Last Tuesday at about 11:58 PM, my dear friend Maggie shared something she’d found on the internet: Tuesday Top Tens, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish! Each week they post a different subject for bloggers to make a list for, all on the themes of books and plots and characters. Awesome as that sounded, though, there was only so much I could do in two minutes, and so none of you got to hear my opinions on the best and worst series enders.
This week, for those who haven’t read the title:
Top Ten Books I Was “Forced” to Read (in no particular order):
1. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm – Nancy Farmer
I think I was in sixth grade when I read this book. My experience with reading had thus far been split into two groups; there was fantasy, which I read by choice and loved, and there were the books I had to read in school, which I mostly just tolerated the way one tolerates broccoli or cold weather. We had already read a book with an African protagonist that year, and while I ended up liking A Girl Named Disaster I can’t say it really interested me. I prepared to loathe this book. Instead, I found myself barreling through a sci-fi mystery set in futuristic Zimbabwe, finishing it within a week, and rereading it at least five more times that year. While I have to admit that the finer points of plot are lost on me some 15 years later, I’ll always remember the thrill I felt reading ‘yet another African novel for English class’.
2. Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder
Technically, this is a book I was forced to reread. I first read this book on a train going to a small town in Quebec, and I remember loving the philosophy lessons and largely ignoring the plot that supported them. A year later, my grade 12 English teacher assigned a project that involved dissecting an old favorite, and oh, it opened my eyes. Rereading this book with a critical eye taught me more about myself as a reader, and about critical reading in general, than anything has since. I still have fond memories of this story – the explanation of various schools of philosophical thought were accessible and entertaining to me as a fifteen year old – but it’s the scribbled notes in the margins and the understanding that there’s more to a book than first impressions that really stay with me.
3. Dead Until Dark – Charlaine Harris
This book is the first of many that were forced upon me by well-meaning friends, and I quite enjoyed it. It’s a first novel in a series and it reads a bit like one, with characters working to find their voices and characters, but I enjoyed the look into smalltown Louisiana, the politics and the mysteries, and the world Harris created. I warmed to characters I didn’t expect to warm to, and occasionally found myself pleasantly surprised by plot twists! The series that follows is a fun read, if not without flaws in both writing and plot or character development.
4. Nine Princes In Amber – Roger Zelazny
Another friend recommended this one to me, largely because I’m planning to write a novel featuring an amnesiac protagonist. While Corwin’s amnesia doesn’t really last long enough to make this a useful ‘how did someone else do this’ book, it was really interesting reading one of the founding father figures of speculative fiction. Zelazny was doing things before everyone else did them, and I found the entire work to be oddly nostalgic and novel at the same time. I was not nearly as fond of the last five books in his ten book series, but even the elements I didn’t care for gave me ideas for what not do write, so I consider the entire series time well spent.
5. Payment In Blood – Elizabeth George
I read this book while I was stuck in the Dominican Republic. My mother had just broken her ribs falling off of a horse, leaving us with a sudden abundance of free time, and this was the only book she had packed. I was fourteen, and she warned me that the book might be a bit too adult for me; the description of the murder scene gave me nightmares for a week, so I guess she was right, but aside from that I absolutely fell in love with Peter Lynley and Elizabeth George. She writes mysteries like no one else I’ve ever read, with an addicting blend of fast-paced drama and soft, slow, intensely personal moments. Her stories feel real, which is both captivating and a little bit terrifying. And I just realized that I’m about three novels behind in this series now – brb!
6. The Falls – Ian Rankin
The day before my fifteenth birthday, my grandfather gave me this book and said “so, I saw you were reading that George woman. [see above.] Maybe you’ll like this, you like computer things.” I’m not sure if he knew that he was giving me the twelfth book in a series – I’m not sure whether or not he’d read any of the other books. I think he probably just saw a mystery that involved computers and thought “my computer-addicted granddaughter who reads mysteries will like this”. Well, he was right. Rankin is another author who has a way of weaving the public sphere of a murder investigation with the private lives of the characters so that I cared about absolutely everything, and his stories can still raise goosebumps in me sometimes.
7. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J. K. Rowling
I love Harry Potter. I was in the fandom for years, I waited in line at midnight to see the movies. However I feel about the seventh book, this series was my childhood and I regret nothing. The funny part, though, is that I was REALLY resistant about starting it. I was in seventh grade before I picked up the first book, and I did it under protest. Everyone in my class was obsessed with this series about some wizard kid, and I remember thinking that it was almost certainly going to be crappy fantasy-lite, for people who couldn’t handle real fantasy. I told everyone I knew that I’d the first three books, all that were out at the time, and hadn’t really liked them. Then I got invited to a Harry Potter themed birthday party, and figured my lie might be sort of obvious there and that I might as well just suffer through them. The rest, as they say, is history.
8. Cinder – Marissa Meyer
Oh, this book is fun. Maggie pestered me to read this, and I have absolutely no regrets. The writing is pleasant, the story is an interesting blend of original plot and fairy tale standards, and I really like pretty much all of the characters! It’s always nice to see a story about a competent young woman, but it’s rare to find one where that young woman both gets a romance plot and also keeps something resembling logic. I can’t wait for Cress to come out.
9. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R. King
You shouldn’t judge books by their covers. This book was given to me as a birthday present, and it was not new when I got it. I almost didn’t read it because of that, and because the cover had no pictures and looked like about the most boring thing ever. Fancy victorian women, men with pipes, and beekeeping? I read it because the woman who gave it to me came back to visit a couple of weeks later, and I was warned that she would be wondering if I’d liked it. I have since read this book a total of twenty-seven times. A book later in this series remains my favourite novel of all time, and this one is a close contender for the title. I love King’s Holmes, who is both fierce and brilliant, and following his story through the eyes of a young, intelligent woman rather than the slightly-clueless Watson (who was the only reason I could ever cite for why I didn’t really like Holmes before) was amazing. This is my go-to book whenever I need something beloved and familiar, and it’s actually kind of scary to realize how close I came to not reading it at all.
10. Mistborn: The Final Empire – Brandon Sanderson
And last but not least, another book forced on me by a friend. He championed this book for ages, and I resisted; I recognized the name “Sanderson” as “that guy who finished the Wheel of Time books”, and I’d ragequit WoT back in High School so that didn’t really recommend him to me. Eventually, I realized that the recommendations wouldn’t stop, and so I allowed myself to be introduced to my favourite author. The writing in this book, the plot and the politics, captured me in an instant. I devoured it and its sequels, and have gone on to read everything Sanderson’s ever written. So thank you, Travis, for not shutting up about this – or the Dresden Files, which almost made it onto this list, and are now sort of sneaking in accidentally aren’t they?
Honourable mentions: Sabriel; Polgara the Sorceress; Julie of the Wolves; Eats, Shoots, and Leaves