Monday, October 29, 2012

The 1,000th…

Book

This is my 1,000th post on Civilian Reader. Which is pretty cool. I’d never expected to keep the blog going this long – nor did I ever expect it to become even remotely as popular as the stats suggest. I started it as a way to write about the books I was reading, more in order to keep my hand in at writing during long, empty stretches of my PhD (months of reading, followed by couple-of-week-blitzes was my normal approach to each chapter).

I’m not sure what I actually intended to do with this post. Perhaps ramble on at length about Lessons Learned, Milestones, and other self-indulgent topics. But the more I thought about it, the less interesting I thought that post would be.

Instead, I thought I’d offer just a quick few thoughts on some books that marked important milestones in my reading history before I started the blog, and have therefore not featured (or at least, not since people actually, you know, started reading it…). They are not always the best examples of any given genre that I’m fond of (a couple of them certainly aren’t), but they each hold a very special place on my shelves, and always will.

Clavell-TaiPanFirst up is James Clavell’s Tai-Pan, which marked the turning point in my reading habits, when I really started to love books and “graduated” from reading Whatever Was Around to actively seeking out new novels to read. It’s an amazing historical novel, one that is filled with action, politics, intrigue, epic romances, family dynasties, brilliant writing and a great, gripping plot. Naturally, I’ve never gone back to read it, lest my initial thoughts on it be dashed… One day, I’ll go back to it, and read the follow-up, Noble House.

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Next up is Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, three of the earlier Star Wars novels – made up of Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command. My sister owned these, actually, and one day in a school holiday lost to memory (sort-of, I was either 15 or 16), I nabbed the first book from her shelf and proceeded to read every Star Wars novel published to that point – this was before the pre-New Hope novels started coming out, and around the start of the New Jedi Order series which went on far too long (18-book series-within-a-series! Insanity!). I followed these three novels with Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy TrilogyJedi Search, Dark Apprentice and Champions of the Force – which only helped cement my fondness for Star Wars fiction. I am, however, still not overly fond of any fiction set in the time of Episodes I-III…

SW-ThrawnTrilogy(Zahn)

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Around the same time as I was spiraling into Star Wars Nerdvana, I was also discovering Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, a series I have gone back to many times. I remember finding Interview with the Vampire a strange book to read (it’s all speech, for one, but also I was so familiar with the Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt movie adaptation, that I had difficulty separating the two at the time – I’ve since got over that). The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned, however, I consider one of my favourite books (they go together, and I can never read them separately). The rest of the series has many high points, but they started to get a little strange and weaker as time went by. For example, while re-reading Blood & Gold a couple of years back, I remember muttering on a number of occasions “If she writes the word ‘love’ one more time, I’m going to fucking scream!” I intend (as I have intended for oh-so-long) to re-read Tale of the Body Thief and Memnoch the Devil again very soon. Like many teenagers who discover these books at that particular age, they sparked what has been a very long, continuing love of dark and gothic stuff (followed years later by love of goth metal, a taste I maintain today). But no, I never dressed like a vampire or believed I was one. Except on Hallowe’en…

Rice-VC-1to5

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Two books that deserve mentioning, both by China MiĆ©ville, had very different impacts on me. My first year college roommate leant me Perdido Street Station after the summer exams, and I really didn’t care for it. When I finally finished, while I recognised MiĆ©ville’s gift for world-building and wordsmithery, I just didn’t really love it. Or much like it. So it was a huge surprise when I picked up The Scar not long afterwards and devoured it with enthusiasm. It is one of the books I’ve revisited the most. One of these days, I’ll finally get around to reading Iron Council, the third book in Mieville’s New Crobuzon series…

Mieville-Perdido&Scar

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Bernard Cornwell’s Archer and Sharpe Series deserve a mention, as I devoured them in quick succession and even ordered a handful of the latter to be delivered to me in Japan during my second year of university (it was a compulsory year abroad). I loved his characters and the stories he wrote, and Sharpe remains the only non-tie-in epic series I’ve read most of. As a life-long history enthusiast, these novels really brought the times alive for me, while also keeping a strong focus on the stories themselves (and I even read and enjoy the historical notes, too).

Cornwell-FirstReads

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James Patterson’s Violets Are Blue bears the responsibility for turning me into a thriller fanatic. This novel was one of the last early few that could be considered great, before he started churning out a bajillion books every year co-written by everyone and their dog. Patterson-VioletsAreBlueHe’s getting better again (the Alex Cross series, anyway), so I’m quite happy about that. But, nothing he’s written recently has come close to matching the early Cross novels. Roses Are Red still has one of the most surprising and well-handled bad guy reveals. After Violets Are Blue, I proceeded to devour the whole Cross series, then moved on to John Sandford, Kyle Mills, Vince Flynn, David Baldacci (I count these last four among my top 10 authors), and Tom Clancy, and many more besides.

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Actually, while I remember, Kyle Mills deserves a little extra mention – his Mark Beamon series (Rising Phoenix, Storming Heaven, Free Fall, Sphere of Influence and Darkness Falls) is easily one of my favourite thriller series, mixing FBI investigation with plenty of Washington and political intrigue. He doesn’t write as prolifically as many other thriller authors (and I really need to get caught up with his latest, a techno-thriller, The Immortals), but he writes great plots, characters and dialogue. And Rising Phoenix has one of the coldest “solutions” to the drug war I’ve ever come across, and executed in a near-perfect thriller novel.

Mills-MB-Best

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My obsession with fantasy, beyond Warhammer and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, truly began when Emma urged me to read Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora. I loved it. I bought and devoured Red Seas Under Red Skies soon afterwards, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting Republic Of Thieves like a good, rare patient little fanboy that I am. Strangely, though not unlike Tai-Pan, I’ve never come close to re-reading it. I’m too worried it won’t live up to my first impressions. I’ll give both of the novels a read before book three is released, and maybe post a Second Look review or something. We’ll see. It’s brilliant, and I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve bought it for as a perfect gateway drug into fantasy. The Lies of Locke Lamora did everything I’d always wanted fantasy to do.

Lynch-GentlemanBastards1&2

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Taking a slightly different direction with this last one, Christopher Hitchens’s biography of Thomas Jefferson (the only one of his that I’ve read) started my obsession with the US Presidency. I’d always been interested in American politics, sure, but this short book made me particularly fascinated with the men who have been president. It’s not the best of the 100+ books and biographies I’ve now read and collected, but it was the first. Followed very quickly by Robert Draper’s Dead Certain, which was the first book review I posted on CR (before I moved it over to Politics Reader).

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You may have noticed that there has been only passing mention of Terry Pratchett’s superior Discworld series. This is not because it doesn’t deserve mention – it does – but it is in a league wholly of its own, and I feel it would be almost redundant to write that it’s awesome and one of my continuing favourite series. So, yeah. Go read it. Start with the City Watch series (Guards, Guards, specifically) and enjoy! Pratchett is also, partly, why Neil Gaiman’s American Gods hasn’t got a mention – put simply, without Pratchett, I never would have tried anything by Gaiman (because of Discworld, I tried Good Omens, which led me to American Gods).

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So. That’s my rather self-indulgent 1,000th post. Stay tuned this week for a giveaway that may or may not be happening. It really all depends on whether or not I feel like it.

14 comments:

  1. Whoo! Happy 1,000th! You've got a very eclectic reading taste too, it's awesome. I should really start reading a little wider than I am right now.

    Jamie

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    1. I find an eclectic and wide reading taste essential - I seem to have a Three Book limit on any one genre before I feel smothered/overdosed.

      Same goes for series - if I find a new one that I'd like to catch up on, I need to stop at three, read something else and then come back to it. The times when I haven't, you can see how I liked each fourth book less than the previous three. :)

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  2. Congratulations! :) (Thought I'd commented before but I must have hit the wrong button!)

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  3. Wow. That's a lot of posts! Congratulations sir. Keep up the good work!

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    1. I fully intend to. :)
      Any requests of type of content you (or anyone else) would like to see?

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  4. Really love this post and the question! I think the first few books to get me started were The Hobbit and Alice in Wonderland / Through the Looking Glass. Those sort of started me along the way.

    I think I turned a corner with "Eyes of the Dragon" by Stephen King - I am not one to appreciate being scared much, but I appreciate thrills. I was able to delve into King's writing through that one book. His characters and accessibility brought me back, once I got over how popular he was. ;) It also opened my mind for other cross-genre reading that I wouldn't have otherwise done.

    Another corner was "Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess. Kubrick is nice, but Burgess is better. That book was phenomenal to read, especially in light of the linguistic play with the anglicized Russian words. I'd read a few dystopias before that, but never with such relish. I had to go find all sorts of cold war and post WWII books thanks to this one novel.

    Patricia Briggs' "Moon Called" was another brief corner - hadn't read any Urban fantasy or paranormal romance before that, and now that's most of my To Be Read shelf.

    Most recently, I'm going to have to say Gaiman's Sandman series is drawing me in. It's a new medium for me - both as a writer and a reader. I've been soaking in comics and graphic novels at a record pace.

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    1. The Sandman remains one of the glaring gaps in my reading history. That and Watchmen, which I have on my shelf already, at least.

      I've never read a whole Stephen King novel - got a few chapters into Dreamcatcher and had to stop. Just too fucked up for my mood at the time, never got back around to it.

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  5. Happy 1,000th! And excellent Thrawning. Man, I loved that series... I remember when Lucas said he was making 3 more Star Wars films, and thinking, "YES! THE THRAWN STUFF!". Those were more innocent days...

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    1. Yeah, I admit I hoped for that, too. How we were most disappointed...

      Speaking of Thrawn, I also liked Zahn's later Hand Of Thrawn duology ("Spectre of the Past" and "Vision of the Future"). Damn, I think I'm going to have to re-read some of these, now... Go on another Star Wars reading bender... :)

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  6. Happy 1,000th Stefan! Yours was one of the first sites I came across when investigating bloggery and is still one I visit on a daily basis. Thanks for always providing compelling reading.

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    1. Thank you so much. :)
      I shall endeavour to keep the content interesting and of (at least) reasonable quality. ;)

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  7. Happy 1000th post!

    My biblio-milestones?

    - the Runestaff (Michael Moorcock), my first fantasy novel. And a recurrent author in my to-read list.
    - The Lord of the Rings (John Ronald Reuel Tolkien), made me eager to read novels more deep and complex.
    - with The Last Continent (Terry Pratchett), I found the author whose books I revere the most.
    - Cyteen (Caroline Janice Cherryh), at 18yo. I found the so-called "hardcore" fiction novels, those written by scientists, physicists, engineers... and that offered so many theories that nowadays are still being debated.
    - Gaunt's Ghosts (Dan Abnett). Warhammer make a good novel. And never soon enough. I'm still reading as many Black Library books as I can, and enjoying every minute.

    I hope we'll be able to keep reading your thoughts for at least 1000 more posts!

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    1. The Last Continent is a great one! I still think the City Watch and Death series are my favourite, but there are so many gems throughout the Discworld series.

      Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novels are also fantastic. I love that he keeps them interesting and fresh, even this late in the series.

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