Before I get started, I have a couple of people lined up for the next two or three months but then I am wide open! So if you want to contribute, just let me know! And you totally can!
Today's guest blogger is one of my all time favourite people, Amy. Amy's partially responsible for this series anyway, as I started thinking about blogging about books after we had an AMAZING and enthusiastic conversation about our favourite books on a drive back from visiting our friends Sarah and Hayley in Bristol. Basically, Amy and I talk in exclamation marks at each other all the time anyway, but when we talk books, it goes up to multiple exclamation marks. Obnoxious, MySpace levels of punctuation. (It's so much fun) Buuuut anyway. Enough from me, here's Amy:
HIYA. I'm Amy and I write Wolf Whistle! I like fashion, feminism and Fanta but more than anything, I LOVE BOOKS. I read about 150 a year, give or take, and I am a fierce serial re-reader of my favourites. Nothing gets on my highly-guarded All Time Favourites List until I have read it at least twice and clutched it to my chest after finishing the last page, wailing "I LOVE YOU OH GAWD I LOVE YOU WHY ARE YOU OVER."
These books are plucked from the aforementioned list. I've tried to pick ones that I think maybe don't get enough light shone at them. And they are gems, you guys. They just need a little attention to really sparkle.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
I'm starting with the funnest book ever. This is just so much fun! But, yes, let's just say it straight out: this book is super geeky. Like mega super geeky. But it is totally open about its geekiness and you do not have to be a geek to enjoy it (although I totally am, duh.) It's set in the not too distant future where everyone does most of their living virtually, plugged into the OASIS, which is kind of like the internet and kind of like Second Life only more. WAY more.
Wade Watts is poor and geeky and desperate to find the "Easter Egg" hidden somewhere in the OASIS that the creator James Halliday left after his death that will make him rich and famous and basically Grand Winner of the Internet. And this is his story of that, basically. It is littered - riddled! - with geeky references to the 80s: music, video games, films and books. Don't worry, though: it is never heavy handed and it is never snobbish in its obscure references. Even if you don't know much about the 80s - like, I was alive but I don't remember the 80s - you'll be fine.
Ready Player One is just a mega romp of a book and since discovering it last year, I keep reaching for it when I want something comforting and awesome and SUPER FUN. I read it three times last year. What did I say about serial re-reading? Dudes, I have a problem.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
...from one definition of geeky to a completely different one! The geek in the title refers to carnival geeks, who used to bite the heads of live chickens at carnivals and travelling fairs. Yes, seriously. And you might have a good idea of this book already from that gross statement but don't be put off!
Narrated by an albino hunchback called Oly, Geek Love is the story of the Binewskis, a carny family whose parents try to create their very own living, breathing freakshow. There’s Arturo the Aquaboy, who has flippers for limbs and is totally psychotic, siamese twins Iphy and Elly and the outwardly normal Chick, who looks like a regular kid but is still a freak. (No spoilers here, though!)
Set both now and in the past, Oly reminisces about her family and what happens to them while stalking a young woman. I don't know why more people haven't read this, honestly. Does it sound mental yet? Because, yeah, it is mental. But it is also great. If you like off-beat contemporary fiction - George Saunders or Jeff Noon, for example - this is definitely worth hunting down. Up with geeks!
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
You've probably heard of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, a soaring, sweeping Russian doll set of stories spanning many generations that has recently been made into a film with that Tom Hanks dude and Ms Halle Berry. The move is pretty good, actually; the book is loads better. I can be a little snobby and all "Oh gawd, the book is SO much better than the film" at times (SO SUE ME) but they did a pretty good job of what is an extremely complex book.
But what I really wanted to mention isn't Cloud Atlas at all: it's Black Swan Green, a book of Mitchell's that I really just don't think gets enough credit. These interlinked but stand alone stories about thirteen year old Jason Taylor who lives in Black Swan Green in Malvern are funny, touching, awkward and charming. Don't expect this to be like Mitchell's other books: I love them too, but this is a completely different kettle of fish altogether. And it's no less brilliant for that.
I bought a brand new copy of this book for £1 and started reading it at the beginning of a coach journey home. I read continuously through the whole journey and when I got home, I stayed awake until it was finished. I bought Black Swan Green in January 2008 and have read it six times. David Mitchell is probably my favourite writer, guys. He does the magic in his words and it makes me happy.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
This book is a retelling of a bible story but stick with me here a moment, guys. It's awesome, I promise. It's the story of Dinah - a character pretty briefly mentioned in a highly and horrifically violent way in the Bible - and her mothers: Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah, the four wives of Jacob.
An internet friend (from Livejournal! lolololol) recommended this to me years ago and I pretty much forgot about it until I was in the library eighteen or so months later. The book jumped out at me then and I took it home, remembering what my friend had said. I read it hungrily and then I read it again before I took it back. And then I bought it.
Don't let the idea of it being a work of fiction about biblical characters put you off. it is not written from a religious viewpoint and is never, ever preachy. It's not about God or religion at all: it's about Dinah, who is actually rather wonderful. The Red Tent is a gorgeously written novel, full of characters to feel intimate with. The story of Dinah and her four mothers is touching, poignant and sad and completely charming. Each time I read it I get completely caught up in it all over again.
According to GoodReads I haven't read this since sometime before 2009 which has to be a mistake. What the heck, guys! I need to re-re-re-re-read this immediately!
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
Forget 5 stars. I give this eccentric, loveable, hateable, bizzare and ridiculous novel 10 stars. A hundred stars. ALL OF THE STARS. I borrowed this book from the library and I bought it on Amazon before I'd even finished my library copy because I need this in my life and on my bookshelf.
This is a book about family, basically. A father and son and their crazy capers and kind of ridiculous life. It's not a true story - it's crazy! - but it's written with great truth and wonder. I can't even begin to describe it, honestly. It's a handful indeed.
Full of moments of unbelievable beauty and clarity, I found A Fraction of the Whole infinitely readable. It's completely batshit insane, of course. But it's utterly glorious, my friends!
PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
This book is about a girl, a necklace and some buried treasure.
But it is also about a worldwide toy company, cryptoanalysis and the creation of ideas. It's about the factorisation of prime numbers, the mass production of milk and the obsessions of teenage girls. It's about rubbish parents and loving grandparents. It's about the Voynich manuscript, paradoxes, crossword puzzles, corporate bullshit, cricket, World War 2, games of logic, Gödel's Theorem of Incompleteness, virtual worlds, miso soup, probability, the Vigenére square, 18th century pirates, mass marketing, the intrinsic value in being cool, letters written in code, transfinity, bird sanctuaries and that awful time when people were wearing skirts over trousers.
It's about what animals you'd see if you were camping in a suburban garden, which homeopathic remedy you should take if you felt like you were made of glass and why you should always change your mind when choosing a surprise prize on a game show.
It's about obsession, greed, love, creativity and a secret kept for twenty years. It's about doing no harm and stopping others from doing harm. And it's brilliant.
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
If someone forced me to choose my favourite book of all time - and I mean really forced, because the idea of choosing just one is really horrible (I'd need a top 30 AT THE VERY LEAST) - I think I would chose this book. I must have read this book ten times. I'm very grateful to the person who bought it for me and have read my copy almost every year since and purchased it again for people I love. It's the perfect book to bring a little summer to my life any time of year. I love The Summer Book and I honestly wouldn't want to be without it.
In truth, I often find it hard to review books that I love without bounds and The Summer Book is no different. You may know of Tove Jansson for the Moomins but her books for adults have a similar feeling but are also next level beautiful. I find it hard to describe how much this book means to me but these small, heart-warming and utterly charming stories of Sophia, her grandmother and her father on their very own island for a summer are just perfect. Perfect. I would not change a single thing about this. Tove Jansson has created something truly amazing here.
Feel free to add me on GoodReads where I track what I'm reading and write incredibly half-arsed reviews. (It's kinda hard writing about stuff you love, right? I just wanna GUSH.) Or tweet me your book recommendations at @wolfwhistle! I love to add recommendations to my Goodreads to read shelf so I don't go mental in Waterstones. (lol. As if that works.)
Thanks for letting me chat about my favourites, Sarah! I love you!