Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Top 10 Books on my Bookshelf

My bookshelf
As a person who didn't exactly have a lot of friends growing up, I have acquired a good number of books throughout the years. Now that I'm in college and have a house of my own, I've begun the task of moving my books from my mom's house to my new one. I generally bring a few back (anywhere from around 5-10) whenever I go home to visit (I'm loath to take all of them at once, because my mom's house doesn't have internet nor cable / satellite, and I need something to do while I'm there). So far, I've almost filled up one bookshelf with my books and DVDs, and it's only a small portion of my collection.

As I was thinking about what I should write next, I decided that I should share some of my favorite books with all 5 of my loyal readers. These span from my early childhood when my best friend was whatever protagonist who happened to be having the adventure I was reading at the moment, to more recent years when I needed a book to escape from all the stress that my classes put on me. So, without further ado, here are 10 books which I'd recommend for you to read. I'll try to keep the descriptions short and as spoiler free as possible (though admittedly, it's not as if any of the books on here haven't been out for years already. But still, just in case, I'll be nice).

10. Dracula by Bram Stoker

Ahh, the book that launched vampires as a pop culture icon. This book brought the undead to life, and inspired other incarnations of the bloodthirsty creatures, from the emo and tragically misunderstood vampires of Anne Rice, to the sparkly abominations that plague us today, thanks to Twilight and slightly pubescent girls the world over (I saw it in Germany, too. Blech).

This tale is written in epistolary form: every chapter is either a diary entry, newspaper clipping, or a "transcription" from a phonograph record. It follows the tale of Jonathan Harker, his fiancée Mina, Abraham van Helsing, and of course the infamous Dracula. The novel sets the tone for the "traditional" vampire (if not originally thought up by Stoker, at least definitely popularized by him), which has been only in the last few years challenged. It's because of Dracula that we think vampires change into bats, hate garlic, and aren't too fond of sunlight (though it's not lethal).

Why I liked it:

I was originally assigned this book in my AP English class my senior year. I'd always been fascinated by vampires (though now even liking vampires is kinda considered a taboo...Stupid Twilight), and was at the time reading the Anne Rice series. This book was fascinating in the sense that it was still a spooky story even by today's standards. It was also fascinating to see the culture of English society in the late 19th century, and how they dealt with something (err...someone) who survived on human blood, and still looked so fashionable and proper doing so.

9. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux 

This novel tells the story of chorus dancer turned opera star Christine Daae, her mysterious "Angel of Music" Erik, and her childhood friend / lover Raoul. This book takes place in Paris also in the late 19th century. It is more of a love story, though it is filled with darker aspects, like torture, and murder, and fire. Basically, Erik taught Christine how to sing, and fell in love with her in the process. She's in love with Raoul, and Raoul's in love with her, and Erik's really not happy about that, and since he's not exactly the stablest of people in the mental department, hijinks ensue.

Why I liked it:

This is another case of modern factors driving me back to the source. I adored the soundtrack from the actual opera ever since I heard the singer hit that really high note in the title track "Phantom of the Opera" when I was in the 5th grade. When the movie came out, my love for it was renewed, and I decided to check out the original story. The book ended up being way better (, it was a little silent for my tastes) than the movie, and I fell in love all over again.

8. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

This book is a fancy retelling of Cinderella; however, you probably won't really recognize that fact until much later in the book when she calls herself "Cinders". Cinders + Ella = mind blown. Well, at least if you're a 6th grader, which is how old I was when I first read the book. Ella is a girl who can say that obedience is her curse. Literally. She was given a "gift" by a fairy at birth, where she must always do what she's commanded to do, no matter what. Hijinks ensue.

Why I liked it:

Well, what nerdy girl wouldn't love a fairy tale fantasy story where the heroine is strong and funny and relatable? It has ogres, and fairies, and elves, and wicked stepmothers and stepsisters, and naturally a prince as well. It's a great story for younger girls, and Ella is a much better role model than Bella will ever be.

7. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

This particular story is about a girl who was raped and murdered (don't worry, it's not a spoiler). It's told from her perspective while she's watching her family from heaven. She follows the lives of her loved ones and how they fall apart due to her death, but they slowly pull themselves back together again.

Why I liked it:

My older sister read this book first for a college class, and then gave it to me because "It's a weird book, Nina. You'd like it." (apparently I am an aficionado for all things weird and eccentric, because that's probably one of the most common phrases I hear coming out of my family's mouths). However, she was very right. I don't know why this book compels me, but it does. There's something so stark about it, and the emotions of the characters feel so real. You feel genuine shock at some of the events in the book, and you'd better not have anything better to do, because it's not a book that can be easily put down.

6. The Godspeaker Trilogy by Karen Miller
Empress, The Riven Kingdom, and Hammer of God

I know this is technically cheating because it's three books instead of one, but oh well. It's all one story, and it's hard to read one without reading them all. These books follow the story of two civilizations, one that has a bloodthirsty god that provides miracles at the price of bloodshed, and another who has a benevolent god that isn't seen, but people believe in him through blind faith. This story is about their main prophets. The first one starts off with a girl who is being sold off into slavery named Hekat, and how she goes from a mere slave all the way to empress (The title of the first book is called Empress, and if you can't draw conclusions that simple, then perhaps you should be going back to Dr. Seuss and Dick and Jane), thanks to her bloodthirsty god. The second story involves a toymaker, and the queen of the very England-esque island that they live on. The toymaker starts seeing the specter of his dead wife, and he ends up becoming a prophet for his god. The third book is about the war between these two nations (turns out, bloodthirsty gods like war and invasion. Who knew?).

Why I liked it:

I'm not a religious person, but I find mythology fascinating. To me, it provided a "what if?" situation where the gods of the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians were combined into a super-god, and he was pitted against the Christian God of the Victorian Era of England. There were also some interesting linguistic aspects involved with the constructed language of Mijak (but I won't bore you with my nerdgasms about languages). The story is well written, and completely captivated me from start to finish. I picked the story out because the books were huge, and I knew they'd entertain me for the 9 hour flight to Germany I was about to take.

5. From the Corner of his Eye by Dean Koontz

Of all of Dean Koontz's books that I've read (and I went through a phase of where I read nothing else, so that's quite a few books of his), I've only ever reread one, and it was this one. It's the story of a boy who is incredibly intelligent, a little girl who was the byproduct of rape, their families, a psychopathic killer, and a really awesome cop. This story delves into quantum mechanics, and the almost supernatural edge of science fiction. It tells the lives of these people, and forces the reader to become a part of these seemingly disconnected people who are united due to external circumstances.

Why I liked it:

The writing style in Koontz's novels only improve with time. Each book of his that I read was more enticing, more haunting, and more intelligent than the last. This book introduced me to quantum mechanics, as well as a lot of other little useless bits of trivia thanks to two characters' neuroses. Koontz also has a gift to make you root for whomever the perspective is currently on. If you're reading from the killer's perspective, you want him to kill. You want him to outsmart the cop. But when the tables turn and you're reading from the cop's perspective, you want him to nab that psychopath and put him in jail and maybe even fry him in the chair. It's a wonderful reading experience that is not for the faint of heart.

4. Mort by Terry Pratchett

Let me start by discussing Discworld. This is a very elaborate series that satirist Terry Pratchett has created to the delight of the masses. There are several character sets in this world, and though they are all independent of each other, they do interact occasionally. There's the Night Watch set, the Wizards set, the Witches set, and, my personal favorite, the Death set. Mort is the beginning of Death timeline. Death is probably one of the most hilarious characters in the Discworld series (my favorite book in the Death timeline is actually Soul Music, but apparently that particular book hasn't made it up to Athens yet). Each book pokes fun at something or another, and it's all cleverly done.

Why I liked it:

These books were the first I've ever literally laughed aloud at. The characters are charming and engaging, despite being hopelessly flawed and / or depressed. Also, Death likes cats, and any character that likes cats is a friend of mine. In all honesty, you should read all of these books, as soon as possible. You will thank me later.

3. The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn
Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command

Forget George Lucas. Forget those silly prequels. I personally like to call these books Episodes 7, 8, and 9, respectively. These books take place 5 years after Return of the Jedi, and it's showing the struggle of a fledgling government, and the Imperial armada that opposes them at every turn. The fleet is led by Admiral Thrawn, who in all honesty could probably give Vader a bit of competition in the awesome bad guy department. He is always a step ahead of the New Republic, and proves to be a formidable enemy indeed.

Why I liked it:

It felt like I was reading a movie, or three. Zahn is incredibly talented and painting a picture in your mind's eye that remains true to the positive aspects of the old trilogy, while still bringing something fresh and new to the table. It's a series that I'd recommend to anyone who wants a good read and enjoys any kind of sci fi, Star Wars or not.

2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

I'm sure it's no surprise that Harry made the list. My favorite in the series is tied between this one and the Goblet of Fire. This book is kinda representative of the whole series though, in all honesty. So, this book takes place in Harry's second year at Hogwarts, where stuff isn't going so well thanks to people being petrified left and right. Then suddenly, Harry starts hearing voices in the walls talking about killing. Hijinks ensue. (In all honesty, between the books and the movies, I'm 99% sure you already know all about this book, so I'm not really going to delve into it any further).

Why I liked it:

This book was actually the first I read in the series. My younger sister was obsessed with it, and since her teacher read the first book to her class, she had mom buy the second one so she could find out what happened next (this was back when there were only 3 out). I couldn't sleep one night, and I wanted to find out what the fuss was about, so I read the first three chapters. I fell in love, but I had no idea what was going on, because I still hadn't read the first one yet. I decided to wait until I read the prequel before I finished the Chamber of Secrets. 11 years later (wow, has it really been that long?), I play Quidditch for my school, and this past release was the first midnight showing I've ever missed. Needless to say, I'm a bit obsessed. I've read the first 4 books upwards of 10 times each, and they still don't get old.

and the number one book is...

1. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Who doesn't know the story of Frodo and the Ring of Power? Who hasn't followed him on his quest to Mount Doom so he could destroy it? Any nerd worth his or her salt has either read this book (preferably several times) or at the very least watched the movies.

Why I liked it:

I'm not going to lie. Up until I was 13 years old, I hated Tolkien. I made the mistake of watching the ghastly cartoon The Hobbit when I was little, and it scared the crap out of me. I then vowed never to read or watch anything Tolkienian again (HAH). When I was in the 8th grade, I had to read The Hobbit as a class assignment. I put up a fight and resisted liking it...until I got about halfway through, and suddenly couldn't put it down. In that class I went from being the Tolkien hater to being the leader of hobbit knowledge. This was also around the time that the movies were coming out (in fact, The Two Towers came out a month after we finished the reading assignment), and we watched the first one in class. After that, there was no going back: I was in love. I read the whole Lord of the Rings before I went to see the second movie, and have read it every year ever since, always around Christmas. This year, however, I wasn't able to. Last year, I was silly enough to leave my well loved copy on the airplane, never to be seen again. I didn't get a replacement until this year as a Christmas present, so my yearly reading is just going to be a bit late.

I put this book at number one, because this book directly influenced my career choice. I attempted to learn Quenya (high Elvish), and I discovered that Tolkien was a masterful linguist who constructed several languages. In fact, this book was created so he could use his languages, not the other way around. I started studying languages as well, and have since focused on slang and constructed languages. I'm far from writing my own language, but it might be an option someday.

Thanks for reading this very long post! Hope you enjoyed it!