Monday, September 22, 2014

10 Books That Stuck With Me

Photo by Steven Coutts - CC Attribution 2.0 
On Facebook, I was tagged for this challenge. "10 Books That Stuck With Me." Normally, I'm not one for Facebook memes, but this particular one was interesting. My problem was, as I read through people's posts and as I made my own, I thought, "WHY did these books stick with you?"

And so:

10 Books that Stuck with Me

***Be warned, I'm on cold meds, and so this may be a bit rambling or unclear. I tried to avoid that, but, hey, we'll see. Also, there may be possible mild spoilers. I tried to avoid major spoilers, but if that sort of thing bothers you, just be warned.***

1.) Girl Parts - John M. Cusick 
I liked this book. After a girl commits suicide via livestream, several kids are diagnosed as being a bit screwed up. To fix this problem, one of the boys, David, gets a robot that's supposed to teach him how to have appropriate relationships--a fembot named Rose that is programmed to shock him when he tries to move too fast or go too far.

The book's title, "Girl Parts," comes from the moment when David finally gets to see Rose naked...only to learn that she doesn't have sexual organs. He views this as a waste and kicks her out. I liked this depiction because it David was clearly using Rose for sex, going through the motions like it was a game, gaming Rose's programming, but he didn't truly care about her.

There's also a nerdy, quiet guy named Charlie that winds up taking Rose in. Which creates a love triangle of sorts. But this book almost felt like a critique of that very idea, a subversion of it.

Fembots are problematic because they are usually literally machines that are female-looking designed for male pleasure, which Rose is. But it exposes how fucked up that is, and you eventually realize this isn't David or Charlie's story. It's Rose's. And the resolution, Rose's eventual ownership of herself and her happiness, was what stuck with me.

It would probably be considered small potatoes to more mature thoughts on gender, but as someone just approaching feminist ideas, this book exposed ideas about relationships and sex in a way I hadn't considered.


2.) The Long Walk - Stephen King
This is one of the first books by Stephen King I read. Written under King's darker, bleaker pseudonym "Richard Bachman" this book stuck with me because it was almost like King's attempt at YA, but written long before there was a concept of "YA."

This is sort of Hunger Games before Hunger Games. Teenagers in this world elect to join The Walk, a spectator survival sport. 100 teens join up to walk. Be the one to survive, you get whatever you want for the rest of your life. The catch is, if you don't keep walking at a pace of four miles an hour or higher, you get a warning. Three warnings, and you get a shotgun to the head.

This book starts out with the kind of teenage bravado you expect from boys, which is probably what got me through the set-up. They were like me--although I was, like, 12 or 13 when I read this. The first time someone dies, though, is when I realized how rough this book was going to get: a boy gets a leg cramp and can't keep up the pace and is gunned down in front of everyone. He dies screaming and begging for a second chance. It's horrible.

The book is grim, and the end is interestingly ambiguous. King is amazing when it comes to dialog and characterization, and his writing of how someone is affected by trauma is harrowing and vivid.

3.) Misery - Stephen King
Stephen King is my favorite writer, so, y'know. Bear with me.

Misery. No need for an introduction. You probably know: writer gets kidnapped by a crazed fan and is forced to continue the series that he hates and is about to end.

King's talent is on full display here: the dialog and characterization are great. The torture and mutilation scenes are vivid, horrifying, and effective. And there's almost an element of magical realism to his books: while technically a reality-based story, there are moments where the edges of what's possible seem to blur a little.

The image of someone getting their thumb cut off with an electric knife is still with me to this day. The movie may be scary--Kathy Bates did amazing--but it doesn't approach nearly the fucked up level the book does.

4.) The Goats - Brock Cole
This is a strange book.

I won a contest in 6th grade and got to pick out a free book from the book box. To keep. I picked The Goats.

To be honest, I probably picked it because of the premise: two kids, a boy and a girl, are stripped naked by their camp mates and dumped on an island in the middle of a lake. Nudity? Girls? There was something forbidden and dirty about the premise. I sat down and kept waiting on the teacher to tell me that it had gotten in there by mistake and to pick something else.

And then I read it and had my little mind blown. It was one of those books so intensely personal, I never told anyone about it. I read it over and over and over. It spoke to something I still can't quite articulate.

The book's seemingly dirty premise is left pretty quick, actually. The kids--Goats, as their camp mates call them--escape the island and decide to run away to teach them a lesson. And then we have an almost Homeward Bound story. They steal spare change and clothes when they need to. They hitch hike. It's just their misadventures on the road. But they develop a bond that's incredibly deep and intimate.

In a way, the nudity at the beginning of the book sort of breaks a barrier for the two of them. Once that's over, there's no more mystery really. They just get to bond.

The intensity of their relationship--something far past the normal depiction of love--stuck with me for years and years. Whenever I'd feel lonely, I reread the book, just to experience that kind of intense friendship and love.

5.) Time Terror (Spookesville No. 16) - Christopher Pike
Speaking of friendship, I probably read this when I was about 8 or so, but this book. Good God. It tore me up.

Whenever I think of series book, I normally don't think of particularly deep plots. They're fun, shallow little entertainments. Like, there's only so many Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Babysitter's Club books that can be written by the original authors before they start being ghost written.

But this book stuck with me something fierce. A group of friends go see a movie and find a toy with a clock on its chest. Playing with the clock sends them back in time, and they realize it's a TIME TOY. Shenanigans ensue, and after a couple of them screw up and get one of their friend's ancestors killed, their friend ceases to exist.

The end is so surprisingly tragic and poignant for a kids book that I was completely taken by surprise. Most books like this end the same way: kid figures out how to fix things, and everything is back to normal. Not here. This book's ending is extremely sad, something I'd never experienced before, and not in a sorta-kinda manipulative way like Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows. This one was just noble sacrifice and intense friendship.

6.) On Writing - Stephen King
I mean, c'mon. This book is legendary at this point, although my reason for liking it is probably not the norm. There are some good writing tidbits in there, sure, and King has good advice. But mostly, I love this book because of two things: 1) Getting to peak under the hood of King's Writer Mind, to see how he thinks about his craft, and 2) the memoir bits.

King is a hell of a story teller, and that goes for stories about his own life. He can spin a yarn thick enough to make a sweater. Sometimes, it's just encouraging to read through how someone else came to be who they are. You can say, "Hey, they made it. I can, too!"

7.) Feed - Mira Grant
I've written about Mira Grant's Feed before. I was going to just list the "News Flesh Trilogy," but while I did love the two sequels, the first one struck my particular chords very well.

Partially, it's the great scientific details she includes about how the zombie virus functions, including the little medical tricks, like the quasi-diabetes test that checks for zombie infection.

Partially, it's a book about politics, with bloggers following a president on his campaign trail and reporting on the events.

Partially, it's the fantastic world building. She includes all of these fantastic details. So many post apocalyptic books show humanity struggling and toiling to survive. The truth is, though, if something like this were to happen, we'd adapt. We'd survive. And Mira Grant's depiction of how we adapt and survive is logical and believable. And seriously, the cultural details are to die for: everyone named some variant of George in honor of George Romero? That's BRILLIANT!

8.) Feed - M.T. Anderson
Another book named feed, this one is basically about Google Glass. It's about a sort of cellphone that's implanted in your head. All the stuff you could see on your smartphone screen is visible in your field of vision. And Anderson's ability to spin this out into logical conclusions is very satisfying. Of course you're going to start seeing advertisements for deals that would be activated when you look at them. Google already sort of does that. Buy something on Amazon recently? You'll start seeing advertisements for similar products on random web pages.'

At this book's heart is the obvious critique of our cellphone culture, but a much more interesting critique of our consumer culture, including an examination of who we are to these big companies that keep buying up our personal data and analyzing it. And what happens if they we let them take over wholesale. The results aren't pretty.

9.) Good Omens - Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are gods among men. They're so talented, it's just ungoddamned fair. This book was very personal for me because I was raised in a very VERY conservative Christian environment. My small town was like a lot of stereotypical small towns you see on TV. Basically the worst thing you could be was an atheist or gay.

This book takes the tired trope of the Antichrist being born, and goes, "Yeah, but what if Heaven and Hell were staffed by people somewhat incompetent at their jobs."

I hadn't read a book before that took the concept of Christianity and God and made fun of it. The book was like a revelation. "Oh. You mean this doesn't all have to be such Serious Business? Okay!"

And it's funny as hell.

10.) Talyn - Holly Lisle
Holly Lisle was hugely formative for me in the ways I thought about writing in high school. She was the first person that made me think about maybe actually trying to get published somewhere, and I read her blog pretty much every day when I was in high school.

Talyn was crazy to me because it was the first fantasy novel I read that wasn't basically a Tolkien clone. Her world building was fascinating, detailed, original. I was knocked back on my heels. My reaction was basically, "Wait...you can DO that?" Up until that point, my friend had been suggesting books for me to read, and they were all basically the same: Elves and Dwarves go questing, fight monsters. Some magical mentor figure dances around the edges of the events, subtly manipulating them. And a mysterious bad ass is mysterious and bad ass.

But this book? Unique magic system dealing with alternate realms, a mixture of fantasy with romance elements, bad ass female main characters, unique world religions that weren't just thinly disguised Christianity clones.
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Obviously I could go on. There are plenty other books I could talk about. And I'm always reading new books that could make an impact. But these were the ten that came to mind as I pondered the idea. So, what books stuck with you? Let me know in the comments.