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.
ROMANCE AND BOOKS AND MARSHMALLOWS! How can you resist???