So, I posted on Monday a list of some of my book recommendations for the summer. That post only had six books, and I wanted to do more. Reading is one of my favourite things to do, and I love sharing that whenever I can. I’m ecstatic when someone I know enjoys something that I recommend to them, because that means someone else is reading what I’m reading. Say what you will about reading being a solitary experience, there’s also some precedent for reading to be a social activity.
Anyways, this post will follow the same format as the list I posted earlier. I’ll recommend a book, briefly summarise and then I’ll tell you why I like it or why you should read it.
1. The Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
The Necronomicon is both the name of the fictional grimoire that appears in many of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, and this collection of Lovecraft’s best stories. The collection has many of Lovecraft’s more well-known stories, such as At the Mountains of Madness, the Cthulhu Mythos and The Dunwich Horror, as well as some that newcomers would be completely unfamiliar with.
I love Lovecraftian horror because it is so unlike what is considered horror today. There’s no gratuitous scenes of gore and inhuman violence, there’s no sudden shock, no startling moment. Lovecraft’s stories are slow, they’re tense and they’re deeply psychological. As scary as a man in a mask or a vampire is, there’s nothing as terrifying as the unknown, and Lovecraft conveys that feeling of unknowable horror perfectly. Nowhere can you find that same amount of existential dread and foreboding fear, trust me. And if you’re still not convinced, let me remind you that Stephen King has stated (in his semi-autobiography, Danse Macabre) that Lovecraft was responsible for his fascination with horror and the macabre.
It’s a really a dauntingly large collection, so if you’re a newcomer to Lovecraft then you’re better off just trying to find the individual stories. Seriously, this thing is big. You could give someone a concussion with this thing.
You can check out its Amazon page here (I couldn’t find any better page for info on this).
2. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver
Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is a collection of short-stories written by, you guessed it, Raymond Carver. The stories focus on themes of love, loss, loneliness and companionship.
I don’t even think I’m qualified to write about Raymond Carver, and you should definitely read other people’s more detailed writings on his stories, but I’ll try my best.
Raymond Carver’s style is, in a single one, minimalistic. Each sentence is declarative and to the point. And he uses this minimalistic prose to great effect, creating deeper meaning in only a few short sentences. Many authors (myself included, come to think of it) would kill to be able to do the same. Carver uses his ability to convey deeper meaning to great effect in these stories as he summarises years and decades of character’s lives and histories with one another in only a few short pages. He reveals the sadness in the character’s lives, showing us stories that do not always end well. It’s melancholic and depressing, and incredibly realistic. The characters come to life in Carver’s writing and makes each of the stories in this collection incredibly moving.
Goodreads page here if you’re interested.
3. The Name of the Wind, By Patrick Rothfuss
I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me.
The Name of the Wind is a fast-paced, well-written piece of fantasy that I enjoyed immensely. We start the story listening to an innkeeper named Kote recount his life’s story to a man named the Chronicler. As the book progresses, through Kote’s narration, we slowly build an image of Kvothe, a legendary swordsman, a magician and a talented musician–a formidable, funny and witty protagonist.
I really liked The Name of the Wind and I think a good part of that is because of just how fast it reads. This isn’t to say that the novel is short or it skimps on detail. Rather, the pace feels incredibly fast and really energetic. The plot never slows down, and while it has slow moments, it never feels like the story drags on. We’re always moving forwards, and that was a refreshing change of pace after reading fantasy that dwells and prefers to move at a light job. The Name of the Wind feels like its going a hundred miles an hour and it feels great.
Patrick Rothfuss does a good job of making this supposedly legendary character, Kvothe, very human. We see him develop and grow as a character, and it never feels cheap when he accomplishes something or he manages an impressive feat. You really feel like he’s accomplished this through his own skill and talent, not just because the author wrote it. The other characters feel well-written too, and you really get a sense for their personalities through the writing. Sometimes the best parts of the book are just when the characters spend time interacting with one another.
Information and reviews for The Name of the Wind.
4. Metro 2033, by Dmitry Glukhovsky
And then, after five minutes of silence, almost inaudibly, the old man sighed and said, more to himself than to Artyom: ‘Lord, what a splendid world we ruined…’
In the year 2013, the world is scorched by nuclear fire. In post-apocalyptic Moscow, the survivors of the apocalypse, who fled to the underground metro, eke out a danger-fraught existence, besieged by threats from above ground, and below. Dmitry Glukhovsky’s post-apocalyptic novel is a claustrophobic, terrifying ride as main character Artyom must make his way from his home station to warn the rest the other stations of a new mutated threat that could destroy the whole Metro, and wipe out the last remnants of man.
Originally published in Russian, there doesn’t seem to be much lost in translation in Metro 2033. This is one of my favourite books of all times, for so many reasons. For one, Dmitry Glukhovsky’s writing manages to perfectly encapsulate that dim, dank and tightly-enclosed space of a Metro tunnel, as well as depict what life would be like in those tunnels. The world feels real and lived-in. People are crammed next to one another, there’s barely any free space that isn’t occupied by beds or farms, and privacy is almost impossible while living literally cheek-to-cheek. People grow mushrooms and farm whatever crops they can in the darkness of the tunnels. People exchange bullets as currency. Criminals and bandits still make trouble despite the fact that they are the last remnants of humanity.
However, it’s not just the realism that makes this book so good. It’s not afraid to venture into the philosophical, into the realm of superstition and mysticism. I like it when a book isn’t afraid to pose hard questions and Metro 2033 does that in spades. Artyom questions the world around him constantly as he matures and sees more of the ugly world that he was born into. It adds another layer to what would’ve been a simple life-after story, and we get a good blend of realism and surrealism.
Metro 2033’s Goodreads page.
5. The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation.
Deep space is my dwelling place,
The stars my destination.
Gully Foyle, an uneducated, lowly brute of a man, is the last survivor of the spaceship ‘Nomad’, cast adrift amongst the stars. Then the passing ship ‘Vorga’ leaves him to die, and his purpose is found. The Stars My Destination is a revenge tale spanning planets as Gully Foyle proves that there is no price not worth paying in the pursuit of vengeance.
I love a good revenge story. It’s simple, it’s to the point and Goddamn is it satisfying. Alfred Bester takes what could’ve been a good revenge story and elevates it, making the world around the revenge plot more interesting. The world of The Stars My Destination features so many ideas that many authors would take entire series to flesh out: personal teleportation (and all the kinks and societal ramifications with it), cybernetic implants, planet-spanning pseudo-feudal corporations, world-ending substances that leave the world on the brink. Through this intricate and complex world, Alfred Bester’s simple revenge story becomes so much more than that.
Add to that a roster of well-written and clear characters, and you can see why this book has gotten all its praise. Gully Foyle is a detestable person, but you see his motivations and his thought process clearly. We watch as he pulls himself up, agonising step by agonising step closer to his goal. Foyle’s criminal accomplice, Jisbella McQueen (her nickname’s Jiz cue laugh-track) who is simultaneously attracted to and disgusted by Foyle. There’s the Presteign of Presteign, a wealthy megalomaniac with desires of a grand scale. His daughter, Olivia, who sees the world only in the invisible infra-red and electromagnetic spectrums of the world.
Bester’s story, with a premise as simple as one could imagine, is given complexity and depth through all the elements surrounding that simple idea of revenge.
Goodreads page here.