Tag Archives: fantasy

Get your Summer Reading On

Summer reading, depending on your definition, could be anything from beach brain candy to something heavy that you need more time and space and sunlight to get into. What does your reading list look like?

These days my summer list looks like a list from any other season — it depends on my mood, what is available, and other hard-to-define factors. I’ve been looking at other people’s lists for ideas (as usual), so here are some lists that I’ve looked at for your own amusement.

Ten unlikely heroes of children’s literature. I just finished Wizard of Earthsea for the first time, so I’ve just met Ged. I must admit that I’ve not met many of these unlikely heroes. I may have to work on that.

Books people think they’ll actually finish this summer. This list comes from readers responding to a Powell’s bookshop enquiry about the state of their summer reading. The photo of the Harry Potter books in this list is so great. I like my collected-over-time Potter set, but I think I’d trade it for this set, just for the look on the shelf. Check it out.

CBC’s list of 100 books (plus 10 more) that make you proud to be Canadian. To be honest, I saw the plus ten list first and I was a little shocked that some of these weren’t on the original 100! Who doesn’t put Anne of Green Gables on a list of 100 proudly Canadian books?!? Of the plus 10, I’ve read 4, and of the original 100 I’ve read 12, though I have many of the others on my shelf with good intentions. I should get on those good intentions and be a little more intentionally Canadian for part 2 of summer reading.

If you are looking for a new place to read this summer, this article suggests a bar between meals when it is only you and the bartender. I’m actually better with a coffee shop, though a mostly empty diner also works well for that isolation factor.

How’s your reading this summer? Anything good? What do you recommend?

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Bits and Pieces

For the day before I preach, two cool internet things that I’ve found this week that are worth sharing:

Weird Al’s parody about Grammar. Really funny. Should be required for all university undergrads. Possibly graduate students as well. We all need a refresher from time to time.

An article about the deep meaning of fantasy. Really. You should read it. It isn’t a short little article, it is longer, but take your time. Read it. Think about it. Look for more of Alan Jacobs’s work.

Happy Saturday.

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A Dozen Books of Influence

Karen Swallow Prior recently wrote an article called “Classic literary works to challenge the thinking Christian” in which she lists 12 + 1 (a baker’s dozen) works she recommends because they are challenging but rewarding, and all have helped her “to love the Lord my God with all my soul, all my strength, and all my mind—and to be a better steward of this world in which God has placed us.”

It is a good list. I’ve nothing against Prior’s list. So far I’ve read 2 of her 13, and have at least three others on my shelf. I agree that the list is challenging. I started one of the books she lists, and was not able to go on after about a page. I’ve not had the courage to try again, though everyone raves about Beloved. (Does this count as a true confession? Probably.) Though Prior’s list is good, it isn’t my list. So I’ve come up with a list of my own, not to replace hers, and not with exactly the same criteria. I made a list of books, works of fiction, that have in some way shaped my spiritual life and thinking. Often a particular author has been a spiritual guide in many works, but I have only chosen one work by any author.

Disclaimer: These are all works of fiction, and I don’t think any of them is classified as “Christian Fiction” anywhere. Some come closer to actually being that than others. Just because a novel is on Prior’s list, or on my list, you shouldn’t think it is “safe” or happy-clappy or filled with people going to church. These books gave me some kind of positive spiritual insight, but they are not in the least preachy.

  1. Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve set this as an option for an intro to the OT class I taught. I have enjoyed students’ thoughts on this as well, and learned from them.
  2. John Wyndham, The Chrysalids. I’ve also set this for that OT intro class. This has some striking ideas about what it means to be created Imago Dei.
  3. P.D. James, The Children of Men. You may notice a speculative/science fiction bent to this list so far. Yes, that is true. Sometimes by writing about worlds askew somehow from reality, writers are better able to comment on lived reality.
  4. Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion. And a fantasy novel?? Yes. See above remark. Also see the works of C.S. Lewis, who I have not included on this list anywhere.
  5. Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana. More fantasy. Don’t worry, I’ll turn to more “serious” fiction next. If, however, you think that the speculative/science fiction and/or fantasy is less serious than other kinds of fiction, I refer you again to that guy Lewis.
  6. John Grisham, The Last Juror. Yes, this could be classified as genre fiction of a certain kind (Thriller? Mystery?). Grisham is, however, a good story-teller, and his stories can pack a punch. You don’t need to go to the classics for the possibility of life-change.
  7. Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection. At last! A canonical writer! Bet you’ve never heard of this Tolstoy though. You should check it out. It is his last novel.
  8. Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory. More solid recognized fiction, even recognized as Christian. I read Resurrection and The Power and the Glory this year. The timing was good for me on both of them. If you don’t find them appealing now, try again some other time.
  9. Susan Howatch, Mystical Paths. Again, Howatch’s Church of England series is pretty churchy, but not in a conventional way. I picked this one out of all of them because it was the one that resonated with me most when I read it.
  10. Chaim Potok, In the Beginning. All of Potok’s books belong on this list, as with Howatch above. Let’s just leave it there. With Potok we end the obviously religious books.
  11. Emma Donoghue, Room. This is a life-altering book. I’ve heard lots of people say so. I don’t think anyone who says that has exactly the same experience reading the book. You should try it.
  12. A.S. Byatt, Possession. I debated putting this book on this list. It could also be on a list of books that have influenced my personal life, or resonated with me personally/emotionally/intellectually. It does all those things, but it also has spiritual resonance.

And now the plus one for the baker’s dozen. Ready for it?

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’ll just leave it there for you to ponder.

What about you? Books that have influenced your spiritual life in some way?

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Six Other-Worldly Books

Today I’m going to talk about other-worldly books, six that stuck in my head. This group of books is not clearly Science Fiction, or clearly Speculative Fiction. One is a Fantasy more than anything else. I’ve put them together because they are all set somewhere Other. Plus they all stick in my head. Books that make you think, that you remember for a long time, these are the ones that are good, not your every-day run-of-the-mill stuff. I won’t argue that these books are great, but I will say they are all worth reading. These are in no particular order.

  1. Children of Men by P.D. James. This is not a mystery novel, it is speculative fiction. I’ve just finished listening to the audio book version for a different spin on it. I want to assign this book for a children’s ministry course in seminary. This evening, I began comparing it in my head with The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. James and Atwood are onto some similar themes I think, but they work them out quite differently. Things that make you go hmmm.
  2. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. So good. Kay’s best in my humble opinion. The Constant Reader thinks so too. This is the Fantasy book. Kay writes Historical Fantasy, in which his fantastic worlds bear some resemblance to some aspect of world history. This one is sort of Italian.
  3. A Scientific Romance by Ronald Wright. A twist on time travel, with apocalyptic overtones. It references The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, which I’ve not yet read. I should get on that. One thing I remember about Wright’s book is that Harry becomes king and we never find out what happened to William. (This was written before George was born.) Henry IX is a very remote and background figure in the book, but it was an interesting future what-if detail, part of a well-imagined world.
  4. The Moon is A Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. Moon colonies and sentient machines, plus a lot of political manoeuvring, what else could you want in a SciFi book? I liked this one on audio quite a lot because the guy who read it performed the voices so well. (To be fair, others found the voices irritating.) The sentient computer is a key character in the book, which is part of what makes the whole thing interesting to me. Plus Heinlein managed to imagine a moon colony with its own evolving cultural mores.
  5. Red Thunder by John Varley. Part of the reason this one sticks in my head is the the giant engineering hack that is the centre of the plot. Home-built spaceship anyone? Oh yeah. Plus there’s a fake crocodile in a pool, and the space coast setting in Florida, what more could you want?
  6. Beggers in Spain by Nancy Kress. I read this one first a long time ago. It was recommended to me by a fellow physics teacher. This is speculative fiction that imagines what happens when people are genetically modified so they don’t need sleep. The Sleepless have 8 more hours every day than the rest of us. Think on that.

Any Other Worlds that stick in your head?


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Favoured Genres

The other day I asked my fb friends these questions: What is your preferred genre of books? Why do you like that genre? What is your favourite example of the genre?

I was rather surprised that fantasy came back as the number one answer. I knew some of my fb friends were fantasy readers, but was interested at how many people came back with that as their number one. Some people blended sci fi with fantasy (I don’t, reasons previously posted) and some people had sci fi coming a close second to fantasy. One person said mysteries were a guilty pleasure. I’m not sure why my dog-loving friend finds mysteries a guilty pleasure unless she has murdered someone?

While Fantasy was the overwhelming winner of my completely unscientific online poll, there were other genres mentioned — survival stories (non-fiction), travel, biography/memoir, and historical fiction.

Me? I am having a hard time with the question. I am prone to purchase/borrow and read mysteries by the ton because these have a predictable shape that I enjoy, and they make good brain candy reads. I am much more inclined to try a new mystery author than a new sci-fi or fantasy author without recommendation. BUT I do like sci-fi a lot. And I do like fantasy a lot. Those kinds of books tend to stick in my mind longer than formulaic mysteries. I am more likely to be completely blown away by a sci-fi or fantasy work than by a mystery novel. So what is my favourite genre? It depends what I’m looking for.

Some favourite examples of the genres I like? All these are 21st Century books, and they are pretty sweet examples of things that I like in each genre.

Mystery, Val McDermid, Killing the Shadows

Fantasy, Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion

Sci-Fi, Walter Jon Williams, Implied Spaces


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Game of Thrones: Who can Play?

I’m (re) reading the four books in the Song of Ice and Fire Series, A.K.A. Game of Thrones. Yes, re-reading. I first read the books a couple of years ago. I thought the fifth book would be out in paperback by now, but the release has been pushed back to the end of October. When people expressed shock at certain wedding events in the TV show I thought, if you’d read the books, you’d know that.

I’ve been thinking a little bit analytically about this set of books. I’m trying to figure out why Martin chooses the particular Point of View characters he does. In A Feast For Crows most of the POV characters are female. Now I don’t think that GoT has a particularly feminist outlook, but at least women get air-time and are doing both traditional and non-traditional things. I wondered this week if Martin chooses characters with an obvious weakness for his POV set. Robb is never a POV character — and he is an eldest son, and King in the North. Underdogs, those fighting for power seem to prevail in the POV characters. Any thoughts?

Also, I read somewhere (though I cannot remember exactly where, and cannot find the reference) that GoT has no redeeming virtues. It is an un-redeemed world, a world steeped in sin. I’ve been looking for the redeeming features. There are signs that the resurrection is part of the world. And we haven’t got to the end yet, so redemption may yet come. I’m finding this search for redemption is also an interesting thing to think about in my re-reading.

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Repetition — good or bad?

I’ve been listening to the Michael Scott series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. So far I’ve listened to the first three books (The Alchemyst, The Magician, and The Sorceress) and must report a few things about the series.

  1. This is not a series of books, it is all one book. There is one plot arrow, there is little to no resolution at the end of each book, and the story line so far has taken about four or five days of story-time in three volumes. Compare the Harry Potter books. Each Potter book has a plot that resolves, and each book takes a school-year to come to that resolution. Yes, there is a larger trajectory in the Potter books, but you can read one Potter book and feel like something happened, not that you were dropped into the middle of a story arc and then ripped out of it just as it might make a move toward resolution.
  2. There is an inordinate amount of repetition in the books. Possibly this is to remind you of pertinent details since this is all one book. Even so, the amount and detail of the repetition is wearing. The use of characters full names all the time is ridiculous. Every single time the point of view shifts to someone else, the new point-of-view character’s full name is given. Possibly this is Mr. Scott’s way of signalling that a point-of-view shift has occurred, but it is also wearing. And possibly silly.
  3. I’ve noted that there is a lot of repetition and that the action in each book seems to be about a day and a half or so. I think that the story might have been told in much less time and to much greater effect. I think an editor could help a lot. But maybe then not so much money would be made? Who knows. I’m just glad that the library has the books and I didn’t make any financial investment in them.

Do you know of other book series that are basically all one book? Do they repeat themselves all the time? Am I just becoming a grumpy person? Do tell.

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Annoying Plot Devices

I am currently reading the fourth book in a popular YA Fantasy series. It is overwritten (scenes far longer than needed, too much detail in descriptions, particularly in fight scenes) plus it uses some plot devices that should be illegal. It is driving me a bit crazy. The plot/suspense devices that I think should be outlawed include:
1. Killing off a character only to have the person miraculously survive.
2. Ending a chapter on a cliffhanger, then resolving the tension immediately in the next chapter. There is no need for a chapter break if the story continues from the same point in the action and from the same point of view. This is only a poor attempt at creating suspense.
3. Creating “suspense” by hiding things in plain view. If the point of view character has an idea it is cheating not to disclose that idea to the reader, especially if you show the character telling others the idea/plan but don’t reveal it to the audience. More fake suspense.
Thoughts? Things that drive you crazy that should be illegal?

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Hunger Games (again)

I finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy last week. I am still pondering. One friend liked “the strong female lead.” I’m not as convinced that Katniss is a strong female lead. She is certainly a female and a lead character. But other characters are constantly playing her. I am not sure she is a great character even though she overcomes the adults using her as a pawn. Peseta has more moral fibre and courage in many ways. He knows what he wants and Katniss doesn’t. Is this the kind of female lead we want in young adult novels?

I haven’t yet seen the movie, but soon. I am also in the middle of some interesting discussions about HG with teens and young adults. There will be more to say on this.

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Comfort Reading

I re-read books. I’ve mentioned this before. I re-read books because I like them, and because I find the familiarity somehow comforting. Not all re-reading is for this purpose, as I don’t think all books can be called “comfort reads.” What makes a reading comfortable or comforting? I’m not sure I have a good answer to that question, but I’ll give it a shot.

I just finished re-reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I felt a little Potter fix was the thing I needed this weekend. Part of the reason may have been the anti-Rowling article I wrote about last week. I wanted to find out if I still thought that Potter and Rowling were worth defending. Yes, I still think they are worth defending. This was the 9th time I’ve read Philosopher’s Stone — that’s not quite once a year since I first read it in 2001. I also find the Potter books comfortable reading. Rowling tells a good story,  with funny bits and suspenseful bits and also heart-warming bits. Sometimes I’m just in the proper mood for hot chocolate and Harry Potter.

Other comfort authors include Maeve Binchy, Rosamunde Pilcher, Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis (Narnia books), and Dorothy L. Sayers (the Wimsey detective stories). I do re-read other authors but those authors and books I re-read for purposes other than comfort. I think part of the attraction in these books is the setting. I like the setting well enough to lose myself in that world for a while. And I like the characters enough to spend time with them. But I think that all my comfort reads have settings I wouldn’t mind living in. (I’m not looking for a Lost in Austen experience, though.)

What about you? Why do you re-read books? Which books are your comfort reads?

I’m off to jump into Pride and Prejudice. Good times.


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