Since last week I made a shameless plug about my own novel, I thought this week I ought to shamelessly plug some other fantastic books!
We are currently heading into the winter here in Canada even if the season doesn’t officially change until December. If its not cold enough to snow, it sure is cold enough to make the rain hurt like hell. Besides, winter doesn’t conform to the arbitrary rules of humans; take a look at the massive snowstorm Alberta had at the start of October! Usually though, October is relatively nice to still get out and enjoy the fall weather. November…November is the start of what I call the “Shut-In Season”. It’s the time of the year when its best to shut the curtains, get a sweater and like five blankets, and read. A lot.
Since this season is now upon us, I thought maybe I should go ahead and throw out some recommendations for possible reads this season. I’ll try and vary up my choices, giving you some shorter reads, some longer ones, and a good mix of fiction and non-fiction. And none of this is in any particular order. It’s really just how it came to mind.
- Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling)
Starting off with the totally expected one just to get it out of the way. Harry Potter is a wizard, a wizard with a great destiny. Too bad it involves a madman trying to kill him and take over the wizarding community and horror of horrors: school! Seven books, seven years, and Harry will have to survive them all with a little magic and some great friends.
I’ve become more critical of the series and the author has I’ve gotten older (its impossible to study something and not become aware of the faults) but this is still an important piece of my childhood. Of many peoples’ childhoods. And sometimes, when its dark and cold and gloomy out, a little childhood nostalgia goes a long way.
- Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them (Nancy Marie Brown)
Talk about something small: a few ivory chessmen on which nothing significant rests. Well, except for the opinion of what countries can produce such pieces and what people too. Brown does an excellent job of explaining the strange arguments surrounding the so-called ‘Lewis Chessmen’ by exploring the pieces themselves and the theories of their origin in extreme detail.
I picked this one up because I was curious at the thesis put forward in the title. I never thought I would care so much about random chess pieces. Brown does an excellent job in making the Lewis chessmen matter because of the stories they tell. I really enjoyed this read and it went super quick!
- The Table of Less Valued Knights (Marie Phillips)
The Arthurian tropes told from the perspectives no one previously cared about: knights too old and useless to make the Round Table, the squire following him, and, of course, the damsels themselves. Too bad no one is good at simple communication.
This is a fantastic comedic read all the better for knowing the Arthurian stories and stereotypes. Includes representation not just of the characters who are on the fringes but what puts them there: loving people they shouldn’t (gender or class wise), who your parents were, and past mistakes no one will forgive you for. A nice book to laugh with and find yourself hopeful in the end.
- The Iliad (and the Odyssey I guess) (Homer)
Yeah I’m digging out the ancient works this “Shut-In Season”: going back to the Trojan War and Greece! The Trojan war has been happening for ten years now and the warriors are getting restless. When the gods start interfering and Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior, removes himself from battle, its up to the rest of the army to figure out how not to die. And once the war is over, its up to Odysseus to figure out how to get himself home.
I’m more of a fan of the Iliad than the Odyssey, just so you know. The epic war novel with a deep-seated anti-war message is adrenaline pumping and heartbreaking. Skip the second ‘book’ (chapter) of it if you’re just reading for fun: it’s a catalogue of ships that’s just there so the people telling the story orally can show off their impressive memory and endure themselves to the higher ups in the audience by including their ancestors, families, and countries in the count. Don’t judge the whole text on that chapter. More people like the Odyssey more: a high seas adventure where Odysseus is forced to use his brains and brawn to escape many monsters and make it home. It’s pretty good, I just like the first one better.
- Any Series by Rick Riordan (Rick Riordan)
Pick the Greeks, the Nordics, or the Egyptians and have yourself a fun romp through the modern world if the ancient gods still existed and kept having kids. The demon gods and their ancestors aren’t having a great time as they try and navigate a world full of monsters, gods, and normal people who just don’t understand them.
My best suggestion is start at the beginning with the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books. That’s the Greek world and you have to read that one if you want to read about the Romans in the Heroes of Olympus follow up series and the still being written Apollo series. The Magnus Chase (Norse) and Kane Chronicles (Egyptian) can technically stand on their own but there are some references back to Percy Jackson so reading them as they were published might be a good plan. Full discloser: I have only read the first Kane and Apollo books and haven’t read the last Magnus Chase one yet. In my defense: Rick Riordan writes a lot of books.
- The Medici: Power, Money, and Ambition in the Italian Renaissance (Paul Strathern)
Strathern takes the Medici family and explores the powerful members and their effects on Florance, the Papacy, the Renaissance artists, and even France, with a flair for the dramatic. His writing style offers a living history rather than a dead one: exploring the politics of the era in understandable and enjoyable way. Artists throwing busts off of roofs, people getting assassinated, and popes fucking shit up are all just part-and-parcel of this fascinating family’s history.
Not for everyone I recognize but the Medici’s, for being a semi-recognizable Italian family in the historic records, does not always get the attention it deserves. I learned so much about not only the Medicis but the renaissance and its artists as well reading this book. This one may take some time though. Better to go slow and enjoy yourself.
- On Beauty and Being Just (Elaine Scarry)
Yep, through some philosophy in here. Just because its “Shut-In Season” doesn’t mean your brain should be rotting. What is beauty? Why do we find certain things beautiful? What is stirred up inside ourselves when we see a beautiful person, scene, or object? And does understanding and appreciating beautiful things make us better humans?
I read this book in university for a class called Philosophy and Art. It has stuck with me ever since. Philosophy and thinking about justice and art can be hard, but Scarry offers an understanding of the world that is hopeful so don’t let the surface ‘high language’ discourage you and throw you off. Scarry sees beauty in everything, even if its flawed.
- A Dreamer’s Tale (Lord Dunsany)
A collection of short stories that helped build the genres of fantasy and sci-fi. Lord Dunsany takes his characters and readers on quick strolls through beautiful, frightening, and imaginative environments that are almost like a dream. Short, often sweet, sometimes horrifying, and always thought provoking.
I have this book thanks to Extra Credits and their offshoot Extra History which led to Extra Sci-Fi. They put together a reprint of these short stories which weren’t available in a positive edition. I’ve never been so glad of a Youtube project: I seriously enjoyed these short stories that I never would have found without James and his passion project.
- SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Mary Beard)
A concentrated history of the great Roman Empire in one book. Spanning from the first kings of Rome, to the republic, to the empire Beard shows the critical moments where history changed drastically and where it teetered on the edge. While not going in depth on every moment (impossible when trying to cover such a broad time period in a single book of manageable length) this text is an excellent starting point to figure out where you might want to dig into the history further.
Another one to take a little slower in order to let history speak to you. I enjoyed Beard’s writing style and her ability to show the actions and their consequences was an absolute joy. Why not spend the wet and cold days inside exploring the rise and fall of one of the world’s massive empires?
- The Duricean Trilogy (Rachael Arsenault)
Fae are real and will snatch humans in order to keep their species going: something they’re legally allowed to do. However, Ainslee Saunders’ snatching goes wrong from the beginning and her adjustment to her new fae life and powers doesn’t go as planned. Thankfully she’s got some good friends to help her try and figure things out, and hopefully avoid dying on the way.
This is a personal plug for sure but deserves to be on this list for its own merits. Rachael is my best friend and her fantasy world is similar and yet different from our own. She provides as story where you cheer not just for the main character but many of the side characters who come into their own throughout the story. And you can even get all three of the books in a single collection! Visit here if you’re interested: https://www.amazon.ca/Duircean-Trilogy-Collection-Rachael-Arsenault-ebook/dp/B07F3CRX5F/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1530541380&sr=8-2&keywords=duircean
Well, that’s a pretty long list. Or not nearly long enough if you’re a devourer of books like I am. I think I better cut myself off from writing more though, unless you want to see some more recommendations! Let me know if you have any books I should be reading as I get settled into my nest for this “Shut-In Season”!