justira ([personal profile] justira) wrote2010-11-01 08:57 pm

[Make-Your-Own Meme] Book/series everyone should read! For certain definitions of "everyone"

Hey it's a post from that ridiculous/amazing/this is the worst idea/this is the best idea Make-Your-Own Meme "blog every day of November" thing!

The original post explaining the project is here. Please feel free to continue adding topics/questions on the LJ or DW versions. If something comes up in any of these posts that you'd like to hear more about, please feel free to just make it into its own topic! HERE GOES NOTHING. YOU (SORT OF) ASKED FOR IT.

[personal profile] shanaqui: I am predictable! What book/series do you think everyone should read? (For whatever definition of everyone you like: your flist, the whole world, people who say [x]...) (here)


Guys! Disclaimer! I am REALLY TERRIBLE at favourites! Like, I so am. I tend to enjoy things on like — different dimensions! different reasons! I CAN'T PICK ONE THING EVER. Seriously [personal profile] shanaqui YOU HAVE DEFEATED ME. Game over.

... but I will try.

I also have a hard time in particular remembering things about BOOKS other than like OH GOSH I LIKE READING. BOOOOOOKS. BOOOOOOKS. My memory is like CHEESECLOTH. I keep meaning to blog about the books I read, but I never do, because I either have WAY TOO MUCH to say (I am talking thousands and thousands of words) and the thought alone exhausts me; or I have very little to say and it feels not-worth-sharing. And I read a LOT. So frankly I just don't REMEMBER a lot of the things I read and loved. MY BRAIN IS MADE OF CHEESE.

Also I am a big damn cheater who cheats.

SO I am going to cheat and give a LIST.

In all seriousness, I'm not sure I could give ONE book/series that I think everyone should read because we do these things for different reasons, right? Also, true story, my heart is too fragile to take it when I am like THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER, UNIVERSALLY and someone else is like, "eh, didn't do it for me". SADFACE.

... cripes I really wish I'd actually kept track of the things I read so I could go down the list and be like AHA THAT ONE.

Also, I am not gonna lie: all of this gives me SUCH HIVES because I know, I just KNOW, that everyone will be out there JUDGING ME by the books I list here! And on the one hand that's cool and on another hand AHHHH JUDGING and on a third hand (I want one), I predict embarrassment of the social justice variety where there is a mortifying predominance of white dudes :(

But okay. Let's start with some nonfiction.

Things that possibly not many people know about me: my school didn't have minors, but if it did, then my minors would be history and physics. I love history because it's stories; it's EVERYONE'S stories (though of course not history as it's told right now; history as it's told right now is some very specific peoples' stories ffff). I love history and I'm so easily infuriated by the complete lack of context so many people seem determined to live in. And I mean, I admit straight up that I definitely suffer from this in many regards — basically most regards that are not painfully white. My knowledge of the historical context of the rest of the world is pretty sad, but I'm trying to work on it. Meanwhile I am here in the US, where most people seem to not have the faintest idea of the place's own history — for example, the expansion of power in the executive branch! Oh my gosh how upset I used to get when some people were squawking about snatching away power from the president, a few years ago. No! No! Bad voter! Those powers are an artifact of the Cold War! This is not at ALL how the founders meant it! Stop talking about it like it is! And I'm not saying the country should always and forever be exactly as the founders intended it but GOSH can you not get your own history right, so that you know what you're talking about? FFF.


I'm a Russian immigrant to the US. I was born in Russia; my family is Russian. I'm not much of a nationalist or patriot, either for Russian or for the US. But I do find the story of the Soviet Union extremely powerful, because it touches me and my family personally and also because it's the freaking Soviet Union. I have a hard time explaining the Soviet Union because honestly? Everyone does. But here we are.

Also? Everything is about me. Just FYI.
  • Everyone who... has an interest in history, journalism, Russia, or where I come from personally should read:

        »  Lenin's Tomb by David Remnick

    This is pseudo-journalistic and pseudo-historic and pretty much my favourite thing that I have yet read on the Soviet Union that wasn't written by a Russian — and the latter are generally too... close... to recommend to non-Russians who haven't already studied Russia extensively. This book is still work; he drops a lot of names and a lot of history that if you don't know might leave you a bit lost. But it's stuffed with interviews that give it an almost pan-biographical feel and overall... it tells many stories, together. And these stories are, at least in part, my stories. My family lost people to the Purges; the people in these pages were household names to me. And I wonder how reading this would feel to my friends who are not from Russia, because most of you were alive when a lot of this happened. You weren't there, but you *were* then. I always get this sense of surreal dizziness when I consider the enormity of events that happen at any given moment, while I'm existing — these huge events that I have no part in but are happening in my time. Would this book give that feeling to others? I wonder.

So that's all very serious business and lots of people dying and suffering. History. It is a bugger. It really is.

Now for something less depressing!

I wanted to think of a series next, some fiction. And while I have a number of series to talk about, I keep wanting to do this one first, and you'll see why.

I really started reading in 4th grade, which is kind of embarrassing. Not in the sense of I couldn't read — I just didn't. Before then, my parents were always trying to MAKE me read, mostly in Russian (so I wouldn't lose my birth language) and basically I am just contrary and refused to read because other people WANTED me to. So eventually that died down, and in fourth grade we had this quiet reading time before lunch. Not very far along in the year, I picked up D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths and that was it. I was a reader. My first voluntary foray into reading was Greek mythology which maybe EXPLAINS a lot about me and my reading habits (BOYS KISSING! TESTICLES, AMIRITE?) BUT I found the book fascinating and quickly devoured the little classroom library until I picked up this one book with a pretty cover, called Silver on the Tree. It was kind of confusing at first but wow, I really loved it!

Of course, it was confusing because it was the last book of a five-book series and I was, I don't know, DUMB or something, and didn't REALIZE that. But I eventually got my head wrapped around that concept and read the rest and wow, DANG. Possibly the first book-love of my life (after the greek myths book, which I still love even though I know much more about Greek mythology now).

But that is not why I'm talking about it now.
  • Everyone who... wants to discuss pivotal cultural myths with me (or just likes Arthurian mythology and a spankin' good read) should read:

        »  The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper

    So the thing is, I've been thinking lately that one of the things I love most about this series is how it weaves a common cultural myth into something that is both accessible and epic — because it's our cultural myth, where "our" refers to the predominant English-speaking culture. I guess. And that's actually what's bothering me now. I LOVE how it's done in this series.

    And I can't think of a single freaking instance of this done with a non-white myth.


    I don't like this. I can't think of any books or series that weave a pivotal cultural myth into a narrative.

    So I demand that everyone read this series and then tell me where to find something similar that isn't about freaking Arthur.

    Or, alternatively, tell me that this kind of narrative is itself rooted in European ideals of individualism and hero's journeys and that by even looking for non-white equivalents I am demonstrating the depths of my own ignorance! That is also good! I am not kidding. Whatever will make this conversation happen and for me to be less dumb on the subject!

So yeah, Arthur. Cool guy.

But while we're talking about myths and retellings—

  • Everyone who... loves a good fairytale retelling should read, compare, contrast, and tell me about:

        »  Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine


        »  Sunshine by Robin McKinley

    Possibly I am spoiling things by even SAYING these are fairy tales, but I'm hoping that's... not too bad and/or somewhat obvious or something. Anyway. If you like fairy tales, you should totally read these and compare them. One is a children's book and another old favourite; the other is definitely adult and recced to me not all that long ago by [personal profile] seventhe. I would be delighted to discuss the differences and how fairy tales play into each and how differently they're handled how they are both awesome?

    Also, give me your recs of fairy tales for adults. I love adult fairy tales! Oh gosh, gimme >.>

    Also, do not believe the movie's lies about Ella Enchanted. The book and the movie have almost nothing to do with each other.

But speaking of fairy tales!

In 9th grade all of the English classes had a communal activity thing where we were to read a book, then nominate it for discussion; the teachers would select a small number of books "worthy" of discussion and they would then be discussed. I had recently watched the animated film, The Last Unicorn, and discovered that it was based on a book! Oh gosh so exciting! I decided to read the book and it was beautiful. So I put it in as my choice for the project.

And then! And then my English teacher made this speech about all these students who selected books that were not "real literature", that were "beach reading" like Harry Potter and how my book was fantasy and therefore not real literature.

(a) May hornets fly up her nose.

(b) Excuse me?

  • Everyone who... wants to stick it to assholes who think childrens' books and/or fantasy can't be "real literature" (and then watch a really pretty movie) should read:

        »  The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle

    Damn straight.

So that was a whole lot of stuff about mythology and fairy tales and such, all of it of painfully European descent. AWESOME, I can feel the creeping embarrassment of privilege already!


Actually let's take a hard left.

  • Everyone who... wants something heartbreaking and hilarious and not all about white people and also bonus cartoons should read:

        »  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

    I enjoyed this book to pieces when I read it. And maybe this is sad, but a lot of the things in it really were news to me, in terms of the lives of Native Americans. And that's pretty shameful. This book was one of my privilege-breakers, which I always like and want to spread, and I want to thank [personal profile] renay for pointing me to it. But I also want lots and lots of people to read it because it honestly is funny and sad and immensely enjoyable. It's semiautobiographical and also contains cartoons; it's short and a great quick read; and it's YA and people should read more YA, seriously.

So I have rambled for like 2,000 words now. I LIKE BOOKS OKAY?

But yeah yeah, let's get it out of the way.

  • Everyone who... says they don't like/can't get into scifi (or just wants to get their feet wet) OR loves a fun mystery OR WANTS TO BE MY FRIEND should read:

        »  The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

    I push this on ALL MY FRIENDS. I have been flailing about the internets with this series for years and SLOWLY IT SPREADS. There are certainly flaws, and it's certainly not for everyone, but I love SO MANY THINGS about it. And! And? It has an active fandom. ROLL ROLL ROLL.

    The hilarious thing is that it's not "scifi enough" for a lot of people, to whom I say: dude, you are missing the point. As far as scifi goes, these are definitely a soft introduction because it's not ABOUT the scifi — it's about the people and societies, which I LOVE.

    This series has some of my favourite character EVER in it. And I want to discuss them with EVERYONE, whether they liked them or not. Fair warning: for everything but the chronologically-earliest books that do not star Miles, you will have to be able to toelrate a certain amount of malarkey and shenanigans in your protagonist. He's just LIKE that and I love him for it >.>


    Also in the mindless fun category: The Dresden Files. But I trust [personal profile] seventhe to get all over those for the both of us.

    ... I know there are a lot of books in the series; if you want a reading guide hit me up.

And on the fantasy side:

  • Everyone who... wants to discuss religion in fantasy worldbuilding OR wants to read about older protagonists:

        »  The Chalion Series by Lois McMaster Bujold

    I mean, I really enjoy this series on its own merits, and it's fantasy the same way the Vorkosigan books are scifi: centrally but unobtrusively.

    But HONESTLY if anyone wants to discuss religion and fantasy worldbuilding, please oh please read these books because I so want to talk about that aspect.

And finally, two things, one for fun and one for me.

  • Everyone who... has never really tried manga but is kind of curious OR likes some good non-Victorian-based steampunk OR wants a variety of strong female characters should read:

        »  (JP)/(US) Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa

    This is one of my two favourite manga, but the other one is impossibly long and not finished yet and even though it has some of the most aweseom things that ever awesome'd I have the worst time trying to drag people into it because it has over 500 (20-ish page) chapters at this point.


    HOWEVER my other favourite is this series right here which is DONE AND COMPLETE and a totally reasonable length. It's very approachable and accessible, I think, for people who've never tried manga before. It has some of my favourite characters in the universe and I am constantly delighted by how many women are in it and how they are all so awesome (even though the series is about two brothers).

    The art starts out a little basic but will evolve soon. The character interactions are GREAT and if you share ANY of my shipping predilections you will roll ALL OVER THIS. Also there are two entire anime series to roll in; one based directly off the manga and another one that is like a total AU but also awesome. There is heartbreak aplenty, humour everywhere, awesome characters, a really fun world, and basically I think everyone should give it a shot, for serious >.>

    ... and then, come roll in One Piece with me.

And finally, one more thing that's all about me.

  • Everyone who... wonders why I think I am a terribly selfish person should read:

        »  A Christmas Cat's Tale by Jennifer Greenway and Paul Selwyn

    Is it weird that this little book about an arrogant cat played such a big part in the formation of my self-image?

    I got this book when I was... I'm not sure. Maybe 9? No older than that. It was a gift. It's a tiny little picture book, very gorgeous, and I tore through it. It's one of those subtle-as-an-anvil morality Christmas things all about giving. This one is in the form of an arrogant, selfish young cat having her first Christmas and her older cat friend and how she learns about the spirit of giving and how even if the dude's present was tacky it was still a present. (For the record, I don't celebrate Christmas.)

    But anyway. By the time I reached the end, I was in tears. I sobbed for at least half an hour, because something in this book triggered this enormous self-revelation in me: I was an arrogant, selfish person. (Also, I was maybe 9 years old.) I was terrible. I was just like the cat in the book. I cried lots. I was upset for days.

    I still carry this book around with me. It's tiny, maybe three inches square and half an inch thick or so (haha it occurred to me after typing the measurements from tactile memory that Amazon might have the dimensions — I got them nearly spot on), and even though it's tiny it's made it through, oh, maybe a dozen moves, by now. I keep it like a talisman, to remind myself.

    Sometimes I wonder if I should get rid of it. If it's a bad memory, if it's a symbol of everything I doubt about myself. But it's such a big part of my self-memory by now. It represents a moment of self-revelation for me, however true or false. So I still carry it around. And if anyone else actually manages to get their hands on one, you tell me: what in HELL in this book set me off like that?

So that is that. I have lots and lots of other books I would love to share, some I've loved more than the ones listed here, some less. But this is probably enough to be going on with =)

(And didn't I tell you? Everything is about me. I am the alpha and omega of this post. Oh yes.)
seventhe: (Internet)

[personal profile] seventhe 2010-11-02 01:18 am (UTC)(link)
ALL OF THE ABOVE. We need to have a Vorkosigan Converts club where we can just write all kinds of shameless Ivan/By and be okay with that
seventhe: (Default)

[personal profile] seventhe 2010-11-02 01:24 am (UTC)(link)

I was an early one at least...! And I have spread it as best I can! DID I TELL YOU MY BROTHER IS ALSO READING IT. AS SOON AS HE'S DONE WITH MILES, I WILL LET YOU KNOW.
seventhe: (Default)

[personal profile] seventhe 2010-11-02 01:35 am (UTC)(link)
HE DID. And his response was basically LLJKJHAJSDGAHSGDHASBD MORE but we had to wait for Denis to finish the first Miles compilation before passing it on. I *DID* offer to purchase it for him but he said he'd rather wait because he had a business trip anyway.


shanaqui: My Habitican mod avatar, featuring me and a pile of books bigger than me. ((Morgana) Uh...huh)

[personal profile] shanaqui 2010-11-02 01:51 am (UTC)(link)
I haven't the time to read the whole post yet, so this is a single aspect, but, uh -- you posted about The Dark is Rising. Although, you made me a little sad, because, well, Arthur was Welsh first. And the important thing to me about Susan Cooper, the thing that plucks my heart strings, is that she gave me back that Arthur. My Arthur. Oh, mostly through the figure of his son, who is so very Welsh and talks like people of my family talk*, who'd be called stupid in England, but she does it. And throughout the books set in Wales, she plays on the Welsh/English tensions -- with a light hand, yeah, but she does.

And yet you're talking about it as a representation of a quintessential European myth, which I suppose is true as well, but that hurts.

*No. of books I grew up with where people spoke like my family: 3, max.
Edited 2010-11-02 02:06 (UTC)
shanaqui: Viola from Eternal Sonata, looking curious, with the little critter Arco perched on her shoulder ((ViolaArco) Oooh)

[personal profile] shanaqui 2010-11-02 11:01 am (UTC)(link)
It is appropriation, yeah, one so complete that some people think I'm putting forward some crazy and weird new idea, one that's actually just laughable. (This concerns me up to the point where they refuse to believe me when I show them the original Welsh narratives, and then I realise I'm fighting a losing battle and give up.)

It's really important to me, though. Susan Cooper's series is so amazing to me because she does actually deal with the (continuing) Welsh/English issues -- Caradog Prichard's automatic dislike of Will is the most obvious one, but Bran's interactions with the Drews are informed by it, as well -- and gives a positive, powerful portrayal of Welsh people, and accurately portrays the way they speak English, and uses some of our (dying?) language in her narrative, and uses our mythology with a loving hand, giving it back to us in the form of Bran. (This is kinda why I was pissed off when the movie cast Will and his family as American -- the whole series is so strongly rooted in the culture of the British.)

It kills me to think how my culture has been used to empower and legitimise the very culture that has overrun it, for hundreds of years. How it's been used to put us down, too -- it's no coincidence that just before mounting campaigns against the Welsh, English kings dug up the "remains" of Arthur, to prove to us he was mortal and he was never coming back to fight for us uppity Britons.

People think that the Welsh face nothing, now, as a minority. It's true that we have the beginnings of our own government, the Assembly, and that we have equal status with the English, and so on, but we still face a lot of damaging stereotypes ("Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief...") and erasure of what culture we have. On the desks in the library in my Welsh university, there's a lot of anti-Welsh graffiti. On one, someone wrote, 'Capitalism is killing Welsh culture.' I counted five responses of 'good', and one that said 'about time'.

And, you know, the English word for us, 'Welsh', actually means 'foreigners'. Makes it somewhat troubling to identify as Welsh, I think. Possibly I should call myself one of the Cymry, instead.

And, like, for Welsh Fiction in English, I'm currently trying to get hold of my source texts. It's hard. Many of them are out of print, and those in print are kept in print seemingly only by Welsh presses, propped up financially by the Welsh Assembly. One of the introductions, by Catrin Collier, says, "I grew up in Wales in the 1950s and 60s, yet [Margiad Evans'] work was never mentioned at my school or in the local library. Whenever I asked the eternal question 'What should I read next?' I was directed towards Russian, English, American, German and French novelists. I discovered a few -- a precious few -- Welsh authors for myself, which only added weight to my teacher's pronouncement that 'people like you (translate as South Wales Valley born) don't write'."

I grew up in the nineties, of course, and didn't find much available to me then, although granted I grew up in England. (I learnt no Welsh history, and no English school I know of teaches the Welsh language.) I know of a handful of Welsh authors who are publishing their work currently -- a couple of writers who teach at my university (won't name for fear of them googling themselves!), Mari Strachan, Niall Griffiths, Jo Walton, Sarah Waters -- and I wouldn't know of these without my Welsh university and scouring of the internet. Jo Walton's work, for one example, isn't easy to get, it's expensive and/or out of print, even though she's really good and the recipient of quite a few awards. (I only just found out, in fact-checking what I'm saying now, that she's written some Arthurian work herself. All out of print, as far as I can gather. Damn.)

It's an issue that's alive and well, you know? Sorry about my tl;dr -- I imagine you understand perfectly anyway -- I just needed to get it out. (And hey, someone might happen past and learn something.)

To return to your actual points!

I can think of no other narratives that have been so thoroughly absorbed into the zeitgeist like this (setting aside the Abrahamic narratives for a moment), and particularly not any narratives that originate outside Europe. And I'd like to know what these stories are for other cultures. I want to know if other cultures have narratives that have grown like this.

I hope that hasn't happened to any other legend in the way that it has to those of Arthur. The problem is that even people of that culture might not recognise it if it has, they may just take for granted that the way things are is the way things have always been, as many Welsh people do. You have to get down right to the sources of these legends to find out these things. I suspect it will have happened as a function of empire -- I imagine a lot of stories that we think are Roman in origin are not, for example. If I were to look for legends that have undergone the same transformations as the Arthur legends, that's where I'd look first.

Religions owe bits and pieces to each other, too, though it's hard to tell whether that's because of some inevitability about the idea of sacrificial figures and the like, or whether it's because of actual purposeful taking... Some of both, perhaps.
lassarina: I'm not coming out until the stupid people have gone away.  ....I can wait all day. (Default)

[personal profile] lassarina 2010-11-02 03:07 am (UTC)(link)

*shifty eyes*

*totally jots down tons of stuff to attack the library with*
owlmoose: (book - key)

[personal profile] owlmoose 2010-11-02 08:01 am (UTC)(link)
I have never read Bujold, and I need to! I would love to see that Vorkosigan reading list. Or would the other series be better to start with? Also people keep reccing FMA at me so it's on my list to give a try sometime.

Also, you know my love for Sunshine but I also love D'Aulaire's Greek Myths (I read my copy to pieces and bought my own hardback as an adult) and the Sherman Alexie! I heard Alexie speak at a librarian conference last year and he was awesome, btw. If you ever have the chance to see him in person, take it.
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)

[personal profile] renay 2010-11-02 08:49 am (UTC)(link)
I totally second seeing Alexie! I have seen/heard interviews and he is so hilarious and sharp-witted, very insightful.

Now I am a little jealous that I have not been able to go to any of his events. >.>
seventhe: (FFEX: Doink!)

[personal profile] seventhe 2010-11-02 12:01 pm (UTC)(link)
stealth_noodle: The Xoan ambassador has crossed oceans of beef to be with you. (oceans of beef)

[personal profile] stealth_noodle 2010-11-02 02:03 pm (UTC)(link)
I love The Dark Is Rising so much that I briefly dabbled in Welsh (i.e., I learned five words and was distracted) and had the delightful experience of reading katakana-Welsh on a Japanese fansite. And The Last Unicorn is so gorgeous it hurts.

Lois McMaster Bujold has been on my "to read" list for years. I should probably bump her up a bit.
renay: Text: I cannot go to bed there is epic shit happening on the internet. (I don't want to miss a thing.)

[personal profile] renay 2010-11-03 09:22 am (UTC)(link)
I feel like I should alert you to this which if I am reading correctly is the entire Vorkosigan series in various ebook formats? If you view instead of download the zip ALL THE BOOKS ARE THERE? For free? IT'S AMAZING.

So I will just leave this here. >.>