Thursday, November 28, 2013
Last year I put together a list of 10 Christmas books for 2012 so I decided to put out a new list of 10 plus for 2013. I recommend all of these books to the discerning reader who wants to be a bit less mainstream or looking for a challenging read.
This year’s list seems to have a good bit of non-fiction but I have no apologies. I have read all of these books (some decades ago mind you) and they were good enough to stick with me over the years to recommend this year. These are no particular order of preference and my plan is to present challenging non-mainstream books or works no longer commonly read. There is stuff there for everybody: SF fans, steampunks, fantasy, biography, history, and surrealism. 2014 looks to be a wild year, so stock up with decent books in case of a zombie apocalypse.
Fool On the Hill by Matt Ruff (1988) A book I read years ago when it was new, but I think that the average reader is savvy enough to catch the (what was then) obscure and geeky literary references. It’s a little bit dated but still a fun read.
The English Patient (1992) by Michael Ondaatje. Forget the movie, read the book! The portion based on North African archeology of early people is partly based on the fascinating true story of László Ede Almásy. For background, I had previously read Ralph Bagnold’s Libyan Sands, Journeys in a Dead World (1935) and Johann Ludwig Burchardt’s Travels in Arabia (1839) which gave The English Patient a lot more definition.
Lola Montez, A Life by Bruce Seymour (1996) an absolutely perfectly and meticulously researched biography from original sources of one of the Victorian Era’s most outrageous rogue women. Fans of Victorian history and Steampunks need to read this book!
Love In the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985), and The General in his Labyrinth (1989). Marquez one of the masters of South American magical realism (but with more violence than Borges). Try reading Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and comparing it to Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo (1904) for a bit of fun.
Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness by (1969) and The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away (1972) Kenzaburo Oe with disturbing stories from modern Japan. OK, so that is two books – I cheat at lists, so what.
Private Perry and Mister Poe (2005) edited by William Hecker. This is a collection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe which were written while at West Point. Along with a nice facsimile printing of Poems of Edgar A. Poe (second edition) printed in 1831 and dedicated to the cadets of West Point. For that matter part of the cost of printing was raised by subscription from those cadets before he departed. The real meat of the book is an excellent and well researched section on Poe’s short military career often overlooked by biographers. If you are a Poe fan, you need this book. I used this book as an important portion for my research in my previous blog entry: http://coastconfan.blogspot.com/2013/11/edgar-allan-poe-writer-poet-literary.html
Skunk Works by Ben Rich (1994) about the mythic secret Skunk Works by one of the top engineers there. The Skunk Works in Burbank produced the U-2, SR-71, and the F-117 stealth fighter among others. It puts a human face on the people who made science fiction into reality.
Heaven’s Command, an Imperial Progress (1973) by James Morris about the early years of the British Empire and how the Empire became Victorian. It covers most of the personalities of Empire, although it delves mostly on India and later South Africa, there is a lot information to pursue and follow up. You steampunks need to read this to get a grip on history 19th century English history.
The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington (1974) a masterpiece of surrealism and fantasy by a famous surreal artist. I read this in the middle 70s and has been out of print for years but is back in print again.
The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire (1979) by Lord Kinross. A sprawling view of the Ottoman Empire: why it worked, why it failed and why it was important to Western history. Although an older book, it is your one-shop-stop for a definitive read on this juggernaut of history. You might be surprised by what you find.
Armageddon 2049 A.D. (1928) and Airlords of Han (1929) by Philip Francis Nowland two novels about Buck Rogers transported to the dim future. Now wait, this has little to do with the B movies serials and the comic strip characters. These two novellas often published together as a single book. It is very advanced for the late 1920s and worth the read when taken in context of the era.
A little lagniappe …
Also if you are into obscure (in America) Japanese science fiction try out Inter Ice Age 4 (1959) by Kobo Abe – it compares interestingly to Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (1963).
Have a happy and safe holiday season.