30 Day Book Meme: Day 13

Favorite childhood book OR current favorite YA book (or both!)

Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile and almost as cold as his heart.

This one’s easy: The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber is one of my oldest and most beloved YA books. It was clearly written to be read aloud, and the language is gorgeous. It’s also poetic enough that I can recite whole passages. And it’s got plenty of dark and gruesome stuff sure to enchant the kiddies in it! Consider the description of the villainous Duke of Coffin Castle:

…he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales. He was six feet four, and forty-six, and even colder than he thought he was. One eye wore a velvet patch; the other glittered through a monocle… the Duke limped because his legs were of different lengths. The right one had outgrown the left because, when he was young, he had spent his morning place-kicking pups and punting kittens. …

His voice sounded like iron dropped on velvet.

The story concerns the Princess Saralinda, imprisoned by the Duke, and the prince who comes to save her. A prophecy says that only a prince “whose name begins with X, and doesn’t” can rescue her, so surely it’s impossible! But no, Prince Zorn of Zorna has been traveling under the name of Xingu, and he comes to save her. Add in the creepy monster the Todal (it makes a sound like rabbits screaming), the mysterious Gollux (“I only resemble half the things I say I don’t,” he explains; “the other half resemble me!”), and a woman who weeps gemstones and you have the makings of an awesome fairy tale.

It languished in out-of-print status for ages, but has recently been republished, with a spiffy intro by Neil Gaiman. Go get it!

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30 Day Book Meme: Day 12

A book or series of books you’ve read more than five times.

Wow. I think I’ve read a lot of books and series more than five times. How to pick?

I think I’ll go with the book I own the most editions of: Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Let’s see… I own it in paperback, hardcover (with illustrations by Edward Gorey), and I have two different annotated versions. Who’s hardcore? That would be me. I also own a copy of the play, and several books about the story in one way or another.

It all started when I went to see a production of the play back in sixth grade. I can’t really pinpoint what it was that struck me, I just knew  I was obsessed. I read every book involving vampires, fiction and nonfiction, I could get my hands on, including a lot of garbage. But I kept coming back to the original. Dracula. I’m not alone in my high regard for the first-ever modern vampire. Heck, I’ve met kids who refer to vampires as “draculas.”

Pro tip: if you meet me in person, do not get me started on the history of vampires in fiction and folklore. I will talk your ear off. I’ve forgotten more about vampires than most people ever learn in the first place.

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30 Day Book Meme: Day 11

A book that disappointed you.

Rather than an individual book that disappointed me, I’m going to write about a whole damn series that did.

That series is the Anita Blake novels by Laurell K. Hamilton. I know plenty of people who love them, but I had high hopes from the first book that they were going to be a kickass series about a mystery-solving necromancer and instead I got a series that has devolved into being about a superwoman who can do anything and the increasingly ridiculous things that happen so that she will have serious enough bad guys to challenge her and an excuse to have lots and lots of sex.

I really liked the first book, Guilty Pleasures. It was basically a supernatural mystery. Not fantastic writing, but enjoyable. I liked the unusual idea of the protagonist being someone who animated the dead and executed vampires for a living. The next couple books were okay, although once the love triangle between Anita, Richard, and Jean-Claude developed, I started rolling my eyes. I’ve never liked the whole love-triangle device. And then Anita started getting new superpowers in every book and I just… lost interest. I haven’t heard anything about the newer books to make me change my mind.

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30 Day Book Meme: Day 10

A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving.

This one’s easy. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (yes, I am secretly a pretentious Anglophile, and I read the UK edition, with the original title and vocabulary).

I didn’t read it when the books first hit the US because I was in college and didn’t see any reason to make time for the latest kids book fad. However, in creative writing my senior year, I was writing a lot of fantasy, including stories about a young student sorcerer, and my classmates gently suggested I read the Harry Potter books, if only to avoid accidental imitation.

Once I got around to reading the book, I was pleasantly surprised — I went into it, as I remember, with some hesitation. Wildly popular book series often annoy me (do not get me started on Twilight. I didn’t write about those books for day 5 because I didn’t trust myself to keep my post anything resembling short), and I was afraid Harry’s exploits would be no exception, but I found it surprisingly charming. Taken as a kids book, and as a first novel, it’s top-notch.

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30 Day Book Meme: Day 9

Best scene ever.

Yeesh, that’s pretty granular, and I rather imagine my opinion is far from constant! However, the one that immediately sprang to mind when I ran my eyes over my bookcases is the climax of the Dresden Files novel Dead Beat, when wizard Harry Dresden reanimates and rides a friggin Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. Named Sue. How awesome is that? Answer: Very awesome.

“What a mess,” Butters said. He glanced behind us, at the broken brick and debris and wreckage of the museum’s front doors. “Is she all right?”

“One way to find out,” I growled. “Ha, mule!”

I laid my left hand on the rough, pebbled skin of my steed and willed it forward. Te saddle lurched, and I clutched hard with my other hand to stay on.

the first few steps were the worst. The saddle sat at a sharp incline not too unlike that on a rearing horse. But as my mount gathered speed, the length of her body tilted forward, until her spine was almost parallel with the ground.

I didn’t know this before, but as it turns out, Tyrannosaurs can really haulass.

She might have been as long as a city bus, but Sue, despite her weight, moved with power and grace. As I’d called forth energy-charged ectoplasm to clothe the ancient bones, they had become covered in sheets of muscle and a hide of heavy, surprisingly supple quasi-flesh. She was dark grey, and there was a ripple pattern of black along her head, back, and flanks, almost like that of a jaguar. And once I  had shaped the vessel, I had reached out and found the ancient spirit of the predator that had animated it in life.

Animals might not have the potential power of human remains. But the olderr the remains, the more magic can be drawn to fill them – and Sue was sixty-five million years old.

She had power. She had power in spades.

Dresden then rides Sue into battle and whups the bad guys, and it is awesome. Because, well, Everything’s Better with Dinosaurs. WARNING: that is a tvtropes.org link. Follow at your own risk.

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30 Day Book Meme: Day 8

A book everyone should read at least once.

Oh, man. I thought for a moment this would be a hard call, but it really isn’t. The book I think everyone should read at least once is The Gift of Fear. I picked it partly because it’s got lots of good self-defense type tips (like, how to listen to your fear to best make use of its warning signals), but mostly because it does more to explain to people how different our culture is for men and women. I blogged about it with a huge quote here.

There’s one sentence in the book I always quote that talks about this: “At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them.”

Wow, that’s way heavier than the tone I usually aim for here, sorry ’bout that. Add the book to your mental reading queue, and put on some good rock’n’roll. Have a great weekend!

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30 Day Book Meme: Day 7

Least favorite plot device employed by way too many books you actually enjoyed otherwise.

For me, I think it’s probably the artificially-constrained superpowerful character. Like, say, Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. Or Dumbledore in the Harry Potter books. Or Elric of Melniboné. It’s like the author wants to have a total badass but can’t figure out how to make the bad guy strong enough to create conflict. If the book is awesome, I don’t mind (and in some cases will actively argue that it’s okay) but when I look at it as a pure trope, it pisses me off. Like, a lot.

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30 Day Book Meme: Day 6

Favorite book of your favorite series.

Hah, I actually already mentioned that! It’s Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett. The book is a marvelous fantasy, both using and mocking familiar tropes (the heroic orphan who turns out to be of noble birth, the stalwart good guy who won’t bend the rules even a bit, the villainous fellow who wears all black and has a small furry pet [usually a cat, but in Lord Vetinari’s case it’s a small, elderly dog], etc). This is the first of the Night Watch of Ankh-Morpork books and the first time we meet Sam Vimes, who starts out as an alcoholic loser and winds up repeatedly saving the city and rising to become one of its most prominent citizens over the course of a handful of books.

There is a secret society, dragons (both the big noble ones and cute little ones who ride on rich folks’ shoulders… and sometimes explode), mysterious goings-on, politicking, and heaps and heaps of awesome. I usually refer people to Guards! Guards! when they ask me which Discworld book to read first, that’s how awesome it is.

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30 Day Book Meme: Day 4

Your favorite book or series ever.

This one sprang to my mind immediately: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Those books have everything — satire, tragedy, comedy, drama, romance, religion, philosophy… it’s not surprising, considering how many books there are in the series (something like 38 books total as of this writing, if you include the five young adult novels. Plus there are all the related books, like The Science of Discworld!).

I first stumbled across Equal Rites, the third book in the series, when I was fairly young. I found it at the library, read it, liked it, but totally failed to see if there were any other books. I rediscovered the series when I was in England as an exchange student in college, starting with Guards! Guards!, and devoured the books, purchasing all the ones that were out at the time (24) in their surreal UK covers. I fell in love with Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of the city where many of the novels take place, and found the other characters either endearing or fascinatingly horrible.

I continue to be grateful that the first books I read were Equal Rites and Guards! Guards! because boy howdy, the first two books are a poor representation of what the rest of the series is like. They’re basically straightforward parodies of the fantasy genre, and packed with bad jokes and so-so writing. As the series has gone on, however, Pratchett’s writing has gained considerable skill and depth. His latest books are even starting to leave comedy behind and seem to prioritize looking seriously at their central themes over simple entertainment.

Every time a new book comes out, I almost always wind up rereading the entire series. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read Guards! Guards!, which continues to be my favorite of them all.

It’s impossible to do justice to the series in a single, brief blog post, so I won’t try. I’ll just say, if you enjoy comedy, fantasy, and intelligent writing and haven’t read any Discworld novels, you are missing out. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea (I know some perfectly wonderful people who don’t like them), but if they are your sort of thing, you will adore them.

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