The Book Meme: Day 2

Day 02 - A book or series you wish more people were reading and talking about

Why, yes, I can think of an item or two in response to this prompt.

Kelly and I have long kept what we call our Evangelical Shelf for our guests. When they hear us discussing some book we especially love, they often wish to borrow a copy--completely reasonable of them. But of course, we do not really want to lend out our favorite books because, duh, they're our favorites and we want them with us and we're scared of losing them. The Evangelical Shelf is how we deal with this issue: whenever we stumble across used copies of our favorites, we buy them specifically so we can hand them out.

The shelf is temporarily on hiatus, thanks to our recent move, but we have plans to establish it again once we have the necessary books. But what are those books, you ask. Here are some:

The Girl in a Swing by Richard Adams
Yes, the guy who wrote Watership Down. We learned of this novel through our friend Kathe, who nicknamed herself in honor of the book's heroine. Given the sweeping romance of the story, that choice of name seems entirely appropriate, but you may second-guess our friend when you realize that the romance is accompanied by an unnerving sense of dread. A terrific exercise in creating mood, this book proves rabbits were not the only thing in Mr. Adams' hat.

The Folk of the Air by Peter S. Beagle
Beagle is a gifted fantasist, but it's rare to hear people praising this particular volume, and it's terrific. Combining deadpan absurdity with well-researched adventures in the role-playing community, this yarn about a thinly-disguised Society for Creative Anachronism is a complete delight. WARNING: if you get a paperback copy, DO NOT READ THE BACK COVER COPY, as it provides a major spoiler.

Quarantine and Being Dead by Jim Crace
I love both of these books enough to make choosing between them an impossibility. Crace's prose is elegant, seemingly effortless, and his worldbuilding is both plausible and playful. Quarantine is the tale of a group of pilgrims in the deserts of Judea circa 33 A.D., and the improbabilities they encounter there. The first paragraph is enough to hook you. Being Dead is a complex spiral of two stories: one, the forward-moving account of what happens to the bodies of a murdered couple left in the dunes near a beach, and two, the backward-moving account of how the couple came to that beach and that end. It's a gorgeous piece of work. And heck, if you see a copy of Crace's Arcadia, or The Gift of Stones, or The Devil's Larder, you might as well pick that up, too.

Very Far Away from Anywhere Else by Ursula K. Le Guin
The only book on this shelf that I've actually taught to my students. Very Far Away... is ostensibly a YA book, but its young characters will seem familiar to any adult reader who ever felt alienated from the social mainstream at school. Owen and Natalie are hopelessly far from that stream, but the connection they forge is deep and complicated and real. And at 130 pages, it won't take you long. This book was out of print for a number of years. That will not happen again on my watch.

Night of the Avenging Blowfish by John Welter
I don't promote this one purely because Welter is a fellow Tar Heel, but our shared UNC education does perhaps make me a better audience for this improbable novel about a lovelorn Secret Service agent. Aside from the central search for love, our hero encounters a variety of semi-governmental problems, including a state dinner that goes awry when he manages to get Spam on the menu, and a covert baseball game against the CIA that is so secret the players have to choose pseudonyms from literature in order to conceal their identities. Hilarious and occasionally touching, it's well worth your time.

Alas, there's not really room on the Evangelical Shelf for complete series, but there are two series that I find so satisfying, so engaging, that I cannot resist re-reading them, nor can I believe that they are not more celebrated, not even among the SF communities that would love them most.

The Saga of Pliocene Exile by Julian May
Along with the Galactic Milieu Trilogy and the two-volume Intervention, this four-volume series (starting with The Many-Colored Land) is part of one of the largest, most sprawling, and most enjoyable tapestries of fiction you'll ever see. With the possible exception of Anne McCaffrey's Pern, it's the SF setting I'd most like to live in, but May doesn't make living in it easy. Those who are too anti-social or idiosyncratic for the peaceful galactic civilization of the future have an out, though: a one-way hole in time that goes back six million years to Earth's Pliocene Epoch, the age of weird mammals like smilodons and bear-dogs and hoe-tusker elephants. But the exiles find something there that they never expected. You won't find a better combination of hard SF and mythology anywhere, and May is adept both at juggling archetypes and at keeping you guessing about who'll survive and who'll triumph. Better still: if you like the first book, you have eight more to enjoy!

The Gaea Trilogy by John Varley
A trilogy that doesn't work the way most do. Usually the first volume is the startling one, and the second and third volumes settle into the established groove and take you to the destination as predictably as British Rail. Varley, by contrast, starts you on a train, then suddenly drags you into a subway, and ends up flipping you over and over on a roller coaster. Titan begins as an almost straightforward hard-SF space travel novel, then becomes a wilderness survival saga, and ends up as a first-contact tale. Volume two, Wizard, introduces new characters, unexpected plot developments, and an increasingly heroic and increasingly flawed heroine in Cirocco "Rocky" Jones. And volume three, Demon, goes completely nuts. It's an over-the-top fantasy in a threadbare suit of science fiction, and it's fantastic. Add fantastic worldbuilding, creative and bizarre aliens, and one of the great female-female couples in SF. Why this isn't near the top of every Best-Of list of science fiction series is a complete mystery to me. It's fantastic.

You may find any of the above on our Evangelical Shelf if you come by. Feel free to take a volume home. Just ask nicely first.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on July 5, 2018 7:15 PM.

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