This summer, I’m reading my way through a list of 50 books during my commute on the LIRR. Every Sunday, I’ll post about whatever books I finished during that week. I’m doing this just for fun, so the reviews will be pretty casual and free form, but hopefully still useful and enlightening, or at least amusing.
You can see the full list here.
Genre fiction > Literary Fiction
Fantasy > Sci Fi > Mystery/Crime/Thriller > Other genres
Children’s > Adult > Young Adult
20th Century ≥ Antiquity > contemporary > all other centuries
That’s just to generalize. I like books from all of those categories very much (variety is the spice etc. etc.) but I’ll usually drift towards the sci-fi/fantasy section at the bookstore first. Also, if you’re not into children’s and YA, don’t worry; though I do think the best children’s books are better than the best books for adults, the majority of this blog will still probably end up focusing on literature for grown-ups.
What I’m really looking for is good storytelling and good characters. I’m not as interested in the “exploration of themes” and all the other nonsense you have to do in high school lit classes. That’s not to say I don’t like dense books with lots of ideas which make you think about the world, and I do like postmodernism, avant-garde, experimentation, and metafiction occasionally. The best books have great emotional depth and storytelling and complex ideas, but in the very best books the complexity hovers in the background, visible, but unobtrusive: Literature’s #1 magic power is delivering pure visceral emotions, whether that be empathy for the characters, or awe at a powerful moment in the story. Literature’s #2 magic power is making you question what you thought you knew about the world. Books that try to push particular ideas tend to irritate me, whether I agree with them or not. If you want to convince me of a political, philosophical or moral stance, write an essay or an op-ed. Fiction should ask questions, not answer them.
A caveat to all of that is that there’s no accounting for taste; I can try to define what I like as much as I want, but there’s nothing dogmatic or absolute about any of it. Mostly I know a good book when I read it.
For examples of some of my favorite books, go here.
Final notes: treatment of female characters is always important and relevant. If I can make a book gay I will, and I don’t care how many logical hoops I have to go through to get there.
Also, monsters are my favorite, so I’m a sucker for interesting creature design. If a book has a really good monster, I will probably talk about it at length. You’ve been warned.