Favorite Books

Posted: 21st October 2007 by onyxhawke in Uncategorized
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What are some your favorite books? Children’s books? (first readers to teen), “classic literature”, fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction?

I don’t think, for various reasons I’ll comment to much on the last couple of categories, but I’ll say that the books I’ve recommended to others don’t always fall into the field of favorite, although I obviously don’t hate them.

And what books do you think are good for introducing people to the SF/F spectrum? Some people are of the opinion that its the “classics” like Tolkien and Heinlein, I’m not so sure. The world view of some of the writers of their era is entirely alien to many today. And for the science fiction of the day some of the science was, well let’s just say i hold it in the same esteem I do the pop psychology of the last decade or two.

A couple great kids books: Tony’s Hardwork Day, The Boxcar Kids series, The Dark is Rising series, Madeline L’Engle’s books, and of course My side of the Mountain. There’s also a couple wonderful books that I can’t recall that featured a kid (probably a girl) and a flying crocodile. My rather deplorable memory suggests the first book (iirc there were two) starts with the kid arriving at a summer cabin with their family.

(odd note, apparently the spell checker knows how to spell both Heinlein and Tolkien)

  • I've been using American Gods as a good introduction. It's one of those that's between genres and whets interest for more fantasy.

  • O lord this is the kind of question that takes an hour to answer, or not at all–and here I am on a ten minute timer.

    • Well, i do come as advertised: An evil agent.

  • On intro books (though some are favorites, too)
    I was fascinated with The Boxcar Children and, to a lesser extent, Surprise Island when I was a kid. My son, when he was around the same age (2nd/3rd grade?) plowed through a lot of the series.
    For early readers there was (and is) a great series of three books by Ruth Stiles Gannett; the first book is titled My Father's Dragon. I haven't seen them for years, but I think they'd age pretty well.
    I think, for sf, many of the classics still work well as intros to the field–better than much recent stuff, which can be off-putting. Heinlein (from before the preaching bug bites him), classic Asimov that first saw light in the 40s/50s, Clarke from the same era, Pohl/Kornbluth, Niven's "Known Space" books etc.– my son and some of his friends plowed enthusiastically through this stuff in their teenage years, even though some of it was written generations before. Some recent stuff by John Scalzi ("Old Man's War" etc.) seems to have the same readability-without-prerequisites. I don't think he's as imaginative as the older writers (his aliens, for instance, seem to me rather weakly thought-out). But that clearly hasn't kept him from hooking a lot of readers.
    On the fantasy side, I'd recommend Zelazny's original 5 Amber books (though he can be off-putting about women) and Norton's earlier Witch World books (though her somber steady tone can wear thin after a while). My kids really liked Susan Cooper's "Dark is Rising" sequence; it seems to have, not just readability but rereadability (essential for literary addiction, I think).

    • Re: On intro books (though some are favorites, too)
      Heh, another one with similar taste in the extreme. I really will get to your book soon. You'll even have an answer before thanksgiving. Possibly even _this_ thanksgiving.

      • Re: On intro books (though some are favorites, too)
        Glad to hear it. I'm sure thanks will be forthcoming no matter when it happens.

  • Hm.
    Ray Feist does a good job writing YA fantasy — the Magician series is a great starting point for that age group. (Though Feist has problems writing anything *BUT* YA fic, in my humble unbiased opinion)
    Lloyd Alexander is fantastic for J/YA (you could catalog his books either way, really), especially for anyone looking for a Celtic flavor to their books — his treatment of the Welsh source myths is very well done.
    Pretty much anything Neil Gaiman's written is excellent; so long as the reader doesn't mind a smattering of dark fantasy/horror stirred into the plot.

  • The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith is something I still reread on occasion and did reread so often from elementary school on, I have no idea of the count. The Disney (animated) movie–while fun–doesn't capture this book's charm (the Disney live-action film is an abomination).
    I would not be who I am today if my jr. high school librarian hadn't recommended Watership Down to me. Again, rererereread that book so often… It was the first proper "grown-up" hardback I ever owned, too, and is to this day my Number One Most Favorite Book, period.
    I read all forty-something Oz books at about that same age (12-14) and everything else I could get my hands on at that same time. I also loved all the Walter Farley horse books, especially the Island Stallion titles (over the Black Stallion), because those were *almost* fantasy. The wish-fulfillment in those books was even stronger than in the better-known series and the idea of having not only your own special horse but your own special island — COOL!
    Madeleine L'Engle's Austin series is my favorite of hers, but all her non-adult books are wonderful.
    As for on-ramping to SF/F — Bujold. The Vorkosigan series has an intro book for almost any type of reader into the genre: Warrior's Apprentice for action-loving young people; Shards of Honor if someone likes a bit of romance–or there's Curse of Chalion if someone who wants an introspective "grown-up" story which deals with big ideas (faith, survival, honor).
    Connie Willis's Bellwether is great SF for people who don't like SF and it's fun and funny and "educational," too. Remake is great for movie buffs and one of those it-could-totally-happen stories people often don't realize are actually SF.
    Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci books are good for anyone who likes Harry Potter but doesn't otherwise read fantasy (and for everyone else, too — Diana RULES).
    /ex-librarian (does it show?)

    • :: giggle ::
      No wonder i picked you up, we have very similar taste.

  • children – young adult books
    Boxcar – Tom Swift – Ray Bradbury – Tom Sawyer – Huckleberry Fin – Treasure Island – in High School I read Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer series, also I read a lot of comics as a kid.
    My sisters read Nancy Drew series.
    We did not have a car, so our mother marched us to the public library, later we walked ourselves and browsed the shelves until we found something that grabbed our interest. She had never finished the eighth grade, but wanted to ensure her children learned to enjoy reading.
    Thinking back, I image librarians gasping every time my mother came in with five loud kids in tow!
    Others read later in life, C. S. Lewis space trilogy Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (film coming out soon).
    Personally never cared for Chronicles of Narnia and books of that nature like the Hobbit, Dune was simply to drawn-out and long, and have had many try to shove them down my throat.
    I'd ask their interests prior, maybe inquiring like what type of films do they like and keep in mind they don't always know what they'd like.
    Years ago, one of my nephews did the R. L. Stein thing before it became an after school special.
    More recent, Vincent and Travis enjoyed the book Holes by Louis Sachar. They were forced to read it in Middle/High School. With reading disabilities, I was surprised they had made it through the book. When the film came-out, they snapped it off the shelve, proud they could now compare it to the film. "We knew it was a good story before the film people did" type of thing. Special education reading classes, they read the book during class time hours with a teacher present.
    I'd recommend novellas as much as possible, attention span is key. They can have a sense of accomplishment when finished reading it.

  • As <lj user="sartorias"> says, this is a question that can take a long time to answer, but here goes:
    Stuff I read during my grade school years
    Baum's original 14 Oz books
    Lockhart Amerman, Guns in the Heather & sequels
    Meanwhile, Back at the Castle, Hope Campbell
    anything by Jane Louise Curry, esp. The Sleepers and The Ice Ghosts Mystery
    Edward Eager's fantasies
    the Alvin Fernald books by Clifford B. Hicks
    the Danny Dunn books by Jay Williams (later with Raymond Abrashkin)
    Madeline L'Engle generally
    Phyllis Whitney's children's mysteries
    The Amazing Vacation, Dan Wickenden
    Not all of this is sf/f. The Amerman books were suspense/espionage thrillers with some comic elements. The Campbell is a family comedy wherein Our Heroes claim a two-acre island in the St. Lawrence River as a sovereign nation. The Wickenden, OTOH, is indeed fantasy.
    Kids'/YA books I came across later
    Bruce Coville's "A. I. Gang" trilogy
    Terror Wears a Feathered Cloak, Thelmar Wyche Crawford
    Diane Duane's "Young Wizards" series
    L. J. Smith generally, esp. Night of the Solstice
    Sherwood Smith's "Wren" books, plus Crown Duel
    the "Planet Builders" series by "Robyn Tallis"
    The Crawford is apparently obscure; I found it in the Walla Walla Public Library while in college and was instantly hooked. It's a nominally YA thriller involving a lost city of the Mayas, and was apparently part of a three or four book series. Coville's better known for his fantasy, but the AI Gang books are SF, highly readable but also highly idea-driven. L. J. Smith is best known for a string of "teen horror" series (all quite good, and far better than their "packager gulch" origins might imply), but Solstice is first-rate original fantasy. And while the "Tallis" series was also packaged (and now long and undeservedly OP), it's still excellent straight-ahead teen SF.
    Introductory books, SF
    John Barnes, Orbital Resonance
    Steven Gould, Jumper
    Doyle & Macdonald, the Mageworlds series
    Elizabeth Moon, the "Familias" and "Vatta's War" series
    Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz, Vulcan's Forge
    S. M. Stirling, Island in the Sea of Time (or Conquistador)
    Charles Stross, The Hidden Family
    I lean heavily here on adventure and story value rather than high-end hard SF, and I also lean heavily on modern work as opposed to "classics". Several of these authors also have other, "harder" SF available (Barnes, Moon, Stross); I figure for recruiting purposes, the best tactic is to supply the most readable work first and gradually lead the newcomer deeper into the idea pool.
    Introductory books, F
    Tom Deitz, Windmaster's Bane & sequels
    Raymond E. Feist, Midkemia series
    Tanya Huff, Smoke and Shadows & sequels
    Barry Hughart, Bridge of Birds
    Mercedes Lackey, By the Sword
    Jennifer Roberson, Sword-Dancer & sequels
    Tad Williams, Shadowmarch
    This list is deliberately light on doorstop series; of the many long-standing writers of such, I find Feist far and away the most accessible — and, importantly to new readers, Feist writes his extended series so that there are a lot of entry points, and many to most of the books are sufficiently self-contained that they hold up no matter when you've jumped into the internal chronology. And I was delighted to learn recently that Windmaster's Bane is back in print via a small-press edition; I consider Deitz one of the very best at blending classic sword & sorcery with contemporary settings, and one of the few writers who really does well at blending multiple folkloric traditions together.

  • As I suppose you aren't really interested in German authors, I'll stick to the English language YA authors whom I read in German translations in the 80s:
    Edith Nesbit (especially "Five children and It" and "The Magic City") , Diana Wynne Jones, Margaret Mahy, Lloyd Alexander, CS Lewis (Narnia books), Tamora Pierce, Eva Ibbotson, and Roald Dahl.
    These are all fantasy writers. In my opinion fantasy novels tend to "age" better than SF.
    For YA SF I had quite a few German authors to choose from before I started on the big authors like Asimov, Clarke, Aldiss, Lem…
    Another author I loved was Jules Verne.

  • For YA, Garth Nix from down under. His Sabriel series was fabulous! And I liked the Amulet of Samarakind. (spelled wrong, I know.)

  • Well, I started around 4.5 years with Robert E. Howard's Conan series, and went on from there. It would probably be easier to list what books I did not read, if only I could figure it out. I was a voracious reader, devouring large quantities nearly constantly.
    Now I sneakily deposit titles in various bookcases and wait for my son to discover them. 😉

  • Since I did some really long rants on what I read as a kid, I'll just link to them:
    I think that Garth Nix has done some good books, and so has Scott Westerfield. There are some timeless Heinleins — Citizen of the Galaxy, Puppet Masters (which I read when I was 10), and maybe Space Cadet, which contains Heinlein's core ideas (as well as wireless phones).
    I loved the Susan Cooper _Dark is Rising_ series, and the Robin McKinley Damar books.
    Just read the rants I bookmarked (one lead to a second) and you will start to envision the 50,000 or so books I've read.

  • When I was Twelve…
    Our sixth grade teacher read us a fantasy trilogy, John Christopher's Swords of the Spirits series. Right then and there I wanted to become a teacher and/or a writer, and those stories still influence me today, although I don't write fantasy (yet). They're still on my bookshelf, and I think they always will be.

  • Anonymous

    My favourites.
    Fantasy: "The Chronicles of Thomas Convenant" trilogy by Stephen R. Donaldson. By a long shot. Donaldson brought beautiful literary style to a genre that still desperately needs more of it (in my opinion).
    Sci-Fi: The Takeshi Kovacs series (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, Woken Furies) by Richard Morgan. A likeable sociopath main character in a vivid world. And he's writing fantasy right now. I can't wait.