Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Neil Gaiman's Favorite Books + other book stuff + Romance & Books & Marshmallows!!!

I think I mentioned recently I'd had a run of book bummers -- books I read that were only "meh" -- enough in a row that it kind of got me down and I needed a good, no: GREAT, book immediately. So I started casting around for recommendations, and one place I looked was this list I'd come across a while back, where Neil Gaiman gives his ten favorite books (plus, I threw in the preceding question, because that book really belongs on the list too):

What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Probably Harlan Ellison's Shatterday (1980). It's a collection of Ellison's short stories, as powerful as any good Ellison collection, and I read it on a plane trip on very bad day in 1982, and Harlan's commentary in one of his introductions to stories -- on doing things, on being a writer and not just thinking you were a writer, on using the time you have -- did more to turn the almost-22-year-old me into the writer I would one day become than anything else. I got off the plane determined to be a writer.

What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
The Biography of Manuel by James Branch Cabell -- Eighteen volumes of beautiful, worldly, wise writing by a forgotten American master.
The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe -- The best science fiction novel of the last century.
Lud in the Mist by Hope Mirrlees -- My favourite fairy tale/detective novel/history/fantasy.
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potock -- A labyrinth inside a maze; also a wonderful film.
Viriconium by M John Harrison -- I could pick any Harrison book, though. It could as easily be Light, his recent sci-fi novel, or Climbers, his astounding mainstream novel. He's a master of prose and ideas.
Codex Seraphinianus by Luigo Serafini -- A guide to an alien world, in an alien language. The strangest book I own.
A Humument by Tom Phillips -- In which an artist works into a Victorian novel to create something perfectly new.
Archer's Goon by Diana Wynne Jones -- The best writer of magical children's fiction of our generation. I don't know if this is the best of her novels, but it's my favourite.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers by R.A. Lafferty -- The funniest, oddest short stories in this or any other world.
The Complete Newgate Calenda -- One of those books, like Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, that's almost a window into the past. In this case, an immersive and astonishing look at criminals and their often short and tragic lives. My set is four volumes, bound in red leather, and it smells like a bygone age.

Hm. There's some pretty obscure stuff on there. Not sure if I'll find them all, or be into all of them, but I've gotten two from the library so far and am on page 37 of Lud-in-the-Mist and . . . wow. I'm inclined to trust Neil Gaiman's suggestions, based just on these 37 pages. The writing is GORGEOUS. Check out this passage, in which Nathaniel Chanticleer, mayor of the titular city, shakes off his unconscious solipsism (if only for a moment), and realizes his son is an actual person:

"Was it possible that Ranulph, too, was a real person, a person inside whose mind things happened? He had thought that he himself was the only real person in a field of human flowers . . ."

The only real person in a field of human flowers.

That is so awesome. I can see I need to get my own copy so I can underline in it and keep it. I also have Archer's Goon and Shatterday from the library. Those three I will definitely read; I'll see about the others as I go. I've got a stack of other library books, and recently purchased books, so I won't be reading these straight through, anyway.

I was also lucky enough to just read the new manuscript of a fellow Pacific Northwest fantasy writer, Dia Calhoun, and it was awesome. I read it practically in one sitting, and this was kind of funny: I had taken about half the manuscript off the bench in my writing room when I sat down on the sofa in the living room to nurse Clementine. Well, Clementine fell into one of her occasional marathon naps, there on my lap (a couple of hours at least). So there I was, with a couple of my favorite things: angelic napping Clementine as close as she could be, her little downy head to pet, adorable tiny hand clasping the strap of my top; and a really good book to read. Really really good. But . . . I'd only grabbed half the stack of pages and -- oh NO! -- I ran OUT! Ack! So I faced a dilemma: I could get up, risking waking up Clementine, to get the rest of the pages, which I would not then be able to continue reading because Clementine would be awake. Or, I could sit there, grab something nearer at hand to read, a magazine or something. Neither of these options suited, so I chose a third:

I sent a flurry of mental messages upstairs to where Jim was working in the art studio. "Come down," I willed him. "Come downstairs now."

And guess what. It WORKED!!! Not two minutes later, I heard his chair readjust, then footsteps. Yay! He claims not to have heard my mental messages, saying he just needed to brush his teeth after coffee, but whatever. I know I did it. I willed him downstairs to get me the rest of Dia's pages, which he did, and I kept reading for the duration of the nap. Thank you, Clementine and Jim, for facilitating my reading experience. I'll probably say more about Dia's book later, but I haven't asked her if I can, since the manuscript is new and all that. But you WILL get the opportunity to read this wonderful book some time. Jim and I have an expression, to "move at the speed of publishing" which is: slow. Really really slow. So I don't know when you'll get to read it, but it will happen because it is a gorgeous book.

Speaking of manuscripts, remember how once upon a time I gloated about reading a really awesome manuscript by a new writer friend? And soon enough that writer friend got both her dream agent and dream editor and the book is coming out this fall? Yes, I'm talking about Stephanie Perkins, who has spent the last month in Paris eating macarons and researching for another book (le sigh). Well, she is running a contest on her blog right now, and it involves romance and books and marshmallows.




Charlotte said...

Viz Diana Wynne Jones--would this be your first one of her books ever? In which case, I would not recommend Archer's Goon (it's my own least favorite). I'd recommend starting with The Lives of Christopher Chant, although my own personal favorite is A Sudden Wild Magic (which has the bonus feature of a very appealing baby whose mother loves him very much, which would be a nice touch if you were reading it while holding your own).

Stephanie Perkins said...

Oh, I'm so jealous you're reading Lud-in-the-Mist! I saw this list a while back and tried to find it in my library. No luck. Guess I'll have to buy it!

Thanks for linking me. :) I'd forgotten about Firelight — you'd mentioned it to me before, but now it's officially on my Netflix list!

Lisa Nowak said...

Someone else recently mentioned Diana Wynne Jones on her blog, but I can't remember who. One of my favorites is Dogsbody. I also really liked The Power of Three and Fire and Hemlock, though all her stuff is great.

You can get brief summaries of her books in this article:

Megsie said...

I remember the days of naps on my lap. My husband, of course, was always at work so I would always make sure I had the tv remote, the phone, and my book when I sat down to nurse. It was awful when I forgot one or the other. You are lucky that your "willing" worked!

Laini Taylor said...

Hi Charlotte! I've read a couple of other Diana Wynne-Hones books, incl Howl's Moving Castle. But there are so many! Thanks for the suggestions :-) (And Lisa's!)

And Steph, I'll let you know if I feel like it's a must-own by the end. So far, I really really want to underline stuff, which is kind of the mark of a keeper.

Megsie: I know! I usually do too: the glass of water, book, phone, etc. But I thought I had enough of the manuscript. It was a really long nap!

chels said...

I love Archer's Goon , which is consequently the only book on this list I've read. If you like it you should try The Homeward Bounders by her as well.

Laini Taylor said...

Man, she's got a lot of books!!!!!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I personally have 19 of DWJ's books on my shelf and I loved them all. She is the queen of imaginative fiction with a good dollop of humor.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this list! Between teaching, mommying, and writing (and whatever else pops up), I can't waste my precious reading time on "meh" books. I'm sure you know the feeling! :) Sure hope one day to be on someone's "Not Meh" book list! :D

KJ said...

Ooh! Thanks for the Neil Gaiman recommendations, I'm SO EXCITED to get reading some of those!!!

Victoria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dia Calhoun said...

Hi Laini,
Thanks for the fabulous list of books--I'm always looking for top notch fantay. And many thanks to you for reading my manuscript.

Anonymous said...

Hello Laini,

I find that only 50% of the books that Neil Gaiman recommends actually suit my taste.

On the other hand, Patrick Rothfuss recommended YOUR Dreamdark Blackbringer book on his blog (saying that he was so manly, he could read books about fairies!), and his recommendation was 100% spot on! That's how I discovered your books!

I would love to see YOUR list of favorite books!

PS- How on earth did you manage to get the cutest baby ON THE PLANET? Did you bribe the Stork, or what?

Arina said...

Dear Laini,

please hurry up and get Dreamdark three out because I cant wait to delve back in there with the crows and 'Pie! Is there a more-or-less date of when it will be out? I have been looking for a fairy-world to fall into, but have found nothing that felt true to fay-like, until I came across your writing. Every detail feels cohesive and sustains a realm that the wee folk would inhabit.

Congrats on Lips Touch, it was my Christmas present from my little sister! (And I gave her Blackbringer, since we both enjoy a kick-butt fairy).

Neil Gaiman's list has several intriguing books. I am going to look into the one explaining aliens and in an alien language!

Congratulations on all the languages your series is being published in, how many is it? Is in getting published in Italy?

Keep up this weaving of magic, we need power books like these!


Laini Taylor said...

Hi Anonymous -- yes, on closer inspection, several of the books on this list will probably not be read by me; they seem really interesting, but aren't novels, more of curiosities. I'm going to check out several of the novels though.

And Alessandra, thank you! There is no date as of yet for another Dreamdark book :-( I'm working on a few other things, but hopefully after those I'll be able to resume writing Dreamdark. I'm so glad you enjoy them! As for Italian editions, Lips Touch has sold to Italy but I don't know when the edition is coming out, and Dreamdark hasn't yet sold Italian rights, though I hope it will!!!!

~Molly~ said...

Don't you love it when telepathy works?!

jaecy bells said...

Wow, I wish I had magical powers.

I thought that was awesome how you pointed out that passage: I have a bad tendency to read books the first time, skimming and skipping, and not really letting the words sink in. This is why I usually read books more than once: it takes that any times to get the full deal. It's like I swallow without chewing. Anyways, I can really relate to those words: not because I have a son, but because they captured a feeling. Thanks for pointing that out!

Elena said...

Sounds like a fabulous book. For your last post: beautiful collage! It sounds like you're really enjoying that.

Lori Gravley said...

I can only say that if Gaiman had read your Dreamdark you would surely have been on his list.

My 13-year-old and I love the world you've made (he's listened to the CDs 3 times already). Thanks for sharing the list and the excerpt. Just got Lips Touch and I can't wait to read it.

Thank you for the magic.

Kathleen said...

Neil Gaiman's favorite books?! Thank you! And marshmallows do go very well with romance books, especially if they're in hot chocolate.