Friday, April 21, 2006

Jeff VanderMeer's Essential Fantasy Reading List

The amazing Jeff VanderMeer (I was going to list what he does, but, really, I don't think there's enough space here -- I wonder when the man sleeps) has just posted a list of Essential Fantasy Reading.

There have been several lists like this whizzing through the blog world over the past few months -- I saw one of female writers, and another general list of canonical classics -- which people were annotating to show which ones they had read or owned or whatnot. Since I think the world needs more fantasy in it, I'll do the same with Jeff's list (and hopefully not embarrass myself if I haven't read enough of them), and see if anyone else follows my lead. I also might post my own supplementary list of books everyone must read if I suddenly decide Jeff's gotten it All Wrong. (Which I doubt, but I might feel combative after a rainy weekend stuck inside with the kids.)

Anyway, the list follows. Books I've read are in bold. Books I own but haven't read yet are in italics. Books I've never even heard of are in strikethrough. There will probably also be comments.

Fantasy: Essential Reading

  • 1. Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
    I haven't read much Nabokov, actually. Someday I'll remedy that.
  • 2. The Gormenghast Trilogy, Mervyn Peake
  • 3. Lanark, Alasdair Gray
    Well, I thought I had a copy, but now I can't find it. Maybe I don't own it. Another book I intend to read someday.
  • 4. Jerusalem Poker, Edward Whittemore
    I've had this for about ten years, ever since some reviewer compared it to Tim Powers's Last Call. Still haven't read it, though.
  • 5. The Chess Garden, Brooks Hansen
    I would not call this essential, myself. But it's not my list.
  • 6. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, Angela Carter
    I know I've read at least one Angela Carter collection, back around 1990-91, but I can't remember which one. Wasn't really my thing then, but maybe I'll try again someday.
  • 7. Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
    Who hasn't?
  • 8. Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges
    If you have any literary inclinations whatsoever, you read Borges.
  • 9. Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter
    See above at #6.
  • 10. Observatory Mansions, Edward Carey
  • 11. Possession, A.S. Byatt
    A fine novel, but I don't remember anything fantastic about it. Though I did read it a good decade ago, so I could be forgetting something.
  • 12. In Viriconium, M. John Harrison
  • 13. Arc d'X, Steve Erickson
    I'd probably put Tours of the Black Clock in this slot, if I were doing a similar list.
  • 14. V, Thomas Pynchon
    I know there's an argument to be made for this is a SF novel, but I'd never thought of it as a fantasy.
  • 15. Sinai Tapestry, Edward Whittemore
  • 16. Quin's Shanghai Circus, Edward Whittemore
    More Whittemore, which I'm sure I'll read someday.
  • 17. If Upon a Winter's Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino
    I should read more Calvino. I think all I've read of him is Cosmicomics (or maybe the other book of Qyfwmg-whatsiz stories, or maybe both) which I found a bit dull and trying too hard to be intellectual.
  • 18. Collected Stories, Franz Kafka
    I think I missed the Kafka window: he's someone, like Hesse and Lovecraft, that you really need to read for the first time in high school.
  • 19. The Master & Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
    I want to read this again, actually, since the new translation is supposed to be a big improvement (and it was a great book to begin with).
  • 20. Mother London, Michael Moorcock
    I tried once to read it, but I wasn't in the right mood, and abandoned it after just a few pages.
  • 21. The Collected Stories, J.G. Ballard
    I haven't read the book called The Collected Stories, but I believe I've read all of Ballard's stories, which should count. They're mostly, if not entirely, SF, though.
  • 22. A Fine and Private Place, Peter S. Beagle
    If I did a list like this, I'd certainly have Fine and Private Place on it.
  • 23. The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster
  • 24. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
    I've read one Cormac McCarthy novel, and I prefer my Faulkner from Faulkner, thank you very much.
  • 25. The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica, John Calvin Bachelor
    There was a time when I thought I wanted to read all of Bachelor's novels; I came across references to each of them individually, and they all sounded neat. For whatever reason, that time passed before I actually read any of them.
  • 26. House of Leaves, Mark Danielewski
    I've never had quite enough time, or felt enough like indulging an author, to start reading this.
  • 27. The Riddle Master trilogy, Patricia McKillip
    I read this as a wee one, and some aspect of the ending (now long forgotten, or possiblysuppressedd) filled me with a passionate hatred for the series, and I got rid of my copies as soon as I could -- the first time I can remember deliberately getting rid of books.
  • 28. The Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino
    This is one I don't remember even reading about anywhere.
  • 29. The Other Side, Alfred Kubin
  • 30. The Circus of Doctor Lao, Charles Finney
    I finally got to this last year, and, I have to admit, I think it's mostly of historical interest these days.
  • 31. A Voyage to Arcturus, David Lindsay
    Another book I was sure I owned but now can't find. I have a firm memory of buying this in England on my honeymoon (I brought a list of things that were out of print in the US but probably in print in the UK -- this was 1993, before your fancy newfangled Internet), but I suppose that's not proof of anything.
  • 32. The Circus of the Earth & the Air, Brooke Stevens
  • 33. Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift
    Not sure I've read it as an adult, though, which is an important distinction.
  • 34. Dictionary of the Khazars, Milorad Pavic
  • 35. At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O'Brian
    Though I did read The Third Policeman -- I had copies of both, and decided Policeman looked like more fun, so I tackled it first. I will read this one eventually.
  • 36. The Troika, Stepan Chapman
  • 37. The Fan-maker's Inquisition, Rikki Ducornet
  • 38. Solomon Gursky Was Here, Mordechai Richler
  • 39. Darconville's Cat, Alexander Theroux
  • 40. Don Quixote, Cervantes
    A bit of a cheat to put this book on a list of fantasy novels, I think: it's an anti-fantasy novel, a book about the dangers of fantasizing and the conflict between fantasy and reality. But, of course, that's exactly why fantasy readers should read it, so I withdraw my objection.
  • 41. Poor Things, Alasdair Gray
    Maybe this is the Alasdair Gray book I have. I thought I had one of them, somewhere...
  • 42. Geek Love, Katherine Dunn
    I was force-fed some Dunn short fiction (or maybe excerpts) in a terribly pretentious writing class back at Vassar in the late '80s, so I'm afraid it's very unlikely I'll ever read her for pleasure.
  • 43. The Land of Laughs, Jonathan Carroll
    One I can mostly agree with, though I'd pick Bones of the Moon.
  • 44. The Wizard of Earthsea trilogy, Ursula K. LeGuin
    Of course.
  • 45. The House on the Borderland, William Hope Hodgson
    Another book I'll read someday, though it's buried so deep right now that "someday" is about five years of steady reading ahead (at best).
  • 46. Little Big, John Crowley
    Complete agreement.
  • 47. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    Except for the fact that all of the characters share about three names, I agree.
  • 48. The General in His Labyrinth, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    I've heard good things about it, but one Marquez novel was enough to last me for a couple of decades.
  • 49. The Seven Who Fled, Frederick Prokosch
  • 50. Already Dead, Denis Johnson
    Never heard of this book, but I did see Johnson's Fiskadoro around a lot in the '80s -- I think that was another one of the early Vintage Contemporaries, along with Bright Lights, Big City and Steve Erickson's first two novels. But I haven't read anything by Johnson I can recall.
  • 51. The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, Jeffrey Ford
    I think I read Ford's first two novels, but I didn't get to this one.
  • 52. Phosphor in Dreamland, Rikki Ducornet
  • 53. The Passion of New Eve, Angela Carter
    Maybe this is the one I read! I still have no idea.
  • 54. Views From the Oldest House, Richard Grant
    I went through a Grant phase at college, and I think this was his new book at the time. But I'm afraid I wouldn't consider it one of the essential fantasy books.
  • 55. Life During Wartime, Lucius Shepard
    This I would consider a major SF novel, but it's possible I'm forgetting some fantasy elements; I haven't read it in at least fifteen years.
  • 56. The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, Barry Hughart
    Simply superb.
  • 57. The Famished Road, Ben Okri
  • 58. Altmann's Tongue, Brian Evenson
  • 59. Girl Imagined by Chance, Lance Olsen
  • 60. The Fantasy Writer's Assistant & Other Stories, Jeffrey Ford
    I checked again, to be sure I didn't have this, and it wasn't even on the emergency back-up pile of Golden Gryphon books over on the workbench. (You think I lie?)
      Oh, dear. I'm afraid that I am going to have to disagree with Jeff on his list (or, at least, talk about different traditions and kinds of Fantasy). But I'll leave that for another post, since this is already too long.

      Anonymous said...

      That's great! So when you post your list, I'll have more stuff to read, probably.

      I should provide some clarity re the essential quality of the list--I use it to show a full gamut of writing technique for writing students when I teach them. I wouldn't claim it is the essential list for readers. That may not have been clear in the post--although I may have clarified in the comments field.


      Anonymous said...

      I have been reading your blog on and off for the past two months with growing dismay and disbelief. But your dunderheaded and genuinely obtuse comments about some of the books on this list put the final, vivid stamp of idiocy on both your taste and loghorrea. How you got to be a judge for the World Fantasy Award either amounts to a grand testimony to sycophancy or someone in power making a really bad call.

      Tony Sailer

      Post a Comment