The Bestest Books Ever



I'm not planning any major New Year's Resolution to read more - I tend to get a bunch of reading done over the course of your typical year and I'm hoping 2016 will be like that as well. I get a lot of reading done via unabridged audiobooks, either while commuting or while going for walks. What I'm planning on trying this year is making use of Goodreads to track what I'm reading. Hopefully I can figure out a way to link reviews there to this blog.

As I dusted off my Goodreads account I noticed I put a number of books as five out of five stars which was probably a tad overly enthusiastic and I tweaked my ratings. What I might try doing is delaying rating/reviewing a book until a week or two has passed to give a chance for me to reflect on it. Of course that might also make me less likely to do the review at all, so we'll see. It did give me an idea to consider what my "all-time favorite" books are. Giving an absolute favorite book is clearly impossible so this is more a stream of consciousness reflection as to what books really made a deep impression on me and are books I often return to. I'm certainly missing some but I found it an interesting exercise to go through.

1984 by George Orwell. Not a happy book but one that I'm unable to resist. A chilling picture of a totalitarian government that exists for the sake of power.

The Stand by Stephen King. There will be a few Stephen King books here. A story of a civilization-ending plague followed by a battle between good and evil. The superflu which wipes out society is superbly told, with King showing us the lives of the survivors before the plague and making us invested in them, only to topple them over. It's a King trademark and it is at its best here.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I first read this in seventh grade as an assigned reading. And amazingly, nothing, not even a literature class analysis, could suck the life out of it. I fell in love with Hemingway's economy of language and a mundane fishing trip turned into an epic tale.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. War is hell. A tale having absolutely nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the effects of war.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Two Jewish boys create a superhero while they navigate the world of the 1930's through 1950's. It's a book tough to describe - when I read that, it sounds a bit "meh". For me it was one of those books that make an incredible experience in reading. Chabon's love of the era, the subject matter, all shone through.

It's Superman! by Tom De Haven. A bit more grownup take on Superman, taking the hero back to his roots as a child of the Great Depression and exploring his emergence as a superhero.

The Passage by Justin Cronin. Another end of the world story. I'm a cheerful man, aren't I? Like The Stand we witness the world falling apart as a vampire plague wipes out civilization, followed by a flash forward a century ahead as we follow an isolated outpost of humanity. The last humans? Is there anyone else out there?

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Vampires in 1980's Sweden. A tale of isolation, of wanting a connection to someone, to anyone. Both the original Swedish film adaptation and later American one were very well done.

11/22/63 by Stephen King. A schoolteacher uses a portal to go back in time from the modern day to the late 1950's to save John F. Kennedy - as well as the family of a janitor at his school. With a portal only able to take him back to 1958 he must live in the past while waiting for his appointment with Oswald - but he doesn't expect to become involved in the past, falling in love and making a difference in students' lives. And the past does not want to be changed.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (Naval Institute Press Translation). This book made me wish I was fluent in French. A 19th century technothriller with humor, intelligence, and an extremist on a mission.

The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian. I love most of the Patrick O'Brian Aubrey/Maturin tales but this one really clicked for me, taking H.M.S. Surprise to the Pacific Ocean in pursuit of an American warship. Captain Aubrey is very much on his own, far away from the British Admiralty.

Dracula by Bram Stoker. There's a reason why this tale has spawned countless vampire tales.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling. I actually prefer the more accurate British title (Philosopher's Stone) but that's a negligible concern. Rowling told an amazing tale of a boy discovering he is is someone special and takes us with him into a magical world, though one with some nasty terrors in it. I'm envious of those kids that got to grow up with Harry Potter. All the books were excellent, but there is something... well, magical, about this first tale.

Sandman: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman et al. I don't think Gaiman ever misfired with Sandman but this is my favorite. To get revenge on Dream for a past slight Lucifer empties Hell of all its damned souls and bequeaths it to Dream.

Earth Abides by George Stewart. The world ends. Again. I think there's something wrong with me. This is a bit of a cozy catastrophe with a natural illness wiping out humanity. Unlike many such tales, humanity goes down with some semblance of dignity. The tale is primarily about the survivors and their immediate descendants, taking the protagonist Ish from a young grad student to a very old man, "the last American". It's a sad story in many ways, a bit of a melancholy sadness. Ish and his companions build something which endures, but Ish's dream is to rebuild civilization as it was.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H. P. Lovecraft. My favorite Lovecraft tale about a young tourists encounter with a town inhabited by... things which are not quite human.

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