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Author Topic: Great Books  (Read 1098 times)

Offline Skip

Great Books
« on: April 18, 2018, 02:11:43 AM »
Someone asked in another place what are your five favorite books? I started a list but quickly gave it up. I've read thousands of books in my life; to extract five from that was impossible. But it got me thinking.

I have a list of books. I started it for my kids, a sort of TBR for them, but it grew to be an inventory of all the books I physically owned, then the electronic ones, then also books that I intended to read. So it really is massive.

I went through that file in the wake of the Five Books exercise with this criterion: was this book important to me in some way? It didn't have to be great, it just had to be important to me.

I came up with fifty-nine of them. Most are fiction but some are history books that were important in my career as a historian. I had expected most would be from my youth, in the way that most of my favorite bands date to a span from about age fifteen to twenty-five. To my surprise, a good many date from more recent decades. That made me feel good, for reasons not entirely clear to me.

It was an interesting exercise. Some were important, as I said, because they shaped my precepts and understandings as a historian. Some were important because they introduced me to other types of literature (e.g., The Brothers Karamazov showed me there was more to the world besides SF). Some simply resonated with me and continue to do so. Taken all together, they form a kind of narrative of my life.

I recommend it to any and all. It's easy to start a spreadsheet and just list what is ready to hand. You can add your TBR books to it. One use I've put it to is for gifts. I extract from it the books I have yet to read--not my whole TBR, but the "great books" that I really do intend to read--and share that with my kids. If they want to know what to get me for a birthday or whatever, I tell them to pick a book. I also do this other thing with books as gifts: my kids know they can buy a book for me that *they* have read. A physical book. Inscribe it. Those books sit on their own shelf at my house. It's an eclectic set, but it does provide a kind of view into where my kids' heads were at a given time.

Anyway, like I said, I recommend starting your book list.

Offline Elfy

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Re: Great Books
« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2018, 02:16:29 AM »
I did something like this a couple of years ago. I went alphabetically and picked a few favourites of authors starting with A and then so on and so forth. I blogged it over at http://www.purpledovehouse.blogspot.com, and I know at least one either person besides Lejays17 and I read it, because @ScarletBea mentioned it to me a time or two. The one comment I do remember from her was that I liked some 'odd' books. It was all fantasy and SF. I'm still kind of doing it with my TBR challenge (I find a book amongst our many that I have yet to read, read it and then blog my thoughts, I've just finished Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist histories). They're actually fun sort of exercises to do if you have the time and the inclination.

Offline Lady Ty

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Re: Great Books
« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2018, 02:52:38 AM »
Great idea and one which you appreciate for yourself as time goes on as well. For several years now I have used Goodreads for keeping my list as it can sort and classify, although not as well as if you design your own database like you have, Skip.  Could not remember all I have ever read, but managed a fairly comprehensive list of books that were important to me.  It is interesting to read what people have said recently about some old favourites from way back. I am lucky in that my son shares my enthusiasm for SFF and we both check out each other there.

I had expected most would be from my youth, in the way that most of my favorite bands date to a span from about age fifteen to twenty-five. To my surprise, a good many date from more recent decades. That made me feel good, for reasons not entirely clear to me.

What particularly interested me was your comment above. I read every spare moment from the age of seven through to about thirty. Then I had children. A reading drought began and it lasted almost until they left home to go away to study. I had only been managing about twelve to fifteen books a year, my time was so taken up with work and family, the best time to catch up was when I could travel on the bus to work. 

Once I actually had time to myself again I could read at home, until retiring and then it was heaven. That was when I discovered audiobooks and could do any gardening, walking or housework and still listen to a book. My books per year soared. As you mentioned your children, I wonder if you co-relate your life events to your book consumption you may find a similarity.  ;D

« Last Edit: April 18, 2018, 02:54:19 AM by Lady Ty »
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Offline wl_khan

Re: Great Books
« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2018, 11:46:52 AM »
Hmmm, the previous replies make me feel like I need to do a lot more reading. I'm nowhere near 1000 books and I'm in my 30s! But on the flip side I think that's made choosing my top 5 a lot easier. So here they are, in no particular order:

Dune by Frank Herbert
Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima
A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin (the whole series is one book imo!)
Botchan by Natsumi Soseki
The Cats of Ulthur by HP Lovecraft

Tbf there's a few Lovecraft tales that could've taken the place of TCoU, so it might be more accurate to say I love his entire library of works.

Offline Yora

Re: Great Books
« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2018, 04:19:19 PM »
For me, the first three come very easy.

Conan by Robert Howard (all the stories fit neatly into a single volume)
Night Winds by Karl Wagner
The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The fourth I picked because I think it was my introduction to how amazingly creative and weird fantasy can be.

Jim Button by Michael Ende

The Neverending Story and Momo are also very impressive books, but Jim Button is clearly the one that is the most like an exciting adventure story. The other two are just as imaginative, but bleaker.

Finding a number 5 took me a while longer, but I think I can say with quite some certainty that it is Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn. This book was what made Star Wars from three fun movies into a much bigger body of works in an ever increasing universe. It was the book that kicked everything off and also one of the first ones that I've read. And while it's not a huge giant of literature, it is still a really decent and fun book.
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Offline Skip

Re: Great Books
« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2018, 05:05:30 PM »
Lord of the Rings was the only fantasy that made it into my top five or even my top ten. I dearly love fantasy--that's why I write the stuff--but I cannot put any of them up against someone like Joseph Conrad or Leo Tolstoy or even Dashiell Hammett. The Last Unicorn places high. And if Bancroft finishes his series strong, I may have to put his Books of Babel close to the top.

SF provides a few contenders: Asimov's Foundation trilogy was my first epic--read it at fifteen. Neuromancer, which made me believe there were still frontiers in SF (along with Snow Crash. Heinlen with Stranger in a Strange Land showed me SF could be about philosophical matters, too. Last but not at all least, Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles blew me away when I read it at fourteen. I've read it countless times since.

Altogether, maybe ten out of sixty or so Important Books To Me. There are plenty of other great books, plenty of books I adore. But my list was the books that were important to me, the ones that I can point to exactly how they shaped me, as a person and as a writer. Those of you who are writers, if you're lucky enough to be interviewed, compiling this list will help you answer the "what are your influences" question you will inevitably get.

Love seeing what books others mention. Keep it coming! If my TBR pile gets tall enough, I'm renting it out as a space elevator.

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Offline Yora

Re: Great Books
« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2018, 05:15:59 PM »
I was writing about my list on my website and when I completed the article, I noticed that with the exception of Jim Button, the other four are exactly the same four series that I've given their own categories for posts years ago.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor