Monday, July 11, 2005

Book Meme

Extracting revenge for tagging him with the Movie meme, Edward has now tagged me with the Book Meme.

Before I start this meme, let me explain that (i) I'm primarily a Science Fiction/Fantasy reader, so expect that to be the major influence in my reading choices and (ii) I'm endlessly fascinated with the nature of heroism and the human spirit.

With that, here are my responses

Total Number of Books I'ved Owned:

Close to 1000, probably, estimating my five over full shelves, some double-stacked. Most of it is science fiction and fantasy.

Last Book I Bought:

I had just completed Robin Hobb's "The Golden Fool", second book in the "Tawny Man" saga. I like the series, but I'm not absolutely crazy about it - mainly because the protagonist is a well-fleshed character but is way too whiny for my liking.

Last Book I Read:

"Before sailing away with the sad news, their leader came to see me. He was an oaf named Procopius and the wine had not improved his appearance. 'O great and mighty Master Li, pray impart to me the Secret of Wisdom!' he bawled. A silly smile was sliding down the side of his face like a dripping water-colour, and his eyeballs resembled a pair of pink pigeon eggs that were gently bouncing in saucers of yellow won-ton soup. To my great credit I never batted an eyelash. 'Take a large bowl' I said. 'Fill it with equal measures of fact, fantasy, history, mythology, science, superstition, logic and lunacy. Darken the mixtures with bitter tears, brighten it with howls of laughter, toss in three thousand years of civilisation, bellow kai pei - which means 'dry cup' - and drink it to the dregs.' Procopious stared at me. 'And will I be wise?' he asked. 'Better,' I said. 'You will be Chinese.'

Li Kao, excerpted from Bridge of Birds written Barry Hughart

Bridge of Birds is an excellent novel about an Ancient China that never was. It never was because it was invented by Barry Hughart, a resident of Arizona. However, it is so -very- believable that it could have happened in Ancient China. The story begins with a village of children poisoned by a rare toxin, and the quest to rescue them that ties into an ancient wrong. The two protagonists, Number Ten Ox and Li Kao, are hilarious and so are the large cast of minor characters. I highly recommend this book.

Five Books that Mean a Lot to Me:

My first response to this would be "only five?!". Given the limitations of the meme, these are my picks.

"Legend" by David Gemell

"Never violate a woman, nor harm a child. Do not lie, cheat or steal. These things are for lesser men. Protect the weak against the evil strong. And never allow thoughts of gain to lead you into the pursuit of evil. Never back away from an enemy. Either fight or surrender. It is not enough to say I will not be evil. Evil must be fought wherever it is found."

---The "Iron Code" of Druss

There comes a time in our lives where we are given no quarter, and ask for none. The book is about one such situation. An old fortress, the gateway to the Drenai Nation is understaffed and is about to be overwhelmed by the world's equivalent of the Mongol hordes. The leader of the ragtag defenders is the greatest Drenai hero, Druss the Legend. Except he's aging. And he dies before the final battle.

Yes, it's stock. Yes, it's trite. But David Gemell's writing is elemental in a way that I can't explain. It's not just this book - all his books hit you in the gut in a primal way. My respect for David Gemell grew when I discovered that he started out mining coal for a living - and discovered that his years of coal mining gave him lung cancer. In many ways, "Legend" can be read as his battle with cancer.

Read it, give the plot a chance. :D

"Hunchback of Notre Dame" by Victor Hugo

Having extremely limited proficiency in French, I was unable to read in its original language what is, in my opinion, Hugo's best work. I liked Les Miserables too, but honestly, for raw power and heroism, no one beats Quasimodo - the original "beast with a good heart". I especially love the scene where Quasimodo climbs up the tower one-handed (the other bearing his lady love) and yells for sanctuary.

The question I always ask when I read and reread this masterpiece is, "What kind of mix of self-loathing and heroism would lead Quasimodo to do what he does?" The other question is of course...

"Who =hasn't= ever felt like Quasimodo?"

"Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson

Name me one other book that would name their protagonist..."Hiro Protagonist". A break from my usual taste for heroic protagonists, Hiro is anything but his namesake. What the book does in scintillating splendor, however, is explaining some truly esoteric concepts in almost-believeable manner.

What I love about Snow Crash, however, is Raven, the main antagonist.

How badass is Raven? He's so badass he rides around with a nuclear warhead strapped to his cycle. He's so badass he wired said warhead to a deadman's switch - ensuring that anyone who kills him is going to take out most of the city Raven's currently in. He's -so- badass that he uses knives made from the one material able to hold a monomolecular edge - glass.

"A Hymn Before Battle" by John Ringo

Military science fiction is an extremely niche area of literary fiction. In this small niche area, there exists an undisputed master - John Ringo. This author has served time in the military, and it shows in his writing. More so, he knows and is able to explain the difference between a hero and a heroic soldier. I do very much enjoy his postulations and extrapolations of fictional "what-if" scenarios.

The interesting thing about "A Hymn Before Battle" is that while it features a main protagonist, the true strength of this book is the theme of collective heroism - so important in seperating an elite fighting unit and an ordinary one.

"Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro

A departure from my usual readings, and a text from my undergrad days - my only foray into academic literature. Remains of the Day had a major influence on me - it has always represented the ideal of hope and sacrifice to me.

Indeed of all the books that I love, this one strikes me even closer now that I'm at the cusp of a new journey, and so close to having completed my old one.

The five people I tag are:

One Little Twit (sorry to victimise you again!)
Loy Huichieh (who will probably blow me away with his intelligence)
Shianux (ditto)
The Slinky Cat (because a good turn deserves another)
Ivan Chew (what does a Librarian read?)


Ivan Chew said...

Oh boy, I still owe someone a "book meme" too. Now I owe two persons... i will post one. Soon. Really.

Slinky said...

Ah crap, how could you tag me with soemthign where I have to pick only 5 favourite books?? I ahd a tough enough time with my movie meme.

Huichieh said...

Oh boy... soon, soon, ok?

Mythical said...

And you did not tag me? The first one to mass-disperse copies of 'Bridge of Birds'? Wah lau...

Anthony said...

Ivan, Slinky, Huichieh,

Get to work. Chop chop! -cracks whips-

Darth Sidhe,

I didn't tag you cos you don't have a blog.

Ivan Chew said...

Here's mine.

Ivan Chew said...

Hello again, Anthony. You left this comment at my blog... but I couldn't find your email, so how to reply to you? :) Anyway, answer is "No thanks, don't want no more memes".