What Are Your Favorite Books?

For my sixth blog, I thought I’d try something a little different. Since I love to read, and I’m assuming that you do too, I’d like to learn more about your favorite books.  What stories are you head-over-heels for and why? I’ll kick off the conversation by telling you about three of mine.

The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King

The Gunslinger Cover Art
Book #1 of The Dark Tower series

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

So starts King’s enigmatic work. This lengthy epic revolves around Roland of Gilead’s quest for the Dark Tower, the lynchpin not just of time and space, but of all realities. These are the books that tie together all of King’s other works, his own “literary Dark Tower.”

This series comprises what is, all at once, an epic fantasy and a classic western. Roland of Gilead is the last of the gunslingers, crack shot gun toting cowboys who also happen to be royalty, knights errant, the fabled peacekeepers of old. As a post apocalyptic wasteland where space and time are stretching and running down like a worn out clock, Roland’s world is at once familiar and strange. It feeds on our fear of destruction, not just of the world, but of all existence, for if the Dark Tower fails, all realities will fall into ruin with it.

The Dark Tower explores nothing less than the mysteries of creation and existence. What are space and time? Is there such a thing as fate (known to Roland as “Ka”)? The Dark Tower examines the dual natures of magic and science, and ponders how the two are related.

One thing that stands out is King’s remarkable ability to intertwine other works of literature (not just his own) into the story. In fact, the story itself is based on a Robert Browning poem called Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. The Dark Tower offers alternate accounts of their origins, origins which serve the Tower, blurring the distinction between reality and fantasy.

This epic tale was strongest in the first four books. I was utterly spellbound. Unfortunately, by the fifth installment, the series fell apart and the magic was broken. Too many last minute additions (things like vampires and the Low Men) as King struggled to find a place in The Dark Tower for all of his previous stories, as well as an anti-climactic and existentially unfulfilling conclusion, made the tail end of the series painful to read.

Why am I counting The Dark Tower among my favorites if the series ended so poorly? Because the first four books were four of the best books I’ve ever read. And to be fair, it must’ve been quite difficult for King to live up to not only the great cosmic questions posed by The Dark Tower in the beginning, but also twenty six years of anticipation and hype.

All things considered, The Dark Tower is a formidable work of literature and a worthwhile investment.

Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling

Sorcer's Stone Cover
Book #1 of the Harry Potter series

I know. Everyone loves Harry Potter. The thing is, there’s a reason these books are so popular.

In one aspect, Harry Potter is the consummate fairy tale, filled with magic, exposing the bizarre wonders which lie cloaked beneath the thin veneer of a supposedly ordinary world. What really makes this series shine and stand out from the typical fairy tale, however, is not the fantasy setting itself, but the characters.

From the smallest details — their mannerisms, physical descriptions and dialog — to more general themes — their emotions, desires and motivations — the characters in Harry Potter strongly reflect the complexities of real people. Like the world of magic, which lies just beneath the surface world of the muggles, a very deep and meaningful exploration of good versus evil takes place just beneath the fairy tale surface.

But Harry Potter is good versus evil with a twist.

The villains (all but a few, at least) are plainly bad, but  conflicted. Draco Malfoy, for example, does great evil, but his conscience is disturbed. By the end of the last book, he’s left standing on platform nine and three quarters, averting his gaze from Harry and his friends, shamed and embarrassed.

The “good guys” are not perfect but flawed, their deeds marred by less than noble acts. The students who ultimately save the day often do so by lying and breaking the rules. Professor Slughorn is not only a coward, but a man heavily motivated by self-interest and greed. We even discover that Professor Dumbledore himself, the man we all believed could do no wrong, wasn’t as innocent in his young adult years as we once believed. This discovery, which comes as a great shock to Harry and his friends via Rita Skeeter’s eposé of Dumbledore’s life post mortem, forces them to come to terms with the morally ambiguous nature of even the greatest heroes.

The humanity of Rowling’s work is undeniable and profound. For that reason, I hope these books will someday find their place among the classics.

The Stranger, by Albert Camus

The Stranger Cover Art
The Stranger, by Albert Camus

Depending on your translation, you may also know this book as The Outsider.

The story opens with the main character, Meursault, thinking about the recent death of his mother. From the very first paragraph, we realize that something is amiss. Meursault is bewilderingly detached. He doesn’t seem to care one way or the other about the passing of his mother, and when the funeral is over, he returns home, undisturbed, to continue living a dull disinterested life.

Through his interactions with others, even as he makes his eventual decent into darkness, we get the sense that Meursault just doesn’t care, that he’s decidedly indifferent about everything, including the evil acts of those he surrounds himself with. Only when the walls begin to close in around him and he realizes that the hollow shell which he calls life is seriously threatened does he begin to consider that he might not want to lose his life after all.

The Stranger is the bitterly ironic tale of a man who doesn’t appreciate his life until it’s in mortal peril, and is, among other things, a sobering reflection on the brevity of life. In pondering Meursault’s fate, we are reminded to always be grateful for what we have while we have it.

How About You?

What books are you obsessed with and why?

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33 thoughts on “What Are Your Favorite Books?”

  1. I haven’t read any of the books you talked about but now reading the synopsis you wrote i am interested in reading Stephen King’s books.
    Could you suggest something simple to start with?

    My favorite is the ‘Da Vince code’ by Dan Brown. I loved the way he put our grey cells to use with so many twists and turns.

    1. As a standalone book, “The Shining” was amazing. If you read it, be forwarned that there are at least a couple of times where King goes in depth into the thoughts and memories of Jack, the father. I liked it, but some people find it distracting. At any rate, it’s well written, the characters have depth and there’s plenty of action and suspense.

      I’m also currently reading the sequel, “Dr. Sleep.” It’s really its own story, but it’s a worthy successor to “The Shining.” If you end up liking it, you might want to give the sequel a try as well.

  2. Harry Potter and The Stranger are both amazing stories. I can’t get enough of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Mists of Avalon, as well as American Gods. I haven’t checked out that particular series by Stephen King but I have heard good things about it.

    1. I haven’t read “The Mists of Avalon,” though I think I’ve seen it on one or two bookstore shelves. It’s an epic fantasy, right? It’s been a while since I’ve done a lot of reading in that genre, but I still consider it one of my favorites and hope to return to it again when I have more time.

      I think you would enjoy “The Dark Tower.” It falls pretty flat at the end, but it was still a great ride.

      1. Yes, I would consider Mists an epic. With Mists being the first one written but was later expanded into a longer tale by back tracking through history. I feel it’s a fairly unique perspective of the Arthurian legend.
        I have also heard that about Dark Tower. It’s on my ever extending reading list.

  3. Love what you had to say about the Harry Potter series! agree completely. Those books are absolutely on my “favorites” list forevermore.

    I really need to read the Dark Tower books. I’ve honestly been meaning to forever. And The Stranger too for that matter. They’re on my list.

    My favorite book is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s modernist, magical realism at it’s finest.

    Recently I’ve become a bit obssessed with the works of Shirley Jackson. She writes horror unlike anyone I’ve read and sentence-crafting is just remarkably beautiful, sometimes I have to stop and stare at the words. 🙂

    I also really, really enjoy everything I have ever read by Neil Gaiman.

    1. I actually picked up the original spanish version of One Hundred Years of Solitude in high school (“Cien Años de Soledad,” en Español), back when I was taking Spanish and was really into it. I admit I didn’t get very far, though, mostly just because, linguistically speaking, I felt I’d bitten off more than I could chew.

      If you read the Dark Tower books, I hope you won’t be too disappointed in the ending. The series started off so well. I was sad to see it end the way it did. Some people like the ending, so hopefully you’ll be among them 🙂

      Shirley Jackson. I’ll look her up and maybe buy one of her books. I’m trying to branch out into authors I haven’t heard of before so I can have a more varied reading experience. I love horror, so I’ll probably give a book of hers a try. Do you have any recommendations for a first time reader?

      Neil Gaiman is amazing. I didn’t write about them here, but “Neverwhere,” “Coraline,” “American Gods,” and “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” are all fantastic books.

      1. I was only able to read One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish after having read it in English. I am mostly fluent in Spanish, because I grew up in a Cuban household but I was never properly taught to read and write in the language and so I struggle with it a lot. The writing is definitely a bit more lyrical in its original language, in part because Spanish is a much more fluid, romantic language in itself- but the Gregory Rabassa translation to English is absolutely fantastic. I was floored at how well it adhered to the original. 🙂

        As for Shirley Jackson – I first read the novella “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by her, and I loved it. It’s what got me started. I would recommend it or a collection of short stories, as her most iconic work is probably the short story “The Lottery”. Neither of these works are written in a traditional “horror” style – they are more eerie, creepy, and horrifying in their conclusions. I’ve heard it called a “terror rather than horror” approach – so good!

        1. Spanish is a beautiful language. I was obsessed with it for three or four years, before school and life ultimately took me in another direction. That was also my gateway into studying Latin (also beautiful, but a lot more complicated; I only took it in school for a year, and then I was done.)

          Ok, cool. I’ll start with a short story collection that has “The Lottery,” read that and report back!

        2. I read “The Lottery” today. I enjoyed it. I knew it was going to be a vote over who was going to die before I started reading, but that’s only because people nowadays have overused that kind of plot. I’m sure it was more shocking at the time it was written.

          It was haunting, and a good reminder that we should never do things just because they’ve always been done before.

          I’ve still got lots more of her short stories in the collection that I bought, so I look forward to reading more of her work.

  4. Since you mention Stephen King, Young Sir, I will follow suit and here state that, oddly, even to me, I thought his best writing “ever,” (at least to my mind) was in a book called “On Writing.” In it, Mr. King shows the ease with which he is able to write–in a way in which only a seasoned writer can, honed over many decades of relentless, obsessive writing, submission, rejection and reprise.

    This book shows an ease with the written word that is sometimes obscured by Mr. King’s habitual use of accent, colloquy and vernacular.

    1. “On Writing” is an amazing book. I read it when I was in high school, and it’s one of the many things that ultimately inspired me to do something with my own writing.

      I would argue that King’s use of the vernacular is one of his strong suits. He writes dialog in a way that captures the essence of the characters he writes about, and his masterful use of simple language allows him to bring out the extraordinary in the ordinary in a way that more formal writing simply wouldn’t allow. It’s an indispensible part of his style, and I don’t think I’d want to have it any other way 🙂

      1. Yes, I agree completely; neither would I have it any other way; I meant only to suggest that some readers have overlooked Mr. King’s masterful writing for this reason–because they have found it off-putting. I do not state this lightly. I have encountered many, many people that, upon reading reading his beautifully flowing narrative in “On Writing,” at my suggestion (many times have I encountered readers who so stated being overwhelmed by Mr. King’s style of dialogue) have since said something akin to “Wow! I had no idea!!” and subsequently devoured all his extant work with new enthusiasm.

        I recall that in his book, he explains his use of accents, &c. in a way that makes one take note and desire to have a second look at his work. And… when one realises that he has been selling work since he was self-publishing it in grade school, it makes one realise what a dedicated–even obsessive–writer he is.

        1. Ah, I misunderstood. I remember reading an article online, written by an English teacher who ripped Stephen King to shreds over his style, then proceeded to tell us about how literature like his is bad for the world. It makes me sad.

          I know that some people just get lost in the vernacular and have trouble seeing past it when they criticize his work, and that these people would appreciate his work if they understood it better. But sometimes, I also wonder if there’s an element of jealousy and resentment involved, at least in the case of the English teacher. I think some literary purists automatically write off books because they were written by popular authors. On the one hand, I get the feeling that they think nothing well written could be popular. On the other, I think that maybe they’re jealous, because their writing doesn’t sell, but Stephen King’s does. I don’t know. Maybe that’s just me being too judgemental.

          1. Not at all! You raise some very valid points. There is a whole “can of proverbial worms” here that in truth I am hesitant to open, knowing, as I do at present, so little about you. Suffice it to say that this, was the main thrust of the sonnet and the entire sequence upon which you first commented. I shall, for the time being, allow those words to speak for me.

          2. A young friend has just read this chain of comments and has described my sequence as “a can of whoop-ass for that can of worms.” I’m not sure why I am sharing this, but… well… I thought it was funny. Reason enough.

  5. Yay for Harry Potter!

    The Stranger was definitely a different but honest perspective that I feel could apply to many individuals. Another one of my favourites is The Timekeeper by Mitch Albom.

      1. Unfortunately, I feel we all have that desensitized and potentially inhumane aspect embedded within us. This becomes a concern when people begin to act based on this detached sensation.

        The Time Keeper is a novel about the inventor of the world’s original clock. He is punished for attempting to measure time and is forced to live in a cave where he hears the pleas of humans asking for more time or begging for time to slow down. Basically, he’s given a chance to redeem himself by teaching two starkly different people the meaning of time. It’s a very short book but definitely has some lessons that one could take away.

  6. I completely agree with you on the Dark Tower. It was so good, oh so good then the last few books happened and while I think it ended well and by that I mean the final part when Roland gets to the Tower and gets to the top and is doomed to repeat himself. It was and is a lovely metaphor for life but I could have done without all the other things he brought in. I mean I didn’t mind Father Callahan and even the vampires, the vampires fit in a way, it was just too rushed. If he had taken his time it could have been amazing. What really disappointed me was that there was never a show down between Roland and Walter for gods sake. I mean I waited years and years for that and meh nothing. Mordred eats him. I would have to say Wizard and Glass was my favorite followed by the Drawing of the Three.

    I enjoyed Harry Potter as well.

    I’m also obsessed with Tolkien, and not the films. The films pale in comparison the books. The books are slow and tend to drag because they are written in the old style of history. They opened rich worlds inside my head. The films have dumbed them down, they’ve added characters to pander to certain demographics. Dwarf tossing? Really Peter Jackson?

    Another most excellent series is the Sandman by Neil Gaiman, it’s quite like Dark Tower in that the lead character realizes you must change and change is akin to death but if you don’t change you die as well.

    Argh! I love books. 🙂

    1. Ugh, I know! I was so mad when I finally learned about how Walter met his end. That was not satisfying at all. I honestly got the feeling that Stephen King gave up and wanted it to just end. When he started talking using Deus Ex Machinas inserted by “The Writer”, or “the Wordslinger,” I knew all hope was lost.

      I was angered by the LOTR movies when I discovered the books as well. Peter Jackson is an abomination. I have to say though, I’ve had a lot of trouble getting through the books, precisely because of the slow pace and dry language. I want so badly to be able to see past that, because I love the story (among other things, I’m also a big fan of epic fantasies, and LOTR is the king of them all.) But it’s just so difficult.

      I’ve had a few people recommend Sandman to me. Have you read any other Neil Gaiman books? He’s one of my other favorite authors. I loved Neverwhere and Coraline. American Gods was good, too.

      1. Oh yes, American Gods is one of my favorites. I love Neil. He takes the old fables and makes them new. Sandman is epic and awesome. So good. Have you read Preacher by Garth Ennis? I recommend that as well. Just excellent storywise. I have heard talk of a film version of American Gods and this just makes me well nauseous. Hollywood will ruin it as it ruins everything, unless Neil himself (haha that’s his twitter name) is in charge.

        As far as Tolkien, his own children have nothing to do with the film travesties. I can understand your plight in getting through the books, they are written in the style of oral history. So good though. I loathe the Hobbit films. What really bothers me is the fact that they feel they “have” to add female characters. I don’t need pandered too thank you, sadly there are women in our society that do need pandered too and are offended by this. Ugh they are probably the sort who do not read very much.

        Have you read Wheel of Time? I am rereading that series along with the Game of Thrones series. Oddly the television series has followed the books fairly well. I am impressed but we will see what I think about the books once I am done with the series.

        Ah Stephen King, I think he rushed the ending because he felt he may die. Honestly, i really think that is why it was so well hastily patched together and not thought out very well. I did like that he lambasts himself in it, but he could have done that somewhere else. I really did not care for the Deus ex Machina twist either, it was lazy and he could have done something epic. He could still be writing stories for the series. Oh well, perhaps he will edit them at some point. One can only hope. I didn’t mind the ending so much as it was fitting that Roland was doomed to repeat himself much like we doom ourselves to repeating things in life until we realize we are our own jailors and set ourselves free. I do think his stories are getting better again. Duma Key was great and his latest collection of short stories were epic. I did enjoy his addition to the Dark Tower stories “Wind Through the Keyhole” and hope he adds more. I also thought the whole showdown with the Crimson King was well lame. It could have been epic and it sort of reminds me of the ring and Sauron but meh…I could go on and on about it ad nauseum.

        Are you a fan of Chuck Palahniuk? I think he is one of the best horror novelists around. He makes my skin crawl.

        1. I haven’t read “Preacher.” What’s it about? I heard that American Gods was going to be an HBO series. I wouldn’t mind that, actually. From what I’ve heard, they do a decent job with things like that. Hollywood ruins everything. I sincerely hope it isn’t made into a 2 hour film.

          I have read the Wheel of Time. It was ok. I first picked it up in 2006. I was very relieved when the series finally came to an end, although I was sad that RJ couldn’t finish it himself. I read the first 80 pages of Game of Thrones, but never got further. It was good. It just got buried under a lot of other books and I haven’t found the time to pick it up again.

          That’s a good point about King. In fact, I remember reading in one of the intros that he was concerned that his epic would go unfinished if anything happened to him. I was just so let down. I felt kind of betrayed, because of how deep and mysterious the other books were. And then (I know it was probably tongue and cheek, but still) he tried to make me feel guilty by telling me about how awful I was for wanting to know what happened to Roland, when instead I should just “care about the journey.” I did care about the journey. I also just happened to want to know what happened to Roland, seeing as how I was invested in his character for a couple of years (and some people a lot longer than that.) And, oh boy, the Crimson King. At the risk of sounding very cliche, the only words I have to describe that are “epic fail.”

          I have a copy of Duma Key but haven’t read it. I have his latest collection too. “Full Dark, No Stars,” right? I’m about half way through the story about the farmer who killed his wife.

          I have no idea who Chuck Palahniuk is, but I’ll look him up 🙂 I LOVE good horror!

          1. Ah Preacher is quite the philosophical work. It’s twisted and sick and I ABSOLUTELY love it.

            Chuck Palahniuk wrote “Fight Club”. He’s not classic style horror but horror none the less. He writes about the horror of life and quite vividly. He specializes in the darkness in all of our souls. I absolutely love his style. He’s also pretty twisted.

            “Full Dark No Stars” is pretty good. I enjoyed the story about the husband and son colluding to murder their wife/mother. King’s just a genius at pulling you in and taking you along for the ride. I truly loved “Duma Key” because you can feel the rawness of the character. When King is on he is on. I’m glad to see he is back with a vengeance and we are not having to settle for things like “From a Buick 8” or the mish mash of the last 3 Dark Tower novels.

            I agree on your critique of Dark Tower. I want to know more of what made Roland tick, why was he so obsessed with the Tower? What happened between he and his original friends, etc. Hoping that King will return to this subject matter. I am going to purchase “Doctor Sleep” next as I would like to see what happens to Danny from “The Shining”. I also wanted to know more about Walter and the Crimson King. What made them tick? Epic Fail is a good term for it. 🙂

          2. That was the other thing that ticked me off about the end. In the beginning, Walter and his boss were made out to be these huge cosmological villains, and yet by the last book, they were just ordinary people. I wanted deep mystical and philosophical satisfaction, damnit!

            I actually loved From a Buick 8 😉

          3. Oh, and Dr. Sleep is wonderful (about half way through it, so far.) I’m planning on reviewing it in a future blog. I’ll say that (at least so far) it’s a worthy successor to The Shining. A totally different story, but it connects well.

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