This post was inspired by Kourtney Heintz’s list of the Best 100 Novels, a challenge initiated by Nathan Bransford, on his own blog.
I’ve been in need of a fun activity, just to get my head into a healthier place than it’s been over the last several weeks. Sure, I wrote a story based on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033 novels, because I enjoyed them so much, and that was certainly fun; and, I’ve been getting back into the rewrites of my own sci-fi adventure story. But some of the latest disheartening events on the global stage had really been wearing me down. At those times, I can take some refuge in my own creativity, but it’s even more comforting to bask in the light of others’ creativity, especially when those others have inspired, enlightened, or simply just entertained me.
Kourtney stuck to the hard rules of this challenge, which I’m sure was hard. I took an easier route, because I wanted this to be fun, not an assignment.
Now, I’ve read hundreds of novels over the years…but I knew any “Best” list would have some classics which everybody knows: Don Quixote, Sense and Sensibility, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, yadda yadda. Those are definitely great books, mind you, but I wanted to do something a bit different, here.
For my version of the challenge, I looked at only those books I’ve read in the last ten years or less. This would disqualify any book I read only for a class and vowed never to pick up again (such as On the Road or Catcher in the Rye; don’t get me started), while still offering some insight into how my reading tastes have changed over the years. As it turned out, not a whole lot.
My 100 Best – or, rather, Favorite – Books of the last 10 years
As for ranking, I would list them as:
- Ross Macdonald (18)
- Elmore Leonard (8)
- Douglas Adams (9)
- Craig Johnson (11…and counting; there’s a new one I haven’t gotten, yet)
- Edgar Rice Burroughs (4 – specifically, his John Carter of Mars books)
…with the rest of them falling into an ever-shifting heap, where, on any given day, Barker might leapfrog Allingham to take Maguire’s position while Glukhovsky choke-holds Sapkowski for a higher slot, and Mankell sits back to watch.
I admit: I cheated. Still, it was a fun diversion for an hour or so, to look at my favorite books over the last 10 years. As a side note, that third shelf represents most of my reading material from the last 3 years, minus the Glukhovsky, Hammett, Sapkowski, and Abdul-Jabbar.
A few interesting points about this group:
- I was never much of a Stephen King fan growing up – he was too much horror for my sci-fi favors – but on a cross-country trip, I found a tattered copy of IT sitting on my cousin’s Venice Beach bookshelf. In search of something to read one night during my California sojourn, I asked if she wouldn’t mind me borrowing it. She said, sure; she couldn’t even remember whose it was or how it got there. I read it on the entire flight back to New York and barely put it down for the next week until I’d finished it.
- Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always has remained on my annual re-read list for the better part of 20 years. It’s a much shorter novel than his others, and it’s written for a younger audience than his usual fare, but it has such charm and magic, it will probably forever remain my favorite from his pen.
- After finishing Elmore Leonard’s Killshot, I started a new book…then stopped, picked up Killshot again, and read it through a second time.
- Ross Macdonald. Many folks praise Chandler and Hammett for their contributions to the genre, but if you like crime stories – especially noir crime stories – and you have not yet read Ross Macdonald, correct that.
I hope Kourtney doesn’t take too much offense that I changed the nature of this challenge to suit my own parameters. Wuthering Heights is a beautiful novel, and it should be on this list…but I haven’t read it in at least a decade. ;)
Were you offended by my version of the challenge? If you were to put together your 100 Best Novels list, how do you think you’d do it? What would definitely be on your list?
Metro 2033 (Метро 2033) tells the story of the 40,000 survivors who escaped to the subway tunnels of the Metro beneath Moscow when nuclear conflict escalated to war between Russia and the United States in 2018. For the survivors, life went on, in a fashion. Precious ammunition counts as currency in the Metro, where people live day-to-day cultivating mushrooms, tending to pigs, and defending their home stations from mutated creatures and hostile invaders from other stations on the line. Now, a new threat has arrived: Dark Ones – neither creature nor man but some strange psychic being in-between – have started to encroach on VDNKh Station. Artyom, who was only five years old when the missiles struck, and who remembers the surface world only as a vague dream, is entrusted with a dangerous mission to destroy the Dark Ones. But that means leaving VDNKh, making his way through the warring factions of the Metro, and confronting the horrors on the surface. Along the way, he will discover a secret about the Dark Ones that could change the course of humanity forever.
My ‘Metro 2033’ collection of novels.
First published online by young Russian writer Dmitry Glukhovsky in 2002, Metro 2033 was followed by Metro 2034 in 2009, and Metro 2035 in 2015. A videogame adaptation of the first book came in 2010 from developer 4A Games, which, admittedly, was my introduction to the series, with a follow-up sequel in 2013. [If you are only familiar with the game/s, but you liked the world presented there, and if you’re dedicated enough to make it through some dense Russian fiction, I recommend the books.]
While the author was born and the books themselves take place well after the Cold War, all three include critical – at times even damning – observations on communism and fascism. These two ideologies are on display throughout the books as the primary warring factions, the Reds and the Fourth Reich. A third group, Hansa, is a free trade coalition, while the sub-stations that comprise Polis at the center of the Metro map represent a kind of intellectual oligarchy. Artyom’s interactions with all of these small nation-states (nation-stations?) form the backdrop of the Metro’s bleak survivalist landscape.
I’ve just finished reading the third book, but I could almost go back and re-read all three of them again right away. Not because they’re great masterpieces, but because I simply felt for this story, both on the page and beyond it. I’ve seen a lot of frightening similarities to the “old Moscow” told in these books to the current world in which we live, and I hope we don’t make the same mistakes the killers and the survivors in these books do.
The first book is definitely a freshman work; Glukhovsky wrote it when he was only eighteen. The reader – especially a non-Russian-reading one – will feel the lack of a professional editor. The text is also incredibly dense, with long passages of history and exposition. But, the world and the characters of the Metro are so damn compelling, and the situation so close to the reality we’re experiencing today, that I was willing to forgive the writerly missteps, and just enjoyed being swept along Artyom’s journey through this speculative-future-Moscow and its subterranean tunnels. The second book (Metro 2034) is more polished, with fewer characters and tighter story arcs; the third (Metro 2035) even more so. There’s something about that first book, though, that really spoke to me. The characters feel like people one could actually meet in this bleak, nihilistic situation. Each man (the cast is overwhelmingly dominated by men) has his own story. Some of them, like the Marxist Revolutionaries, we glimpse only for a few pages; others, like the young Brahmin who befriends Artyom in the sprawling Library station, we grow to care about. They all have their own goals, fears, and conflicts, and create a greater world with their individual stories.
These books are not short. My edition of Metro 2033 clocks in at 460 pages; Metro 2034 runs 283 pages; Metro 2035 is a whopping 496 pages. A professional editor would, no doubt, carve out a lot of the characters and scenes, for reasons of time and space. But I’m glad they got to stay intact in the author’s vision. The books would definitely feel lesser for their loss.
Inspiration from Metro 2033
I’ve always enjoyed speculative and science fiction, though most of my long-standing favorites are farther flung in time than the world of Metro 2033. And, much of my pleasure reading over the last few years has centered firmly around detective fiction. But I had a great time reading these books; I’m glad that the recent bundle sale of the games prompted me to look up the story that inspired them, and I’m grateful to have read a young author’s journey through a world of his own making.
Glukhovsky published the first book online, on his personal website, for free. No editor, no publisher; the book distribution came three years later, after it had already been read by thousands of people in Russia and overseas. It gives me hope that there are still people – “regular” readers – who are willing to take a chance on something new, something different, something personal that doesn’t necessarily have the stamp of a big-name publishing company on it. Hope for me as a writer…and for me as a person in the real world who doesn’t want to live someplace like the Metro.
If any of you have read these books, let me know! I’m dying to talk about them with somebody. 🙂
I wish I didn’t care whether other people like my stories or not.
I wish I didn’t care about reader responses or hit statistics or any of that pointless crap.
I wish I could tear out this part of me that does care, if only so I wouldn’t feel like such a useless, no-talent shit all of the time when my numbers don’t go up, and nobody says anything, and I feel so Goddamn alone.
I wish that part of me would go away. I wish that part of me would die. I wish I could just kill that part of myself, because I’m just so fucking tired of it all, and I know that if I didn’t care, all of this would be so. Much. Easier.
Last week, Kate Johnston, AKA 4amwriter, posted a writing contest on her blog. The contest involved writing a 250-word (max) story featuring wolves in a positive or hopeful light. Three entrants will be chosen as winners by Kate’s panel of judges on April 10, 2017.
It had been a while since I’d participated in a good, old fashioned writing contest, and this one was for such a good cause, I had to put down my editing/rewriting pen and give it a try. I’ll post my entry after the winners have officially been announced on the 4amwriter blog, so as not to potentially skew any of the judges, for good or ill. Not that anybody reads this blog anymore, let alone those judges, but I need to decide how to present my entry anyway (first draft with changes, or just final submission version?).
Part of Kate’s contest involved her donating $5 for every entry received. I was so touched by that endeavor, I decided to check out the site that prompted her to offer the contest in the first place. That site turned out to be the Wolf Conservation Center, a private, not-for-profit environmental education organization located in South Salem, NY. Per their webpage, the Wolf Conservation Center teaches people about wolves, their relationship to the environment and the human role in protecting their future.
I clicked through a bunch of the pages on the site, when I came to the Adopt a Wolf section. Now, I love looking at pictures of animals, and wolves have been a long-standing animal love of mine since the days of reading about the Wolfriders in Elfquest. I scrolled down the list of wolves, and then I saw her:
It seemed so fitting. Those sparkling eyes, that wily smile, and her name: Alawa, meaning “sweetpea” in Algonquin. For those of you who have read my “Finding Mister Wright” series, you’ll know that one of the principal cast characters, Paige, has several nicknames, most of them involving the letter P: peanut, pickle, and, as her grandparents call her, sweetpea. Nobody else would remember that little detail, but I did. The word sprung out at me from the screen, making me think of all of the happiness I’ve felt sharing Paige’s and her family’s stories. And so, I just had to adopt this gorgeous girl.
I’ve felt weighted down for a long time. Even my writing has lacked a certain spirit. But, this adoption made me feel good. Not just for the charity, but for the feeling of being connected to a greater whole. It’s naive to think that my writing can connect people that way, though that is certainly something I strive for. What this good feeling of giving gave me was a breather, a moment of openness to a world made more beautiful for this creature’s presence in it. I can only hope for me and my stories to mean as much, someday.
Did you do a wolf-write for 4amwriter’s Save El Lobo contest? What version of my own entry might you like to see? Who are your favorite wolves from stories?