We’ve been a bit book-centric on this blog the last few posts, haven’t we? I could talk and write about books all day, especially when it’s a form of procrastination to keep me from getting my own writing done. But this IS my own writing, technically, right? Let’s get straight to it. There are some books that I would (and often do) recommend to everyone regardless of what genres they normally go for, although often with some consideration – I’m not going to recommend a horror novel to someone who can’t stomach that kind of thing. So here it goes, the first batch of recommendations.
Stephen King (as Richard Bachman) – The Long Walk
One thing that will never change about me is my love for Stephen King. The first book I ever read by King was Misery, after finding it at my grandpa’s house and listening to his enthusiastic praise for it. I was about 11 years old, which I still think is kind of young to be reading Stephen King novels, but then again I was about 13 when I read American Psycho, so that tells you a lot about me as a person.
The books opens as Raymond Garraty arrives to take part in ‘The Long Walk’, an annual contest in which 100 young men take place to win a lifetime supply of whatever they want. Sounds tempting, right? Well yes, until you find out that there is no specific finish line – the contest is over when there is only one walker left. That’s right, you either win or DIE. This book was around long before The Hunger Games or Battle Royale, and is different in that it isn’t about fighting one another, but fighting against the elements and ones own instincts to stop, sleep, or slow down. The walkers are given sufficient food and water, and must maintain a speed of 4 miles per hour, and walking slower than that for 30 seconds will result in a warning – these warnings are waived after an hour of walking resumed at 4 miles per hour, but 3 warnings result in them getting “ticketed”. You’ll have to read the book to find out what that means, and who wins the competition.
Despite the fact that there are no scenes to switch between – the narrative focuses solely on the boys as they walk and diminish in numbers – it is impossible to put down and always interesting. It’s a fight to the death during which the contestants form strong relationships despite knowing that only one of them can win. Set in a sort of alternate version of what was the present day (the book was published in 1979, but written even before King’s first novel ‘Carrie’ was published), the novel is light on environmental details regarding the town in which the walk starts and mentions the various cities and states that the boys walk through during the contest, but the development of the participants throughout the walk will keep you reading.
Flann O’Brian – The Third Policeman
I was a huge fan of Lost, and I followed all the theories and clues that were linked to the show via forums – I think it’s the first show that made me branch out in my use of the internet to something other than my emails and
illegally downloading music researching for my homework. One of the theories was that the books read by the characters on the show – particularly Sawyer, played by the delicious Josh Holloway – were in some ways clues to the meaning of the show. Now, I was as disappointed as the rest of the world when the ending of Lost didn’t turn out to be the Planet of The Apes musical from The Simpsons, but I reckon that if you have a look through the list in this link, you’ll notice that some of the themes of the show are similar to those of the novels Sawyer reads throughout the series.
The Third Policeman features in season 2, and unlike the other books that had featured which I had either already read or researched and wasn’t particularly enticed by, this novel by Flann O’Brian (Brian O’Nolan’s pseudonym) caught my eye and I immediately went out to buy it. Clearly I wasn’t the only one; sales of the book rocketed after its appearance on the show. The book has some surreal elements and you can expect a few explosions, petty crimes, bizarre policeman and lots of bicycles. It had me laughing hysterically in some places and I’d always recommend this to anyone who is open-minded about the kind of literature they read.
Ray Bradbury – Something Wicked This Way Comes
The magnificent Ray Bradbury sadly passed away this year, so I thought I’d include one of his books on this list. I had a habit of stealing books from my schools when I was younger – I’ve never admitted that so publicly, but I used to take books from my middle school library and the bookshelves in every classroom in my high school if they caught my eye. ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ was one of those books.
Apparently inspired by a childhood encounter with a carnival leader who Bradbury was convinced was the reincarnation of a dead friend and taking its name from a quote from Macbeth, this book absolutely terrified and delighted me – a common effect of the kind of books I read when I was younger. It was also apparently part of the inspiration between one of the most bizarre and brilliant comedy creations in the last few years – Papa Lazarou from The League of Gentlemen. So much of it revolves around the conflict between good and evil, which is the simplest and often most fruitful starting point for a plot. Will and Jim are excited by the arrival of a carnival in the middle of October, but like most of the townspeople they can also sense something about it isn’t quite right. The two leaders of the carnival, Mr Dark and Mr Cooger, pursue the two boys in the hope of luring them to join the travelling show with promises that they could live out their fantasies. Some of the imagery in the novel really chilled me, such as the scene where we find out secret of Dark’s carousel, and for someone who has never really been a fan of carnivals or circuses… well, let’s just say this book didn’t do much to change that.
Jon Krakauer – Under The Banner of Heaven
The first non-fiction book on my recommendations. I can’t quite remember how I discovered this book, but I have a feeling it was one of the first books I ever bought on Amazon. Since my teens I have had an interest in religion and cults, and this book takes a look at the events surrounding a tragic and violent murder of Brenda Lafferty and her baby daughter in 1984, which was carried out by her brothers-in-law Dan and Ron, two Mormon fundamentalists. Ron claimed to have received a revelation that his sister-in-law Brenda was responsible for his own wife leaving him, and that it was God’s will that she should be killed. The events leading up to the murder and the consequences of it are outlined in chapters that alternate with the history of the Mormon church.
It can be a difficult read at times, particularly when it covers the actual events of the murder, but I would encourage anyone with an interest in religion – particularly given the fact that the current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a Mormon – to read this book.
Philip K Dick – Ubik
This is by far the strangest book I’ve ever read. Recommended by a friend from university and fellow musician, ‘Ubik’ is a story set in the early 1990s where technology is at an advanced stage, to the point that humans can be kept suspended in ‘half-life’ and resuscitated whenever necessary. I’ve never really been a huge fan of science fiction or fantasy novels, as I think my imagination isn’t capable of handling those genres. But what I do love is novels that are set in dystopias; that’s a term that gets thrown around quite a lot, but I mean books where things go wrong early on, or have already taken a turn for the worse and we have to see how the characters deal with their fate or try to change it. I think sometimes it can be better when an author leaves you wondering where you are and doesn’t wrap up everything for a nice, happy ending. ‘Ubik’ delivers just that.
The plot involves psychics and people with parapsychological powers, all possible forms of decay (particularly time), superior technology, untrustworthy characters who are not all they seem, twisted relationships and a recurring product called ‘Ubik’. I really can’t do this book justice by trying to explain the plot, and even if I managed to correctly summarise it, it still wouldn’t compare to the experience of actually reading it. This bizarre and grammatically annoying little video actually does sort of a good job of covering the subject of the actual Ubik product. You’re never quite sure what’s going on, where you are or if people are who they say they are – several times, the world around the characters literally starts to fall apart and revert as far back as the 1930s. I told you it was weird.
So that’s my first bunch of 5 book recommendations. I’d love to hear some of yours!