Books I Love
11 June 2002
Karina doesn't keep a journal any more, but she still asks good questions. The latest one was which books are Marissa Books. "What books do you love without reservation?" she asked. Oh my. Well, I'll give you a partial list...because I truly do love the Platonic form of books. But I have to say that without reservation and without criticism are not the same thing. I don't love books without criticism, and some of the books I love the most are deeply flawed in very obvious ways. They're like people that way: I don't think my loved ones are perfect, I just know they're loved. And there are books that I think are better than these books, but these are the ones that I love.
So, limiting it to novels...well, on the very top shelf of the A's is Lloyd Alexander's Westmark trilogy. I love those books. I had forgotten how much I loved them. He did really good things in those books. He didn't talk down to kids. He didn't assume that if you agreed on one thing, you'd agree on everything. He didn't let the happily ever after go in the obvious spot. And I loved the revolutionaries, all of them, Florian and the whole crew of them. Great, darkish, happy-making books. Many clever lines, and some more lines that were clever to my grade-school self.
I love Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos books. And his Phoenix Guards books. And the Alexandre Dumas books the Phoenix Guards books are based on. I'm a total sucker for Dumas. I get absolutely lost in all of it, and I just sit and giggle because I'm so happy with those books. Both Brust's and Dumas', I mean. I've got both on my "reread soon!" list, but they've been there for a good while. It's the one of my lists that sees the least motion, generally. I love the convoluted plot and style of Dumas, and I love the musketeers. All of them. I didn't like "The Man in the Iron Mask" (di Caprio times two? Um, no!), but I thought the aging musketeers were brilliantly cast. And I do like the movie of "The Three Musketeers," once I watched it with some distance. I like the books even better, though, as they are so, well, clever. And how do you pick a favorite musketeer? I went around asking people. The answers were interesting. But I don't have a consistent favorite. Nor do I have a consistent identification. (Would any of you identify me with a musketeer, generally? Athos, Porthos, Aramis, D'Artagnan? Let me know. E-mail me.) I just love them all.
I also love Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan books. Cetaganda is my current favorite, but I haven't read the middle of the series in a good long time, so that may change as I reread. (Also on the list.) And part of that, I know, is that Miles makes me feel, er, restful. Rested. The other night Zed was saying that he has moments where he feels like he's reading Jordan's journal or talking to Jordan (from "Real Genius"), and he's right, I'm like that a lot. But, hell, compared to Miles Vorkosigan, I'm practically placid.
I'm noticing, as I go through this, that I talk about the characters a lot. And while I'm a sucker for structure, some of the books I adore (the two I'm going to mention next, for example) are terrible with structure. The plots are sometimes compelling and sometimes iffy. But I like books where I like the characters a lot.
It seems like an obvious thing, but there it is.
Okay, more books I love: C.J. Cherryh's Cyteen. I know for a fact that this book is a mess. It's structurally just awful. It rambles on. And I fall into it and fall in love with it every time I reread it. What I really love about this book is the azi. Caitlin and Florian. They are so well done. (Or maybe I just like books with characters named Florian. Hmm.) Mark says they're creepy. Of course they're creepy. But they're good. You can look at them and say, yes, that's how people would be if they were created like that. Or at least I can. I also love some of the big spacefaring families in other C.J. Cherryh books. Every once in awhile I get a craving for one of those things. But Cyteen is the one that holds my heart.
Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. I've talked about this one before, I know, but it's so well-beloved. And so structurally bad, oh my, oh my, so terrible. There is just no escaping how awful the structure of this book is. Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary is even worse. I didn't have much impression of The Dubious Hills (also on my reread list), and I only have the first volume of her YA series, so I don't know how that'll be. But it seems clear to me that the woman has a problem with structure. It doesn't matter, though, because she's got atmosphere oozing from her pores, and I love Janet and Molly and even Tina, and all of the others on their floor and in their social circle. And I love that they go up to the Cities to go to plays and walk in the Arboretum, too, but I loved that book before it was my college life.
Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. I really think this is another one with structural problems, from another author with consistent structural problems, although not nearly so much so as Dean has them. But I don't care, because it's so cool. I fell into this book on the airplane on the way to see Mark, when we got engaged, and I didn't even pay attention to how excited I was to see Mark after our first summer apart, because I had Snow Crash for most of the flight. Then I finished it and oscillated for awhile.
Sean Stewart's Galveston. Wow, oh, wow. I fell into this book, too. I had a fever when I read it the first time, and so I had to go back and reread it to make sure it was still good, which it was. Definitely was. Scott thought he didn't like fantasy any more, so I gave him Galveston.
Michael Flynn's Firestar. The first third of it carried the rest of the book for me. It didn't really carry the rest of the series for me (although I've read the rest of it so far, and I own two of the volumes). He did one of the best jobs I've ever read of setting up a multi-POV "cast of thousands" book. And then he didn't follow through with the rest of the book/series. Drat.
Nicola Griffith's The Blue Place. I mentioned this at the time -- Susan gave it to me for my birthday last year, and I adored it. Now the sequel is either out or coming out soon. Aud Torvingen. So good. So, so, so good.
I'm looking at my shelves to do this, and there are some authors I love who aren't making the list because I love their short stories much more than their novels. Octavia Butler and Joe Haldeman, for example.
Nancy Kress is better at short stories than at novels, but I still fell in love with Beggars In Spain. It was one of my daddy's inspirations the year I was twelve. He thought I should have it. And I got my first taste of good, new SF. Changed my world forever. The doors it opened for me were astonishing.
(The other twelfth-year inspiration from my dad, which I'm going to mention despite its non-novel status, was A Brief History of Time. Rocked my world. I went around Ralston Middle School starry-eyed and dazed and grasping in vain for someone to share it with. My dad has good instincts.)
Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry. And all the others, except for the Sarantine books. Again, I know that there are messy structural things wrong with these books. I don't even particularly love the characters in these, although I do like some of them. I'm not even sure what it is with these books. They're myffic, is what.
I also like Terry Pratchett, but I'm having a hard time putting a finger on one of his books that's a Quintessential M'ris Book or my very favorite or some such. I like the witches, and I like Death.
Julian May's Intervention is another "not sure why" book. It was a book from my junior high years, too -- I think it was easier for me to fall in love with books then. It got me reading Olaf Stapledon and some of the more obscure "classic SF" authors.
I love Madeleine L'Engle books, especially, A Ring of Endless Light and The Arm of the Starfish and Camilla. I liked the books with Meg and Calvin and Charles Wallace in them, but I liked Vicky better. And I love how she's written about some of her girl-heroes as old women. I wish she'd written more about her girl-heroes as mothers. It seems that there's a big jump, that we get the very young or the very old from L'Engle, and sometimes we get the middle years in flashbacks from the old women, or from being secondary characters in other books (Suzy Austin, for example!), but I wish she'd done more of the middle years. She's not dead yet. I suppose she still could. But she really needs to tell us what happens to Charles Wallace right this very minute, so I can live without hearing about the middle years of her female characters' lives.
I love The Sparrow and Callahan's Key and The Prestige and Declare and The Sunne in Splendour and Fool's War. And there are probably more, lots more, but I have two novelettes to edit, a novel to write, two bathrooms and a kitchen to clean, recycling to take out, bills to pay, groceries to buy, e-mails to answer, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it. I'm swamped. So I think I've indulged myself enough in listing books I love. But it made me feel all warm and fuzzy to do so. Thanks, Karina.
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