And you know what? Not one of these books is nearly as harmful as individuals such as these who fear the free flow of information.
Among the runners up is Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Interesting.
I Tag Myself
Geez, people across the Canadian blogosphere are complaining about being tagged, and yet I stumble upon the perfect opportunity to blog about books I like, and nobody tags me. The story of my life, really. I’ll just have to tag myself. I’m it!
How Many Books Do You Own?: Hundreds. Possibly thousands. Erin already had an extensive poetry collection that filled an entire bookcase, and I already had an extensive fiction collection that Erin and I have been adding to ever since. We love books and we love the book nook we’ve created, with wooden cases lining one whole wall of our living room.
This is what comes of being a writer, being married to a poet, and being the son of two librarians. My father wrote the text of the Ontario Libraries Act. His expertise is libraries, and he knows the standards for a community’s collection. He used to boast that his home had enough material (including reference material) to adequately stock a library designed to serve a community of 50,000 people. That’s a lot of books. Books are good.
What is the Last Book You Bought?: Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones. Before that, Power of Three and The Merlin Conspiracy, also by Diana Wynne Jones.
What is the Last Book You Read?: Erin and I just finished The Merlin Conspiracy. I am currently reading to Erin Power of Three as a bedtime story. While on the exercycle at the gym with Dan, I’m reading Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones.
I seem to be on quite the Wynne Jones kick these days, but she’s a prolific, highly imaginative and very readible young adult fantasy author. Her books run the range from fairy tale to high fantasy to even touches of science fiction. She’s had a long career, and we haven’t encountered a bad book out of her, yet.
I’ve also made it a policy to focus my reading on young adult fiction, since this is the market I am hoping to enter. This might be counter-intuitive, but experienced authors will tell you, if you hope to write in a genre, read that genre thoroughly. Kathy Stinson suggested this and was questioned on it by one of her students. Doesn’t that influence your writing? Aren’t you running the risk of stealing plotlines?
Well, first of all, there are no completely original plotlines to write anymore. And by thoroughly reading the genre, you become adept at telling which plot elements are clich´ and which are bog standard to the genre. P.D James, a mystery writer, once tried to write a science fiction story about the aftermath of a nuclear war. She went into great detail about how the war started and how it was fought, even though the story was supposed to be about the aftermath.
Any other science fiction writer out there would have said, “so there was this war,” and moved on to the story.
Never, ever, fear reading in the genre you hope to write in. It doesn’t make your work derivative. Even if it did; if a reviewer came up to you and said, “you write like Hemmingway”, would you really be insulted?
Name five books that mean a lot to you: Hmm… Only five? Well, here’s what comes off the top of my head.
An Older Kind of Magic, by Patricia Wrightson: My mother read this book to me when I was eight. I rediscovered and reread this book to Erin a few years ago and she said: “she writes like you.” This story, set in Sydney, Australia, focuses on a group of kids that live atop the government buildings with their caretaker father, and who play around in the empty offices after office hours. There’s a city park that’s about to be bulldozed and a passing comet that calls all of the faerie-like creatures of Australian folklore for a night of magic.
Patricia Wrightson is the Madeleine L’Engle of Australian fiction. She is, unfortunately, unknown in North America. Her many other books are worth reading (see especially the Song of Wirrun trilogy and The Nargun and the Stars). She provides a fascinating window on Australian aboriginal folklore, which feature creatures more wild than the Irish faerie legends. You’ll have to troll the used bookstores to pick up her books, but she’s a treasure well worth searching for.
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norman Juster: This is the first book Erin and I read together as part of our bedtime ritual — one we’re going to impart on our kids. This is a story about young Milo, who bored with learning, but then is whisked off to the Land of Wisdom where he must rescue the twin princesses Rhyme and Reason from the Mountains of Ignorance. Along the way, he learns the joy of learning and encounters dozens of groan-worthy puns (consider the Whether Man — “for after all it’s more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be”). This book was an inspiration for Rosemary and Time and is just a darn fine read in its own right. It’s still in print at your local bookstores. Norman Juster is also known for the classic book The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathemetic.
The Narnia Series, by C.S. Lewis: How do you introduce religion into a child’s life without being overbearing or patronizing? Read him or her these books. I’m sure everybody reading this has heard of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, right? Explicit Christian allegory communicates the general themes to young children, and makes the hair stand on the backs of their necks when they return to these books in adulthood. Consider The Last Battle, which breaks several unwritten rules of childrens’ books today. It’s a children’s retelling of the Book of Revelation, the world ends, the main characters are all killed off, and it’s a happy ending.
Though written for children, C.S. Lewis manages to compose a series of books that gets inside your head and makes you think. This is a must read for every individual; not just children, and not just Christians.
What always gets me is when some “Christian” tries to get The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe banned because it has a witch and witchcraft in it. If you want proof of the general lack of intelligence of individuals who want to ban books, this is Exhibit A.
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman: How do you get a child to critique religion without being overbearing or patronizing? Well, if you’re reading your children the His Dark Materials sequence, you stop just short of The Amber Spyglass and leave them to read that last book when they’re ready.
The three books, starting with The Golden Compass features young Lyra, a wild young girl living in alternate Earth Oxford, who finds herself at the centre of a new battle of the heavens. The story is at its best when Lyra travels through her world and between the alternates, meeting interesting people and interesting ideas as she grows up to face down the forces of Heaven. Philip Pullman’s imagination goes into overdrive, providing us with such interesting concepts as physical personal demons, angels as dark matter, and all the problems Mr. Pullman has with religion that he feels you should know about.
Pullman’s anti-theological message ends up eating the narrative of the last book (The Amber Spyglass), I’m afraid, but the whole series is worth reading, and first two books are destined to become childrens’ classics. My five-part review of his sequence was one of my first serial blog posts, and his books still make me think, so he has to be included on this list.
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle: Rosemary and Time owes a lot to Madeleine L’Engle’s classic tale of young children fighting evil while travelling the universe at the speed of thought. A Wrinkle in Time is a remarkable piece of storytelling, built in broad strokes. Meg Murry as the timid heroine who finds herself is the model of similar heroines to come to fiction since. Camazotz is a fascinating model of a conformist society that echoes Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and 1950s paranoia. Modern readers might find the story young for their taste, but consider that Madeleine wrote this in the early 1960s. She was blazing a trail, and her work stuck in my head since my mother read it to me back in the day.
You can read a full review here.
These are all what I would call important books to me, personally. But reading should be a fun activity. Among the slightly less important books, check out Kenneth Oppal’s Airborn, which won the Governor General’s Award for children’s literature this year. Indeed, I would say that all of the books on this list and this list are worth reading.
Now “tag” five individuals to provide their own lists: Well, perhaps I shouldn’t do this, as nobody has actually tagged me (Update: Greg just did), but I would be interested in reading the thoughts of Dan Kukwa, Jim Elve, Dave at Blogography, Rebecca Anderson and Natasha.