23 April is World Book Day, so Bree and I thought we would take a moment to share some of our favorite books from different genres than we normally share!
Bree: I’m a big fan of nonfiction, and I tend toward quirky story driven nonfiction. One of my favorites is Dr. Mutter’s Marvels. It’s the story of Thomas Dent Mutter, a pioneer of surgery and a man performing vastly complicated reconstructive surgeries before the advent of anesthetics. Functioning without so much as ether, Mutter was able to reconstruct entire facial structures and vastly improve quality of life for his patients. The story of his successes are filled with drama and competitiveness and cutthroat industry politics, and, yes, more than a little of the macabre.
Jacob: Sometimes the best books are the ones you get as a gift, that’s the case with my nonfiction recommendation, Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character. Classic Feynman covers the life of physicist Richard Feynman, a giant in the field and one of the key players in the Manhattan Project. What I didn’t expect with this book was that I’d be laughing so much. Turns out that Feynman, among his many other talents was a prankster and just a funny, genuine dude.
Jacob: Mysteries in particular are not really my jam. While I liked Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, I’ve also read The Maltese Falcon (though I did not live it). I did read Tana French’s In the Woods not too long ago and found it gripping and compelling. It’s a great murder mystery and a real good look at life in Ireland and it really torments the main character throughout the book. I guess there has been like 6 more of the books in this series, so I’m clearly not the only person who liked these.
Bree: This one is a toss up for me. While I love We Have Always Lived in the Castle for its simplicity and darkness, and while its mystery was so compelling, I also am a big fan of the more controversial Turn of the Screw (The audiobook is read by Emma Thompson so you should definitely go that route for a creepy storytelling.). Both are complex and deeply creepy woman-driven stories with their own sense of style. We Have Always Lived in the Castle lacks some of the paranormal elements in Turn of the Screw whose creepy children are very disconcerting, but it lacks none of the flair.
Bree: +1 to this being impossible to do. If you’re putting a bullet to my head, however, I’m going to go with Frankenstein. Horror, hubris, and man’s greatest enemy: himself. The story of Frankenstein and his monster is one about a fundamental need for compassion. Frankenstein’s monster is a fantastically articulate example of what happens when man tampers with greater powers and how he sees himself. There’s nothing so honest as the way Frankenstein’s monster is reflective of his own self. As a bonus, there’s a new Mary Shelley biopic coming out about this bad boy with Elle Fanning in the titular role.
Jacob: Look, so this is impossible. The Classics is basically every book a college professor loves that was written before the 1900s? Picking one story from pre-WWI to antiquity for the whole world is an exercise in madness. I will say that Disney’s The Sword in the Stone started a lifelong love of Arthurian legends. Which led me to Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur and you guys, there are not a lot of similarities between that movie and any of the original source material. To like 13 year old Jacob this was shocking af. Arthur myths, retellings and homages are fucking everywhere, but the actual source material for many of these stories are straight up crazy town. I especially like Mallory’s because it’s maybe the last time where Morgan Le Fay gets to be a scholar and sorceress, a definite rival of Arthur’s but one that grows and gets redeemed in the narrative. Specifically by the end of it She’s been good for years, Her and Arthur are in a chill, mostly happy place, and she shows up after he dies to be one of the four ladies that escorts him to Avalon. Of course it still has Lancelot, which seems all but inescapable now (thanks a lot, Chretien de Troyes for your French FanFic Self-Insert).
YA that’s not Harry Potter
Jacob: I’m not 100% sold that I ever read anything that could be considered a YA novel while I was actually a young adult, it certainly wasn’t a really well defined genre at the time. By the time I was reading books for fun I was reading adult books. As I’m thinking about this I have to admit that the Harry Potter books might’ve been my first YA novels and I read those in college… So, these days if I read one it’s because someone came to me and said, “Jacob you have to read this!” That said, I really did get a kick out of the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce (Bree and I agree on something on this list!). It has since become my series of choice when I’m buying YA books for family and friends with childfolk that need to start reading.
Bree: I think for me the ultimate in YA that isn’t Harry Potter is almost guaranteed to be The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce. This was the first series I read as a kid that described a lot of what I was feeling and how I felt about interacting with the world. It’s the first book I read that talked about female puberty frankly and with the same sense of confusion that I felt at the time. Alanna as a hero was inspiring, likeable, and honest. Tamora Pierce’s whole bibliography is so key to how I was able to interpret my adolescence that I’m not sure anyone can compete with her.
Bree: I disagree with Jacob. My favorite Harry Potter book is The Prisoner of Azkaban. I think it has everything you need in a story: mystery, betrayal, murder most foul. Plus, Prisoner of Azkaban is the book where I feel Hermione really shows a lot of her resourcefulness (though doesn’t she always). Prisoner of Azkaban is also the book that really changes the series into something darker and more adult, and it does so without the angsty trappings so common in the following Harry Potter books.
Jacob: My favorite of the series was definitely Goblet of Fire. In it’s own weird way, this book had more world building in it than the three on either side of it. I didn’t realize how much I wanted to see of the wizarding world outside of England until this book, and it certainly felt a bit more like something you’d actually see schools do, have ridiculous competitions fueled by rivalries that no one remembers anymore. Also it had dragons. Proper dragons. Not oh, look babies. Or maybe there’s a dragon down that tunnel, wink wink.
Jacob: Everything that’s not non-fiction is fiction and I’m vaguely furious at myself for insisting this should be a category today because this is almost as impossible as picking a favorite “classic.” I’m going to pick a James Rollins book here, Sandstorm. I’m picking this not because there are better fiction novels out there (Sorry, James, there are a lot better ones out there) but because it’s kind of special to me. This was a series and a genre that my mom and I really got into together. It’s as close to an SFF book as I can get her to read and it’s something that’s just fun. It doesn’t involve heavy lifting anywhere and we can just joke about how many sharks Rollins decides to jump in each book as they get wilder and more nonsense~y. In 2005 it also got me back into reading general fiction books after several years of mostly non-fiction and SFF (thank you college).
Bree: Oh man. This isn’t fair. Like at all. I’m going to go with House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. It’s an experimental, trippy read with multiple framed stories. The main character finds the notes and raw footage of a horror movie gone wrong. The read is intense and difficult, but the underlying story and its impact leave you thinking. Trust me, it’s worth having to turn the book upside down like thirty times.
Bree: I love comics. Really a lot. So this isn’t an easy category. I have a huge list. Remind me to remind Jacob that we should do a comics article thing. Because why haven’t we done that. I’m going to go with Locke and Key, though. It’s a fantastic example of how a comic series can plot out a complete story and have character development, interest, and emotion. The story’s main family has lost its father and the kids’ struggle is genuinely heart wrenching. The full cast is amazingly well-developed. I think Locke and Key is one of Joe Hill’s best works.
Jacob: Bree said, should we do comics? And I said, Graphic Novels sure. And I realize now that we love torturing ourselves. We’re doing the same thing to this category as everyone else, treating it as a category of fiction and not a medium. Every category you can come up with to divide books, trust me, applies to comics as well. So I’m going to pick something mainstream, that I’ve been enjoying, that subverted several industry tropes and nonsense, while I fully acknowledge that there are like a million other books out there that are just as excellent and worthwhile. All-New Wolverine by Tom Taylor takes one of Marvel’s most needlessly violent and toxic characters and reinvents it so that Laura Kinney can run with the title and not Logan. It would’ve been easy to write another gorey stab-a-thon and please assholes on the internet but instead we got a heartfelt, funny story of sisters dealing with the trauma of their fucked up lives and caring for their pet wolverine. Also some superhero stuff was there too.
And because it’s also apparently “Talk like Shakespeare” Day which I did not know was a thing, here’s our favorite Shakespeare.
Bree: I’m a theater nut. Like have built ten foot scaffolding, painted Aslan makeup, can recite multiple Shakespeare monologues from memory nut. So, while it’s tempting to say the obvious: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, my real favorite Shakespeare is Much Ado About Nothing. Benedict and Beatrice are my favorite couple at odds and of course the entire “lie to your friends because you’re tired of their love denial” set up means it also gets fantastic fanfic crossover points (*coughDracoGinny4Evarcough*).
Jacob: This is also like picking one genre out of many. But I always liked Antony and Cleopatra. Cleo always seemed liked one of shakespeares most fully drawn and empowered female characters. She makes her own decisions, good or bad, and owns them. Antony is torn between doing his duty to Rome and his fellow Triumveres and his love for Cleopatra. Antony and Cleopatra also appear like the most genuinely in love with each other during adaptation of that play. Of course it all ends with the suicide snake and suicide by badly stabbing oneself, which is a bit of a bummer.