I’ve read Sapiens by Harari recently, and it rekindled my interest in the earliest history of our species. Shortly after that, a review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Shaman on Weighing a pig doesn’t fatten it led to me reading that novel and I was very happy it did. Robinson managed to create a believable impression of the culture of people who lived long before anything could be written down. Scientists use the pieces they find to speculate and search the furthest corners of the world for tribes that continue to live the lives of hunter-gatherers… but only a novelist can make me feel a sense of connection with people from so long ago!
In the discussion below his review, Bart mentioned William Golding’s The Inheritors as one of the sources of Robinson’s inspiration, and I was curious. Golding is one of my favourite writers, Lord of the Flies one of the books that influenced me the most. He left his mark on how I think about the nature of evil, its presence in society and individual, the fragility of civilization, and of religion. I’m slightly less pessimistic on these issues now, but I hold Golding in high esteem.
Summer continues, I’m actually starting my vacation tomorrow afternoon, and it’s going to be 2,5 weeks! But blogging requires some regularity, and so I decided to write a few words about a very special book. Terry Pratchett is a very special author, one I’ve been reading for over 20 years. I’m now in the middle (at book 16, to be precise) of the systematic re-read of the entire Discworld and I appreciate him even more.
I prefer to learn about writers’ ideas through their novels, but Pratchett is important enough to me, and his untimely demise started my slow – and now accelerating – re-read of his books, and motivated me to learn more about the man himself. There is a very moving documentary from BBC, Terry Pratchett: Back in Black, the story of his life featuring Pratchett just before Alzheimer took him, a master of language struggling with simple words, but still a powerful, wise figure. He says, at the beginning:
They say your life flashes in front of your eyes before you die.
This is true. It’s called living. But nobody’s really dead until all the ripples they have created on Earth have completely died away, so as long as my words and my stories are still sploshing around the planet, there’s life in the old dog yet.
It’s a very hot August in Krakow, Poland, and if you escape to the mountains on the weekend – you better start your hiking very early to avoid the scorching Sun. The caves were very cold though, yes – but muddy. So, I was supposed to write something around the last weekend, but I just couldn’t, and I have a book I want to review that will have to wait at least a week… I decided to just write a few words about my latest book-buying spree.
I buy a lot, about 2/3 used – 1/3 new. This year I decided to slow down a bit in 2018, so I’ve only bought 70 books, versus 135 last year (that is, during the entire 2017). It’s August already, so that is a slight progress 😉 Maybe I’ll even succeed in staying under 100? I’ve started my spreadsheet in 2003 and… let’s agree, it’s a costly addiction. Not as costly as cigarettes, but its objects do not go up in smoke, they occupy more and more space in my flat…
Author: Edward Luttwak
Title: The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century AD to the Third
I really enjoyed our last post and first excursion into non-fiction, and so now I follow with another one, this time less controversial and something every epic/military fantasy fan can safely read. My original idea for how to select non-fiction books for Re-enchantment was to find tomes that could be used to better enjoy genre fiction. I’m a great believer in context, in building up one’s general knowledge to see the broader picture. It’s crucial for every serious reader of historical novels, but with fantasy, so deeply connected to the medieval and ancient history of our planet, it’s just as useful. There were never any wizards nor dragons on this Earth, but we had knights, and legions, and empires that had to rely on primitive (when compared to our) technology – and if we read a bit about them, we can judge – and appreciate – the worldbuilding of genre masters so much more.
The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire… by Edward Luttwak was a book I mentioned before, while criticizing a semi-historical novel I did not like, but Luttwak is not a starting point for people interested in Roman history. For that, go to /r/history, they have excellent sections for book and podcast recommendation. Books I’ve read are in Polish and 10-20 years behind latest research. Luttwak wrote a book on strategy of an ancient empire and whatever historians of antiquity might find in his arguments, it’s a great way to further your understanding of how difficult it was to defend a large state without modern communications and logistics. It definitely should be read by every genre author with worldbuilding ambitions.
Why eleven? Because I like to go one step beyond 😉
Well, that’s what Nostalgia Critic used to say in his “top eleven” lists. Me, I was inspired by Ola’s challenge, despite, and some people would feel really hurt in a situation like this, not being included there. But it made me think, and create my own list.
I wasn’t sure how to go about it. There are books I clearly remember were very important to me, but I’m no longer sure why. And they are books that really resonated with me in the last couple of years, but only time will tell if they will stay with me for the rest of my life. So, I decided to go with these representatives of the first category that I still find important. These are all books dear to me, and don’t pay close attention to which is first, and which eleventh… they are all near the top. And, just as Calmgrove observed, a list like that, if constructed tomorrow, might look slightly different… it’s all very subjective.
Please remember, much of what you’re about to read is how I saw certain topics 10-20 years ago, now I’m slightly more nuanced, or maybe hypocritical 😉
I will limit myself to fiction, because it is supposed to be eleven books, non-fiction of all sorts would be at least twice as much. So, maybe another list some other day?
I’ve checked our manifesto to make sure, but we actually never claimed to be a strictly book-review blog. Place dedicated to books we said, and, the way I see it, it doesn’t have to be a weekly exercise in literary criticism. Laying out our yet-unread books to form an inscription, or nominating other bloggers to reveal their top 11 is quite a lot of fun. Still, a book review every now and then is probably a good idea… so, I will postpone my top 11 for now to write a few words about a short novel full of magic and mystery, Winter Rose by Patricia A. McKillip.
My first encounter with her prose was in 2016, when I’ve read the Riddle-Master trilogy, a simple (but very engaging) high fantasy tale made unique by its wonderful, atmospheric prose. I like the worldbuilding, I follow the events with interest, archetypical characters were written with mastery that made me invested in the outcome, but the most charming thing was McKillip’s style. I’d describe it as a Tolkienian fantasy at its best, not what Brooks practised and Moorcock mocked as Epic Pooh, but a legitimate and worthwhile additions to the genre.
Wow, it’s only a second appearance of manga on Re-enchantment… After Yotsuba&!, it’s time for Mushishi, another of my favourite series. Created by Yuki Urushibara and published for ten years in serialized form in Japan, now it’s available both in English and Polish, collected in 10 volumes.
This is the only manga I own a whole set of. Well, this and Azumanga Daioh, but the other is just one 700 pages omnibus. Also highly recommended, from an author that later gave us previously mentioned Yotsuba&!, but that’s not for today.
Mushishi is a story about Ginko, a wandering mushi-shi, occult specialist protecting people from mushi, ethereal, supernatural beings not perceived by regular humans, but capable of influencing their lives in usually pretty dangerous ways. Partly a shaman, even more a scientist, Ginko uses his knowledge of the supernatural to help people as he travels through Urushibara’s version of XIX-century rural Japan of the late Edo period.