Bricks on the Shelf

I think we all have at least one, massive book we’ve wanted to read but just haven’t started because it would be a commitment. Below are five books that fit this description for me. These are books I want to read, but just haven’t done so yet because they can double as a door-stopper.

It by Stephen King

ItI’ve always heard this is a great book. I have watched the new movie adaptations of this book and I did like them. I also have already had several parts of the book spoiled (primarily the most disturbing parts) from discussions about what wasn’t included in the movies. I think this has contributed to my stalling on actually reading the book, but I will get around to it one day.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Count of Monte CristoI first discovered The Count of Monte Cristo after seeing the 2002 movie adaptation, which I greatly enjoyed. I picked up a copy of the book a long time ago but just haven’t brought myself around to reading it yet. I know I’ll enjoy it as I already consider the story one of the best ‘revenge’ stories out there.

 

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Atlas ShruggedHonestly, I can’t even remember what drew me to this book it has been so long since I picked it up. I think I had just discovered Ayn Rand and wanted to try some of her work. I’m sure the mythological reference also drew me in, and the fact it is considered a great novel in general, though I have heard it is a little tough to get through. Her other, large novel that is said to be great is The Fountainhead which a friend of mine did read and really liked. I may try that one if I like Atlas Shrugged.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Infinite JestI’ve only read a little of David Foster Wallace but I want to read more, and supposedly Infinite Jest is one of his best works. It’s apparently a bit unconventional in structure but a lot of people seem to love it. Since I’ve liked what little if read of David Foster Wallace, I figure I’ll like this one too.

 

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Don QuixoteThis book I want to read mainly because it has been referenced in several shows I like, but also because I know it has influenced a lot of writers and their work. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve watched a show or read a book that was influenced by this book. The main one that comes to my mind at the moment is the show The Newsroom starring Jeff Daniels.

Book Series for the Long Haul

I figured now is as good a time as any to recommend a few longer book series to help us all pass the time while we try not to think about the state of things. Don’t worry, all series on this list are completed so you don’t have to wait for the next one.

It’s always good to get lost in a book. Admittedly, most of these series fall into either fantasy or science fiction, but I have read them and greatly enjoyed them.

The Wheel of Time

The Eye of the WorldThe first series I thought of was the one I read last year and may be the longest I’ve ever read. The Wheel of Time is fourteen books long (fifteen with the prequel) and each book averages at about 800 pages. This epic fantasy series was incredible and I consumed it all in about 9 months. The first book is The Eye of the World. If you decide to dive in, there is a great community of fans on social media sites (at least there is on Twitter) and Amazon is currently adapting it into a television series. I also tracked my way through this series as I was reading it, so you can read my reactions and thoughts on each book after you read each installment to see if we had the same thoughts about the events. You can find my posts on this series on my list of Book Recommendations above.

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyIf you a prefer a more whimsical read, then The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams may be for you. This series of five books is an absolutely absurd story filled with space travels and nonsense that is joyous to read. Yes, the premise does include (spoiler warning even though the book starts with this) the destruction of Earth, but the journey afterward is a funny exploration of the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

 

The Riftwar Saga

Magician Raymond E Feist

The Riftwar Saga was written by Raymond E. Feist and begins with The Magician. As you may have figured out, this series is a fantasy series. It consists of four core books but there are several other books the extend the story into The Riftwar Cycle. I’ve read the core series and only a few of the books that take place immediately after the main four. I greatly enjoyed them and hope you do to.

Dune

Dune

Dune by Frank Herbert is one of the best science fiction books I’ve read in the past several years. Admittedly, I have only read the first book. The series extends beyond the first novel (which can be read as a standalone book if you prefer) to include nearly 20 books in total. The first six were written by Frank Herbert and make up the core books. The series was extended by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. A new film adaptation of the original book is being made and should be coming out within a year (I think the original date was this December).

 

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving CastleHowl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones is a trilogy aimed at younger audiences, but that just means anyone can read it. I again have to admit I’ve only read the first book of the trilogy, but this was because I did not know it had sequels until recently. I am definitely going to read them. There is an animated film adaptation of this first book made by Studio Ghibli that is an excellent watch. They do change a few things (as usually happens with film) but it is a great supplement to the book.

 

The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the RingsSince I think the Lord of the Rings series/trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien has become one of those stories that people will claim to have read but have never actually read, I thought it would be a great time for many people to actually read it. Of course, the movies are phenomenal and do a great job of adapting the series for the screen, which is why I think many people have not actually read the books. There are quite a few differences between the book and screen despite the scripts sticking really closely to the source material. There is much more to Tolkien’s universe as well if you like this series. Outside of The Hobbit which preludes this trilogy, there are supplemental books that expand into areas well outside the main story-line for any who are interested.

 

Harry Potter

Harry Potter

It’s always a great time to re-read Harry Potter. Or finally read it. The series is great and you can even reward yourself by watching the movie adaptations alongside your read-through.

 

The Murderbot Diaries

Okay, this last one is simply a guilty-pleasure recommendation that actually breaks my rule. The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells is not yet completed, but the fifth book comes out next month. The first four books are novella-length, so the series isn’t terrible long, but I think the introverted Murderbot is just a great, fun character who tries to interact with humans a little as possible.Murderbot Series

5 Books About Writing

I am a writer and therefore will every so often pick up a book about the craft. Below is a list of books about writing that I have read over the past several years that I found informative, inspiring, and insightful. I could give entire lectures about writing and all the different things I’ve learned through a formal education and my own individual studies, but I’ll save that for the classroom. For now, I hope you consider these books if you are a writer, if you like interesting things, or if you simply like any of these authors in particular as most of the books listed include biographical content. This is not surprising because writing is a very personal thing and everyone has their own approach and methods, which is why I picked up bits and pieces from most of these books to build upon my own habits.

About WritingThe newest book on the list is About Writing: A Field Guide For Aspiring Authors by Gareth L. Powell. This little pocket book is filled with insights about everything from beginning the writing process to how to build a following and market your published book. It has a bunch of useful tips about social media, outlining a novel, tips for attending conferences or conventions, and overall how to be a present-day author. Gareth is a powerhouse of positive energy and I highly suggest you follow him on Twitter for daily inspiration. I also recommend keeping this book on hand to pick up from time to time and review whatever part of the writing journey you are currently on. One thing I’ve taken into my own practice is Gareth’s suggestion about how to outline a novel. I may end up tweaking it a bit to better suit my needs, but it is proving immensely useful so far.

On WritingThe second book is the first book on the craft of writing I ever read and the first book I had read by this author. The book in question is one of the most popular: On Writing by Stephen King. I picked this one up shortly after finishing my undergraduate degree and felt the need to keep educating myself on the craft. Admittedly, it has been a minute since I’ve read this book, but I do remember a lot from it. First, this book is split basically into two parts. One half is focused on King himself giving some background to his journey as a writer and the other half is about the craft. Both are incredibly interesting and worth your time. One thing I have always kept with me from this book is King’s habit of always having a book on hand no matter where you are. I’m not sure why this particular thought stuck with me, but he was right that you should always keep a book on hand because you can get reading in with all the “in between” time we have in life. Waiting in line for coffee? Read a few pages. At the doctor? Read some more. Nowadays you can do this with your pocket computer if you prefer an ebook and have the willpower to stay off social media. Physical books don’t have distracting apps. I think I may need to give it another read soon since I have grown a lot as a writer and a person since I last read it.

Elements of StyleNext is another “classic” on the craft and another small, pocket-sized book. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. This is a craft book specific to the actual grammar and syntax and overall use of language and it is useful for writing in general and not just creative writing. It is a great book that can help you bolster your writing and form good habits, but like all the others, it isn’t a rule book. It may be the closest thing to one, but writing is again personal and you have your own style. This is simply one of the better resources to help you stay away from rookie mistakes and improve your prose. I think King mentions this book in his own and had some comments about Strunk and White’s thoughts about adverbs.

Zen and the Art of WritingThis next book I happened to discover while perusing the shelves of my local library. Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. This book was such a fun find. I was surprised to find so many great essays about writing that were simply inspirational. I plan to get a copy of my own to have on hand because you can pick this book up and read any essay and get that spark to start a story or continue whatever you are working on. He has such a great way of reminding you what a joy and privilege it is to write. Any self-doubt will disappear as you read. He definitely puts the zest and gusto into his thoughts about the craft. Bradbury wrote one thousand words every day since he was a kid. I’m hoping I can build a habit like his, to write every day so I am always progressing toward my goal of finishing a novel or short story. I’m still working on this though. I don’t need a thousand words. For now, any amount will do. I just need to build the good habit.

ReflectionsReflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones is another collection of essays. This collection contains a large amount of biographical content about Diana and several essays repeat the same small tidbits about her life as they were written over the course of her career. She led a very interesting life and had some strange things happen to her. You’d almost think she were truly a witch. A good-natured one though. Did you know she had C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as professors? It does contain a lot of practical advice about writing, the market, agents, editors, and publishers. However, a lot of what she is describing is from a few decades ago and much has changed since then. I’ve no doubt some of the changes were due to her influence. Many things haven’t changed much at all unfortunately. The literary landscape may have changed since the writing of the essays, but she has plenty of relevant information in this book, especially about writing for younger audiences.

I have many more books on the craft I still want to read and many more I’m sure I will discover in the future. The next on my list I already have lined up and plan to start soon. Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin. I also want to read Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood. If you have a book about the craft of writing that you like, let me know with a comment. I’d love to find more. Perhaps I’ll write another list about another set of books on writing. For now, I’m going to get back to work by sticking with Rule #1 from Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules for writing which is simply: Write.

8 Rules of Writing_Neil Gaiman

Solaris

SolarisSolaris by Stanislaw Lem is strange to say the least. The premise is intriguing and I must admit I greatly enjoyed the first half of the book. The second half stalls a bit and gets a little abstract, but overall I think the book is interesting enough to recommend.

Written in 1961, it is a science fiction novel that takes place on a distant planet called Solaris, where the ocean covering nearly the entire surface is discovered to be a sentient life form. We follow a psychiatrist, Kris Kelvin, who travels to the station hovering in the planetary atmosphere. The story takes place in a distant future where humanity has thoroughly mastered space travel and the planet of Solaris is a still unknown entity. A rare, inexplicable puzzle still yet to be solved.

The book itself is an interesting thought experiment that imagines a planet-sized life-form while also delving into what it means to be human; physically and mentally. As I said, the first half really drew me in and made me want to discover how and why the events were taking place. Of course, I had to then finish the novel and the second half was good, don’t get me wrong, but it left me wanting a bit more.

This book has been adapted into film three times (1968, 1972, 2002) with the most recent staring George Clooney. I have not seen any of the adaptations, but I may check them out eventually. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a new adaptation especially since there are many elements that remind me of movies such as Sphere, Alien, or Sunshine. The premise is great enough that I don’t think Hollywood will leave it alone.

The book is approximately 200 pages so it is a fairly quick read. I first heard of this book from a student who was reading it for a class. I then saw it again mentioned in a collection of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin who discussed a few other of Lem’s books which I do want to read. I think Lem has a good writing style and, from what I have read, he has interesting ideas that encompass psychological or philosophical ideas. This alone makes me interested in reading more of his work. It helps that he is able to frame the ideas around an interesting narrative.

Happy Reading.

All The Light We Cannot See

All The Light We Cannot SeeAll The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr was published in 2014 and won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This was one of those books I had seen on bookshelves the year it came out and a few subsequent years where the title caught my interest but I never picked it up. Since it had caught my interest, once a colleague recommended it to me stating it was “the best book he had read last year,” I picked it. I finished it yesterday.

This book is beautifully written. Hands down, it is one of the best-written books I’ve read in a long time. The use of language alone is enough to recommend it, but the story is also compelling. Two young lives impacted by the eruption of war. A young girl, blind and led by her father as they flee their familiar home in Paris. A young boy, orphaned in a mining town and left to fend for his younger sister until his curiosity and aptitude with radio leads him into the German forces as the war progresses. Their lives are connected by invisible waves dancing in the air as their lives careen into the unknown. Despite the interesting characters, I found I was kept at arms length from really getting to know them. I think it was the formatting of the book that led to this. The book is over 500 pages long, but broken into chapters averaging three pages in length. The changes in perspective and the story spanning a decade made it seem more like watching a play than getting into the heads of the characters and experiencing their story alongside them. We are bystanders. Perhaps this is best considering the situations they are in, but I almost felt like I wanted more of a connection with them. The main characters at least.

Doerr definitely did his research. History, locations, technology, and even biological studies of specimens, everything is brought together to bring a rich experience. I think one thing that captured my attention was the descriptions of the radio. We all likely use radios every day, or phones, without knowing a single thing about how they actually work. We take it for granted and because of this I think Doerr is able to bring a magic to it within this novel. Of course, this was before television and the rapid growth of technology that we all have known nearly our entire lives.

Though this is a work of fiction, I think it does a great job of showing how the war changed the lives of the citizens of Europe. Outside of losing loved ones and friends, and living in uncertainty not knowing if they would eat each day, the story is a glimpse inside what it would have been like for both sides during the occupation of France and beyond. It also briefly shows how those changes influenced their lives after the war.

The story feeds off of, and in turn contributes to, the nostalgic time before the technology we know so well. Even though the conflicts of the second world war were horrendous and attribute to some of the worst things in the history of humanity, there is still a sense of simplicity during the first half of the recent century. This could easily be the distance of time between now and then. Daily hardships are also hardly mentioned in history lessons and it is impossible to know how life really was before our own experience.

Yes, the war is a topic many people don’t find interesting because of the terrible things that happen, but this book focuses on our two young characters. I can’t name either a protagonist or antagonist because this is not a story with plain right or wrong (despite us knowing much about the war itself and having our own sense of good and bad). This is a story about life, the wonders it contains, the difficulty of existence, and the choices we make. It is about survival and how to live after the danger passes. It demonstrates the fickleness of life and how unfortunate things happen to good people, and how good people can combat the ill-intentions of others.

I spoke with the colleague who recommended this book to me last week and told him I was about halfway through. He carefully told me that he thought the ending was “appropriate,” and now that I have finished the book I must agree with him. The ending is appropriate. I will leave you to take that as you will.

Happy Reading.