You often find autobiographical sites on the web where people have listed their favourite books. This isn’t a site about me, but one thing occurred to me. If I meet someone who likes the same books as me, then I trust their recommendations for other books a lot. In my experience, there is a lot of really bad writing out there, and a relatively small selection of truly great writing. I’m going to list here some of the books on my shelf (well, shelves, really – a lot of them!) for anyone who feels like trusting my opinion as chief fan. Not that these books are necessarily similar to GGK’s, they’re also not only fantasy, but they are my suggestions, take them or leave them, for some really great reading experiences. And if you really trust me, then you can click on a title, and it’ll lead you to Amazon’s bookstore, where you can buy the book for yourself!
J.R.R.Tolkien (It is rightly decreed -by me- that any fantasy list has to start with the great JRRT)
The Lord of the Rings
Tree and Leaf (out of print, but try the out of print service)
Tolkien: A biography, by Humphrey Carpenter
I know this might seem a bit excessive, but even though his books are the subject of my site, and therefore on every other page, how can I list the books on my shelf without including them? I mean, really! You can also click through to buy them elsewhere on the site, from Canada, the UK or America, in the actual books section – here I’ll stick to amazon.com – it’s simpler..
Really great writer. I particularly love Mordant’s Need – and confess, somewhat shamefacedly, to being the teeniest bit in lurve with Geraden – the only time I’ve ever admitted that about a fictional character!
Donaldson also published a science-fiction series, called The Gap Series. Good, visceral, shocking. But this is a short list, not a list of all my books (I have six bookcases, after all) so I won’t list them all. To my mind, they’re not quite in the same league as his fantasy work.
A relatively recent discovery, and a more than pleasant one, her books (yes, Robin is a woman) just get better and better. The Farseer Saga was good; the more recent Liveship Traders series was excellent, and brought her on to my shortlist.
Robin Hobb is a pseudonym, and previously, she wrote under the pseudonym Megan Lindholm. Most of the Lindholm books were out of print for a while, but they’re being reprinted now in the U.K. (still not available in the U.S. from what I can see). The best I read were The Gypsy (written with Steven Brust), Wizard of the Pigeons, and Cloven Hooves – all were excellent.
I won’t claim to have read exhaustively, so there may well be other authors I just haven’t found yet who belong on that shortlist (feel free to tell me about them!)But those are the truly excellent adult fantasy books. The ones I list below I consider to be interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking, but not quite in the same league.
Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin is a fascinating novel, a variation on a Scottish ballad – which I absolutely loved because the heroine is a student studying English lit at university who loves fantasy fiction – which is exactly what I was when I first read it!
A recent find for me, but her Riddlemaster trilogy is one of the classics of the genre. Powerful and lyrical. And her less ‘epic’ books are even better – I’ve almost never read prose this beautiful. I’m in the process of reading and loving them all:
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
The Book of Atrix Wolfe
Song for the Basilisk
The Cygnet and the Firebird (out of print)
The Sorceress and the Cygnet (out of print)
There are more books in the Deverry series, but those four make up the first quartet, and are self-contained. The rest are not as good as these, and are anyway still a work in progress…
Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling have been editing collections of ‘adult’ fairy tales for some time now; reclaiming them from the nursery and putting them back where they belong. I have not read all of the books in the series, only the first two – but they were excellent, and I’m sure the others are equally so.
And whilst we’re on fairy tales, much as I’m not at all a fan of horror, I recently read an engrossing and beautiful novel-length fairy tale by the acknowledged master of horror, Stephen King. I highly recommend The Eyes of the Dragon. There are a few recent ‘novelizations’ of fairy tales – another couple of good ones include Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose and Robin McKinley’s Deerskin. And not a fairy tale novelization, but a very good, powerful novel that uses some of the more traditional elements of fairy tale and fantasy to very good effect is Patrick O’Leary’s The Gift.
Other good authors to mention – Charles de Lint, George R.R. Martin, Tim Powers.
An Experiment in Criticism, by C.S.Lewis
Fantasists on Fantasy, ed. Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski
The Encyclopaedia of Fantasy, by John Clute and John Grant
The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi
I’ve found that many authors who write what is officially considered ‘chidren’s books’ write books that are more readable as an adult than much adult fiction. The recent craze for the Harry Potter books has shown how adults can enjoy children’s books. I thinks that the following books deserve the same, if not better, press. I thoroughly recommend them, for children, and for adults.
The Dark is Rising Sequence (boxed set)
Bk 1: Over Sea Under Stone
Bk 2: The Dark is Rising
Bk 3: Greenwitch
Bk 4: The Grey King
Bk 5: Silver on the Tree
Children’s fiction (but still very worthwhile for readers):
Archer’s Goon (out of print at the moment – try and find it secondhand)
A Tale of Time City (out of print in U.S. – link to Amazon UK)
The Ogre Downstairs (again, link to Amazon UK)
The Chronicles of Narnia (boxed set), consisting of:
Bk 1: The Magician’s Nephew
Bk 2: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Bk 3: The Horse and his Boy
Bk 4: Prince Caspian
Bk 5: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Bk 6: The Silver Chair
Bk 7: The Last Battle
Norton Juster: The Phantom Tollbooth
I’m nowhere near as big an ‘expert’ on Sci-Fi as I am in fantasy, but there are a few strong recommendations I can give…
Orson Scott Card
The Ender’s Game series is the only sci-fi series I’ve ever read that comes close to achieving the same extra-literary, profound effect that the best fantasy does. Truly amazing books:
Intervention (this comes in 2 books in the States, which aren’t readily available, so I’m linking to the one book format of the UK here)
Jack the Bodiless
(These books are related to her four book Pliocene Exile series, but to my mind, this series -The Galactic Milieu- is far better).
Villette (a very powerful and moving exploration of loneliness – this book should be better known)
In terms of poetry, I love the metaphysical poets – John Donne, Andrew Marvell and George Herbert in particular. I also love Emily Dickinson. And I’d like to mention The Happy Prince, a short, heartbreakingly beautiful fairy tale by Oscar Wilde, along with his wonderfully clever plays, The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband. I’m not going to be ridiculous and go through the whole canon, but I’ll just say that Much Ado About Nothing is my favourite Shakespeare play.
I haven’t read enough historical fiction, although I have some books waiting for me on my shelf which may end up on this list once I get round to reading them. Some of my favourite books as a child were historical fiction – I’ll mention Geoffrey Trease’s The Baron’s Hostage (out of print) and Cue for Treason (available in the UK) in particular. One author I have read more recently (emphatically not children’s lit), and who definitely belongs on this list is Dorothy Dunnett. Intricate, complex and fascinating books. And as you’ll know if you’ve read the interviews on the site, GGK things she’s great too:
A truly wonderful epistolary novel by Emma Bull and Steven Brust,
Freedom and Necessity – an absolute must read, recently found.
I’m not hugely into crime fiction, but there are a few very good authors out there that are on my ‘must read’ list.
Elizabeth George writes really great, character driven fiction, with some of the most interesting people and scenarios I’ve seen – it’s an ongoing series involving detectives from London’s Scotland Yard.
A Suitable Vengeance (prequel)
A Great Deliverance
Payment In Blood
Well-Schooled In Murder
For The Sake of Elena
Playing For The Ashes
In The Presence Of The Enemy
Deception On His Mind
In Pursuit Of The Proper Sinner
A Traitor To Memory
Dorothy L Sayers Sayers has been a relatively recent discovery for me. I find it fascinating reading books set in 1930’s London, for one thing, and the dialogue is wonderful. Intelligent writing, again, very character based, not so much plot based, and an ongoing cast of characters:
Clouds of Witness
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
Five Red Herrings
Have His Carcase
Murder Must Advertise
The Nine Tailors
Minette Walters – very clever, interesting books. Each one very different. This isn’t all of them, these are the best:
The Scolds Bridle
The Ice House
The Shape of Snakes
(not yet published in US, I read a UK edition – a really excellent book)
Christopher Brookmyre is a Scottish writer who writes extremely witty, clever crime capers. A relatively new discovery – thoroughly recommended!
Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird
Anna Quindlen: One True Thing
Charles T. Powers: In the Memory of the Forest
Barbara Kingsolver: Animal Dreams
Catherine Fox: Angels and Men (out of print in US – link here is to Amazon UK)
Louis de Bernieres: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time
William Horwood: Skallagrigg (link to Amazon UK – this is a very moving, complex , almost mythical book about the lives of the disabled.)
Ann Patchett: Bel Canto
Audrey Niffeneger: The Time Traveler’s Wife
Marcus Zusak: The Book Thief Ann Patchett: Bel Canto
And some more lighthearted, but nonetheless excellent, and funny fiction:
Not sure if this is so wonderful because I’m English, or just that it’s his best travel book, but Notes from A Small Island, by Bill Bryson, is absolutely fantastic!