What I love to read

 

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Some of my favourite books

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 never will.

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 pabow@gto.net  

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.

Adams, Douglas

The Hitchhiker's 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.

 

Aiken, Joan

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.

 

Beagle, Peter

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.

Bellairs, John

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.

Bradbury, Ray

One 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.)

Brooks, Walter

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.

 

Bull, Emma

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.

 

Carroll, Lewis

Aliceís Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking-Glass. No commentary necessary.

 

Clark, Catherine

I 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.

 

Cooper, Susan

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 villains.

 

Crowley, John

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.

 

Dean, Pamela

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.

 

Eager, Edward

In 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.

 

Garner, Alan

One 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 village. Unforgettable.

 

Gregorian, Joyce

The Broken 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.

 

Grahame, Kenneth

The Wind in the Willows. 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 endearing.

 

Holdstock, Robert

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 Guinevere.

 

Jackson, Shirley

The Haunting of Hill House. 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.

 

James, Henry

The Turn of the Screw. Ambiguous at first, but leaves you with a sense that youíve touched ultimate evil. 

 

James, M. R.

Collected Ghost Stories. 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 from Earthsea.

 

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.

 

Leiber, Fritz

Swords and 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.

The Dunwich 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.

 

McKillip, Patricia

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.

 

Nesbit, E.

Old-fashioned 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 Seekers.

 

Norton, Andre

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.

 

Peake, Mervyn

Titus Groan, 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.

 

Pratchett, Terry

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.

 

Pullman, Philip

The Golden 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.)

 

Severn, David

Dream Gold. A haunting story about kids at an English school and the effect of certain strange dreams on their waking lives.

 

Shelley, Mary

Frankenstein. Written by a teenaged girl, published nearly 200 years ago, one of the earliest science fiction stories, still a good read.

 

Simak, Clifford

SF 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.

 

Stewart, Mary

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.

 

Strugatsky, 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.

 

Tolkien, J.R.R.

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 Hobbits?

 

Trease, Geoffrey

His 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.

 

Walton, Evangeline

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.

 

White, T.H.

The Once and Future King. Magical, delightful, erudite, beautifully written. It ends sadly, but thatís par for the Arthurian legend.

 

Wilde, Oscar

The Picture of Dorian Gray. Part moral fable, part fantasy, and a satisfying read.

 

Willis, Connie

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.

 

Wyndham, John

Science 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.

 

Wynne Jones, Diana

A 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.

 

Wynne-Jones, Tim

Writer 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 perfect house.

 

Zelazny, Roger

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.

 

Updated March 24, 2015

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