Sunday, August 12, 2018

Some books I like that changed my life in subtle ways

Greetings fellow readers and friends! I have been tagged to list my favorite books that have influenced my life in various ways and I feel I should do more than just post covers. For simplicity sake and to not clog up peoples feeds with me constantly posting I have decided to just make a short write up about a few of my all-time favorites. There are many other books I am overly enthusiastic about but will be written up later.

Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. If we have talked in a book store or even at a party, I have most likely talked to you about this book. Brief spoiler free talk up that will sound familiar “A hero gives up on the life of adventuring, fakes his own death, and now owns a bar. People come in telling stories about his life getting most of the details wrong until a traveling story teller gets him to tell the true story about what really happened, all his great triumphs as well as his horrible failures that still torture him.” I first heard about and started reading this book back in 2008 and I fell in love with it. It is the best thing I have read since Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. When I worked at a book place I hand sold over seven hundred copies and still to this day try to spread the good word. We are graced with a second book entitled The Wise Man’s Fear as well as a novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things. We are waiting on a book three, I feel we are not a world deserving of a book three yet. His books have gotten me out of a few dark spells over the years, they have helped me cope with loss and disappointment. Please check out his Worldbuilders website where geeks can help do go in this world.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, by J.K. Rowling. I was bribed into reading this series as a young adult because I was dumb. My folks bought me book one and within the first chapter I was sold on the series. At that time book four was slated for release in a month or so and I caught up quickly. One of the hardest parts of any series is the wait and with each book the wait felt somehow more painful, with each character loss or the pain of youth being destroyed we would crave the next book. I benefit from these books, I resemble the main character which has helped start many amazing adventures and conversations over the years. It is hard to believe that it is the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Sorcerers Stone. If you have not seen the new covers please check them out. Books one, four, and seven are my favorites. Sorcerers Stone is our, and Harry’s, introduction to the wizarding world, Goblet of Fire had the Triwizard tournament and the awesome hedge labyrinth at the end and horrible heartbreak, and Deathly Hallows gave us resolution to many of the questions that haunted us for years. When Deathly Hallows came out I was working as a kiln technician at a summer camp and read the book in ten hours the night it came out so the campers would not ruin anything for me. Ok, rambling, if you like wizards and have ever wanted to do magic, read these books. The movies are great in their own ways but you miss out on so much if you don’t read the books at least once. I also enjoyed the Cursed Child book, after a few chapters the play format breezed by and it was like visiting old friends you think about often but are too awkward to talk too after all this time.

Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton. When the movie came out I was in third grade and I went with my dad to see it in theatres. As a bit of context, I liked dinosaurs and wanted to sit close to the screen. I had never really watched scary movies at this point either being much younger. I was terrified and curled up in a ball in the seat, there may have been tears. Eventually my dad and I left after the Dilophosaurus ate that guy from Seinfeld, lesson learned. A few months later we went back and were able to see the full movie. In fourth grade my grandfather on my dad’s side passed away suddenly and we were up north for a few days and the only movie we brought with was Jurassic Park, which I must have watched over ten times. I knew the movie pretty well by that point. My dad had read the book so he passed it on to me, so there I was at ten years of age reading Jurassic Park in my after-school day care program, fully immersed. I ended up reading it about six times over the next few years as well as the Lost World. There were cool parts they had left out of the movie and ended up recycling for other movies, which was fine. I loved the books and did not get back to kid’s books for a few years. I also wrote a few letters to Steven Spielberg recommending dinosaurs he should use in the movies and got a response thanking me for my contributions from his desk. Dinosaurs always will spark a flame in my heart, and these books helped.
Practical Demon Keeper, by Christopher Moore. This book I read again while very young, maybe fifth or sixth grade. The story revolves around a demon and its accidental conjurer traveling to a small town in California. The Conjurer is trying to find a way to dispose of his demon and chaos and blood shed ensues. I loved the use of mythology and humor mixed in with the brutality of a demon eating helpless mortals. I still have to read his other novels but I really enjoyed the references to King Solomon and other myths.

Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I had seen bits of the old Rankin-Bass movies growing up but had very little memory of their contents, I had only seen them during a migraine when I was seven or eight. Back before the live action movies came out I decided to check out the books, borrowing my dad’s box set of paperbacks. Over two days in the summer I read the hobbit, learning all about Bilbo and his ring, the giant eagles, and Gandalf with his Odin like wisdom, I was in love with this book. I started reading Lord of the Rings in high school and ruined them in my backpack. They each took a bit longer to read than the Hobbit but were just as fantastic. Each study hall I would sit down and delve into a world with elves, dwarves, hobbits, and trolls in the epic battle of good versus evil. Being a tiny person, I loved that hobbits were relevant in a world of men and monsters and the fate of everything hung in the balance based on their success or failure. I had the chance to see Tolkien’s original notes at the Haggerty Museum here in Milwaukee when they had it on display, it turns out Tolkien had sold the notes to the university. It was awesome, he had charts showing where each character was in every scene even if they weren’t mentioned, drawings of locations, alternate passages, I was in lore heaven. Since then I read the Silmarillion and a few of the books his son has been releasing such as the Children of Hurin and other books released by other authors, like Tolkien’s Ring by David Day. His world was rich in lore and myth and I hope to continue reading about it for years to come. Hobbit will always have a special place in my heart, and for my four years of college it was my nickname. I love both the Lord of the Rings films, the animated films for the Hobbit and Return of the King, and the strange Lord of the Rings film with the rotoscope animation as well as the books. The Hobbit movies were a bit much but I still enjoyed them, they explored lore that was just suggested and built upon it. The book takes me about four hours, the movies nine. Without these books modern fantasy would not be what it is now, most of the authors out there have been influenced in some way by the story of the one ring, which in itself is influenced by Nordic mythology.

Children of Odin, by Padraic Colum. This was the best source of simple and quick Norse mythology and folk tales for many audiences and one of my favorite ways to introduce people to the world of Thor and Loki. It covers everything from the death of Ymir, the giant and the creation of the worlds to Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods. When anyone has questions about Norse myth this is my go to book, and now Neil Gaiman has come out with his own Norse Mythology book which I try to pair with Children of Odin to give two different accounts of the stories. Gaiman has a way of humanizing the gods and monsters in fantastic ways.

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. Shadow Moon ends up encountering mythology in very close and personal ways. Tragedy strikes at home and Shadow has been let out of prison early. He meets a strange man named Mr. Wednesday who offers him a job, to be his man, more driver and bodyguard on the road. It features the old gods in a slow war with the gods of the modern age, technology and the like. This was the first book since Name of the Wind that caused me to lose myself completely to the text. Words danced before me and I was gone. As an amateur folklore and mythology specialist, this book felt like it was written for me to devour, characters I knew made me gleeful, and new characters I did not know sent me to my mythology shelf to research and yes, I have a mythology shelf, it is next to my art shelf. Being from Wisconsin I was excited for them to go to House on the Rock, a strange tourist stop full of oddities such as a giant whale fighting a squid and a carousel you are not allowed to ride. The show they made is pretty cool too, I enjoy the castings for everyone and it is neat to see more from characters in the background of the book.

Crystal Shard, by R. A. Salvatore. This was my introduction to the world of Dungeons and Dragons and the Forgotten Realms. Drizzt, a dark elf escaped from his terrible homeland helps the surface folk fight against a mad wizard and his crystal death star full of monsters and death. In this introduction story we meet the young barbarian Wulfgar, who ends up indentured to the dwarves after his people’s failed attack on Ten-Towns, Bruenor the dwarf leader of the region takes him under his wings as a ward. Bruenor’s other ward is Cattie-Brie, a human girl he has also raised. Cattie-Brie uses archery to defeat her foes. They are joined by Regis, a halfling that rather be fishing than adventuring but has a shadowy past and a magic amulet of persuasion. Drizzt is a drow, a dark elf from deep underground. He is a ranger, duel wielding cruel scimitars and accompanied by a magic panther named Guenhwyvar that he could summon with a figurine he had. With his friends Drizzt would topple tyrants, kill demons, anger the minions of the spider queen, mourn friends both new and old lost, and deal with the past he had hoped to leave behind. I had found these books in the Sci Fi book club and ended up with the entire Icewind Dale trilogy in one book. So began the madness of devouring novels. There are currently thirty-three novels books about Drizzt and his friends as well as a few spin off books about his one time rival as well as the Cleric Quintet. R.A. Salvatore has hurt me over the years but what he does is justified, without trauma or loss these characters would not change or evolve into what they become. I had thought that his title Hero was the last book, but it looks like we will be getting more Drizzt. I enjoyed these books almost to an unhealthy level, each one I would devour in about four hours and then the pining for the next one would begin. A few of the storylines would get repetitive, Drizzt is really good at killing orcs, but there was never a time I gave up on them. If you are going to start the series there are two good places. Crystal Shard was written first and after the fact Homeland, Exile, and Sojourn were written to show where Drizzt came from. I tell most readers to start with Homeland, but Crystal Shard was a bit more exciting of a read for me.

Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan. Lightning Thief is about a young boy, Percy Jackson. He has difficulty in school with reading and attention spans, but as it turns out, his brain is hardwired for both ancient Greek and combat. He is the son of one of the Greek gods, and quickly in the series you figure out which. In book one we find out someone has stolen the lightning bolt of Zeus, his master bolt, and he will go to war with the entire world if it is not returned. Percy and his friends Annabeth, a daughter of Athena, and Grover, a satyr protector of demigods, must travel across the land trying to find the bolt and clues on how to save their friends. The first set of books are the Percy Jackson and the Olympian series: Lightning Thief, Sea of Monsters, Titans Curse, Battle of the Labyrinth, and the Last Olympian follow Percy and his friends in their quest to prevent the end of the gods and mortals. These five books were amazing on their own, and Rick Riordan decided to write more expanding on myth. The Heroes of Olympus series features characters that survived the first series as well as a whole new camp of demigods, hidden away from the Greek camp. It seems there is a Roman camp on the other side of the united states that had no idea of the Greek camp. In this arc we meet Jason, a boy with no memory of where he came from but knows all the Roman names of the gods. He ends up in camp Half-blood with Piper, a girl he might be dating, and Leo, a young man who can build things and can control fire. They find out there is a prophecy that will need seven heroes to save the day. The second book starts with this strange boy named Percy, stricken with a loss of memory that only knows one thing, a girl named Annabeth is probably pissed. He ends up at the Roman camp and receives a similar prophecy. The Heroes of Olympus series is as follows: Lost Hero, Son of Neptune, Mark of Athena, House of Hades, and The Blood of Olympus. There were parts in these books that have destroyed me. He is continuing the Greek and Roman stories now with the Trials of Apollo, the Hidden Oracle, the Dark Prophecy, the Burning Maze, and next year we will be getting the Tyrants’ Tomb. Apollo has been struck down from the heavens for something that happened in the Blood of Olympus and now is a mortal teenager, Lester Papadopoulos, now forced to gain his divinity back by freeing the oracles that have been hidden away from the world by an evil organization bent on domination. He has also written a series about the Norse gods called Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer, the Hammer of Thor, and the Ship of the Dead which all feature a young boy named Magnus trying to stop Ragnarok with the help of a mute elf, a fashion sensible dwarf, and a young Muslim American girl that wants to be a pilot that also happens to be a Valkyrie, we also meet Sam, a kid that is gender fluid, Sam rocks. He also wrote the Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid, Throne of Fire, and the Serpent’s Shadow. Carter and Sadie are forced to save the world with the help of Egyptian gods that must possess human hosts to interact with the world. These all are fun series for getting young adults into mythology, some of the myths are edited for content reasons but still live up to the amazingness that is mythology. Rick Riordan has also been working on getting more children of all ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations in his books. Inclusion is important for these young readers. These books are about accepting who you are and what you came from as well as making your own story. Looking back at the world mythologies, the heroes were from all walks of life, it did not matter if you were old or young, blind or had a gimp leg, everyone has a purpose and a destiny.

Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin. Game of Thrones is frustrating and amazing. There is so much to it, so much left out of what we experience in both the shows and the book. We are five books in and seven seasons of the show. The first book I read over the course of a year, getting most of it spoiled along the way, the danger of working in a retail environment. I made sure to work my way quickly through the rest of them, reading the Dance with Dragons in less than a week. Game of Thrones is successful for many reasons, as opposed to the farmer rising up to defeat the tyrant which is many of the fantasy tales we hear, this is nobles backstabbing and burning each other to the ground with their ambitions and treachery. We get mythical beings mentioned in the first scenes that most of the realms think are just stories or fairytales but are actual threats to the Seven Kingdoms, they take a while but are still coming for the south. We eventually get dragons, the exiled princess sold of to the barbaric horse riders in a distant land rises to be the queen of her people and lead them to victory. Characters we get attached too die suddenly, leaving voids in our hearts. We don’t learn, we fall for the next awesome character until they crushed by a mountain. Everyone jokes about the writing of the books and complains about it taking so long to come out. I casually remind people book one came out in 1996, we are in for a wait and the more you bother the author, the longer this is going to take. The show has done a marvelous job adapting the thousands of pages of books into the show, yes characters have been left out or killed off too early. It is a rare thing to see people get this excited and worked up about something in geek culture. The show has gotten millions of people to go out and buy the books in a genre they might have never picked up before. They are not simple reads either, each book is at least nine hundred pages depending on the binding you pick up. After reading so much of Martin I do feel every other book to be a quick read, even when nothing happens for a few hundred pages, I have gotten used to it. And even in the pages where it feels like nothing is happening there are small moments that if missed leave you in the dark to the next big thing on the horizon. Conversations between characters in one chapter can lead to entire families getting wiped out later on. I would also recommend checking out the short story book, Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, it follows a knight and his squire navigating the political landscape of Targaryen rule years before the Game of Thrones series takes place. It is an illustrated book with three short stories bordering on novellas.

Heir to the Empire, by Timothy Zhan. This was my first adult Star Wars books. I had read many of the Young Jedi Knights books with Jacen and Jaina and young Anikin Solo, which would haunt me later on. Heir to the Empire was the introduction to my favorite once cannon, then not cannon, and now cannon again villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn. He studied the art of the Empire’s enemies and would figure out their weakness. He was intimidating and cool at the same time. He drew together the factions of the Empire after the battle of Endor and was using clones again to fill out the ranks of troopers to help combat the New Republic and their forces. Luke was doing his Jedi things again and was losing touch with the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Leia was pregnant with the twins and being attacked by assassins left and right leading to a cool moment where she was called “Daughter of Vader”. The assassins had worked for Vader and reconized his scent. She went with them and helped their people fix their broken world and gained some protection for herself. The Thrawn series was amazing. There was a Sith named Joruus C'baoth, we meet Mara Jade who became very important for many reasons. This trilogy started me on the path of reading many of the Star Wars novels, which was exclusive to about four years. I read almost half the catalogue except for the X-Wing books and a few others. I loved the New Jedi Order books and still hurt from Vector Prime, I enjoyed having a foe that was absent in the force. I was very excited to see them bring Thrawn back in the Rebels show and it was excellent.

Keep on the Borderlands, by Gary Gygax. This was the first Dungeons and Dragons adventure I ever read through, I felt it needed mentioning, being the gateway to the twist my life has taken, trying to write and hopefully eventually publish a campaign world. I am in my twentieth year playing Dungeons and Dragons, most of it I have spent running the game as the dungeon master, leading parties of adventurers through challenges both great and deadly. The times I was able to play as a character have spawned stories that I will tell for years to come, from the Robank’s Avengers meeting an untimely end in a vampire lair, to Robank, my dwarven bard getting killed by a fear spell and haunting his axe until the party could reincarnate him, to Kannorack my changeling warmage/beguiler/bard, Rakomon Teledonde Orta my dusk blade cursed human with a drastic skin condition, and Drogo my tiefling gold dragon blooded sorcerer that just wanted to flirt with mermaids. I have played around fifty different characters over the years and have run eighteen campaigns, seven of which officially finished, the others either the group moved on or life changed or is still in progress.

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