Thursday, September 25, 2014

Challenging Books

A friend challenged me to list ten books that have had the most influence on me. I honestly don't know if I can choose ten from the loads and then rank them. I think I'd just rather list the ten important books that come to my mind immediately, and explain why they're so important to me. If you'd like you can see this list as a sort of 'suggested reading' for getting to know me better.

Here they are, in no particular order, ten books that are important to me.

1) The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (translated by Ralph Manheim)
Ok, so I said I wouldn't rank them but this book is the exception. I could go on and on about how symbolically central this book is to my life. I have the Auryn tattooed on my arm and not a day goes by that I don't think about my relationship to this story. I still have the hardbound copy my parents read to me when I was six.  The physical book has accompanied me since I was a child. It's been to the other side of the world and back. It's beaten up and water-stained and the dust-jacket is long since gone.

I re-read it often. I have a Japanese language copy as well that I have also read.

The themes of escapism, dealing with grief and depression, love for the endless expanse of fiction and the characters in it, and the dangers of drowning in your imagination all resonate with me strongly. It has endless depth and detail like a fractal that becomes apparent with each re-reading. But that's another story, for another time...

If you pick up a copy, get one with the colored text. It's just not the same in standard grey ink.

2) Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
I read this book in college and it is one that really stuck with me. I have been a fan of Murakami in general, but for my money this is his best one. It's atmospheric and you pick up so much more from how it speaks to you than what it says directly. That said, it's never boring or snooty or intentionally obtuse. A fun, deep-drive of a read that taught me a lot about what I like, and a lot about what is possible.

3) Count Zero by William Gibson
You should totally read Neuromancer first, not only did it come first, but it's also the one that's going to get adapted into a movie or TV show. But I like Count Zero a lot more. It's an essential cyberpunk novel from back when the genre was pretty much just whatever William Gibson was writing. It's really, really good.

4) Hero with 1000 Faces by Joseph Campbell
The hero's journey has a lot of insight into the kinds of story I find really compelling, and why I find them so compelling. Like most of the other books on this list, I've read and recommended this book to people multiple times.

5) Good Without God by Greg M. Epstein
After becoming disenchanted with angry atheism and assholes like Richard Dawkins who shout about it, I found this book in a basement bookstore during a visit to California, and finished it before I got home. Greg M. Epstein talks about how atheism informs a compassionate and engaged worldview for people like myself. I highly recommend this book if you are a person of faith and have preconceptions about what non-religious people believe.

6) The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock
This is the pulp fantasy that I tore into as a 13 year old. Mopey, sexy, violent, and fucking metal as all hell, this series has everything a growing nerd needs. 

7) Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition by Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, and Skip Williams
This one is on here not so much because I think it should be read, as that it's emblematic of a big part of my life. I've been a tabletop role-playing nerd since I was eight. Gaming has led me to my closest friends and shown me how much I love being involved in the creation of stories. I actually play-tested this edition of D&D and you can find my name in the credits in the back.

8) Sandman by Neil Gaiman
This is one of my favorite comics. My RAs at Evergreen had the complete set in their dorm and they let me borrow them one weekend. I had given up on reading comics, (at least American ones) at the time, but Neil Gaiman re-ignited that appetite with a vengance and I am very glad.

9) Superman - Birthright by Mark Waid
Hands-down, the best take on Superman's origin and arrival in Metropolis that I have ever read. Mark Waid gets how to write Superman, and as someone with a deep love for the character, it makes me very happy to read it.

10) Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
This is an excellent examination of Comics as a medium. Reading it made me realize that I wanted to be an advocate for media like comics, animation, video games, and any other art form that is regularly dismissed as being incapable of being serious art.

Special bonus books because I ran out of numbers:

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester - essentially the Count of Monte Cristo in space, I fantasize about adapting this novel as a television mini-series with my older brother. Though I still think about how you'd do the synesthesia parts.

Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi - Paolo Bacigalupi is the best author I've encountered in the past five years. I first read The Windup Girl, and then immediately read everything else of his I could get my hands on. I like to think of his work a 'Biopunk', where William Gibson wrote the future the 80s were bound for, Paolo Bacigalupi writes the future we're pointed at now.

Kekkaishi by Yellow Tanabe - I love this manga maybe more than it deserves. It's pretty standard shonen faire, but they way it does it just resonates with me at points. The relationship with the badass older brother, the way the magic works, the mystery and deception from people who you want to trust. It's very enjoyable.

Full Metal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa - Holy crap this manga is so good. The art, the story, the science, the characters, all amazing. If you don't read it, at least watch the Show, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood (that's the version that's more faithful to the manga)

There are so many more, but I think I will stop here. If you read this list and feel like doing one of your own, consider yourself challenged. Provide me with a link and I will read your list.

And let me know if you have read, or have decided to read any of the books I listed here, I'd love to know what you think.

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