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My top ten books - almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea
if I had to explain, you wouldn't understand
My top ten books

Inspired by World Book Day, I thought I'd pull together a list of my top ten favourite books[1]

So, in no particular order, I recommend:

1. Only Forward ~ Michael Marshall Smith

This was Mike's debut novel, billed as a cross between Blade Runner and The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's neither, but an entirely original blend of smart-talking protagonist, weird & wonderful situations and locations, holding together a dark, funny, unforgettable story. This is the book I'm most likely to recommend to you on any given day.

2. The Stainless Steel Rat ~ Harry Harrison

My dad had a copy of this on his bookshelf at work, and I was drawn to it by the fabulous spaceship on the front. It's a corking read which zips along without pausing for breath. The thing I love about old sci-fi books is that they're short, skinny little paperbacks that you can get through in a couple of hours, but packed with excitement, adventure and really wild stuff. This is the story of Slippery Jim DiGriz, ace con-man, and titular Stainless Steel Rat, and his recruitment into the Special Corps, run by criminals to catch criminals. Who better to catch a thief than another thief? Brilliant. I'm not ashamed to say that Monty owes a lot of his heritage to the Rat.

3. Dune ~ Frank Herbert

Yes, it's long, and yes the later books in the series do go on a bit, then turn utterly bonkers. But Dune is wonderful, deep and complex, laden with atmosphere.

4. The Kinky Friedman Crime Club ~ Kinky Friedman

A friend gave me a copy of this many years ago, and I was instantly hooked by the tales of Kinky Friedman, loft-dwelling, cigar-smoking, espresso-guzzling private dick for hire in NYC, with a great line in one-liners

5. Pashazade ~ Jon Courtenay Grimwood

The first of his 'Arabesk' trilogy, it's a book I've read many times. Jon has a knack for finding a sentence or turn of phrase which is just *so* delicious and perfect that I find myself reading and re-reading sections, just to work out how the hell he did it. Masterful.

6. The Eyre Affair ~ Jasper Fforde

Ah, no list would be complete without Jasper. The adventures of Thursday Next, Jurisfiction Agent. The first book is literally stuffed to the gills with ideas which make your head spin. Superb.

7. Against a Dark Background ~ Iain M. Banks

A lot to choose from for Mr Banks, but this is my favourite. Dark, oh so dark, but a cracking good read. The Lazy Guns alone are worth the price of admission.

8. Pyramids: A Discworld Novel ~ Terry Pratchett

Again, lots to choose from. Pyramids is my favourite and most-read of my Pratchett collection. The opening scenes where young Pteppic joins the Assassin's Guild are a joy to behold, and Arthur's line

'This is a No.2 throwing knife. I got ninety-six percent for throwing knives. Which eyeball don't you need?'

cracks me up every time I read it. I went to get my copy of the book to check I'd quoted it correctly, and giggled when I read it.

9. Neverwhere ~ Neil Gaiman

I first read Neil's 'American Gods', quite enjoyed it, but couldn't quite see what all the fuss was about. Gaiman fans seemed to be *everywhere*, but on the basis of AG, I wasn't entirely sure why. Then I read Neverwhere, and never looked back. Genius.

10. Un Lun Dun ~ China Miéville

...And if you're having Neverwhere, you've got to have Un Lun Dun. Seriously, just go and buy it. It's entirely different from China's other stuff, but weird and wonderful and odd and inventive and just plain bloody marvellous. You can thank me later.


There are, naturally, some notable exceptions on there - The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, for one. But then I'd assume that if you were likely to read it, you'd have done so already.

Also there are other books by most of those authors which I'd also highly recommend. Jasper's second book, Lost in a Good Book, is arguably better than the first, but I think you're better off starting with The Eyre Affair. In LiaGB he realises that he's got a readership who will quite happily trot after him down whatever crazy labyrinth of ideas he comes up with, and the story works a little better.

Iain M. Banks (and his alter-ego, Iain Banks) has his Culture Books, The Player of Games or Use of Weapons, and for his 'mainstream' books, The Crow Road is brilliant. The Crow Road starts with the line

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

Seriously, how can you not want to read on?

Michael Marshall Smith's other books are great too - Spares is a very close second behind Only Forward in my book, and some of his short stories are utterly superb, very dark, scary, thought-provoking and funny. If you happen to come across a copy of his collected short stories, More Tomorrow & Other Stories, snap it up. It was only a short print run, but is a great collection. Failing that, go for What You Make It: Selected Short Stories, a shorter collection in paperback.

I could go on, but I think that's quite enough for now.


So, dear reader. What are *your* favourite books? And what did happen to my copy of American Gods?


[1]This list is subject to change depending on various factors, including my current mood, what I've just read, how much coffee I've had and the phase of the moon.

Posted via email from dakegra.net

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(Deleted comment)
dakegra From: dakegra Date: March 4th, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC) (linky)
have you read Un Lun Dun? If you like Neverwhere, you'll love it.

Guaranteed. I will personally refund you the price of the book if you don't.
(Deleted comment)
dakegra From: dakegra Date: March 4th, 2011 11:46 pm (UTC) (linky)
it's aimed (in theory) at the YA audience, but I absolutely loved it. It has extreme librarians in it!
alibee From: alibee Date: March 4th, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC) (linky)
Imajica by Clive Barker is one of my most favorite books ever. I don't love a lot of other Barker stuff because it's too dark/horror for me, but Imajica is magic and I adore it beyond all belief.

I also love Kurt Vonnegut something fierce, and "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" makes me happy (unlike so many of his books, that depress me).

Books that have also stayed with me: "By The River Piedra I Sat Down And Wept" by Paulo Cohelo, "Still Life With Woodpecker" by Tom Robbins, "A Prayer For Owen Meany" by John Irving.
dakegra From: dakegra Date: March 4th, 2011 10:51 pm (UTC) (linky)
I've not read any Barker or Vonnegut. I enjoyed Paulo Coelho's The Devil and Miss Prym, and John Irving's The World According to Garp though.
squirrelette From: squirrelette Date: March 4th, 2011 11:19 pm (UTC) (linky)
I am right with you on your choices of MMS and Iain Banks. Well almost, my first choice would be, sorry is, Spares but I do love Spangle the cat in Only Forward. :)

Okay, so with little prep and just spinning around to view my bookshelves a top ten:

1. Spares - Michael Marshall Smith. It's noir like Chandler, but with a Deckerd attitude not Marlow. I love it to bits.

2. The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith. An unashamed fan of this series but the first book really does draw you into a feel of Africa and the people.

3. Against a Dark Background - I'm sorry for the replication but it is *just that good*. One of the best of any of Mr. Banks' novels.

4. Always Coming Home - Ursula Le Guin. Consistently brilliant world building and characters that really live and feel true, as though you could step around the corner and be there.

5. Rebecca's World - Terry Nation. Okay, it's a kid's book but it is tremendous fun to read.

6. Mort - Terry Pratchett. Abiding favourite of all the Discworld novels.

7. I, Claudius - Robert Graves. The standard that I hold all historical novels to.

8. Masquerade - Kit Williams. It's not really a novel, as I'm sure anyone who remembers the hoohah when it was published, but it is still something I like to read and I never have worked that damn puzzle out for myself (in a retro-way, obviously the location is easy to look up).

9. Tigana - Guy Kay Gavriel - Because it's fun and I've read it dozens of times.

10. The Wind Up Bird Chronicles - Haruki Murakami. It's mental, I have no idea what is happening 50% of the time but I still keep reading it.
dakegra From: dakegra Date: March 4th, 2011 11:40 pm (UTC) (linky)
Spares is just all kinds of awesome, and I own at least three copies (at last count) in various flavours and sizes, but Only Forward was my introduction to MMS. The whole going into a dream thing is quite Inception-y, now I come to think of it.

AADB is brilliant. Lazy Guns, the Huhsz, the train bit, everything. Love it.

not read any of the rest - I'll add them to my list, thanks!
san_valentine From: san_valentine Date: March 5th, 2011 03:03 am (UTC) (linky)
I'll add to the recommendation for Rebecca's World, if you can find a copy. Charming and slightly bonkers and delightful.
squirrelette From: squirrelette Date: March 5th, 2011 07:55 am (UTC) (linky)
I hope you'll like them. Lesson here though is not to list things when tired - I got Guy Gavriel Kay's name transposed. :P

Some things I forgot. san_valentine is absolutely right; Rebecca's World has been out of print for ages and mint paperbacks can go for £££s. It's worth trying to find for the illustrations in the book but you can get it on CD, read by Paul Darrow. Amazon linky http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rebeccas-World-Terry-Nation/dp/1844353869/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1299311388&sr=8-2

Masquerade by Kit Williams is another collectors' item, but you can find the American edition through Amazon resellers. Tends to be cheaper and easier to get hold of than an U.K first edition.
bloodlossgirl From: bloodlossgirl Date: March 5th, 2011 03:20 am (UTC) (linky)

not ranked

There is no hierarchical order to this.

1. Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem. Terrific noir with absolutely unforgettable protagonist.

2.Bridge of Birds and 3. Story of the Stone, by Barry Hughart. I think you'd really like these if you haven't read them. I like Story of the Stone just a *little* better because I read it first, even though chronologically Bridge of Birds comes first. These are the stories of "An ancient China that never was ... but should have been".

3.To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis.

4.Persuasion, by Jane Austen

5. Emily of New Moon 6. Emily Climbs 7. Emily's Quest by L.M.Montgomery. These count because while I haven't read them in a good long while, I re-read them multiple times from the ages of 9-20; and my copies are very battered and well-loved. I always loved these better than the Anne of Green Gables books; Anne is a goody-goody. Emily is a psychic and a writer. 'Nuff said.

8. A new entry to the list: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. I've only read it once, so far, but I can tell I'll read it many many times again. I was blown away. I can see what all who followed after have tried to emulate; and nobody can.

I find it difficult to pick favorites. I have read so much that is good. I could pick favorites in any genre, subgenre, format, etc.

But recommendations, yes yes I can give those, depending on what one is looking for.
dakegra From: dakegra Date: March 5th, 2011 07:59 pm (UTC) (linky)

Re: not ranked

I'm certain I have a copy of Motherless Brooklyn somewhere in this house, but I'm damned if I can find it. Perhaps it's in one of the half-dozen large boxes full of books up in the loft...

Connie Willis is generally wonderful. Loved TSNOTD.

I'll check out the rest. :-)
smileyfish From: smileyfish Date: March 5th, 2011 04:57 am (UTC) (linky)

Neverwhere was the first Gaiman I read (other than Good omens some 10 years earlier), and it was total love.

I can't really pick a favourite, but books I have loved include:

* Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
* Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy - Douglas Adams
* Goulds book of fish - Richard Flannagan(yes, it's fiction)
* Mao's Last Dancer - Li Cunxin (non-fiction)
* Shogun - James Clavell
* The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy

There's many, many more that I could list, but I've passed my books on, or borrowed them from the library, and all that's left is the lasting impression of the story, but no titles or authors.

One book many people love that I wish I'd never bothered with was the Life of Pi by Yann Martel, which I found to be highly contrived.
dakegra From: dakegra Date: March 5th, 2011 08:01 pm (UTC) (linky)
Catch-22 is awesome. I read and quite enjoyed Life of Pi, but it was a bit... odd. And I wasn't entirely sure what all the fuss was about.

Trying to think of a book to recommend for you. Other than the ones above. Hmm. Leave it with me.
martinoh From: martinoh Date: March 5th, 2011 09:45 am (UTC) (linky)
I wrote a lengthy response to this, then lost it when I caught the "back" button on my mouse...

Some thoughts anyway (in no particular order except for the first):

"Catch-22", Joseph Heller. Avoid the film, read the book.

"M*A*S*H", Richard Hooker. Enjoy the film. And the TV series. But make sure to read the original novel as well. Never read the various sequels; reviews of those are mixed.

"The Name of the Rose", Umberto Eco. Pretentious? Moi? Not an easy read, but a good one. As with William Goldman's "The Princess Bride", the film version cuts a great deal of what makes the book special, but remains an excellent story, well told.

"Lords and Ladies", Terry Pratchett. Difficult to pick a single one of Terry's novels, but this is the one that I'm most likely to reach for. Or possibly "Small Gods". Or...

"The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul", Douglas Adams. Much as I love the Hitchhiker's Guide stuff, I feel that Adams' Dirk Gently novels were his stronger works. As a recommendation to a new reader, one has to suggest reading "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" first, but I'd place this one as the better of the two.

"The Brentford Triangle", Robert Rankin. I'm rather partial to all his earlier novels, though lost faith with some of his later writing. Similar situation with Tom Holt, but I cheerfully pimp novels like "Flying Dutch" to anyone.

"Duncton Wood", William Horwood. Overly worthy in parts and weighty throughout (something over 4000 pages between this and its five sequels...), but for me it works the epic voyage trope well and has some nice insights into the human condition and the nature of religion and power, notwithstanding that it's entirely centred on a population of moles.
dakegra From: dakegra Date: March 5th, 2011 08:06 pm (UTC) (linky)
Catch-22 is wonderful. Love it. Same with M*A*S*H - my bro bought a lot of the sequels, and you're quite right, 'mixed' is the word I'd use. It was always nice to meet the characters again, and the books were lovely and short. Can't remember any of them to any great degree though.

I read and loved The Name of The Rose. Hard work, but ultimately worth it.

Goldman's Princess Bride is wonderful, both in book and film form.

Totally agree with the comments on Pratchett and Adams. Though (as my list suggests), I'd reach for Pyramids first. Or Lords & Ladies, or...

Annoyingly, L&L was loaned to a long-lost and forgotten friend many years ago and never seen since. Lesson for today, never lend your signed first edition hardbacks out. Though, as is oft said, it'll be the unsigned Pratchetts which will be worth some money in years to come.

Never got on with Rankin or Holt, despite several attempts.
martinoh From: martinoh Date: March 6th, 2011 06:43 am (UTC) (linky)
There's a strong tang of Marmite about Robert Rankin's stuff in particular; his love of running gags, utter disregard for continuity and habit of having his characters comment on their fictional status and the implausibility of their situations seem to leave a lot of people cold. As already noted, I like his early works, which tend towards being collections of Tall Tales within a fairly loose plot, rather more than his later and nominally more structured novels. Tom Holt can suffer from a slight tendency to be 'too clever' - it's sometimes easier to admire the construction of his story than it is to engage with the characters. Oddly. I find that Jasper Fforde hits a lot of the same buttons for me as these two, though he perhaps manages the balance of surreality to contrivance better.

All of which reminds me of the books that escaped from my original (lost) comment - Malcolm Pryce's "Aberystwyth" series. Only got round to reading the first couple so far, but enjoyed both mightily. One day I'll start reading regularly again...
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