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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Who Am I?

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Hello! My name is Jeff, and I’m a writer.

Well, hold on.

I should probably lay one secret to rest before we embark on this journey together. My name isn’t really Jeff. It’s James. Jeff Coleman is a pen name that I dreamed up a few months ago, based on the initials of my first and last name. When I first decided to share my stories with the world, I was shy and unsure. I believed that a pseudonym could provide me with comfort and security, and that, to a certain extent, it could protect me from failure. But as time wore on, I began to realize that in order to forge genuine lasting relationships built on friendship and trust, I would ultimately have to put my true self out there, including my real name. I realized that failure is a part of life, and that I could grow closer to my friends and readers by being honest and open about my mistakes from the start. Though I’ve grown attached to the name Jeff and plan to continue using it, I’d like my readers to know who Jeff really is. So, let me extend to you a warm virtual hand in greeting. “Hi, my name is James, and it’s very nice to meet you!”

Now, with that out of the way…

Who am I? That’s not an easy question to answer. It’s not that I don’t know who I am (although I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always know the answer as well as I’d like.) I just find it difficult to figure out what to say or how to say it. Don’t worry, the irony of being a writer and having trouble describing myself is not lost on me…

Let’s start with the reason for this blog in the first place.

I love to tell stories. I’ve been writing since third grade — in fact, if you’re really lucky, I’ll post the story that started it all, a tale about a leprechaun who loves green food, in a future blog 😉 I’ve always had my “head in the clouds,” as the old cliché goes. There was a very brief period in my life between seventh and eighth grade when I believed I was too old to play and use my imagination and that it was time to start thinking and acting like an “adult.” Thank God I grew out of that!

As a kid, I was obsessed with fantasy. I loved to dream of worlds that were different from our own, and could spend hours exploring the vast and limitless vistas of the imagination. I was picked on a lot growing up, so while the other kids were out socializing or playing sports, I was indoors by myself reading books. It wasn’t great from a developmental point of view, but it did give me a unique perspective, as well as plenty of time to think and imagine.

I also came to love and appreciate the beauty of reality through the lens of science. I was fortunate enough to have a dad who could answer many of the vexing questions that kids will inevitably ask, and his ability to explain things to me in a way that I could understand sparked a fire in my heart that would only grow with time. When I wasn’t dreaming about witches and wizards or knights and dragons, I was thinking about atoms and molecules or electricity and magnetism.

As an adult, my passions began to coalesce into two branches: art and science. In college, I attended a ton of classes in English and Fine Art Photography before finally deciding to transfer into Computer Science, and along the way I had a very intense and passionate love affair with Math and Physics. It’s with both perspectives, art and science, that I’ve attempted to make sense of this strange thing we call the universe.

Interestingly enough, my upbringing was as much religious as it was scientific, and for this reason, I’ve always had a deeply spiritual outlook on life. I’m Catholic by creed, and take my faith seriously, though for many years now I’ve been deeply confused about the things I believe, and have had to ask myself a lot of very tough questions. I’ve had all of my core assumptions repeatedly called into question and have, for years, felt adrift in a sea of uncertainty and anxiety. Yet, for all the discomfort, it’s that very same doubt which has seeded my heart with a profound love of philosophy and a hunger to know and understand exactly what the world is and why it’s here.

When I was younger, I used to worry about doing everything right. I was afraid that minor mistakes could have catastrophic consequences. But now, as I look back on my life, I see just how perfectly everything fits together. I’ve come to view my life as a mosaic built from the smallest of moments which, in and of themselves, seem random and insignificant, yet when brought together form a beautifully choreographed whole. There is no doubt in my mind that we exist in this world for a reason.

And that’s where we come full circle.

I believe that my purpose is to tell stories.

I’m not delusional or arrogant enough to think that my stories are God’s gift to the world, or that without them the world would be a cold and dreary void. Writing is simply a part of who I am. I want to tell stories, and I want to share those stories with others.

What have I been working on?

I published my first short story, The Sign, a few months ago. I’ve also completed the first draft of a middle grade children’s fantasy about a boy who, with a magic wand, accidentally makes his sister disappear. Finally, I’m working on two novels for adults.

Do I have any favorite books?

I’m glad you asked 😉 There are a few books and authors which hold a special place in my heart. They are, in no particular order: “The Dark Tower” and “The Shining,” by Stephen King; “Neverwhere,” “American Gods” and “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman; “Harry Potter,” by J.K. Rowling; and “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus.

Honorable mention also goes to “Charlotte’s Web,” by E.B. White; “The Night Circus,” by Erin Morgenstern; “Ender’s Game,” by Orson Scott Card; and “The Name of the Wind,” by Patrick Rothfuss.

Anything else?

Not really. I just wanted to give you some idea of who I am. A very special bond exists between Writer and Reader, and I believe that this bond is more easily formed when the two know each other first.

And who are you? I’d love for you to introduce yourself in the comments below.

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