It was the worst of times.”
Everyone knows the opening line from A Tale of Two Cities, right? That’s one of those bonds that almost every high school student shares with one another.
But does anyone remember the rest of the story? How about The Canterbury Tales? Of Mice & Men? Little Women? Beowulf? The Great Gatsby? Catcher in the Rye?
I asked a friend for some blog ideas on what she might want to read. Or better yet, what might she want to know about me. And the first thing she said was that she knew I liked to read but she wanted to know what were my favorite & least favorite authors/books. The first thing that came to mind was how many books I’ve read – most notably in school – where I have no real recollection of what the main plot was about.
To be fair, I’ve probably read hundreds, if not thousands, of books along the way and it’s pretty unrealistic to remember them all. But it’s intriguing to me which ones make the cut and for what reasons.
First and foremost, my two favorite authors are Stephen King and Michael Crichton, albeit for completely different reasons. It’s pretty cliche, given how big those two authors are/were, but there’s also a reason they made it that big as well. As a matter of fact, I had to fight the urge to pick up both of their new books this past weekend at Barnes & Noble on the off chance Santa wants to restock my bookcase this coming Sunday.
Stephen King tops the list because I’m a very curious, inquisitive person. I like knowing as much information about something, someone, really whatever crosses my path. And if there’s one thing King absolutely nails, it’s the details of a story and its characters. Several of his books have character lists just so the reader can keep up with who’s who and how they tie into the story. There are multiple books where characters cross story lines too. Because of that though, his books can be crazy long. Just off of the top of my head, I know The Stand, It, & Under The Dome were over 1000 pages each.
My favorite book by King is really a series of books – The Dark Tower series. It’s his epic based roughly on spaghetti Westerns. He wanted his own Lord of the Rings-type legacy and this is it. There are seven books, spanning from 1982 to 2004. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were close to 6000 pages, between all of the books. And it appears an eighth book is coming out next year, only set between books four and five. It’s just an intense storyline with crazy detail and tons of tie-ins with characters and plots from a lot of his other books. Another thing I think is perfect with the series is that King isn’t known for his endings. Or rather, he’s known for them not being very good. And for the most part, that’s the truth. He twists these amazing tales only to have them just kind of… end. But the ending of The Dark Tower series is perfect. So fitting, given the story line. I’ve always said it’s hard for me to recommend anyone else read it because of the time you’d have to dedicate to it. But if you’ve got the time, I think you’d be happy.
I enjoy Michael Crichton for the exact opposite reasons. His books almost always contain some incredibly specific scientific plot line. Whether it was Jurassic Park’s notion of cloning and creating dinosaurs or nanotechnology in Prey or global terrorism in State of Fear. It’s never the same technology and never the same story. But opposite of what King does, Crichton seems to tell the reader just enough for them to understand the complexities of the technology without burdening them with high tech jargon. He does a better job of interweaving the explanations into the storyline instead of painting a 1000 page complex masterpiece. Unfortunately, his passing in 2008 (on my birthday) means his book Micro recently released will probably be his last.
My favorite Crichton book is actually not even recognized on his site as his own book. It’s A Case of Need which was written under the pseudonym Jeffery Hudson. I believe I read he hid his name from it due to it’s subject matter and the fact that he was either still in med school or had recently graduated and didn’t want the ideas linked to his name. I’m not sure what exactly drew me to it. It might have been when I read it (high school). Or that it’s about a taboo subject (abortion). And in all honesty, it’s been years since I’ve read it, so it wouldn’t hurt to reread. But there’s definitely a dark theme, given that abortion was illegal at the time and a prominent character dies from a botched attempt at one. My mom wasn’t crazy about it. But I still stand by the book!
Other than those few books, most of what I’ve been into lately has been covered in fairly recent entries. Hiking Through by Paul Stutzman is about discovering himself while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Unfortunately, it appears to be out of print. As tragic as the story was, I absolutely loved Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer. I read it on my trip and related to a lot of the story. It’s also non-fiction which makes the story that much more intense. I’m also a huge Malcolm Gladwell fan. I’ve read Outliers and Blink so far. A marketing professor in grad school introduced us to him by reading his New Yorker articles. They’re amazing views and takes on why seemingly regular things happen in life. He’s an incredibly smart man. And bringing this full circle, I read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas and Animal Farm by George Orwell either on my trip or recently after coming back. I wanted to read (or reread in Animal Farm’s case) some of the classics usually assigned in school on my own to get a different perspective on the stories. It’s amazing what you pick up on when you’re not made to read something. Monte Cristo’s an excellent book if you’re into betrayal and revenge stories. Incredible watching the character interaction play out.
There’s also the popular books like The Millennium Series by Steig Larsson and anything by Dan Brown. I’ve got Theodore Roosevelt‘s biography and John Muir‘s biography to read as well. Admittedly, I’m interested in those two after seeing as many national parks as I did on my trip. John Muir pushed the idea of preserving nature and Roosevelt helped implement it from the government’s standpoint. I also have Marley and Me to read for the dog side of me. And a couple Matthew Pearl books, The Poe Shadow and The Dante Club (reading this one right now) because an old friend recommended them. And through paperbackswap.com, I just picked up Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. I know I’ve read it before at some point but with the Halloween costume and seeing the movie several times recently, I’ve wanted to reread it.
If you can’t tell, I’ve got a wide, wide range taste for books.
And maybe that’ll give you a little more insight into the kid behind the blog.
Anyone have any other topics you might want to read about?