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text 2018-04-10 19:42
Lists!
Horror: The 100 Best Books - Stephen Jones,Kim Newman
The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time - Martin Popoff
The Great Movies - Roger Ebert,Mary Corliss
Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads - David Morrell,Hank Wagner
Fantasy: The 100 Best Books - James Cawthorn,Michael Moorcock,James Cawthorne
Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels: an English-language selection, 1949-1984 - David Pringle

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a bit of a geek. Like many geeks, I love lists; reading them, making them, debating them or flat disagreeing with them, I love it all. As such, I have quite a few books that are, basically, "best of" lists. I love these because they point me at good stuff I haven't experienced yet.

It struck me that there are many different ways to compile such a book, each with it's own benefits and drawbacks. So, here are a few different ways of doing it, with examples.

 

1. Utterly Subjective, Single Author

 

Example: The Great Movies - Roger Ebert,Mary Corliss  The Great Movies - Roger Ebert,Mary Corliss  

 

This style is probably the simplest: You list your favorite examples of a thing and explain why. This is the style I employ on this blog, and the style Ebert employed in his Great Movies series.

 

Benefits: Ease of writing, pleasantness of experience, enthusiasm, easy to organize.

 

Drawbacks: No data to fall back on, personal exposure, not authoritative.

 

You don't have to watch, read, or listen to anything you don't want to, but people can attack you for your opinions (risky in the internet era). Still, it's a lot of fun to just gush about the stuff you love.

 

2. Attempted Objective, Single Author

 

Example: Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels: an English-language selection, 1949-1984 - David Pringle  Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels: an English-language selection, 1949-1984 - David Pringle  

 

Here, the author makes their best stab at an "official" list, compiling examples because of importance, influence, quality, or other criteria based on their own judgement.

 

Benefits: More comprehensive and authoritative, helpful creative/critical exercise.

 

Drawbacks: "Why this one and not...", exposure to works that one finds unpleasant, "important" works that don't hold up.

 

This kind of list is great for the author in two ways: They have to step outside of themselves, and it's a chance to dig into classics they haven't gotten around to (and any purchases are tax-deductible, because it's "research"). Still, they have to slog through some works they don't like, and will still be open to accusations of bias. Hell, they will be biased, no matter how hard they try to avoid it. This will also affect the passion in the writing. And they still don't have concrete data backing them up.

 

3. Subjective Take on Objective Data, Single Author

 

Example: The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time - Martin Popoff   The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time - Martin Popoff  

 

Gather data from various polls, interviews or other outside sources, compile a ranking, and then express your opinion of the various works, their placement, etc.

 

Benefits: Opportunities for snark, exposure to new works, not having to dredge your own brain.

 

Drawbacks: Frustration, works you may find awful/offensive, disappointment when some of your favorites are low on the list or absent altogether.

 

This one is just too much work for me, although it would be interesting to, say, watch and review every Best Picture winner, in order. Watching Crash again would be a chore, though.

 

4. Utterly subjective, Multi-Author

 

Horror: The 100 Best Books - Stephen Jones,Kim Newman   Horror: The 100 Best Books - Stephen Jones,Kim Newman  

 

Get a bunch of people to talk about their favorite works. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Benefits: Less writing, lots of discoveries, high enthusiasm.

 

Drawbacks: Logistical nightmare, missed deadlines, explaining the concept repeatedly.

 

Now I just need to find 100 people in the field who have enough time to write a piece, make sure there are no double-ups (two people picking the same subject), editing each piece, communicate with various agents/publishers, etc. If you prefer organizing to writing, not a bad choice, but keeping your ducks in a row can be a bear. Plus, there will be classics/"essentials" that no one picks, but you can blame your contributors for that.

 

5. Attempted Objective, Multi-Author

 

Fantasy: The 100 Best Books - James Cawthorn,Michael Moorcock,James Cawthorne   Fantasy: The 100 Best Books - James Cawthorn,Michael Moorcock,James Cawthorne  

 

You and a cohort come up with a list of classics, then divide and conquer.

 

Benefits: Lessened workload, interesting conversations, a united front.

 

Drawbacks: Arguments, resentment.

 

Doing an SF list but hate Heinlein? You can have your friend write that piece while you review that Ellison collection. Great, but what happens if one of you has a personal crisis? The other has to step up, leading to a potentially unbalanced workload. And the hashing out of the actual list can be both fun and frustrating, while dealing with each other's criticism of your writing styles just might suck. Just kidding, it'll be fine!

 

6. Subjective Takes on Objective Data, Multi-Author

 

Example: Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads - David Morrell,Hank Wagner   Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads - David Morrell,Hank Wagner  

 

Gather the pertinent data to compile a list, then get other people in the field to discuss their favorites from said list.

 

Benefits: Enthusiasm, less writing, hard data.

 

Drawbacks: Logistical issues, unpicked subjects.

 

Here, you have the same issues as #4, except you're backed up by data. But what if nobody really wants to write about something on the list? That falls to you, and can lead to some entries having all the verve of a high school book report.

 

 

Anyway, thanks for reading this list about books of lists.

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review 2017-09-17 14:57
Magic Realism Square
Nights at the Circus - Angela Carter

- A story about stories and illusion.



Magic and reading have something in common. It’s that thin wedge that question of what is real and what is fantasy. We know that the magician is doing some trick, but we just can’t get it, can’t figure it out. With books, good ones at least, the trick is the writing taking you someplace else. Books aren’t the only thing that can do this – a good movie, painting, music. 
It’s this line between reality and fantasy that Carter explores in this novel about a circus performer who may actually have real wings. At first glance it seems as if Fevvers is the only character with this problem, but every character in the book comes into contact with this question. Even the tigers, which may or may not really be jealous lovers.
In many ways, this is the human condition, the search for ourselves. Is our work face our real face? It might not be the wings that Fevvers has, but the question of reality and fantasy is one we change and fight in some way every day

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review 2017-07-28 21:22
Middlemarch - Michel Faber,George Eliot Eliot is one of those writers who I always forget how good she is. It’s not that I ever forget she is good, it is just that forget the high standard she has for most her work. The exception is Adam Bede, and this is no doubt because it was the first Eliot I read (thanks to Alistair Cooke). I first read Middlemarch in either college or grad school. I recently re-read because of a line in the New York Times Book Review. To call Middlemarch feminist would be wrong, though in many ways it is proto=feminist. At the heart of the novel is the character of Dorothea and the idea of marriage. If Doretha was Catholic, she quite easily could have become a nun. But she isn’t, so the avenues opened to her are a bit slim. She wants to do good works, and to improve people’s lives. At beginning of the novel is she able to do this with a help of a suitor, a suitor she doesn’t know is a suitor, and later in the novel, she has the possibility to do it another way. This of course soon changes. The theme of the novel, in part, seems to be the idea of marriage for marriage does concern much of the part. At first, it is merely Doreatha’s marriage to Casaubon, who is older and who she hopes will teach almost like a father. Then it is the marriage between Lydgate, a doctor who wants to do good, and Rosamond, whose brother Fred forms part of a third marriage with Mary Garth. The question of marriage is more a question what a good marriage is. Doreatha’s first marriage, really isn’t a good one. But it is not entirely her husband’s fault and in fact, very few of her friends (in fact only her sister and James Chettam) try to talk her out of it or express doubts about the marriage. In many ways, the true right people in the novel are Mary Garth and Celia Brooke, Doretha’s younger sister. Mary is the dependable and intelligent daughter of the Gareths. She is prudent. The most imprudent thing she does is love Fred, who at the start of the book has a good heart but is a bit too much flash and imprudence. Celica is Doreatha’s younger sister, less religious, more sensual, but also more observant. She watches before she speaks. She may not be as good or holy as Doretha but she is not a bad woman. Mary too watches. This makes those two women better able to handle the society that constrains them. Doretha is not able to handle society in the same way. Her marriage options are frowned upon whether she marries for the right or wrong reason. And unlike Lydgate, who marries an illusion, a pretty thing that he does not see as human or understand fully as human. He does not watch enough. Neither does Doretha at first. Eliot’s suggestion that she is trying to write or example a modern life of St. Theresa is interesting because Dortha, like Lydgate, doesn’t quite come what she could have been. Of course, that is, in part, the purpose of Eliot’s book, showing us the bonds – both prison like and fond – that society puts on us.
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review 2016-10-24 16:31
Heart of Darkness and the Congo Diary - Joseph Conrad

Seriously, one of those books that you always look at differently.

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review 2016-09-05 01:01
Supernatural Square
The Haunted Looking Glass - Edward Gorey,Robert Walser,Ward Gorey
So the great Gorey and I have some of the same tastes in fiction. And we both like cats.

Some of these stories are well known - such as "The Monkey's Paw", which is one of those stories that never grows stale at all. Others are not, such as "August Heat", a rather chilling tale. What is interesting is that Blakwood's story "The Empty House" and Wilkie Collins' "The Dream Woman" make use of rather strong women, where as the others don't. In fact, Nesbit's story seems to be also poking fun at the classes and the differences between rural and city folk.
 
 

 

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