New blogs are weird. Immediately there’s a thought in the back of your mind that you’re reading someone’s boredom. This could just be another person in who got 80% more ambitious than normal, started a free WordPress blog, wrote a post or two, and then completely forgot about the endeavor within three weeks. Honestly, it’s happened to me before.
But this time is different. And it’s all because I have a goal: Ten books in four months. This is the good kind of goal. It’s achievable only through perseverance and actually sticking to the deadlines. I’m not guaranteed – or guaranteeing – success.
As a blogger, I need to be appealing to you. Why should you read this blog? The only thing I can really think up is that you want opinions on the Hugo Awards. And there’s a chance you may not even like my opinions. It happens. We’re all different people and blah blah blah. The best I can give you right now is who I am as a reader. A warning, essentially. This way you might have an idea about what to expect.
They call me Aaron. I’ve not always been the best reader but when I do read, I enjoy it, but that only happens when the video games, TV shows, movies, life events and family don’t get in the way. (That order has nothing to do with priorities.) I generally dabble in the science fiction and fantasy genres, though I keep meaning to reach out more.
I keep a moderately maintained Goodreads account. There you can find a list of my “Favorites”. There’s only four there now but I always feel like I’m missing a few due to the fade of time. I hold The Grapes of Wrath and The Lord of the Rings in high regard even though I haven’t read them in over a decade. Once I can get back to them, I’ll rank and place them accordingly.
The four on the list are ones I found to be truly exceptional since the time to read became more available, which is post-college. Also, (and this is a pet prejudice of mine) I only picked one book from a series. Are these my absolute favorite? I don’t know if I’ve found my all-time favorite yet, but they’re pretty close. Maybe one of the books in the Hugo Challenge will be added to the list.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Set in an England near the turn of the 19th century, the art of magic has diminished from the fame it once knew, nearly to be forgotten. Mr Norrell is a experienced and studied man who begins to use the old ways to help during the Napoleonic Wars. Then comes along Strange, a young man with natural magic skill, challenging those of Norrell. It soon becomes a clash of book-smarts versus sheer talent. The plot twists and weaves itself though many characters, who are all layered and deep. The prose mostly consists of dry British humor but by the end of this stand alone novel, Clarke had created an entirely different history for England.
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
The similarities between this and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell are obvious, but hear me out. Set in early 1800s New York City, the book is another focused on the dichotomy of the two main characters. Wecker uses the legends of two vastly different cultures — the Jewish golem, and the Bedouin jinni — to tell this tale of immigration, love and identity. And again, just like Strange and Norrell, the side characters are also well written. Guess I just like books with two strong contrasting characters with a quality cast, a little magical mystery, while set in an old city during a certain time period. Maybe it’s a sign I need to read a different genre.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
This is the best of the HP novels. And it took some strong thought exercises to get to this conclusion over Order of the Phoenix. The sixth book is a study of Voldemort and Snape, why these men are the way they are. I heard that Rowling studied serial killers to make sure that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named felt truly disturbed. And let’s not forget the horcruxes, lucky potions and one particularly surprising death. It’s what I consider to be a good guide to how to write a sequel — it equally riffs off of what came before and lays down the track for the next.
A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
Martin created a world with a history to rival our own. Then he inserted characters that kept your interest no matter where they ranked on the morally grey index. Then he put them in situations where response was necessary for power and/or survival. And then, after two previous books which already felt extensive and significant, Martin changed it all. Authors talk about a principle of writing that’s difficult but necessary to good story telling, and Martin passed while soaring into the eternity of great fiction writers: Kill your darlings. This one book was packed with so many plot twists and details that it produced two of the seasons of the TV show. It was one knock-out punch after the other.
Now, I’m perfectly happy to expound further as to why these books are my favorites, but I’d like to hear yours too. Let me know what you consider exceptional in the comments below.