Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Best Book Ever!

Best Book Ever!

by Rich Horton

In my convention report on Boskone a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I regretted losing the notes I had prepared for a panel called "Best Book Ever!", in which the panelists were supposed to discuss books they particularly loved, or that were particularly important to them at some point, or that changed their approach to reading -- or perhaps even to life!

Well, guess what -- I found my notes! So I figure I'd post them. This is just a list of books. I'll try to give it some limited organization, but that's all kind of ad hoc. And the list itself was produced rapidly, and it might be rather different if I put it together any other time. But still -- should be fun!

So here goes:

What I loved as a kid:
Michael Strogoff, by Jules Verne
The Black Arrow, by Robert Louis Stevenson
At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald
The Dr. Dolittle books, by Hugh Lofting
The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander

SF Novels from my Locus Poll list of a few years back:
The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
Nova, by Samuel R. Delany
The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin (and her non-SF novel, Malafrena, that I loved at age 17 and am afraid to reread)
A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge
Engine Summer, by John Crowley
Sarah Canary, by Karen Joy Fowler
Rogue Moon, by Algis Budrys
Use of Weapons, by Iain M. Banks
Pavane, by Keith Roberts

Fantasy Novels from the same poll:
The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon
The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

SF/Fantasy novels I just love:
Ares Express, by Ian McDonald
Bridge of Birds, by Barry Hughart
The Door Into Summer, by Robert A. Heinlein
Crown Duel/Court Duel, by Sherwood Smith
Emphyrio, by Jack Vance

"Mainstream" writers of particular importance to me:
Anthony Powell (A Dance to the Music of Time)
Giuseppe de Lampedusa (The Leopard)
Penelope Fitzgerald (The Blue Flower, Offshore, At Freddie's)
Kingsley Amis (Lucky Jim, The Alteration, The Old Devils)
Robertson Davies (Fifth Business, What's Bred in the Bone)
Vladimir Nabokov (Pale Fire, Pnin)
Henry Green (Party Going, Loving)
Edith Wharton (The House of Mirth)
James Salter (A Sport and a Pastime)
Nicholson Baker (The Mezzanine)
David Mitchell (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Cloud Atlas)
W. M. Spackman (An Armful of Warm Girl)
A. S. Byatt (Possession, the short story "Sugar")

Wallace Stevens

Writers I love from other genres:
Georgette Heyer (Frederica, Sylvester, These Old Shades)
Patrick O'Brian (the Aubrey/Maturin books)
Tom Holt (Goat Song/The Walled Orchard)

SF novellas and novelettes:
"Story of Your Life", by Ted Chiang
"Great Work of Time", by John Crowley
"Green Mars", by Kim Stanley Robinson
"The Star Pit", by Samuel R. Delany
"The Blabber", by Vernor Vinge
"Seven American Nights", by Gene Wolfe
"Wang's Carpets", by Greg Egan
"Fondly Fahrenheit" and "5,271,009", by Alfred Bester
"The Second Inquisition", by Joanna Russ
"The Sources of the Nile", by Avram Davidson
"The Stars Below", by Ursula K. Le Guin"
"A Rose for Ecclesiastes", by Roger Zelazny
"An Infinite Summer", by Christopher Priest

Writers who matter most for short stories:
Rudyard Kipling
Jorge Luis Borges


  1. I was looking again at the van der Meers' BIG BOOK OF SF the other day, and it occurred to me that I wouldn't choose several of the stories from the writers they did, but I could see why they did, and generally would choose different stories from the same writers where we differed. I could say something similar here, though I'd add and subtract a few writers. I wouldn't do without the poetry of William Stafford, for example.

    1. I read and enjoyed William Stafford in college, but somehow haven't stuck with him. Should try again. Mark Strand is another favorite. Stevens is the top for me, though, and I should have also mentioned Philip Larkin.

    2. Larkin would be another for me, as well, but he fucks you up. Speaking of which, it would help if I remembered how to spell VanderMeer...

  2. I have read all of your mainstream choices and loved every one of them. And three of the fantasy choices which I also loved. So that would lead me to think I should follow your lead with the sf.

  3. This was off the cuff, and so I forgot some really important people -- like Jane Austen! (On the other hand, she's kind of obvious.)

  4. Updated again to add a terrible omission -- Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books. (My favorite was TARAN WANDERER.)

  5. Cool list. Thanks for posting, Rich. Somewhere, I have notes for various such lists, mostly from the rasfw days. But I can offer, for now,
    -- which you can sort however catches your fancy. I do like Goodreads

  6. And Rich, assuming you are something of an aircraft buff:
    If you've somehow missed Bill Yenne's Area 51 - Black Jets, well: