Monday, September 12, 2011

Question #16

We are down to the last two questions of this series! Feel free, if you want to add a few more, ask them in the comments section. Otherwise, we're really nearing the end of this series, and I'll catch up on some book recommendations and things of that nature . . .
Question sixteen is from Matt, and he asks:

What are your favorite contemporary novels?

Oh, so many! But I'll try to keep it to a reasonable list. For the most part, let me dwell on the YA Fantasy side of my modern reading since a) that's what I read most from modern authors and b) it's the best stuff out there anyway!

I have mentioned Sir Terry Pratchett many times over on this blog, and I will mention him again now. He is, bar none, my favorite contemporary author. Not because I agree with him on every point, either. Actually, my favorite of his novels is his YA adventure, Nation, which preaches a highly agnostic message throughout. So, no, he's not an author I often agree with. But, nevertheless, he writes what he believes so profoundly, it amazes me. His books are always laugh-out-loud funny, but they will break your heart as well. He pokes fun at humanity while simultaneously celebrating it. He writes the truth as he perceives it, and much of the time he gets it spot-on. Pratchett gets compared to P.G. Wodehouse all the time, but I don't think this is an apt comparison. Of all classic novelists, Pratchett is most like Charles Dickens. Yes, he writes comedy/parodies. But in the course of his lively, funny narrative, he always has something he wants to say. Whether you agree with it or not, he says it well and without preaching (usually).

If you have never read any Pratchett, I don't recommend starting with this first novel, The Light Fantastic. Don't get me wrong, it's hysterical! But it doesn't give you a proper taste of Pratchett's genius. Start instead with one of his later Disc World novels. Guards! Guards! is an excellent choice. Or The Wee Free Men, which is YA. Nation is not part of the Disc World universe, but it is beautiful and bold, will make you laugh, will make you cry.

Another of my favorites is the brilliant Megan Whalen Turner, best known for her Queen's Thief series. This is a YA adventure fantasy series, but it is unlike any you have ever before read. Some people like the first one, The Thief, best and don't much care for the rest. The majority, however (myself included), while enjoying the first one, would agree that the stories get progressively better. All of them are fabulous reads, so well-written and suspenseful, but not according to typical YA fantasy standards.

It's difficult to explain Turner's writing. It's one of those things you have to read to understand, and many will not appreciate what she does simply because she is so different. She will invariably take you by surprise! I have never encountered characters I thought better conceived and portrayed than hers. Plenty her equal, none her superior.

I also adore the works of Robin McKinley and Shannon Hale. Both of these writers are a bit hit-or-miss for me. I like their work best when they write fairy-tale retellings, such as McKinley superb Beauty or Hale's lyrical Goose Girl and gritty Book of a Thousand Days. I am rereading Hale's The Princess Academy right now, which doesn't have as much heft to it as the other two mentioned, but is still simply delightful.

Of McKinley's work, I would specifically recommend Beauty, Rose Daughter, Chalice, The Blue Sword, and Hero and the Crown. Spindle's End is good too, but very strange. Some of her other work, while well-written, didn't suit me quite the same. I will probably give Deerskin a retry in another year or so, though. And I look forward to McKinley's newest book, Pegasus, but am waiting for the sequel to come out since the first one ends a cliff-hanger!

Of Hale's work, I recommend The Goose Girl, Book of a Thousand Days, and The Princess Academy. Again, the others are good too, just not favorites of mine on the same level. Different books for different readers . . . that's the beauty of fiction!

There is no spiritual content to speak of in either of these authors' works. Beautiful writing and excellent storytelling, however.

I really enjoyed Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn, both in first reading and rereading. I liked the sequel, Two Hearts, as well, but can't say I've particularly enjoyed the rest of his work. The Unicorn Sonata was interesting, but I read it when I was very young, so I need to try it again.

Neil Gaiman is another author I enjoy, but only some of his work. The Graveyard Book is a superb re-envisioning of Kipling's The Jungle Book. Coraline is ridiculously creepy, but in a fun sort of way. Anansi Boys is pure fun and silliness, but definitely for adults. With Gaiman, I always feel as though he thinks he is trying to communicate something, possibly something profound. But I don't feel like he ever quite knows what it is himself, so he never succeeds in communicating. Nevertheless, his writing is gorgeous, and his stories are tremendous fun. Young and sensitive readers beware: He can be extremely dirty! Read reviews before you pick up his adult works.

Oh, and even though she recently died, let me mention the acclaimed Diana Wynne Jones. Another fantasy author unlike anyone else I have ever read. Each of her books is unique and strange and wonderful. When I was younger, I didn't appreciate her. I thought she was "boring" and that her books were "slow" and "dull" and all kinds of uncomplimentary adjectives. But I am a better reader now.

Any one of Diana Wynne Jones' books is sure to tickle me on some satisfying level. Not all of them are Forever Favorites, but each of them is so much fun on its own. My favorites include the incomparable Howl's Moving Castle, and it's sequel, Castle in the Air. I adore her Dalemark Quartet as well, and her romantic/suspense/fairy tale, Fire and Hemlock (of which my darling husband bought me a hardbound first edition for my birthday this year!!!!).

If you try Diana Wynn Jones and don't like her right away, don't write her off immediately. Wait a little and try her again. She is so unique and so individual. She is so unlike any other author I have ever read. That also makes something of an acquired taste. But it's a taste well worth acquiring, believe me!

Again, no spiritual content in her work. Just beautifully written fun!

Last one: Gary Schmidt is a children's author I find particularly pleasing. His Wednesday Wars made me laugh and cry in public. At work. Embarrassing. But O! so good! Schmidt is a master beyond compare.

I think those are enough for now. Gives you a slight taste of my more contemporary reading tastes. I do read a handful of other contemporary authors, but most of them write in the flat, sparse style so popular today that I can't enjoy it. All of these authors create great depth and richness within their prose, not to mention their tremendous storytelling.

I hope some of you might find a new favorite among these greats. Did one or two of them strike your interest? Who are some of your favorite contemporary authors?


Galadriel said...

Out of the ones you've read, I've enjoyed Prachett, Hale, and McKinley. Gaiman is good too--I got into him after seeing his Doctor Who episode "The Doctor's Wife--" an extreme tearjerker for anyone with the slightest knowledge of Doctor Who history.

Anonymous said...

Christa here!
Yes! "The Doctor's Wife" is my favorite episode out of Season Six, Part One! I don't want to give anything away for those who haven't watched it yet, but I did start crying towards the end of the episode.

Matt said...

I will have to check some of those out come Christmas break. Personally, I read nothing for years but the Bible, school books, and the occasional romp through Narnia. Working at a Christian book store, I obtained some fantasy authors, including you. I get really excited about books now. Others from my store I have read are by C.S. Lakin, Wayne Thomas Batson and Brian Litfin. I recently read Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet.

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

Galadriel and Christa: I remember that Dr. Who episode! Nearly made me cry as well. I think you girls and I have VERY similar reading tastes!

Matt: Glad you're getting back into reading now! There are so many Christians writing fantasy now, there's a good bunch to choose from. I don't often read Christian fantasy myself (partly trying to make certain my work remains completely original), but I am SO glad to know that more authors are experimenting in that genre . . . and giving readers like you some great options!

Faith King said...

The Last Unicorn is probably my favorite standalone fantasy novel. I was very familiar with the story from the cartoon growing up ,but I only actually sat down and read it within the last five years, and I fully intend to go back on a regular basis.

It's hard to explain why it moved me so much-- I loved the change in the Unicorn as experiencing humanity changed her being. I also think King Haggard's unfulfilled search for joy is probably the most brilliant "bad guy" motivation I've ever read. To me, it's poignantly telling of the state of a world desperately trying to fill up the God space in their hearts with anything BUT God. Schmendrick, the old soul, steadfast Molly Grue with the disappointed love... young, confused, true Prince Lir. I love them all so much!

Dianne Wynn Jones is a favorite of mine, too. I love Sophie and Howl, and while I would agree that "Castle in the Air" isn't one of the great game-changing books of the fantasy genre, it's definitely a "Forever Favorite" of mine personally, because I read it during a very dark, very heartbreaking period in my life a few years ago, and it was the first thing that made me laugh in weeks. I love how books can be specific blessings in that way, don't you?