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1. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
2. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
3. The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
4. Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre
5. Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore
6. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
7. The Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb
8. Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
9. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin
10. Cabal by Clive Barker
11. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
12. The Monsters of Morley Manor by Bruce Coville
13. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
14. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
15. The Stranger by Albert Camus
16. Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier
17. Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge by Paul Feyerabend
18. His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman
19. Knowledge and Social Imagery by David Bloor
20. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 30th, 2009 12:01 am (UTC)
1) Just a brief one, as I wouldn't characterize Sandman or His Dark Materials as single-volume works: Which volume of each is your favorite?

2) Talk about aspects of fear in the books you've selected.
Mar. 30th, 2009 01:24 am (UTC)
Re: Questions!
1) That's true. For Sandman I did that because I read them all years ago and thus the stories have all run together and I have trouble differentiating the volumes, but for His Dark Materials I honestly just have a really hard time picking. After looking through some synopses, I've decided that The Kindly Ones is probably my favorite of the Sandman series. I liked that the other volumes were collections of often interweaving short stories, but I enjoyed that this volume was just one story. I really liked how it brought in elements of many previous stories in the series and tied them up. I thought it was poignant and quite interesting. It was, to me, the finale of the entire Sandman story, with The Wake just being an epilogue.

My favorite book from His Dark Materials is more difficult to decide on. My favorite moments in the entire trilogy come during The Amber Spyglass when Mary Malone is with the sraf, but if I look at the books as wholes, I would say that I enjoyed The Subtle Knife more than the other two. I liked Will quite a lot, and found Cittàgazze to be incredibly fascinating.

2) The most obvious to me is the idea of intense existential fear in Nausea, which is probably the kind of fear I can most relate to, and the kind of fear that reading the book induced in me. The entire book is about Roquentin's existential angst, which to me is deeply rooted in a fear of the meaningless frivolity of life and also a fear of human freedom. When a person comes to the conclusion that there is no destiny, no fate, no higher power to guide one's actions, that person is faced with a radical concept of human freedom. You can do whatever you want. The fear comes from the fact that since you have this absolute freedom, you also have absolute responsibility for your life and your decisions and actions. Nobody really wants that much responsibility. When things go wrong we want excuses or someone to blame that isn't ourselves. The Nausea constantly referred to in this book, and implicit in every line even when not directly referred to, comes from this fear.

Cabal is a collection of one novella and four short stories in which fear is easily identifiable. The genre is horror, so obviously fear is going to be involved. I'll talk about the novella from which the collection takes its name, as that is most of the reason why the collection is on my list. The story contains classic reasons for fear, such as the monstrous beings called the Nightbreed, which live beneath a cemetery in a town called Midian, and a serial killer with a button-up mask and large knife. But it also has an element of more psychological fear. The main character is told at the beginning of the novella that he is responsible for committing 11 absolutely heinous murders, but he doesn't remember them. That concept, to me, is pretty frightening - the idea that you don't have complete control over yourself, and you could be blacking out and murdering people without even really knowing it.

The Stranger has to do with death and the more existential issues surrounding it. It's been awhile since I read it, but I remember being distinctly unsettled and spending a lot of time after reading it thinking about, and being frightened of, death. In the book, Meursault awaits his death in prison and realizes that life is absurd and has no inherent meaning. Death will be his ultimate end. Being an existentialist, these are things that I believe, and thus the idea of death does always leave me with a sense of fear. This fear can be overcome through acceptance, however, and that's apparent in the calm state that Meursault eventually reaches through his thoughts. A Tale of Two Cities, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Monsters of Morley Manor, and Falling Angels all also deal with death in major or minor ways, a subject that's always good at inducing fear.

Coyote Blue dealt a lot with the fear of losing control over your life, but how sometimes that's the only way to really change.

I hope I answered your question fully. If that wasn't really what you were asking for, let me know!
Apr. 4th, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
Oops, sorry-- I actually had some follow up discussion I wanted to have with you but then I didn't have time to post it and I completely flaked on voting. I really liked your answer to #2 and the funny thing is that I asked it based on the books I knew because I thought I saw a theme, and the only one I've read that you answered it for is The Stranger, which means that the theme runs even deeper than I thought!
Mar. 30th, 2009 12:07 am (UTC)
This list surprises me a bit - I would have expected more female authors. Can you speak to that at all?

Also, I've read other Vonnegut works but not Bluebeard - convince me to put it on my to-read list?
Mar. 30th, 2009 01:55 am (UTC)
Honestly I was surprised by that, too, when I finally finished and looked it over. My favorite books list is constantly changing, and I feel like at this point in my life it contains more male authors than it ever has. I think this is for the most part due to my extreme interest in philosophy at the moment. Unfortunately, philosophy is a male-dominated field, especially philosophy of science (which is where 17 and 19 come from). Numbers 2, 4, 5, 13, 15, 17, and 19 are all on my list for philosophical reasons, even if they are not explicitly books about philosophy. I think I should start more actively searching for female philosophers.

Bluebeard. It was really hard for me to pick which Vonnegut book to put on this list, because about five of them are favorite books of mine. I think what I liked most about this particular book was the theme of humanity's propensity for creation and destruction, symbolized in this novel by women and men, respectively. I don't know if Vonnegut meant the book to be this way, but to me it read as a diatribe against patriarchal society. The women in the book have mostly all been victim to some form of oppression or physical or emotional violence as a direct result of patriarchal figures or institutions, but they are all still strong characters. What I liked most, however, was that the book implied the destructive effect of the patriarchy on men as well. The male characters have pretty much all been emotionally or physically crippled by the constant wars (the book revolves around the Turkish genocide of the Armenians and World War II). The ending, with the revealed painting titled "Now It's the Women's Turn", implies, to me, that the patriarchy has been destroying our humanity and that the creative force of women placed in positions of real political power is direly needed to make the world right again.

I'm always a fan of Vonnegut's commentaries on war, but this was probably my favorite because it dealt directly with women and the fact that war, though instigated by men, leads to absolutely horrible brutalities against women. I don't think I'm totally crazy in interpreting it the way that I have, either, because I've read reviews of people with similar opinions.

In addition to all of that, it's a pretty hilarious commentary on abstract art.
Apr. 4th, 2009 03:36 pm (UTC)
Sorry, I totally forgot to come back and vote. :) I like your answers.
Mar. 30th, 2009 08:44 am (UTC)
1) What is your take on the character Kennit in the Liveship Trader Trilogy?

2) I've been resisting reading Moby-Dick but have been curious for a while. For what reason do you recommend it so highly, and has the book had any impact upon your perspectives on literature?
Apr. 2nd, 2009 09:32 pm (UTC)
1) That's difficult. My take on Kennit is very conflicted. I certainly thought he was an interesting character throughout the series, but I went through periods of liking him and then hating him. He was such a fervently driven person that I was always curious to know what exactly was driving him. I enjoyed getting snippets of his past throughout the trilogy and piecing them together gradually. A lot of times with a megalomaniac "villain", I don't feel the author does an appropriate job of explaining where the obsession came from (J.K. Rowling is a great example of this). I thought Robin Hobb built a past for Kennit, however, that made his obsession quite believable.

I was intrigued by his relationships. His past relationship with Paragon was fascinating, though admittedly some of that probably comes from the fact that I loved Paragon. It was very emotional, though, and touching that Paragon would take away all of Kennit's pain even though it was driving him mad. Kennit's relationship with Etta infuriated me because he treated her like shit, and also Etta's character just sort of infuriated me for being the "hooker with a heart of gold" stereotype. The dynamics between Wintrow and Kennit were perhaps the most interesting, because Wintrow was basically young-Kennit and Kennit became Igrot, and I enjoyed reading as Kennit reacted to that and warred with his feelings on the subject. I will admit, however, that I was really rather baffled when he drugged Althea and attempted to rape her. I remember being unable to understand why, whereas I felt I could understand the why of all of his other actions.

So, my take on Kennit is that I think he was a most interesting character, but I definitely don't like him.
Apr. 2nd, 2009 09:33 pm (UTC)
2) I'll answer the second part of the question first: yes. Prior to reading Moby-Dick, I hadn't read any other typical Western "classics" of my own volition. I'd read a few in an American Literature course in high school, but they were all pretty awful, so that certainly didn't endear me to classics. I decided to read Moby-Dick because I was bored and it was summer and I love whales. I found that I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting, and since then I've been a lot less afraid of denser classics. Yeah, some of them are pretty shitty, but I've read quite a few books that I loved that I never would have read if I hadn't loved Moby-Dick so much. I'm not sure if that's what you meant by impacting my perspectives on literature. I hope so.

I'm not sure what your tastes are in literature, so I can't say why I would recommend the book to you specifically, but I can tell you why I loved it. One reason was Ishmael. Over the course of reading the book, I felt like I really became friends with Ishmael, and I would (and still) have conversations with him in my mind. He was deeply introspective in a way which inspired deep introspection in me, and I love introspection. He said some things that are on the surface simple, but that set me to thinking about them for weeks, and ended up really changing my opinions on things. Ishmael's introspection was just so beautifully written and philosophical. I loved it. I loved his descriptions of the ocean and of life at sea. In general I'm inclined to books about the sea, as I have a fascination with it that is much like Ishmael's. I pretty much always enjoy stories of people at sea, especially if the author really knows what he/she is talking about and can go into a lot of detail, like Melville. To sum up this paragraph: I thought the writing was beautiful and many of the ideas were thought-provoking.

I like that the characters and the plot are all deeply symbolic. I have always loved allegory, and this book is an amazingly compelling and well-written allegory. It's a story that contains deep and resonating messages about obsession, happiness, revenge, fate, existence, friendship, and so on. The White Whale can symbolize so many things and is applicable to so many lives. Ahab fascinated me in his madness and complete obsession with the whale. He was so consumed by his goal that he lost all possible happiness in life and led countless men to their deaths. To me Ahab is a great example of why you should find things to enjoy in life outside of your ultimate goal (providing you have one).

Lastly, a lot of people complain about the parts of the book in which Ishmael goes into very specific detail about the whaling business and whale taxonomy, but I honestly enjoyed them. Whaling is an interesting subject to me, and I was happy to learn more about its history. I'm also a big taxonomy nut. But even if you wouldn't enjoy those bits, I would still recommend it because they don't take up much of the book.
Apr. 3rd, 2009 07:51 pm (UTC)
I've requested it from the library and we'll see how it goes!

And that was the sort of answer I was interested in, for that 'impact on your perspectives in literature' thingy. Basically just how things might have shifted for you, lit-wise, after reading what is obviously one of your favorite books.
Apr. 4th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
Hi! So why'd you choose The Origin of the Species over The Descent of Man? Any reason in particular?

(Yay for Moby Dick!)
Apr. 5th, 2009 05:05 am (UTC)
Unfortunately the only reason I have is that I haven't read The Descent of Man. It's on my to-read list, though! Did you prefer The Descent of Man?
Apr. 5th, 2009 06:18 pm (UTC)
See, I haven't read The Origin of the Species, so I was hoping I'd be convinced to do so by your answer. ;)
Apr. 5th, 2009 06:34 pm (UTC)
And, it's a yes from me as well. I enjoyed reading your responses to other challenges. Plus, I love when people list Moby Dick, and can say something of interest about it.

Welcome to [Unknown LJ tag]. You're now a stamped member, which means you're allowed to post, comment, vote, and otherwise fully participate in the community. Enjoy yourself, have fun, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )