and maybe
This list is purely
personal. Some of these books are among the immortals; others will be
forgotten in a few decades. The only reason they are here is because I
enjoyed them and have read them at least twice, or would read them again.
If you have comments or suggestions, you can e-mail me at email@example.com
Note: Most of
them can be read by anyone of any age. However, I have not attempted an
age-rating system, so read at your own risk.
Guide to the Galaxy; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, the
Universe, and Everything; So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish . Unique. A fine
read, funny, weird, and touching. Sometimes it even begins to make sense.
The Wolves of
Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersea, Night Birds on Nantucket, The
Whispering Mountain, and the other books set in her alternate world of
wild wolves, indomitable orphans, and inventively vicious villains.
The Last Unicorn. Heartbreaking,
beautiful, imbued with the sensibility of the 1960s. On most top-ten
fantasy lists. The Innkeeperís Song.
A more mature book. Strong, complex, sympathetic characters, richly
imagined world, a fearsome quest. Giant
Bones. Short stories set in the world of The Innkeeperís Song.
The House With a
Clock in its Walls, The Mansion in the Mist, and the other
books featuring Lewis Barnavelt. Wonderfully dark, adventurous, gothic
stories for children, with some editions illustrated by Edward Gorey. The Face in the Frost. Bellairs's
one book for adults, and one of my top favourites. A strange, enchanting,
funny, scary book. The scene with the magically transformed vegetables will
stay with you forever.
of the masters of SF, he always brought an extra sense of wonder and
possibility (of both good and evil) to his stories. For example: The Illustrated Man, The Martian
Chronicles, and Something Wicked This Way Comes (truly scary.)
Freddy the Detective,
Freddy the Pilot, Freddy and the Bean Home News, Freddy Goes to Florida, and all the
other Freddy books. They qualify as fantasy because of the talking animals,
but really they are just a darn good read. Freddy ó poet, journalist,
detective, and pig ó was my early inspiration.
War for the Oaks. A well-written,
absorbing story of Faerie set in Minneapolis, in the music scene of the
1980s. The music-magic connection is intuitively right.
Adventures in Wonderland, and Through
the Looking-Glass. No commentary necessary.
was pleasantly surprised to discover, as a child, that stories about magic
could be set in Canada. These are the ones I remember best: The Golden Pine Cone, The One-Winged Dragon,
The Sun Horse.
Over Sea, Under
Stone; The Dark is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; Silver on the Tree. (The Dark is
Rising series) Cosmic good-vs.-evil story set in the present but with a
feeling of depth, based on ancient Celtic and Arthurian myth. Excellent
writing, compelling atmosphere, and strong characters, including effective
Little, Big. Discovered late
in life, found it peculiar and even baffling at first, then almost
impossible to put down. This book will bear much re-reading: peopled
with mysterious but deeply real characters, bizarre and possibly magical
houses, a plot that grows more byzantine and rich as it unfolds, enduring
strangeness, and magnificent writing. One of my top favourites, along with
Mervyn Peakeís work.
Tam Lin. A story that
keeps getting retold because it's so good. This version, set on an American
college campus, is a bit over-written, but the details of undergrad life
are part of what makes this a fun read.
the tradition of E. Nesbit, but set mostly in 1920s small-town America,
they are light-hearted stories of kids, magic, and trouble. Some titles
are: Half Magic, Knightís Castle,
Magic by the Lake, The Time Garden.
of the finest British fantasy writers; his books are few but radiant (dark,
too). Elidor. Four modern
children, four beleaguered Otherworld cities, the four treasures of ancient
Britain. One of the most powerful and most heart-breaking ending paragraphs
I have ever read. The Owl Service
is the legend of Blodewedd of the Flowers, retold and set in a modern Welsh
Citadel; Castledown; The Great Wheel. An American girl (later young woman) finds
her way into a world of magic, princes, and fabulous beasts, holds her own
through force of character, and keeps getting yanked back home at the worst
possible moment. Includes a satisfying romance. The author (who died at the
age of 44) was an expert in oriental rugs, a musician, and a breeder of
Arabian horses. The horsemanship shows in the books.
The Wind in the
Foolish Toad, competent Rat, crusty Badger, lovable Mole, and the infamous
stoats. Revisited now, the lack of female characters is irritating and the
classism seems quaint, but the story is still fresh, the characters
The Bone Forest;
Mythago Wood; Lavondyss. A limitless world opens inward from the margins of
a fragment of ancient English forest. Part scientific exploration, part
Jungian quest, the hero discovers legends (Odysseus, the Green Knight,
Arthur, etc.) and the even older legends behind them, back to the ice age
and the beginnings of human myth. Thereís also a wonderful primitive
The Haunting of
Classic. No oozing walls, no exploding heads, not a drop of blood ó and
absolutely terrifying. The Lottery
and Other Stories. Equally chilling, as well as thought-provoking.
The Turn of the
Ambiguous at first, but leaves you with a sense that youíve touched
James, M. R.
James was an academic who is better remembered for his chilling tales.
There are moments in these stories of intense, icy horror brought on by the
most subtle and apparently mundane details.
Le Guin, Ursula
A Wizard of
Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore. Forget Harry
Potter: the original Earthsea Trilogy is still among the best accounts ever
written of a wizardís (or a manís) education. Tehanu, fourth in the series, is very different in tone:
definitely an adult book. The story continues in The Other Wind and Tales
Lewis, C. S.
The Lion, the
Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the rest of the Narnia Chronicles. I
read and loved these books as a child, without noticing the Christian
symbolism. When I did notice, it deepened my enjoyment. Some people have
actually proposed cleaning out the Christian elements. I have no room here
to express how misguided I believe this is.
Deviltry, Swords Against Death, Swords in the Mist, Swords Against
Wizardry, The Swords of Lankhmar, Swords and Ice Magic. The original
six books of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series are somewhat misogynist
in spots. They are also macabre, exciting, hilarious, inventive, and
stylishly written. I can forgive the misogyny. I didnít like the seventh
book, a later add-on.
Lovecraft, H. P.
Horror, and Other Stories. The original American gothic master. At
worst his style is almost unreadable. At the best, he has an unequalled
ability to create a sense of cosmic horror. You feel that he truly believes.
The Riddlemaster of
Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, Harpist in the Wind. A very young
story (the author admits that) with perhaps too much angst and sensitivity,
but a beautiful read all the same. The first time I read book one, I could
hardly put it down until I was done.
in some ways, but the children are still lively, believable characters, and
the touches of magic and strangeness still effective. Some are The Enchanted Castle, Five Children and
It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, The Story of the Amulet, The Treasure
Star Born. Included
because itís the first science fiction book I ever read. I liked the
interspecies friendship, and itís still a good, adventuresome read. Witch World, and the rest of the
Witch World Series. Norton started publishing sf in the 1950s. She featured
very strong female characters in an era when most sf writers were men, and
most female characters were decoration. The early Witch World books bear
re-reading, but avoid the later collaborations.
Gormenghast, Titus Alone. One of the handful heading any fantasy
list, the Gormenghast Trilogy is possibly unique and probably inimitable.
At times over the top, occasionally confusing. Mostly magnificent.
The Colour of
Magic, The Light Fantastic, The Truth, Jingo, Wyrd Sisters, Mort, and all the rest
of the Discworld novels. Night Watch
may be his very best, fuelled by the moral passion that underpinned the
humour. Sad that he is gone now; happy that he accomplished so much.
Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass. ( His Dark
Materials trilogy). Dark, frightening, maybe too dark for young kids;
vividly exciting and highly original. The daemons alone are worth the price
of the books. This recent trilogy will find a secure place among fantasy
classics, despite the philosophical agenda that overtakes and rather spoils
the third book. (A sort of contra-C.S. Lewis situation here.)
Dream Gold. A haunting
story about kids at an English school and the effect of certain strange
dreams on their waking lives.
Frankenstein. Written by
a teenaged girl, published nearly 200 years ago, one of the earliest
science fiction stories, still a good read.
writer from the Golden Age of the 1940s and -50s. Stories are often set in
his native Wisconsin and feature newspapermen (which he was), ordinary,
decent guys enmeshed in cosmic conflict and extraordinary danger. City, his best-known book, is a
deceptively laid-back, thoughtful look at the end of human civilization.
Youíll never guess whoíll succeed us. The
Goblin Reservation was the first Simak book I read. (A reservation for
goblins ó who could resist?) Lots more good ones: They Walked Like Men, Shakespeare's Planet, Way Station, etc.
Unfortunately, like Andre Norton, he ran out of steam in his later books.
The Crystal Cave,
The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment. Her take on the Arthurian
legend, from the viewpoint of Merlin, is captivating. The Wicked Day, written later from the viewpoint of Mordred, is
also a good read but lacks the charm of the earlier three.
Arkady and Boris
Roadside Picnic. Set in Canada,
perhaps for political reasons (the authors were Russian, the Soviets still
in power) but the story doesnít feel Canadian. It has that touch of the
surreal that seems typically Russian. Haunting, unforgettable, itís about
the world-changing, often horrible effects of casual litter left behind by
some extraterrestrial tourists.
The Hobbit, The
Fellowship of the Rings, The Two Towers, The Return of the King. I began reading
these when I was 12, before the first wave of fandom swept North American
campuses, and they've been part of my life ever since. Despite its
shortcomings, Tolkienís work still holds a powerful magic, perhaps because
he created a convincingly seamless world, something that most of his many
imitators havenít equalled, perhaps because of the clarity of his vision of
good and evil. Besides, itís a great story -- and who couldnít love
books are historical fiction, not fantasy, but I include them because when
I read them as a teen, I was swept away to other worlds. Still exciting,
suspenseful, and notable for spirited heroines who carry half the plot. A Crown of Violet is set in
classical Greece. Cue for Treason
is set in Shakespeareís England. There are many more.
Prince of Annwyn,
The Children of Llyr, The Song of Rhiannon, Island of the Mighty. A well-written
retelling of The Mabinogion, the great cycle of Welsh myths.
The Once and
Magical, delightful, erudite, beautifully written. It ends sadly, but
thatís par for the Arthurian legend.
The Picture of
Part moral fable, part fantasy, and a satisfying read.
Bellwether. Market research,
fads, stray sheep. Nobody writes so entertainingly about the inner workings
of academia as Willis. Doomsday Book.
Not sure Iíll reread this, itís so scarifying (itís about a time-travelling
historian accidentally landing in the era of the Black Death) but so well
done I probably will.
fiction with sympathetic characters entangled in world-shattering events.
Wyndham had a clear eye for both tragedy and heroism. His prose style is a
pleasure. Some titles: The
Chrysalids, The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes, The Midwich Cuckoos.
YA writer with a sometimes wild sense of humour and great story-telling
skill. Fire and Hemlock is
another retelling of Tam Lin, better than Pamela Deanís. Read Howlís Moving Castle, and anything
about Christopher Chant.
who lives in Perth, Ontario. Has written many wonderful YA books, including
The Burning Boy, and The Maestro. But the two books
below are not for children. Fastyngange
is a strange story about an oubliette (deep stone pit in old English
castle, built to dispose of prisoners) that talks, and its effect on people
who listen. Its ultimate fate in downtown Toronto is appropriate and
satisfying. Oddís End is a
chilling story about a strange presence in what was thought to be the
Nine Princes in
Amber, The Guns of Avalon, Sign of the Unicorn, The Hand of Oberon, The
Courts of Chaos.
The Chronicles of Amber, the powerful first series, with Prince Corwin as
protagonist, has larger characters and higher stakes than the second
series, with his son Merlin as protagonist.
March 24, 2015