The Universal Spider: the Life of Louis XI of France, by Philippe de Commynes (ed. Paul Murray Kendall)

At the end of my boyhood and at the age of being able to manage a horse, I was brought to Lille before Duke Charles of Burgundy, then called the Count of Charolais, who took me into his service. This was the year 1464.

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Pointing out a little update…

So, it’s a new year. It’s also, a little unbelievably, a new decade, at least for this blog – I started this back in December 2008. In ‘honour’ of that, I thought I should probably update a few things around the place that I’ve been meaning to do for ages (maybe even move to a new theme that actually uses more than 20% of the screen for content…).

Then, of course, I got ‘flu. That’s what happens when you start getting too decisive…

But one thing I have done is create a new index for my book reviews. Rather than going alphabetically, this time I’ve gone by rating, from brilliant down to eye-gougingly bad, which may be more immediately useful for people than a big alphabetical list – although do feel free to tell me I’m an idiot for doing it this way. I’ve also taken the opportunity to explain a little more about what those ratings mean in my practice.

[in other news, I did mean to be posting more this month, but… yeah. Aside from influenza, and other distractions, I’ve gotten bogged down in a review, and at the same time bogged down in a truly gargantuan (and relentlessly dour) novel, so… I would apologise for lack of content, but after a decade of this that would sort of ring hollow at this point…]

 

A Call for Recommendations!

So, it’s allegedly a new year now (although I’m still suspicious – is there any chance we could have a recount?). And a new year brings with it, like whelks adhered to a hull, new ambitions and determinations. Or in my case, the same ambitions as before, but again. Like: I should read more.

Specifically, I want to read both more, and more widely. So I’m hoping some people might take pity on me and make some recommendations. I’d like to suggest six categories:

1. A classic (say, pre-1985) fantasy novel.

2. A “literary” novel from the 20th century.

3. A notable but underappreciated fantasy novel from the 21st century.

4. A popular fantasy novel from the last two or three years.

5. A “literary” novel from the last two or three years.

6. A science fiction novel from the 21st century.

7. A “popular”, “mainstream” novel of recent decades. I don’t know, a Grisham or a Clancy or something – but not TOO unreadable, please.

 

In each case, standalone novels are preferred, although I won’t automatically rule out, say, a book that happens to have a sequel.

For the “classic” fantasy novel, I’ve read a few of the big names already – there’s no point suggesting Tolkien, Lewis, Eddings, Brooks, Donaldson or Feist. And you can consider Cabell pre-suggested (as I hope to gradually read through his oeuvre over the years). But it would be nice to find something less famous that was still an interesting read.

For 20th century literary novels, Sholokov is already on the list (indeed, I’ve started, paused, and am now waiting for a non-abridged translation). You needn’t suggest Sinclair Lewis (although I doubt anyone was going to anyway…). I’ll be skeptical of suggestions of Hemmingway, having tried and failed to be interested in the past.

For 21st century fantasy, I don’t actually know that much, although I’ve read some Abercrombie and Abraham (as well as 90s holdovers like Hobb and Martin).

In general, I like to think I’m open-minded – I can appreciate beautifully-written classics, and genuinely gripping potboilers. I’m more inclined to like things that seem interesting and unexpected, but I’m willing to give anything a try.

I’m not necessarily looking for books to change my life. I’m looking to try to get more of a sense of what people are reading in categories like these where perhaps I’m currently too ignorant – although if I can learn while also enjoying the experience, that would be ideal…

Any suggestions gratefully received…