Monday, April 2, 2018

My Top 10 Books, out of the minuscule fraction of books that exist that I've actually read, so far (maybe) EVAR!!!

Some books I likes.

10. Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials

It turns out there are some single-volume omnibuses of this trilogy out there, running to an unwieldy yet reasonable 946 pages, so I didn't have to break the rule about these books being actual books that exist and aren't deeper than they are tall.

I wish I'd been aware of that existence when these first came out, when I was a more receptive 9 to 15 years old, which seems like the perfect linear progression to tackle its increasing complexities. Instead, I had to make do with the sexist eschatology of Narnia.

Coming to the series as an adult burdened by a literature degree, it's been less about pure enjoyment (though the real-world bits of the second book feel nostalgically like a CBBC serial) and more admiration for what Pullman's doing and vicariously imagining how it makes his target audience feel. It's like I'm reading it over a 12-year-old's shoulder and nodding enthusiastically. Except less sinister.

9. Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

The only regular-length non-literary novel on this list – even quite a short one, at that – this is the most controversial entry in the eyes of the judges (who are all me) for being chosen over all the other just-normal-books out there, so I'd like to give shout-outs to Arthur Machen's The Hill of Dreams, Dan Simmons' Hyperion and China MiĆ©ville's The City & the City for having impressed me less recently and missing out.

I stand by the enjoyment and surprises this mad book gave me when I read it again last year, not having remembered much about it from when I first read it as a confounded teenager. Reading Adams' books in chronological order, you can feel the euphoria when he finally broke free from the Hitchhiker's Guide (for a bit) and wrote something indulgent for himself.

8. Edgar Allen Poe, The Complete Stories

Sticking with the idea that 1,000 pages is acceptably generous (I can do without the poems), plenty of prolific short story writers could fit their complete works into that binding, and some of them are better.

Last year, I decided that Arthur C. Clarke's Collected Stories made for a more consistent collection than Poe's, but I wouldn't feel like reading too many of those again, whereas Poe's antiquated, inescapably-Vincent-Price-intoned tales have enduring appeal, even the crap ones.

There'd be no contest if someone brought out a comprehensive Robert A. Heinlein collection. This one's a close second already at a third of the length.

7. Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows, Providence

This is the only time I've had to cheat, but imagining a single 496-page trade paperback collecting the 12 issues of Alan Moore's most recent comic series is surely more on the side of inevitability than wishful thinking.

This Lovecraft mash-up is a double-pronged tribute that tells the same unlikely story in simultaneous comic and handwritten journal forms, both of which have their unique charms and references you can fail to get and look up online. It goes off the rails towards the end, when it returns to the time and place of the earlier companion series Neonomicon that I wasn't so fond of, but for the most part it's episodic fun as Lovecraft tales get the playful and/or perverted League of Extraordinary Gentlemen treatment.

I'm counting this as a Lovecraft entry too, so I don't have to wade through various public domain anthologies to find one that's consistent and minimally racist enough to warrant inclusion.

6. Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, From Hell

Of all the items on this list, this one has the longest interval since it was read or re-read at over a decade. It's not the sort of thing I've needed or wanted to put myself through again.

Maybe it wouldn't prove as affecting now I'm desensitised to conspiracies and better read in those compelling mystical arts I don't believe in, but if we're going on haunting impact, this deserves its lofty place. I'd already worked through a fair amount of Alan Moore before I picked this up, and it still overwhelmed me like a swooning Victorian lady. I suppose that's a recommendation?

5. Monty Python, The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus: All the Words, Volumes 1 & 2

This list was always going to be updated when I found new favourites or remembered old ones I'd forgotten. Sorry Joyce, Ulysses has nothing on this postmodern classic.

Not merely a handy Bible-sized compendium of scripts for the benefit of precocious school revues, this was also how I first experienced many of those classic and less talked-about sketches as a boy who'd only seen the 'Deja vu' episode and a couple of the films. Right from the opening description of Michael Palin's '"It's" Man' struggling bedraggled out of the sea merely to say his single-word catchphrase, I was rolling about.

It's not something I'd ever pick up these days, with YouTube and that, but it's a desert island book if ever there was.

4. Grant Naylor, Red Dwarf Omnibus

You know how something can amaze you as a child, but you're nervous to approach it again as an adult in case it lets you down? Then it turns out to be even better?

I can't recapture the awe I felt as an 11-year-old, reading the first Red Dwarf novel when I hadn't yet seen the early years of the TV series, so didn't have my mental images spoiled by cramped grey plywood sets and inexperienced acting. But reading as a 32-year-old who's much too familiar with the episodes it's adapting, expanding and subverting, I can appreciate how well it stands up as a surprisingly well-structured story that's smarter, deeper and sometimes even funnier than the series, with character development and buckets of seeds sown throughout that sprout later on. It's a remarkably solid novel. Probably helps if you like the series though.

The second book, Better Than Life, is the lesser of the pair, but it still has enough inventive ideas to be the essential sequel, so I'll stick with this standard-issue 590-page omnibus, even if I have to put up with that unsightly cover. If they'd ever released further omnibi for the disappointing later books, I'd still stick with this one.

3. Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts

Again, it's not a page count issue, I just don't like the fifth book very much at all and don't want it spoiling an otherwise fine collection, thank you very much, even if that means settling for a dogeared, obsolete edition (and this was the version I originally got out from the library, so it's fair).

I used to be lukewarm on the fourth book too, but I've come to regard it as a refreshing change of pace and a satisfying ending to the saga, while it lasted.

I don't have much to say about these books that hasn't been said already, including by me, so I'll spare you the out-of-context memes.

2. John Milton, Paradise Lost

As with Ulysses, I need comprehensive annotations to make sure I'm getting the most out of this multi-faceted work, but those lines are exquisite even if you haven't got a clue which mountain or forgotten battle they're alluding to. I've owned and misplaced two well-thumbed copies and they won't be the last.

What other people get from Shakespeare or Shelley, I get from Paradise Lost (and Red Dwarf, apparently, but let's not ruin the atmosphere). I'm struggling to explain why a religious poem would be the favourite book of an atheist who claims not to like poetry, but since no one's marking this, it's allowed to remain a mystery.

At least, it was my favourite until I found out they'd released:

1. Neil Gaiman et al., The Sandman Omnibus, Vol. 1

I wasn't even thinking about managing the page count when I checked to see if there was a collection of just the first half of Neil Gaiman's obscenely epic comic (it just scrapes in at 1,040pp). It was more a case of wanting to showcase the early horror/mythology-based Sandman that amazed me, without being dragged down by the increasingly fantasy-tinged and onanistic latter years.

Gaiman took a while to shake off the Alan Moore influence, and the series was never as good once he succeeded. Zooming in on the five-and-a-half original collections that make up this spoiling feast (#1-37 + Special), The Doll's House is the one that particularly blew my post-Watchmen mind and would have been high up this list even on its own, but all the others are great too.

Have you ever read a book? What was it like?

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