The Perfect Book
In my review of Darkborn I mentioned that the book was one of my perfect reads. This has me thinking about the other books on my perfect reads list. What put them on the list? What makes them perfect? None of the books on my list are touted as Great Works of Literature. They’re not classic texts. Most of them are not even widely known outside of genre fiction. They have some things in common, but the most cohesive category they can fall under together would be ‘speculative fiction’ and that’s about as useful as a description as ‘pagan’ can be – that is, it’s not. Musing on this last night, I realized that the books on my perfect books list all fill me with wonder and remind me why it is I want to write stories. I read them at a time when I was perfectly open to receive their story, and they shifted something inside of me. Because I like talking about these things, I though I’d share. In no particular order, some of my Perfect Books are:
Memory and Dream by Charles De Lint. My obsession with Mr. De Lint’s writing is somewhat convoluted. The first book of his I purchased was Moonheart; the first one I read (after purchasing Moonheart – I used to have a HUGE TBR pile back when I had disposable income, eons ago) was Memory and Dream. This started quite the hunt for his back list. I had all of them right before they came back into print, naturally enough. There are other books of his that I’ve read (all of them) and loved (almost all of them) and his work is the work I return to when I need something nourishing and safe. But Memory and Dream shifted something within me, something for the better, and it was good.
Sunshine by Robin McKinley. This book isn’t one of her better known books, though it’s been re-released a few times during the glut of vampire books out there now. Her vampires are not sexy (a nice break) though they are alluring and appealing (which should be true of supernaturally hunter type species). They are creepy and alien, and she does some things in her writing to make in obvious that they are not the same species at all, without hitting you over the head with it. She does it believably, not just saying, “This is a vampire, don’t you just want to jump his bones?” McKinley’s writing is often hit or miss with me: I’ve loved some, couldn’t get into others. Sunshine was just amazing.
The Orphan Tales: In The Night Garden and The Orphan Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente. Her work is another collection of hits or misses for me, but her two Orphan Tale volumes are books that it took me a long time to get through, because I would hit the end of a section and go back and reread it, not because I didn’t get it, but because I didn’t want to move on yet. I wanted the lushness, the fullness of the tales to linger, longer. Reading these last year, I think I finally realized that part of what gets a book onto my Perfect Book list is, it breaks out of traditional trappings. A lot of what I read is either contemporary paranormal or high/epic fantasy, and they both have their traditional trappings, for good or ill. The perfect books infuse my reading mind with imagination, reminding me that there really aren’t any rules, here. Sky’s the limit.
The Scar by China Mieville. I read Perdido Street Station, first. I’m glad I did, because before I read any of his work I’d decided, having tried The Difference Engine, that I didn’t really care for steampunk. This bothered me, as I don’t really ever want to be the person who turns away from a story because I don’t care for the setting. I’d peeked at other ‘steampunk’esque fiction, but Perdido Street Station was the first one I liked enough to seek out more by the same author. In fact, while reading Perdido Street Station,I absolutely adored the book. It was fresh, it was different, it was new (to me). But, The Scar blew Perdido Street Station, erm, out of the water. There’s nothing I can say to put my finger on why. Having a gigiantic boat helps, for sure. New places, new people, new things . . . first contact is one of my two favorite themes, in any genre I’m reading.
Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt. Of the books on my list, this is likely the least genre-specific, the least ‘speculative’ of the speculative fiction header. It’s a historical novel with magic realism. The writing is superb, the subject matter handled wonderfully, and the characters lively and real, their concerns immediate. Going into the book knowing that they are, in fact, doomed, does not keep me from wishing the outcome could be anything other than what it is. Mary Sharratt’s writing (of which I’ve also read The Vanishing Point and Summit Avenue) tends to be one the bittersweet or melancholy side, and I certainly have to be in the right mood when I read her work, but when I am in the correct mood to read her work, her writing is very much perfect.
Darkborn by Alison Sinclair. Partially due to her treatment of light versus dark without the use of vampires (it’s terrible. I love vampires, I even love the sexy vampires, but I want my vampires to be scary and not human and not even pretending to be human and not bound by human laws and mores; damn it the whole appeal is the freedom, isn’t it? They can be scary and sexy, they can even be sweet, but save me from snuggly vampire teddybear beefcakes!), partially simply because of the characters themselves, and definitely due to her ability to write well enough to drag me in within the first five pages, Darkborn was an unexpected find. My dissatisfaction with the last installment of the series can’t diminish my adoration for this book. It hit all the places it needed to reach to fill me up and provide nourishment.
Cloven Hooves by Megan Lindholm – you might recognize her under her other name, Robin Hobb. I read this book years ago, shortly I discovered De Lint’s work and went desperately seeking more in a similar vein. First contact, again, and human/not human interaction – these are my most favorites, and this book has both. Inexplicably, I gave away my copy when I left Massachusetts. I need to correct that.
Speaking of Hobb, The Hob’s Bargain by Patricia Briggs. Came across that book shortly after it was published, before she became widely popular with her Mercedes Thompson novels (and I’m glad she became widely popular; I wish nothing but success and fame for the authors whose works I adore, but I miss her high fantasy) and I’ve recently reread it to see if it still maintains its perfection. It does. The Hob totally rocks
There are more – I know there must be, I’ve been reading for a long time –but those are the few off the top of my head. I wanted to share. Do you have favorite reads? Books you’d count as perfect, for whatever reason? Books that surprised you (The Scar surprised me in how quickly I came to love it and count it among the best)? What books are your Perfect Books?