What are you reading these days?
What are you reading currently? Fiction or non-fiction or poetry, any genre, any language! Tell us what you're reading, and talk about it a bit.
What are you reading currently? Fiction or non-fiction or poetry, any genre, any language! Tell us what you're reading, and talk about it a bit.
So I’m a little late, but I actually wasn’t intending on posting until the next thread—I hadn’t thought that I’d have anything much to share until then, but I seem to be overcompensating for my years of illiteracy (not literally).
Unfortunately, I do not have an update on either of the books I said I was going to read in the last thread. I got distracted, but I am still reading them.
Let me start with my only true disappointment, How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water (2022) by Angie Cruz. I really did not enjoy this book, and had I not gotten so close to the end, I would not have finished it. The main character is not a good person, although I will grant that she comes off as a realistically flawed person. This could be fine if she ever grew, but instead she gets a happy ending despite never truly improving. This was a chore to get through and I cannot recommend it.
I read 1984 (1949) by George Orwell. Remember what I said earlier about my past illiteracy? Yeah, I hadn’t even read this. Any other classic recommendations?
Then I read The Road (2006) by Cormac McCarthy. This one had been on my list for a little while, but it regretfully never popped out to me when I would actually go to grab a book. This book was so tightly written and flowed so seamlessly that I never actually put it down and I ended up finishing it in one sitting. This book doesn’t really seem to have a beginning or end. Rather, it starts in the middle of a journey never feeling it necessary to explain how they got to where they were; and neither does it leave you with a resolution. Instead you get a glimpse into its world, and a glimpse is really all you need. Despite the lack of exposition, you never really question it—it just is.
With how much I enjoyed that book, I decided to jump straight into another Cormac McCarthy book, No Country for Old Men (2005). This was a little more traditional of a format than The Road, but still surprisingly fresh. I had not seen the movie adaption before reading this one, that I’ll plan to do here soon, but I had seen 2001: A Space Oddysey (1968) by Arthur C. Clarke.
I’ve heard great things about 2001 and its sequels, and as a big fan of the Stanley Kubrick film, I knew I had to eventually read it. I had once started it before but shelved it just three chapters because I hadn’t wanted to work through the apes, sorry, it isn’t quite as glorious as in the film. I feel that the book answers any questions that the movie might leave someone wondering, but I was surprised by just how much of the book made it to the screen (it is worth noting that the book was written with Kubrick for the film though). This book, like The Shining (which has notable changes in the film), is really difficult to try and pit against the movie to claim one is greater than the other. I am due for a rewatch of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I think I’m going to have to say that the book is on the same level as the film.
Like I said earlier, I am still reading Upgrade by Blake Crouch and The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. I am also going to try some David Sedaris with Happy-Go-Lucky and probably read another Cormac McCarthy book. I’m confident that I’ll have them finished by the next thread.
In a similar vein as 1984, and so often mentioned together:
Fahrenheit 451, Slaughterhouse-Five, Catch-22, and Brave New World are all excellent.
Some other "Classic" literature, off the top of my head, that I also enjoyed and would recommend:
Dracula, Frankenstein, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Alchemist, The Count of Monte Cristo, Les Misérables, Rob Roy, Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Lord of the Flies, Mutiny on the Bounty, Master & Commander, The Last of the Mohicans, Shōgun, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Twelve Angry Men
And if you really enjoy classic scifi and fantasy, I can also recommend more of that too, since I have read a lot of it over the years. :P
I have read The Alchemist. I missed it the first time I read through your list and was disappointed in myself, but I got one!
Catch-22 is the only other one of those that I’ve actually started and I really enjoyed what I had read of it. I’ll have to get into it again.
I also own most—if not all—of the Shōgun series (I might be missing the last one), though I’ve yet to find the courage to commit to such a gargantuan novel.
I’ll definitely be trying to check off as much of that list as I can. Thank you so much!
I also failed to get through Catch-22 the first time I tried to read it, back when I was much younger. And I think that's actually a pretty common experience with the book, since it's a rather difficult and unconventional read. So don't feel bad about not getting through it on your first try either. It wasn't until a decade+ later that I finally tried again, succeeded in finishing it, and came to realize how brilliant it was. But IMO the key to getting through it is letting go of your normal expectations when reading a traditional (linear) story, and understanding that the frustration and confusion its non-linearity elicits is largely the point. Just embrace the absurdity, and focus on the characters, their interactions, and each moment as it's currently being presented.
And, oh, nice! James Clavell's Asian Saga is one of my absolute favorites. But TBH, the final book, Gai-Jin, is probably the weakest of the bunch. So you're not exactly missing a masterpiece (like Shōgun is) if you never end up reading it. Don't get me wrong though, Gai-Jin is still good, and still worth reading if you enjoyed the previous ones, and the settings... but IMO it isn't nearly as compelling as the rest, unfortunately.
Also, no prob. Hopefully you can find a few books in my list that you end up enjoying! And please feel free to let me know if you actually read any of them, and what you thought of them. I like to hear others opinions on things I've recommended, even if they ended up hating them. :P
I finished two books over December - both were gifts, both Stephen King, both from my brother.
Duma Key by Stephen King. I think this sounds like standard King - a haunted house, an otherwordly thing, tragedy, magic - but it was bleak and painful and really well done. This is near the top of my list of King books, probably in my top 10.
Fairy Tale by Stephen King. I think this is his current newest book, and it was okay but not particularly special; a good pulp read. A boy helps an old man who has fallen and broken his leg and then shit goes off the rails is how I would describe the book. As with most King books it is very easy to read; the surface level is interesting enough, but there are also layers.
I have a confession to make... I've never actually read a Stephen King book. I have been recommended The Dark Tower series several times over the years, but never actually got around to reading it. Do you think that's a good place to start, or would you recommend something else of his to read first instead?
Good question, and there are two distinct answers and I don't know which is better, so I'll give them both?
Yes, start with the Dark Tower, because "the man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed" starts an incredible journey; it's weird and horrible and tragic and sometimes beautiful, but maybe most importantly this series touches almost every other thing that King has written, and it would be interesting to experience how all things are tied to the Dark Tower by starting out at the Dark Tower.
That said, my gut reaction was:
No. There are a lot of other things that you can dip your toe into to see if you enjoy his style before committing to a massive seven book series. Some parts of the series feel disjointed, and the tone really changes over time, and there is a huge difference in the style and tone between The Gunslinger and book seven, The Dark Tower. I also don't think that they are his best books.
I usually recommend that people start with some short stories, and there are three quite good options:
But I think the best answer might be to start with Different Seasons. This includes four stories that are longer than short stories, and shorter than novels, but they are some of the best things he has done. The four stories are:
Three of these have been adapted into movies that you have likely seen or at least know; The Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, and Stand By Me.
TBH, I'm not much of a short story person. I prefer reading things with more meat to them. Which is why I generally prefer long series, and usually don't mind committing them even if I don't know the author, especially since I also have a habit of chewing through books... hence my recommendations request topic last year. :P But even though they're not full novels, I will check out Different Seasons after I am done with Gaunt's Ghosts (which I just started this morning). So thanks for the recommendation.
p.s. Yeah, I have seen all those movies already, and pretty much every Stephen King movie, mini-series, and show adaptation (including both versions of The Stand), and for the most part I enjoyed them all, even the low budget ones. So I might actually give some of those other source material works a read too, after Different Seasons, since now I am kinda curious how they all differ from their adaptations.
I also love getting into long series. And the fact that you've posted about reading a lot of long series is the only reason I would have considered saying "Yes" at all; it might suit you to start there, and it might be interesting to do so and then read other things King has written and see how they fit in. I didn't start with the Dark Tower - though the Gunslinger (Book 1) was certainly one of the things I read relatively early - but I have definitely reread some things to figure out how everything fits together. And I do believe that nearly everything King has written somehow services the Tower, which is the central focus of his multiverse. Though I would also say that The Gunslinger is one of his weakest books, which is another thing that makes me hesitate to ecommend the Dark Tower as a place to start.
With regards to short stories, I can definitely understand wanting more meat in your books, but sometimes I crave a light snack book, and some ideas are fun but just don't work as full novels. Quitters Inc. is incredible, but if anything was added to it, it would become less good, and the same is true of a number of his stories. The comedic equivalent: sometimes you want Groundhog Day, a movie that you can watch and rewatch, sometimes you want ten seasons of the Office, but sometimes you just want to watch five minutes of Kate McKinnon talking about being groped by aliens on SNL. That sketch is hilarious, but it wouldn't be a good sitcom or movie.
Some other good starters:
IT - another cultural touchstone, you probably have an idea about what the story is about, but no movie does it real justicedon't start with this one.
Beyond that, there are lots of interesting things, like The Bachman Books - The Long Walk is exceptional, but they're all good - or books that have the same characters and general plot, but are just different or parellel - The Regulators and Desperation. There's also a number of things that aren't particularly horror - he writes some noire stuff, and some mysteries, and On Writing is an important thing to read for anyone who wants to write.
I'd also just issue a word of warning - King is almost brutalist in his approach to writing. While some people write elegant, delightful prose, or run circles around you with words; King does not do this at all. His prose is dark, plodding, and methodical. A lot of people think this makes him less of a good writer, but I think that it's just the voice that he uses. It would be weird if a book about a possessed car was anything other than implacable (and he's written at least three stories with possessed cars, maybe more) so be prepared for prose that can, honestly, sometimes be a slog. There's also a fair bit of, "She breasted boobily along" for women that he writes, which can be jarring - and I mean "jarring you out of the story" not jarring within the story.
Good luck though - I look forward to hearing what you think.
Pet Sematary is my favorite. I don’t think any other book has soaked my eyes in sheer terror the way that that one did.
Lower down I said, " I rarely get that "ick" feeling that a lot of other people seem to get" but Pet Semetary filled me with ick, and just thinking about it right now is spreading that discomfort.
Yeah, I definitely understand the appeal of, and reasoning behind short stories. And despite the impression I may have given, I have actually read a decent amount of them over the years, despite the format not really appealing to me all that much. But of the short stories I have read, the vast majority have been scifi (Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, PKD, Vonnegut, etc), since I think that genre lends itself really well to the shorter format. I can see how horror probably does as well though, but even though I greatly enjoy grimdark fantasy/scifi, I am not actually that big of a classic horror fan... Probably because reading horror has never actually scared me, got my adrenaline going, or even given me much of a thrill. Horror movies, shows, and videogames absolutely do that though, which I why I enjoy consuming those more.
In any case, thanks again for taking the time to respond, add more recommendations, and for the warning (ditto to @grahamiam). But I honestly don't think King's writing style will bother me in the slightest. I also read a decent amount of rather dry historical non-fiction and academic treatises... so slogging through methodical, direct, unflowery, tedious prose isn't much of an issue for me. :P
I don't necessarily consider myself a classic horror fan either, and while I enjoy horror movies, I rarely get that "ick" feeling that a lot of other people seem to get. Funny enough, thought I issued warning about it, it was King's style that actually brought me to enjoy him more than his content. In some ways, King is like Hemingway, and that was appealing to me. While I enjoy an exceptionally well turned sentence on its own, I also love letting the story be the joy of a story more than the almost-poetry of wonderful prose.
The first Stephen King book I wrote was a collaboration of his with Peter Straub - The Talisman. It is also not a bad starting place, I guess.
The Dark Tower books are great and inconsistent and frustrating. I'd start with The Stand if you don't want to start with horror. If you do want to start with horror, I think a lot of people would say It, but I'd probably vote Carrie is a better intro? It has a (notorious) scene that makes it not as worth reading as some of his other stuff, imo.
I definitely would agree with Carrie over IT; while IT is probably the book at the top of my Top 10 Stephen King (for me) books, it is both a huge commitment (half a million words) and a product of both different times and cocaine. And I acknowledge that I have the privilege of just hand-waving away the notorious scene with that and having it roll off me, but many people don't. I usually try not to recommend IT to people, though I realize I absolutely did that above, because I was thinking "@cfabbro wants a big chonker of a book, and that's the chonkest" and I was also thinking more about stories told by King that have become cultural references.
(I've crossed out my recommendation for IT above)
I just finished Watership Down, loved it! The world building was great, it was just generally a really good time!
Currently I'm reading The Noma Guide to Fermentation so I'm excited to lightly rot some food!
I'm currently struggling through The Stars Undying by Emery Robin. Which I had seen compared to Ann Leckie and Arkady Martine and I have no idea how anyone could make that comparison because Robin is in absolutely no way in their league. The world Robin is building is clearly trying to be detailed and complex but just comes off as baffling and over-complicated. It's written in first person point of view from two characters, alternating chapters. Except the two characters spend most of the book together. So we get a dinner party or whatever from two perspectives but they're basically the same one.
I'm about 70% of the way through and it's only now that anything much seems to be happening. The characters spent at least a third of the book just pootling around one of the worlds looking at stuff and having a holiday. At this point I'm only still reading to see if something happens.
Before that I read Adrian Tchaikovsky's Dogs of War and its sequel Bear Head, which were brilliant. Dogs of War especially. Fast paced and exciting action while building an interesting world full of strongly drawn characters, and investigating questions about the nature of humanity and the ethics of how we treat animals and each other. Also Bees is the best character I've encountered in any form of media for a good number of years. I nailed Dogs of War in about three days so it's a great fast read.
I randomly discovered The Luminous Dead through some social media comments, went in blind, and was immediately hooked. The story jumps straight into things and is interesting, tense, and emotional. I started it on Monday and will likely finish it tonight. If you’re interested, the synopsis on Wikipedia does a good job introducing the book without really spoiling anything.
As predicted, I finished the book tonight. I’d like to eventually write a spoiler-filled comment about all the things I liked about this book.
For now though, no spoilers. I’ll just say I enjoyed it immensely, it was good horror and suspense, and I really hope the author writes more books in this universe in the future.
Malazan Book of the Fallen for the third time. It's a sickness
Malazan is by far my favorite fantasy series, and I have also read it multiple times over the years too... so I know what you mean about it being a sickness. It's soooooo fucking long, but despite that, every time a new book came out I reread all the previous ones first, and even now with the series completed, every few years I still get the hankering to read it all over again and so do that. It's just that fucking good, and I absolutely adore so many of the characters in it. It's at times incredibly dark and depressing, but despite that it still feels like a being wrapped in a warm, comfortable blanket whenever I revisit the world.
The only other series I have read a similar amount of times is Dune.
p.s. Since you're a Malazan fan, I assume you have already read The Black Company and Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (both of which inspired Erikson) already too? If not, you definitely should. And I would also highly recommend The First Law, Mistborn, and Powder Mage series as well, which are also similar-ish in nature and very good too.
I just wrote a long and maybe too effusive response with some additional recs, but then my Hermit app froze, so it's gone. This an IOU for a reply when I get some time to rewrite it!
Ah damn, that really sucks. I know how insanely frustrating that can be! No rush, but I definitely would appreciate some more recommendations. So thanks in advance. :)
Your comment resonates so much! I often put on the audiobooks just to revisit the world as I fall asleep, sometimes with, uh, interesting results. Same as with my other major leisure genre of weird fiction (Mieville, Lovecraft, Clarke). Many are the nights I've woken to Elder incantations intoned in a nightmarish voice. All in good fun for me. :)
What keeps drawing me back to Malazan is its similar but not identical worldview to my own--especially the focus on a need for a balance of order and disorder, the multi-determined causality of critical events and their unpredictable results, the importance for trying to do right anyway, and the elevation of situational nuance and conflicting duties to free characters to show a new kind of heroic, creative morality. Plus the thousand characters and subtle jokes make every reread rewarding as entertainment.
Thanks so much for the recommendations. I loved The Black Company and have not shaken the brilliant opening chapter of Thomas Covenant (though I did not continue reading at that time). I did really enjoy The Stormlight Archive, so Mistborn is a good bet for me. If you haven't read them, I very much enjoyed both The Book of the New Sun and The Second Apocalypse, though the latter is so bleak and at times thoroughly distasteful to me, so I may never revisit it. I've heard of The First Law but not Powder Mage, so consider those added to my list!
A bit adjacent but not right on point: Gormenghast is another favorite world to revisit. Plus it's absolutely hilarious.
Thanks for your patience as I rewrote this!
Thanks for taking the time to write your comment out again! I appreciate it.
What personally keeps drawing me back to Malazan is also the nuanced greyness of everyone's morality, but primarily just the wonderful, interesting, and often incredibly funny characters themselves, who I have come to know, love, and/or loathe. The insane depth of the world's history, mythology, and lore, as well as its totally unique races, gods, and magic systems is also incredibly appealing to me too.
Like Tolkien, Erikson is also incredibly skilled at making the world and its races feel genuinely very very old, and not just superficially so like in a lot of other fantasy novels. But unlike Tolkein he thankfully never lingers too long on a scene, describing every single detail of every element in it ad nauseam, so despite its length Malazan never feels like a slog to get through. And I also love how Erikson just drops us right into that world and its events with no preambles, no hand-holding, and just trusts us to get up to speed on our own.
I have never even heard of The Book of the New Sun or The Second Apocalypse before, so thanks for introducing them to me! I have added them to my recommendations list, and will definitely check them out. Although, could you please expand on what you found so distasteful about Second Apocalypse? I ask because, while I love grimdark so can appreciate bleak and seemingly hopeless scenarios, the only fantasy book I have read that I would describe as "so bleak it was distasteful" was Prince of Thorns. That novel ended up feeling like I was basically just reading juvenile, overly cruel, rape and torture porn written from the perspective of a teenage edgelord, so that completely put me off reading the rest of the Broken Empire trilogy despite them being heavily recommended by fellow grimdark lovers. So if Second Apocalypse is anything like that, I will probably just avoid it too.
p.s. Are the Malazan audiobooks actually any good? I'm generally not an audiobook fan, but if there is something especially unique or worthwhile about the Malazan ones I may give them a listen anyways, if only to get a some interesting new perspective on the series.
I totally forgot to mention being dropped in a world without explanation and just having to follow the snatches of exposition like a puzzle--that sold me. I started Gardens of the Moon as I was stalled out on my grad work, and it's till a great one to revisit for all the many, many things I can now recognize as "important later" or just slightly shifting my understanding of the world history into place. So gratifying. Then I slogged through the hardest parts of my dissertation with the Chain of Dogs in my mind as an internal motivation. It worked!
As an aside, I used to play a lot of console and PC video games, stopped about 20ish years ago, and have tried a few times to play AAA games that came out in the meantime and holy exposition Batman! I have no interest in sitting through mini-movies or acting out a part in a mega-movie, so I usually just turn them off. Send me to an eerie place with interesting secrets a la Ecco the Dolphin or Blaster Master or Quake or Hollow Knight, and I'm likely to go discovery things. Aside over with.
I haven't read Prince of Thorns, but I can say: both New Sun and Second Apocalypse do a great job dropping you into interesting worlds with long histories to discover. I had no problem with even some of the "workplace" descriptions in the former even though the protagonist is a torturer. In the latter, the various antagonists are perfectly manipulative and gaslight enough to make me queasy, but the real issue I warn people about is the reliance on physical and sexual horror to heighten disgust with the "bad guys." Think otherworldly humanoid-beasts with a desire to mutilate and make use of humans sexually after (before?) killing then. And black semen several times. Ew. These things aren't frequent, just vile when they're there. It was worth it to me for the story, the historical mysteries, and some of the characters, but...ew. So keep that in mind, I'd say.
I've never found an audiobook that I enjoyed more than reading, with the exceptions of William Hootkins' version of Moby-Dick and Peter Yearsley's version of The King in Yellow. And the Malazan audiobooks do switch from one narrator (Ralph Lister) to another (Michael Page), and I've enjoyed both. You also have to deal with pronunciation differences, and neither says things exactly how I say them in my head. So I think it would depend on what you do and don't like with audiobooks. My issues are always odd, like, the narrator for The Second Apocalypse was great except that his female voices and the way he would "yell" "Noooooo!" for male characters are enough to keep me away.
The Chain of Dogs, especially Coltaine and Duiker's fate at the end, still absolutely destroys me and leaves me a blubbering mess every time I read Deadhouse. Same goes with Itkovian, Dujek, Whiskeyjack, and sooooo many other characters' tragic endings throughout the series too. Malazan is one of only a handful of book series that has ever managed to make me cry. Not just slightly watery eyed sadness, which many have accomplished, but full-on ugly cry. And the fact that it managed to do that not just once, but dozens of times throughout, and still makes me cry every single time I reread them, shows just how impactful it is. It's so fucking good!
Thanks for answering my question. New Sun doesn't sound too bad. I can handle a bit of torture in a book if it serves a purpose in the plot. But the more I read about Second Apocalypse the less inclined I am to read the series. All the women in the book being quite literally "spiritually inferior" to men, and so them being mostly employed as whores, or kept as sex slaves, plus having a serial raping nonhuman race as the main baddies, isn't something I'm all that interested in reading about.
And when it comes to enjoying audiobooks, ditto, but with no exceptions for me so far. There have been a few that I have still thoroughly enjoyed (e.g. Stephen Fry's reading of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Martin Freeman's follow ups), but none that I have enjoyed more than simply reading the book myself. The pronunciation differences also annoy the hell out of me too. I absolutely hate learning that I have been mispronouncing something, especially character names, wrong in my head in the entire time. :P
The Epiphany of Gliese 581 was a great short sci-fi story that popped up on my Twitter timeline recently. It seems to take a good amount of inspiration from my favorite stories by Greg Egan (Permutation City, Diaspora) without staying in their mold. I really enjoy the flavor of far-future transhumanist sci-fi that enthusiastically explores the idea that technology may allow us to remake ourselves. It's fun to explore the theoretical possibilities of what technology might offer, to consider the nature of consciousness, and to consider what specifically we would want to remake ourselves and society into.