Greetings, dear guest, and welcome to my "Favorite Books" nook. I've read many books over the years, and I'd like to share a few of them with you. So pull up a chair near the fireplace where the light is good; I've got a lot of books to show you.
My favorite non-fiction topics are eclectic, and many of them are rather esoteric: mathematics, physics, electronics, chaos, non-linear dynamics, fractals, mythology, computer programming, etc. Here's some of my favorite non-fiction books, listed by subject:
- Jung, Carl. Psychological Types. This is a truly great book by one of the top geniuses in psychology of the last few centuries. Esp. read chapter 10!
- Keirsey, David. Please Understand Me II. All about personality types, their differences, and how they can get along with each other. The first few pages are worth the purchase price.
- Myers, Isabel. Gifts Differing. I haven't actually acquired or read this book yet, but I've heard good things about it from others.
- Rodin, Burton. Calculus with Analytic Geometry. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, USA: Prentice Hall. (A good presentation of single-variable and multivariable calculus.)
- Resnick, Robert and Halliday, David. Physics. New York: John Wiley & Sons. (Physics for physicists. A bit heavy on the math side.)
- Morris, Richard. Time's Arrows: Scientific Attitudes Towards Time. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984. (A very readable discussion of the nature of time, written in non-technical language that anyone can understand.)
- Backus, John. The Acoustical Foundations Of Music. New York: W. W. Norton, 1969. (Acoustics for musicians, audio engineers, audiophiles, and music lovers.)
Chaos, Fractals, and Nonlinear Dynamics:
- Gleick, James. Chaos: Making A New Science. New York: Viking Penguin, 1987. (About chaos, fractals, and non-linear dynamics.)
- H.-O. Peitgen and P.H. Richter. The Beauty of Fractals. New York, New York, USA: Springer-Verlag, 1986. (Many glorious full-color fractal pictures!)
- Benoit Mandelbrot. The Fractal Geometry of Nature. New York, New York, USA: Freeman, 1983. (An infuriatingly complex and obscure book, but full of rich mathematical detail and occasionally lucid explanations of fractal geometry. Also has lots of fascinating fractal pictures. Written by the discoverer of the Mandelbrot set, Benoit Mandelbrot himself.)
- Stroustrup, Bjarne. The C++ Programming Language, Special Edition. New York, New York, USA: Addison-Wesley, 1997. (The ultimate bible for the C++ computer-programming language, written by the man who invented the language in the first place.)
- Campbell, Joseph and Moyers, Bill. The Power Of Myth. Doubleday, New York, 1988. (Based on a series of interviews between mythologist Joseph Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers.)
- Hofstadter, Douglas R. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. New York: Random House, 1979. (About self-referential things.)
- Bachman, Bill and Winton, Tim. Australian Colors: Images Of The Outback. New York: Amphoto, 1998. (Beautiful colors of the Australian outback. Hundreds of photos, all of them exquisitely beautiful. Large, glossy pages and excellent printing.)
Science Fiction and Fantasy
My favorite type of fiction book is a fantasy tale. I see fantasy as being the highest and most noble genre of writing, more so than nonfiction, textbooks, mainstream fiction, science fiction, mysteries, etc. In a fantasy tale, a skilled writer can let his imagination run wild, dreaming of worlds that might be, or worlds that maybe exist elsewhere, or versions of our own world the way the author wishes it was, or versions of own world which we pray to God will never be, rather than just rehashing the status quo of what is.
My favorite sub-genres of fantasy are "Heroic Quest", "Dream Quest", and "Vision Quest". I can also stomach other sub-genres such as "Historic Saga", "Sword and Sorcery", "Dungeons and Dragons", etc., if they are done well.
What follow are descriptions of the writings of a few of my favorite fantasy authors.
John Ronald Ruell Tolkien is my favorite fantasy author. (See my essay JRR Tolkien for more on the impact that Tolkien's books have had on my life.) Tolkien wrote some of the best fantasy of all time, including The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings, and The Simarillion.
I am always reminded of the final chapters of The Simarillion when I listen to Enya's song "Exile". (See my annotated copy of the lyrics to "Exile".)
The Lord Of The Rings has been around for decades, but is only now beginning to be a household name, due the upcoming LOTR movies which are now under production. This is one of the best epic heroic-quest fantasies of all time. It is not as long as epic tales by other authors, such as Robert Jordan's The Wheel Of Time, but it has a beauty and a power that no other author has reproduced.
I also love Tolkien's precursor novel to LOTR, The Hobbit. This is shorter and simpler than LOTR, and geared more towards children, but I love it's simple beauty and it's excellent sense of humor. ("Burrahobbit", indeed.)
Ray Bradbury has written many books over the years, primarily in the Science Fiction and fantasy genres, but also in other genres as well. I like his early science fiction story collections R is for Rocket and S is for Space, as well as his Martian Chronicles. But it is his fantasy tales which I especially love, including the novels Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Ways Comes as well as many shorter tales.
My favorite Terry Brooks tales include his Shannara novels (especially his five-volume masterpiece, The Heritage Of Shannara), his "Magic Kingdom Of Landover" novels (not as good as the Shannara books, but still good fantasy), and his newest novels, Running With The Demon and Knight Of The Word. I think The Heritage Of Shannara is my #2 favorite fantasy tale, after Tolkien's LOTR.
I've read the first eight volumes of Robert Jordan's colossal series, The Wheel Of Time so far. I like Jordan's down-to-earth style, his very-human characters, and his "real-time" approach, in which he doesn't telegraph what's going to happen next, so that the reader is just as surprised as the characters in the story at unexpected events. The first few volumes in WOT are: "The Eye of the World", "The Great Hunt", "The Dragon Reborn", and "The Shadow Rising".
On the down side, WOT is very long (nine volumes and counting, about 6000 pages so far) and in many places too wordy. The tale would have been better if Jordan had done some heavy editing.
Another thing is, the women in WOT are just too damn bitchy to be believable. Any woman in real life who behaved that way would get into all kinds of trouble. (Eg, getting fired, getting arrested, or getting beat up by someone who just couldn't take any more.) Was Robert Jordan feeling hen-pecked when he wrote WOT? It sure looks that way.
Yep, I know he pronounces his name "Steven", but it's spelled "Stephen". Stephen King Is one of my favorite Dark Fantasy authors, even though his writing has certain flaws.
One of Mr. King's flaws is his excessive verbosity. (His novels are often upwards of 500 pages, and his longest novel, The Stand, is over 1100 pages!)
Another flaw of Mr. King's writing style is the tendency of his plots to digress into side issues, jumping wildly from one sub-theme to another, like a man who is trying to finish designing a radio communications circuit, but gets caught up in Troy Percival's 98MPH fastball pitching in the sixth game of the 2002 World Series, the first World Series for the club founded by Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, who wrote "Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer", which is one of my favorite Christmas songs, second only to... Hey! Wait a minute! Where were we? Ah, yes, we were talking about Stephen King's tendency to digress. Let's just say, this paragraph is something that very well could have been written by Mr. King.
Yet another of Stephen King's flaws is his tendency to put excessive cruelty and violence in his novels. For example, in The Dark Half, the character George Stark is as nasty and violent a person as you could imagine, perhaps more so than was necessary for plot or character development.
But in spite of Stephen King's flaws, he is one of my favorite authors. He has great insight into human nature, into good and evil, and into the fears that lie in the darkest corners of the human mind. As he said in the introduction to his short-story collection Skeleton Crew, "Grab onto my arm now. Hold tight. We are going into a number of dark places, but I think I know the way. Just don't let go of my arm. And if I should kiss you in the dark, it's no big deal; it's only because you are my love."
Howard Phillips Lovecraft wrote what many have called "Weird Fantasy", a genre which he shares with Edgar Alan Poe and Shirley Jackson. Lovecraft's specialty in the early part of his career was Dream Quest fantasy. His masterpiece The Dream Quest Of Unknown Kadath is the crowning glory of this genre. Later in his career, however, he wrote darker tales mostly relating directly or indirectly to an entity named "Cthulhu"; these tales are known as "The Cthulhu Mythos". My favorite tales from this later period include "The Call Of Cthulhu", "The Dunwich Horror", "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", and "The Haunter of the Dark". For more about Lovecraft, see my essay, HP Lovecraft.
Edgar Alan Poe
Edgar Alan Poe was beyond doubt one of the greatest writers of all time. He wrote brilliantly in many different genres, including poetry, main-stream fiction, fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, etc. His stories "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter" are some of the greatest mystery tales ever written. Among his poems, I especially like "The Bells", "The Raven", and "A Dream Within A Dream". His horror stories were deeply frightening without resorting to blood-and-guts gross-out horror as most modern horror stories do. He was also writing science fiction before the genre "science fiction" even existed! This guy was way beyond his time.
Shirley Jackson is one of the most bizarre writers of all time. She specializes in bizarre supernatural horror. Her weirdest work was in her short story collection "The Lottery: Tales of the Demon Lover". But my favorite Shirley Jackson work is her novel The Haunting of Hill House. Don't read this ultra-spooky ghost story immediately before going to bed, or it will give you horrible nightmares!
I love The Dragon Riders of Pern series! This is a very likable blend of science fiction and fantasy, involving (among other elements) the poignant concept of complete mental telepathy between human and dragon.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Need I say it? Sherlock Holmes rules! I find Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories to be the best mystery tales I've ever read. Don't be fooled by the so-called "Sherlock Holmes" schlock in the movies or on television; the original stories by the inimitable Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are the only ones worth bothering with.
I especially love Agatha Christie's "Ms. Marple" tales.
Read his "Father Brown" stories; they rock.