Favorites

It was recently asked of me as to what my favorite book was, to which I struggled with for a few minutes before finally settling on an answer.

The answer I gave was Armor by John Steakley, a book which was given to me by my uncle when I was thirteen. It was my first foray in to Science Fiction, and also my first to actually reading for pleasure. Previously I had only read Hardy Boys or Goosebumps or whatever else was required by school. Armor was the first book that I absolutely loved and I still love it today even after reading it 15 times or so. It’s probably not the best book I’ve ever read, but how do you quantify that anyway?

Regardless, it got me thinking what are my favorite books? So I decided to come up with a list. In no particular order, these are my favorites and ones that I heartily recommend.

Stephen King

So I just started Book 4 of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series and am absolutely loving it. Even though I’ve been reading from a very early age (significantly more since 2010) I had never read Stephen King until only recently. I would constantly see his books in book stores and think, “I don’t read horror” or “He’s too popular. He probably sucks.” Yes, but sometimes people who are really good become popular too. In Stephen’s case, he’s phenomenally talented.

In my opinion there’s two types of writers – one’s who want to write cool shit, not caring for the complexity, or two, one’s who want to show off their talents. Sometimes they overlap, but usually not. In Stephen’s case, he’s more of a writer of cool shit. His talent lies in making it look so easy. He avoids bigger words, not because he doesn’t know them, but because they distract and get away from the point. He’s very pragmatic and only cares about the story. Some authors get so lost in their own wordplay masturbation that it’s nearly unreadable. Stephen never falls into this trap.

But anyway, I’m halfway into this series now and can’t wait to see where Roland and Crew end up next. Glad I finally got over myself and started reading his shit.

The Animal Which Laughs

But how, in essence, from the unprejudiced viewpoint of a Martian did Man differ from other earthly animals? Would a race that could levitate (and God knows what else) be impressed by engineering? And if so, would the Aswan Dam, or a thousand miles of coral reef, win first prize? Man’s self-awareness? Sheer local conceit; the upstate counties had not reported, for there was no way to prove that sperm whales or giant sequoias were not philosophers and poets far exceeding any human merit.

There was one field in which man was unsurpassed; he showed unlimited ingenuity in devising bigger and more efficient ways to kill off, enslave, harass, and in all ways make an unbearable nuisance of himself to himself. Man was his own grimmest joke on himself.

Stranger In A Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein

Just Do It

In my count, I’ve probably read a good 100 – 150 books since moving to Oregon in 2010. It could even be much higher than that. Perhaps as much as 250 or 300. It’s hard to guess. But a lot.

Prior to moving to Oregon I’d be lucky to read one book a year. Now I’m reading dozens. And it’s calmed me down considerably. It’s given my mind food to digest. It’s allowed me to see myself in new light. All in all, a very positive experience.

And my imagination has grown as a result. I can picture worlds in my head much more easily. Before they were just words on a page, now they appear as great cathedrals, great works of art.

Hunter S. Thompson once copied The Great Gatsby, line for line, just so that he could experience what it must have been like to write something that good. I’ve been doing the same for Armor by John Steakley in the last few weeks. A little here and there, but a little is better than none.

I’ve found it has helped considerably. I’ve noticed nuances that had previously eluded me, and I’ve grown a deeper respect for his writing ability. Nothing is flashy, it all seems so simple. But he writes in such a way that you can’t help but turn the page. It’s gripping and gritty, something I admire greatly.

After I finish transcribing Armor I’m moving on to The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester and then Anathem by Neal Stephenson. I consider both to be true masterpieces of fiction—works of art.

Armor is a special book to me. My uncle handed it to me when I was 13 and told me to read it. It was my first foray into science fiction. Previously, I had only read The Hardy Boys or Goosebumps. But when I read Armor I connected on a deeper, emotional level. His writing just got to me, simple as that.

It was because of that book that I started seeking out great science fiction. I’m not sure what order I took but I eventually discovered Neal Stephenson. Actually, I recall my uncle once again suggesting Snow Crash. I didn’t really like it the first time I read it but I couldn’t help but feel it was really cool all the same. Just sometimes a bit too wordy. But it was his first book so forgive him, yeah?

But when I finally got around to reading Anathem I found out that he was to be one of my favorite authors. That book was equally as pivotal as Armor—it was the first time I read a book longer than 1,000 pages. Before, I would have found a book that size intimidating. The last book I just finished was The Stand by Stephen King, the uncut edition standing at 1400 pages or so. I wouldn’t even have dared had I not read and loved Anathem so much.

But now it comes down to why even read at all. And that is to write.

And I keep putting it off and off and it’s never going to get written that way.

So that’s how we get to this. An exercise in futility? Maybe, but an exercise all the same.

Better than nothing.

American Gods

The newly adapted series to Neil Gaimain’s American Gods just released today and it is phenomenal. It’s everything that it should be and nothing more. I’ve never seen a more faithful adaptation. But that’s not really my point with this post.

It has dawned on me that Neil Gaiman has become my absolute favorite author. I didn’t realize this until I thought back to all of the novels that I’ve read by him. You can go back and see my post where I was first reading his stuff.

It’s a bit hazy now but I believe American Gods was the first book of his that I read. The Sandman next. Then Neverwhere. Or maybe the other way round. Either way, I’ve been systematically going through his bibliography and have yet to be disappointed. He deserves all the praise he has received.

He makes it all seem so easy. He hardly uses words that you are unfamiliar with, and if so it is easily divined through context. His plots are very natural and organic. Everything has its place and feels real.

He’s a genius, basically.

I’m glad I’ve found him. Or maybe it’s he who’s found me.

Desire

I’m reading through a Neil Gaiman biographic and in one section (lie, many sections) he’s talking about the impetus for his writing career.  And of course it forces me think about my own path.  And I think I have found one constant:

I want to do my own thing.

That’s it.  It doesn’t matter if it’s writing, or music, or psychology, metaphysics, whatever.  If it’s something I came up with and chose to do, I’m happy. If it turns out sucking, I’ll change to something else.  But it’s this freedom to stop doing one thing and start doing another that is enticing.  I don’t believe in restrictions and I don’t like being told how to think/speak/behave. Those are my own to divine and no one else.

And right now I just want to be lazy and read books.