The OF Blog: Another fantasy reading meme

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Another fantasy reading meme

Since Jeff VanderMeer has posted links back to some fantasy lists that he compiled a couple of years ago, I thought I'd take one of those lists, see which ones I read, and let others comment elsewhere, since it seems list-responding somehow has become a popular thing for whatever reason...


1. Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
2. The Gormenghast Trilogy, Mervyn Peake

Read and enjoyed this one about five years ago. Spooky atmosphere and interesting characters.

3. Lanark, Alasdair Gray
4. Jerusalem Poker, Edward Whittemore

Loved this quadrilogy and this second volume, which serves as a metaphor for what occurred with the Mandate of Palestine between the World Wars, is brilliant.

5. The Chess Garden, Brooks Hansen
6. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, Angela Carter
7. Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Charming, lovely, imaginative, and full of other superlative adjectives.

8. Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges

One of those pesky books that made me think. Great short stories.

9. Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter

Good story.

10. Observatory Mansions, Edward Carey

Creepy in its obsessive-compulsive narrative voice, but in a good way.

11. Possession, A.S. Byatt
12. In Viriconium, M. John Harrison

Enjoyed quite a bit, for how MJH would change the framework each time I thought I knew what it was.

13. Arc d'X, Steve Erickson

Well-written story, one that stayed with me for quite some time after I read it. Never thought of Thomas Jefferson being that much of a creep before.

14. V, Thomas Pynchon

Just bought it. Will read in July.

15. Sinai Tapestry, Edward Whittemore

Very good opener to the Jerusalem Quartet.

16. Quin’s Shanghai Circus, Edward Whittemore

Didn't like it as much as the Quartet, but more than 90% of the books I've read this year.

17. If Upon a Winter's Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino

Brilliantly constructed.

18. Collected Stories, Franz Kafka

Macabre, haunting, and a few other things.

19. The Master & Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

Need to re-read this one sometime, but it was charming and biting at the same time.

20. Mother London, Michael Moorcock
21. The Collected Stories, J.G. Ballard

Very talented writer.

22. A Fine and Private Place, Peter S. Beagle
23. The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster
24. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
25. The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica, John Calvin Bachelor
26. House of Leaves, Mark Danielewski

As original as most could ever hope to be.

27. The Riddle Master trilogy, Patricia McKillip

Well-written. If only more people would try to copy her techniques than to stultify Tolkien's.

28. The Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino

Charming, sad story that I enjoyed reading last year.

29. The Other Side, Alfred Kubin
30. The Circus of Doctor Lao, Charles Finney
31. A Voyage to Arcturus, David Lindsay
32. The Circus of the Earth & the Air, Brooke Stevens
33. Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift

While I wouldn't call it a "fantasy" in the genre sense (since I believe it predates a defined "fantasy genre"), this satire still zings almost three centuries later.

34. Dictionary of the Khazars, Milorad Pavic

Unusual, but it works, as each reading will be quite different from the ones before.

35. At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O'Brian

My second-favorite work by him. Very good.

36. The Troika, Stepan Chapman

Hard-to-describe in a mere few words, so I won't try. I just thought it was great.

37. The Fan-maker’s Inquisition, Rikki Ducornet
38. Solomon Gursky Was Here, Mordechai Richler
39. Darconville's Cat, Alexander Theroux
40. Don Quixote, Cervantes

Re-read this in both English and Spanish last year. So many levels to this tale, one of the earliest proto-modern novels.

41. Poor Things, Alasdair Gray
42. Geek Love, Katherine Dunn

Have on my bookshelf to read in the near future.

43. The Land of Laughs, Jonathan Carroll

At first, it was mild, harmless, amusing, and then it became almost terrifying suddenly.

44. The Wizard of Earthsea trilogy, Ursula K. LeGuin

Now I know why so many enjoy this YAish trilogy.

45. The House on the Borderland, William Hope Hodgson
46. Little Big, John Crowley

Charming, quaint, different from most fantasies being published today.

47. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This story about made me tear up at the end. That final paragraph in particular.

48. The General in His Labyrinth, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Lesser work of Gabo's, but with a well-drawn historical character in Simon Bolívar.

49. The Seven Who Fled, Frederick Prokosch
50. Already Dead, Denis Johnson
51. The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, Jeffrey Ford

Read this period piece/mystery/miscellaneous fiction earlier this year. Very well-executed.

52. Phosphor in Dreamland, Rikki Ducornet
53. The Passion of New Eve, Angela Carter
54. Views From the Oldest House, Richard Grant
55. Life During Wartime, Lucius Shepard
56. The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, Barry Hughart
57. The Famished Road, Ben Okri

Had this book featured a few weeks ago. Moving.

58. Altmann’s Tongue, Brian Evenson
59. Girl Imagined by Chance, Lance Olsen
60. The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant & Other Stories, Jeffrey Ford

29 read, plus two others I own and will read shortly. Not too bad. You?


Anonymous said...

What is fantastic about Blood Meridian? Is one of the characters the literal personification of death or something?

Larry said...

No clue. I guess when VanderMeer wrote this list originally, he was thinking of certain styles. There certainly isn't anything of a fantasy nature about Simon Bolívar's story, although the techniques García Márquez to show Bolívar's thoughts are interesting.

Anonymous said...

I thought the ending of Blood Meridian was at the very least surreal. The farther along the novel goes, the weirder it becomes, and by the end I thought of it as fantasy more than as realistic fiction. I believe in fantasy at the level of metaphor. A fantasy writer whose language is dead on a metaphorical level is, to me, writing in a realistic mode not a fantastical mode. I've said this for years and I stick by it. I'm reading for that particular brand of surreal/absurdist/fantastical point of view. I don't give a crap if actual "fantasy" in terms of fantastical events occur in the narrative.


Liviu said...

Definitions again - though as opposed to your post about the origins of fantasy with which I kind of disagreed, I agree with this list to a large extent in considering it as an excellent sample of fantasy - or maybe fantastic literature as opposed to genre, whatever...

I have tried many of the titles and I will look in the ones I have not heard of, though I have finished maybe 20 of the titles only, while I have another 20 or so to finish at some time.

Actually I liked Quin the most of all Whittemore - maybe because I do not particularly care about the Middle East struggles outside of their direct influence on us - but the other 4 are excellent too.

I own all Nabokov, read maybe half the novels including Pale Fire.

Of Erickson I liked more Tours of the Black Clock but I am a sucker for that type of dark novel.

I've read Master and Margarita 10 times at least, that's probably my top novel of all time - but I understand how someone who did not live under the "glorious society" of marxism-leninism may not fully appreciate both its daring and its biting satire. When in the future the marxism aberration will be fully relegated to a historical footnote Master and Margarita will still live. The 10 episode Russian serialization is also excellent, though there are at least 2 shorter movie versions that are super, one Polish, one Russian

Larry said...


Interesting take on it. While I knew the origins of your list (or rather, what you said back in 2006), I think you mentioned something that had been troubling me for a while now. I've read too many "realistic fantasy" stories over the past few years and while I knew something didn't feel "right," I never really considered it from a mode/metaphor perspective.


I don't think I ever came to a rigid definition in those posts, did I? The exploration of angles and shifting and testing was the fun for me, not the stating of "rules" or whatnot. As for Bulgakov, I believe I got much of it, but obviously not as much as if I had lived under such a rule. Probably the same reason why I get certain Southern Gothics more than many who didn't grow up here wouldn't - mindsets/worldviews are such a variable thing, no? :D

Liviu said...

I completely agree that your experiences will influence how you perceive a lot of writing, especially of the close and personal type.

Anyway great post and rather than post and get pilloried for your comments the junk list of the "New Classics" - Entertainment Weekly and classics ??? - give me a break - I really enjoy these posts about much more interesting books - I may not like or read all in this fantasy list, but I have no quibbles with the quality part

Larry said...

Well, that post taught me that some will read certain things into what I was saying that I didn't expect any who knew me well would think :P And yes, this is a much more interesting list, and one I'll still use to buy books from years from now, no doubt!

Gabriele C. said...

I used Zee Big Ass List. I read 111 books from that one. Not bad, eh? :)

I'm missing a few titles, though. Friedrich Schiller's The Ghost Seer should be on it, and, as on most lists, the poor Scandinavian authors are underrepresented. Here are some suggestions. ;)

Carl Jonas Love Almqvist: Book of the Thorn Rose
Henrik Ibsen: Peer Gynt
Halldor Laxness: At the Glacier
Viktor Rydberg: Singoalla

There are more books that would fit, of course, like Flaubert's Salammbô, and more German ones though there are some good choices

Those lists are just too much fun. :)

Larry said...

You counted too, Gabriele? I read something like 193 on that list. Better than I thought it'd be, but still means I have around 80% of that list to look through...and add many others to that list.

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