Hey, munchkins. Sorry…

Hey, munchkins. Sorry it's been several days without a real entry; honestly, I pretty much haven't done anything since getting back other than cleaning, a little cooking, and finishing the last Michelle West Sun Sword book. I enjoyed it, but I feel oddly cheated by this series -- I really liked the first novel of the six, and I think that enjoyment has carried me through reading the rest of them, even though they aren't as strong -- or at least, not quite as personally appealing to me. A little frustrating, considering the whole set is 7800 manuscript pages, according to her note. That's a lot of time in the reading.

Of course, it's rare that books are quite as good as you want them to be. I was talking to Jed recently about books that seem perfect to me -- and I had a hard time explaining what I meant, since it isn't so much perfect, exactly, as...umm...whole? Complete unto themselves, having done what they set out to do, and done it beautifully. I started coming up with a list of perfect books, and it's surprising how many good books (like The Truth About Celia, and Sorcery and Cecelia, which I hear Dan Percival is reading) don't make the list.

My perfect books include books like these:

  • I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
  • Tam Lin, by Pamela Dean
  • If on a winter's night a traveler, by Italo Calvino
  • The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley
  • Dragonsinger, by Anne McCaffrey
  • Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
  • A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle
  • The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
  • Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard
  • The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
  • Taran Wanderer, by Lloyd Alexander
  • The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper
  • Dragonsbane, by Barbara Hambly
  • the original Earthsea trilogy, by Ursula K. Le Guin
These are all books that I can recommend unreservedly -- it you don't like them, it's not that the book is flawed, it's that it's not one of your perfect books. So I will stoutly contend. 'Cause these books, I think they're basically perfect. And I love them.

What are your perfect books?

11 thoughts on “Hey, munchkins. Sorry…”

  1. Well a few that come immediately to mind:

    The Stone and The Flute by Hans Behmann – probably my all time favorite fantasy novel (even if it is a translation)

    The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco – slightly tough going at first, but once hooked I was hooked.

    The Once and Future King – by T.H. White, first book I ever really became a passionate fan of (collected everything by T.H.White for example)

    Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov – not 100% certain of this, but either this or a set of his robot novels were definitely defining texts for me.

  2. I think that first one you mention is some amazingly long thing? I think Par keeps trying to get Karen to read it. I’ll ditto The Once and Future King — it makes my list too. And oh, somehow that first title reminded me of Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds. I don’t know why, but that one’s perfect as well.

  3. Interesting; everyone else I know who’s read The Stone and the Flute hated it. I’m curious about Bemman’s other book that was translated into English, The Broken Goddessanyone read that?

    I’m not sure I have this category of “perfect” in the same sense Mary Anne does (and I wonder if “complete” might be a better term, to avoid the impression that this is just a list of your favorite books?), but if I do, The Last Unicorn is on my list.

    The “and done it beautifully” criterion is an important one, I’m guessingI’ve certainly read stories that did everything they set out to do, and did it competently, but what they set out to do wasn’t ambitious enough to be interesting.

  4. Jed, you’re almost right, in that everyone else you know except Par hated it.

    I have his copy of the German original around somewhere, and I’m under instruction to not give it back until I’ve read it. And actually, if I were to ever have the time (and also the need to get my German translation skills back up to speed), it might be a kind of intriguing translation project.

  5. Hmm, I found The Stone and The Flute one of the most phenomenal books I’ve ever read, though the middle section is also one of the hardest to read sections I’ve encountered (likely why people don’t like it) – but I found the overall book very much worth the effort. It depicts a single character’s entire life, warts and mistakes and all. I really loved the ways in which stories, songs, and dreams resonated over the course of the novel shifting meanings and importance over time.

    But that’s me. Someday I’d love to learn enough German to read the original.

    I like “Broken Goddess” but not anywhere near as much.

  6. I can never come up with this kind of booklist. I’m always being reminded of some book I’d forgotten for a while, and the ones that are the most dear to me are often idiosyncratically so. When I recommend one of them to someone, it’s more of a ‘ping’ to find out whether they’re the sort of person that will get the book the same way I do.

    Nice to see, though, that someone else has a proper appreciation for Alexander’s Taran Wanderer. Motivates me to grab his The Kestrel and The Beggar Queen from the library to see if they’re as strong as I remember.

  7. My list is fairly short, it must include:

    Alas Babylon by Pat Frank,

    Lord of Light by Roger Zelazney,

    and Glory Road by Robert Heinlein.

    I’m tempted to include Bester’s “The Stars my Destination”, but it’s just not perfect.

  8. Hmm…I haven’t heard of the Pat Frank. Tell me more?

    I haven’t read the other two since high school — I remember liking them both quite a bit, but I don’t remember them well enough to validate their perfection. 🙂

  9. Mary Anne, I so envy you, I would love to read Alas Babylon for the first time… again. It is the first “post apocalyptic” novel I ever read.

    Set in the early 1960’s (published in 1959) it starts out just before WW III. It is not a book about the war, but about how civilians are impacted by a nuclear war. Set in central Florida it follows a group of people through the reshaping of small town civilization.

    I have given away more copies of this book than all of the other books I have given away together, and I’ve never heard a bad review yet.

    After twenty-five years this book still has the power to get me excited about sharing it with someone who hasn’t read it yet…. yes, I tend to babble when I get excited. It’s a great book.

  10. Perfect multi-volume series:
    Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford
    The Barchester Novels by Anthony Trollope
    Beyond the Bedroom Wall and Born Brothers
    (The Neumiller Series) by Larry Woiwode
    The Smiley Novels by John LeCarre
    The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by Tolkien
    All are wonderful beginning to end, and all end with a perfect “Ahhhhh. That was good” feeling.

    Three individual novels:
    The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
    Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner
    The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

  11. I suppose the reason I shall never be an editor is that the book I almost always think is perfect is the one I have just finished. I seldom become aware of flaws in books until much later, at least several weeks or months, after some reflection. The one which is currently in this category is _Tinker_, by Wen Spencer. And it has been two weeks, so I am betting that it will stay in my top tier, at least. I recommend it.

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