My Book Recommendations Pt. 2

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

-S. 

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My Summer Recommendations

Since it’s the summer, I figured that this would be the perfect time to recommend books. Some of these you’ve probably already read (okay, some of these you’ve definitely read), some you’ve might not have read. This is in no-way a comprehensive list but I just wanted to put up what I think are some really good books that people should definitely check out. I’ll do my best to explain why you should give them a try and why I liked them.

1. Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time Series

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The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

I don’t think I can ever do any type of book recommendations without mentioning, at least once, Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. In The Wheel of Time, the Dark One–the embodiment of evil–is breaking free from his prison, ready to wreak death and chaos upon the land. One man is fated to save the world from the Dark One’s grasp, but also destined to destroy it in the process.

While the premise sounds very basic, Jordan does an incredible job of turning it into something much more than a simple good vs. evil story. The Wheel of Time is not only his story but the story of an entire world and its struggle with the rapidly-approaching Last Battle. It is an incredibly detailed and beautiful series of books. Me being a massive fantasy fan, The Wheel of Time series has everything I want: an in-depth and detailed world, awe-inspiring battles, killer quotes and great characters.

The Wheel of Time kicks ass and if you like fantasy, then you should definitely give it a try. I wrote a post about the series here.

You can find more info on the series at their website, Dragonmount.

2. Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

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The long-hoped-for, long-feared encounter had come at last. Mankind was about to receive its first visitor from the stars.

Rendezvous with Rama details mankind’s first encounter with an alien construct, a gargantuan cylinder hurtling towards the Solar System. It’s a slow, thoughtful look into how man would react to first contact.

As a lover of science-fiction, I love Rendezvous with Rama whole-heartedly. It’s a slow, mysterious novel where each chapter leaves you with more questions than answers. It’s not like most other novels where the draw of the book is the action or the violence. Instead, it’s about the slow discovery of a design that is wholly and completely alien to us. It’s a visionary piece of science-fiction writing and I think if you like science-fiction, you should 100% give it a try.

You can find read the description about the book, as well as some reviews, here.

3. Filth, by Irvine Welsh

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The games are the only way you can survive the job. Everybody has their wee vanities, their own little conceits. My one is that nobody plays the games like me, Bruce Robertson. D.S. Robertson, soon to be D.I. Robertson.

In Filth, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson schemes, manipulates and thoroughly screws with his co-workers in a ploy to gain a leg-up on them in a race for a promotion. It’s a filthy novel (see what I did there? I’ll see myself out), and it does not flinch in showing you the vulgar realities of Bruce and the consequences of his actions.

Filth is an amazing book, and I wish more people would read it. It’s a lurid, vulgar, depressing and darkly-funny book, and one of my all-time favourites–which might make me just a bit biased. The way that Irvine Welsh writes is unique, in that the whole book is written to resemble Scottish dialect. While that might make it a bit hard to read at first, I found that I could easily understand what was going on after spending the first few chapters adjusting. From then on, it was a smooth ride through one man’s spiral downwards as he manipulates and screws with his coworkers in an attempt to get his promotion.

I don’t say this lightly, this is quite a mature book and probably not suitable for anyone who’s not into cursing or any sort of nastiness.

Link to the official site here.

4. Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

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Trying to find a single quote that could nicely summarise this book is pretty much impossible, so I’ve given up trying. Move along.

The End Times are coming, as predicted by the only accurate prophetic book, written by a crazy old witch named Agnes Nutter. An Angel and a Demon, both having lived in our world for centuries, try their best to avert it and save their pleasant lives amongst man. Oh, and someone’s misplaced the Anti-Christ.

Good Omens is a quaint little book packed with some of the best lines ever. It’s a funny book that dips into light-hearted humour and some pretty deep retrospectives on the idea of free will, the meaning of life and the truth behind ‘good’ and ‘evil’. The jokes are probably the highlight in a long list of highlights, from the well-written characters, the great plot and the endless references. Each joke, small or large, short or long, are all given the same attention and each one of them is funny. Although some might pass over your head (there’s a lot of British jokes and references, a lot), you’ll still get enough of them to really get how funny this book is.

You can check out the Goodread’s page on the book if you want to know more.

5. Fables, written by Bill Willingham

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What happens when you gather all the characters from all your childhood stories in one place? Why, you get Fables.

I’ll be honest, I love the covers of Fables almost as much as I love the stories themselves. Just look at them!

Anyways, back on topic. Fables, created by Bill Willingham, are a series of graphic novels depicting the lives of famous storybook characters such as Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, Beauty and the Beast, etc. and then put them in the real world. The premise is great and it’s executed wonderfully. The artwork is clear and beautiful, the dialogue feels quick and smart and the characters, God I love the characters! Each of these fairytale characters have been elevated from their original personalities and given these great new twists, which I won’t spoil here.

More info here.

6. The Last Wish, by Andrzej Sapkowski

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Okay, I admit, I could’ve tried a bit harder to try to come up with a quote to summarise the book but a running theme with The Last Wish is how things often are more than they appear. This makes coming up with a single quote summary is pretty much impossible.

The Last Wish is the first book to introduce us to Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher who was created to hunt down the monstrosities that plague the world of men. Although he could be played as a straight, no-nonsense, gruff character and have the story totally work like that, Andrzej took another route. He gave Geralt intelligence, he gave him reasoning and the ability to quip. That’s what makes the Witcher series so great in my opinion. There’s lots of great action, but it’s also very human. There’s a levity and humour to it, and what could’ve been a very black-and-white story is, instead, given many, many shades of grey.

And if you’ve played the video games, then you should give these books a try for another perspective on your favourite characters.

More info here.


 

And that’s it!

I’ll probably do more book recommendations later, but I just wanted to get this one up first.

Please help me gain some traction and share my posts! Every little bit helps!

-S.

 

The Beauty of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Series

On the 15th of January 1990, The Eye of the World, written by James Oliver Rigney Jr–otherwise known under his pen name, Robert Jordan–was published by Tor Books. At first glance, it seemed like it was just another book hoping to ride off the coattails of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ridiculously successful Lord of the Rings series. But The Eye of the World was the first step to the fantasy powerhouse that is Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time.

But what makes separates The Wheel of Time from all its competitors? What is it about this series that makes it one of the best, if not the best, fantasy series of all time, rivalling and sometimes surpassing Lord of the Rings? (Yeah, you read that right).

Well, in my opinion, there are several:

  1. Scope
  2. World-building and detail
  3. The Characters

By all means this is no comprehensive post about all the great parts of The Wheel of Time, but they’re just my opinions. 

Scope

Perhaps one of the best parts of The Wheel of Time (henceforth known as WoT since I can’t be bothered to write it in full every single time) is also one of the things that makes it so hard for people to get into it–the sheer immensity of the series.

This series spans fourteen novels (fifteen if you count the prequel), each book averages 888 pages and 315,002 words. It’s an incredibly large series, by any metric. Even the Companion, which includes just glossary entries from the other books, is the size of two novels combined. Compare this to the three main novels of LotR, or the seven of Harry Potter.

The series follows three to seven main characters–depending on where you are in the books and what you constitute as ‘main characters’. Some characters are given POV chapters but are not main characters. Most of these characters are usually split up across a massive world, following their own adventures that eventually loop back and intersect with other characters.

Okay, I realise that I might be focusing on the size aspect of the series a bit much, and that may seem like a turn-off but don’t let its size fool you. Fourteen novels allows Jordan to spend so much time with this world, and boy, does he really take advantage of that. Because we get so much material, we get to spend more time in this world. We grow attached to the events and the history, the characters and the locations. And we get all these details and all this information about the events, history, character and locations in the series. The scope is really a by-product of how information we get and how much detail is crammed into every book. And, let me tell you, it’s in the details that really make WoT shine.

Speaking of…

World-building and detail

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I think know more about the characters’ taste in dresses than I do some of the subjects I learn at school. I’m exaggerating, but the way that Robert Jordan writes is incredibly detailed and in-depth. The scenes come to life in his vivid prose. I could probably find my way around some of the locations in his books than I can in real life.

The series is one of the longest and most broad in scope so far in all of Fantasy. Robert Jordan kept detailed files on every character, every nation, culture, every facet of the world that he has created. We’re given so much information on the world that nothing feels like left out and that’s what makes it feel like a real world–it has all of the complexities that we would find in real life. Some authors do this thing where, to give their world a sense of history, they write these callbacks to previous events that we never get to see before. And while that does work for some writers, Jordan has actually planned out and explained, thoroughly, about the history behind his world. While some authors are content with doing something like:

Character 1: “Hey, remember that thing that happened? That thing that happened that probably won’t get explained but sounds vague and cool?”

Character 2: “Yeah, I remember that.”

Character 1: “Yeah, that was such a crazy/sad/happy/joyous/badass moment. I’m so glad we have all this history together, etc.”

Jordan does something like this.

Character 1: “Remember that thing that happened?”

Character 2: “<INFO DUMP>”

You get the point.

 There is a planning and a sense of realism that you find in every description of every event, city, every town and village, every person.

The detail is just incredible. All books must have some sort of descriptive writing, you can’t just have characters spout dialogue without describing who’s saying what to who as well as where and when (unless you’re like Raymond Carver), however Robert Jordan takes that to the next level with the Wheel of Time. From the subtlest things such as a maid’s dress to the grand–like the look and layout of an bustling, sprawling city–there’s no shortage of vivid imagery in the Wheel of Time.

The Characters

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What can I say of the characters in the Wheel of Time? Well first, let me ask you a question.

How many characters have you spent 14 books on?

For a lot of you, that number might be a resounding zero. The benefit of such a long series is that we are with the characters of this series for so long that we know them on such an intimate level. Pretty much all of the books spend most of their time on the characters. This is not like those series where it’s all about the action–even though you can find that aplenty in Wheel of Time. There is a ton of character development.

The five main characters–Rand al’Thor, Matrim (Mat) Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, Egwene al’Vere and Nynaeve al’Meara– are all youngsters from the same small village. Over the course of the fourteen novels, we see as they grow up and become more mature. We see them gain more responsibilities and growing as individuals and as leaders.

The characters develop so much that they are almost unrecognisable by the end of the series, compared to where they first started. Robert Jordan does an incredible job of having them grow organically, instead of hamfisting character development into their arcs.

The characters also feel like real people. They act based on what they know, not on what the author makes them do for the sake of convenience or for the sake of the plot. They act like real people, making assumptions (sometimes wrong, sometimes right) and then going off of them. It’s amazing to see how all of the characters adapt, learn from their mistakes and then continue on their journey just a bit more mature each time.

In my opinion, Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series is a monument of great fantasy. Not without its shortcomings, mind you, but for me, I find that its positives outweigh its negatives.

-S.