The Book Meme: Day 25

Day 25 - Any five books from your "to be read" stack

Every year I make up a list of 40 books I'd like to read. I don't force myself to read any of them, but the act of creating the list makes it easier for me to remember the titles I'd like to look for if I'm wandering a library or a bookstore. I also get a little satisfaction when I finish a book and get to mark it off the list. 

I mention all of this not because I'm going to subject you to all 40 of the books on my current TBR list, but so you'll know I take the list seriously. When I tell you about books that I'm looking forward to reading, I'm really looking forward to reading them. I will note that I've finished only two of 2018's titles so far (Joe Hill's often creepy and always imaginative four-novella volume Strange Weather and T. Kingfisher's delightful and satisfying fantasy The Wonder Engine) and am in the middle of a third (Ta-Nehisi Coates' terrific essay collection We Were Eight Years in Power). With that said, here are five books and a little about why they're on my list.

*Brave Deeds by David Abrams
I've known David for some years now, thanks to our time at the late, lamented, and we've tried to hard to encourage each other's writing careers. We don't get to meet that often, since he lives in Montana, but I did spend the night at his place back in 2013, and he grilled me a terrific steak and cheese-stuffed peppers and we talked, appropriately enough, about the tops of our TBR lists. (The book I wanted to read was Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, while David's was Lolita. Since we'd each read and loved the other's selection, we spent a lot of time encouraging each other to jump on it ASAP.) We also took a birding trip the next morning, visiting the Warm Springs State Wildlife Management Area and logging a mother and two immature Great Horned Owls. In short, even if I hadn't loved his first novel, the tragicomic Fobbit, I'd want to read his second.

*The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey
I first encountered Mike Carey's work when he was writing DC Comics' Lucifer. Since it was a spin-off of the highly successful Sandman, I was dubious about the book at first, but before long, I was completely hooked. (Peter Gross's artwork didn't hurt, either.) From there I moved to Carey's series of fantasy/horror books about exorcist Felix Castor, which were enormously entertaining. And when I mentioned on Twitter that I was letting a group of my students read the first, The Devil You Know, Carey volunteered to help them out by sitting for an interview on Skype. (He claimed he did this because he's a former teacher, but I think he's just an incredibly nice guy.) Still, none of this prepared me for The Girl with All the Gifts, which took the somewhat moribund genre of the Zombie Apocalypse and gave it a stunning new spin. TBotB is its sequel, so I'm regulating my expectations, but I figure Carey has already proven me wrong on that score once.

*Next by James Hynes
Speaking of Readerville (and Twitter, for that matter), here's a writer I discovered because of my time there. Hynes is unique in that he's a writer who combines a keen eye for the details of mundane life (particularly the workplace) with a commitment to his flights of fancy. I've already mentioned his first book, The Lecturer's Tale, which has several brilliant scenes that stand alone, but the novel as a whole has something I don't always see: a point of view that the novelist is unashamed of exploring all the way to its conclusion. It's also the first book I can recall that examined the idea of privilege, and did so in a way that was memorable and satisfying. My second Hynes, Kings of Infinite Space, had that same delightful blend of absurdity and realism, as well as something that far too few novels have these days: a punch line. Given all this, I think you can see why I'm looking forward to my third Hynes.

*The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Last summer Kelly and I traveled to Alabama in late July, which was, as a matter of pure timing, a mistake. Luckily, I was prepared to deal with the excess heat that kept us indoors at our Air BnB for much of the week, because I had brought along Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which was that most startling of things: a fantasy whose dimensions were not familiar. The empire, the magicians, the gods, the family betrayals, all of these were old tropes, but they were employed in startling new ways. I couldn't be sure where the story was headed, and there was true excitement in that uncertainty. A few days back I called THTK one of the best books I read over the last 12 months, and that's why I'm so eager to read this one.

*The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson
This is the only book on the list that I've already read--kinda. Back in ninth grade, Ms. Zora Rashkis guided me through Homer's epic and helped solidify my love of Greek mythology forever. Then, as a sophomore at UNC, I had it assigned as part of Dr. Ken Reckford's course on the Heroic Journey, but I didn't have time to linger over it. (We also had to read the Aeneid and The Lord of the Rings that semester, after all.) But I haven't gone back to read it since then, and now I suddenly I have a reason: Wilson's highly praised English translation is apparently the first published by a woman. Since I've spent the last two years pushing myself to read more work by people who aren't white guys, this struck me as a chance to remind myself why that matters--to get a perspective on a familiar story that I might not otherwise get. Plus, Wilson has rendered it in iambic pentameter, and I'm a sucker for blank verse.

That's what I'm looking forward to. And with luck, next year's list will have five open slots.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on July 31, 2018 7:24 AM.

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