Books you haven't read but feel you should

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Sun Jun 14, 2009 2:39 pm Post

matt wrote:
Broken Thought wrote:It is such a relief to hear someone say that who is actually a fan of the genre.


You're not alone. Around 10 years ago I finally decided to read LotR. What can I say ... I kept mixing up "Sauron" and "Saruman" all the time, and in the end, well, wasn't that thrilled. I could clearly see the care that went into the book, I was aware of Tolkien's groundbreaking approach and I knew that many followed exactly in his footsteps*, but I didn't really see why some people I knew read it over and over. I had already read other fantasy novels that had thrilled me more - Michael Moorcock's "Elric" novels, for instance.

Feel free to curse me, but in this very case the movie is better!

But I'm a HUGE fan of Simmons. I've heard/read on different occassions that he's not easy to handle as a person, but I don't give a damn about that. After all, he's not my neighbour.

*I've published 3 fantasy novels myself now.

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Sun Jun 14, 2009 4:37 pm Post

I, on the other hand...

... first read LOTR in 1969 at the age of 11 and have read it several times since. I have read a fair amount of other fantasy and enjoyed it, but nothing has ever come close to the shock of that first introduction to new worlds, to the combination expanded imagination, love of learning and concepts of duty that Tolkein gave. I took as much pleasure from the appendices as the story itself.

I wouldn't pretend to know all the fantasy that is out there now, but with most of the ones I have read, the borrowings from the basic Tolkein ideas are so glaring that they seem clunky in comparison. I can enjoy them, of course, but they feel lightweight and pale in comparison - they are just stories, whilst for me, as a young person, LOTR was far more than that.

Now, this could be a function of the fact I came to Tolkein first, and I recognise that JRR himself built on a vast seam of earlier epic myth. But, to my mind, if LOTR is not good fantasy, then perhaps fantasy is not for me.

Please note, I am not at all denigrating other people's taste, simply trying briefly and probably rather badly to explain why I think Tolkein towers above his imitators[1]. What's more, I'm an awful lot older now, and it hasn't been my favourite book for many years, but I still retain an immense affection for it.

There's a good article I found on Tolkein's influence at http://books.google.com/books?id=B0loOBA3ejIC&pg=PA380&lpg=PA380&dq=pratchett+tolkien&source=bl&ots=hgFDeLbe_d&sig=QIH4eOxmxyGQnI3MvMtjHzeEQyQ&hl=en&ei=xyM1SunZO5q6jAerjOD9CQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8#PPA383,M1 that some may find interesting.

Anyway, as in so much else, YLMV[2]

Regards

David

[1] I suppose I'm really talking here about the sort of the fantasy that has dungeons and dragons and elves and dwarrows (obscure Tolkein joke there, sorry...) and treats them seriously, rather than the ineffably brilliant Pratchett, who has them but doesn't.

[2] Your Leaguage May Vary.

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Sun Jun 14, 2009 11:31 pm Post

brookter wrote:... first read LOTR in 1969 at the age of 11 and have read it several times since. I have read a fair amount of other fantasy and enjoyed it, but nothing has ever come close to the shock of that first introduction to new worlds, to the combination expanded imagination, love of learning and concepts of duty that Tolkein gave. I took as much pleasure from the appendices as the story itself.


I wonder how much of your current enjoyment is tied to your liking it as a kid. I know with things I liked as a kid, my subsequent reaction goes one of two ways when I return to it later. Either:
a) Every time I read/watch it, I get a sense of nostalgia, and enjoy it as much for the memory of enjoying it the first time... as if I am experiencing it as a child again; or
b) I hate hate HATE it, and wish I never watched/read it again, because it has completely ruined my memory of it.

Usually, television and movies tend to go to the second reaction.

Obviously, a lot of adults love LOTR, but most of the people I know who re-read it every few years first read it in their teens.

As for Terry Pratchett... I am right with you there. He keeps me entertained driving to work each morning via audiobooks.

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Mon Jun 15, 2009 1:19 am Post

matt wrote:
Broken Thought wrote:I write mostly in the fantasy genre. Dragons, fey, elves, and stuff like that, yet I have never read The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. The way that J. R. R. Tolkien wrote, and worded those books, always left me with a headache after a few pages. I always felt like I need to go back and try reading them again.


It is such a relief to hear someone say that who is actually a fan of the genre.

I thought I was alone in thinking that good fantasy is possible, but LOTR is not an example!


But then you also need to take into consideration that as far as Tolkien was concerned, he was not writing fantasy fiction, he was writing a mythology. And he loathed the fantasy fiction genre that sprang up as a result of the publication of LotR.
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Mon Jun 15, 2009 3:35 pm Post

With LotR, bear in mind that there's a large STYLE element, there. I like his style, which I suspect has much to do with why I also enjoyed Hart's Hope by Orson Scott Card. An epic writing style can be difficult to get into, if you're more used to the quick modern stuff.

So before calling LotR a bad example of fantasy, bear in mind all the writers it has influenced and please consider if it's just a style you dislike. When I don't like the style of a book, I withhold all judgement of its quality, because I'm not a just judge.

Take CS Lewis's Space Trilogy. I couldn't bear to read Out of the Silent Planet, but that was because I disliked the style. Me trying to pass judgement on the style being good or bad would be like me judging if a stuffed mushroom recipe is good or bad when I can't stand mushrooms.
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Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:22 pm Post

matt wrote:I have to say, I found the Dan Simmons remark you refer to pretty offensive, and somewhat surprising, coming from a Sci Fi writer. Normally you would expect that kind of snarkiness from a member of the 'literary' class, not a mere genre-ist. Pretentious, or an inferiority complex? Or does he actually have a point, and must everyone have written and instantly recognise passages from a century-old American writer?


I really hope you're kidding, here. Not to be too pointy; it's just that I'm generally annoyed by anti-genre snobbery, especially as Simmons' Hyperion Cantos is so steeped in Romantic/Transcendentalist attitudes and concepts. The books may be SF, but they're not "just" anything.

(Edited to moderate tone.)
Last edited by JohnstonMR on Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:35 pm Post

As always, late to the conversation but eager to take part:

I teach American and English literature, so I've read an awful lot of the usual "classics," but the books I haven't read are kind of telling. For pleasure I mostly read either non-fiction that is associated with my field or, more commonly, sci-fi and fantasy literature. There are only a few "mainstream" authors, such as Ha Jin, Alice Walker, Amy Tan, and a few others, that I follow at all regularly.

So, those gaps:
Anything by Tolstoy except Anna K.
Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude
Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables and The Marble Faun (and I am something of an expert on The Scarlet Letter and "Young Goodman Brown," so this is really quite pathetic, in my opinion!)
Joyce's Ulysses (started it once, couldn't finish it)
Les Miserables
Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queen (read excerpts but not the whole thing)


On the Tolkien discussion: I've always liked the story, but can only really appreciate the writing now. In college I took a course in LoTR, half-expecting it to totally destroy my love of the story. Fortunately, it only deepened it; learning about JRRT's attitudes about Fairy Tales and their place in modern (and ancient) myth and discovering the ways he intertwined those ideas into the structure of LoTR was fascinating.

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Fri Jun 26, 2009 11:43 pm Post

JohnstonMR wrote:
matt wrote:I have to say, I found the Dan Simmons remark you refer to pretty offensive, and somewhat surprising, coming from a Sci Fi writer. Normally you would expect that kind of snarkiness from a member of the 'literary' class, not a mere genre-ist. Pretentious, or an inferiority complex? Or does he actually have a point, and must everyone have written and instantly recognise passages from a century-old American writer?


I really hope you're kidding, here. Not to be too pointy; it's just that I'm generally annoyed by anti-genre snobbery, especially as Simmons' Hyperion Cantos is so steeped in Romantic/Transcendentalist attitudes and concepts. The books may be SF, but they're not "just" anything.

(Edited to moderate tone.)


No, I was being completely serious here, if not a little tongue-in-cheek with the "mere genre-ist" line.

Simmons said you must have read and immediately recognize a line from a 50+ year old novel by some American writer if you want to be a novelist. Saying that is completely offensive, culturally biased, and completely wrong. Good writing requires good reading, but to claim everyone must have read whatever he decides is "good reading" if they want to be a writer is bullshit pretentious snobbery.

The quality and genre of his books are irrelevant to that - except that I wonder if he is trying to elevate himself above "that fantasy crowd" who haven't read what he has read. I found the rest of his discussion pretty interesting though.

Matt

Ps - for the record, I intend to read one of his books eventually.

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Sat Jun 27, 2009 3:46 am Post

matt wrote:Simmons said you must have read and immediately recognize a line from a 50+ year old novel by some American writer if you want to be a novelist. Saying that is completely offensive, culturally biased, and completely wrong.


I don't like prescriptive remarks like that, either. On the other hand, consider what he's saying: writers who came of age in 1960 (50 years ago) were born around 1930-40. They were educated in schools that were far more demanding in language instruction and required reading than today's sorry excuses for training. They belonged to a print generation, when nearly all knowledge came from reading. Radio and films were the only media distractions, and they were quite literate, with heavy emphasis on dialogue, wit, and irony instead of snark and special effects.

Writers like Mailer, Kerouac, Bellow, Heller, Vonnegut, Updike, Ellison, O'Connor, Ginsberg, Pyncheon, Morrison, Roth, Cheever, Didion: all had extensive educations, deep reading, and editors with similar backgrounds. Many of them were "steeped in Romantic/Transcendentalist attitudes and concepts". Try Kerouac and Ginsberg, if you want instruction on the ideas of Emerson, Melville, and Whitman. Many other influences, especially jazz and abstract art, led them toward progressive visions of a wide-ranging, racially diverse, global culture. So reading them as models is not that bad an idea. Since, after all, it's only deep, extensive reading that creates people who are able to write well.

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Sat Jun 27, 2009 5:54 am Post

matt wrote:
No, I was being completely serious here, if not a little tongue-in-cheek with the "mere genre-ist" line.

Simmons said you must have read and immediately recognize a line from a 50+ year old novel by some American writer if you want to be a novelist. Saying that is completely offensive, culturally biased, and completely wrong. Good writing requires good reading, but to claim everyone must have read whatever he decides is "good reading" if they want to be a writer is bullshit pretentious snobbery.

The quality and genre of his books are irrelevant to that - except that I wonder if he is trying to elevate himself above "that fantasy crowd" who haven't read what he has read. I found the rest of his discussion pretty interesting though.

Matt

Ps - for the record, I intend to read one of his books eventually.


Oh, I see. THAT I totally agree with; I misunderstood and thought you were just putting down that genre of writing. Sorry; I probably should have asked in a less antagonistic way.

That attitude of his IS pretty bad; so is Terry Goodkind's. Once I read an interview with him, I couldn't even read his stuff anymore (though it was also that the Sword of Truth series was getting midlessly bogged down with nonsense).

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Wed Oct 07, 2009 7:49 pm Post

Hmmm I'm new to the board lets see probably at the top of the list of not read but feel I should have are:

Malory's Le Morte Darthur and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

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Wed Oct 07, 2009 8:39 pm Post

Siren wrote:I've never read any George Eliot


I have now! Only a novella ('Mr Gilfil's Love Story'), but I can now say that I have actually read some George Eliot, and liked it well enough that I will make an effort to seek out more.
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Tue Nov 03, 2009 8:54 pm Post

Hugh wrote:Twilight. Is that* a mistake?

H

*For the avoidance of doubt, I'm referring to my failure to read the book...


To redeem myself from the nearly-recommendation of Twilight, I'll just say no :D
Although I liked to read it, I definitely wouldn't say that anyone has to read it.
My own list of must-read-sometimes only contains H.G. Wells at the moment.
I don't enjoy reading drama really much, but I read some in school - so I know Shakespeare, Goethe and Schiller a bit and I guess that's... sufficient.
Maybe I would like having read the work of Immanuel Kant, but I assume that I don't like reading it. :D

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Thu Apr 28, 2011 8:28 am Post

Ignoring ones that I've no doubt I'll get round to someday, there are a number of books that I'd be embarassed to read on the train because I should have read them twenty years ago.

I'm thinking of books like "Catcher In The Rye" here.
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Sun May 01, 2011 6:38 pm Post

Here are the books I began to read, but had to abandon, because they were boring me. I know that some people find them fantastic, but I just could make my way through them.

Ulysses
Don Quixote
The Brothers Karamazov
Moby Dick
Pride and Prejudice
Pilgrim's Progress
Lord Jim
Last of the Mohicans
David Copperfield
Hamlet


Here are some books that grabbed me as soon as I started to read them, and that I could not put down, until I've read to the end.

Robinson Crusoe
The Count of Monte Cristo
The Call of the Wild
White Fang
The Odyssey
The Illiad
The Three Musketeers
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Frankenstein
Dracula
Gulliver's Travels
Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
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