Big Stu's "Why the Fuck Haven't You Read This?!" (Literature edition)
Everybody loves a good book, right? I sure hope so. There's nothing in the world I find more depressing than when someone says, "I'm out of school now; I don't have to read anymore" or "If it's not required why would I read it?". That shit is poison to my ears.
It's in that spirit (and at the suggestion of some loyal subscribers) that I bring you a list of my favorite books / series. There are books on here that will affect you deeply and books that will provide you with a couple of hours of mindless entertainment. I've included books that will challenge you and force you to slow down. There's a little bit of everything (except Harlequinn Romance......none of that shit here). You'll see a lot of Stephen King; I won't include the whole catalog, merely the best (in my humble opinion, of course).
The Essentials (standalone novels):
- "It" by Stephen King (1986): The first book I ever reread more than once (I've actually read it well over 25 times). I consider "It" to be the Exorcist of horror novels. It's massive in scope and diverse in scares. If you don't know, "It" follows a group of 7 kids through their childhood in the late 1950's and into their adulthood in the 1980's as they battle Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a monster who is actually an ancient creature from another world who feeds on the fear (and the flesh) of children in a cycle of feeding and sleeping. It gives you a hundred different scares, but it also gives a touching story about the power of friendship, love, & belief. There is magic in the power of belief, and Stephen King uses a fucking clown to bond together some Losers and show that to you. My personal favorite book of all time.
- "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte (1847): "Jane Eyre" is the tale of an orphaned child (her parents died of Typhus) who is raised by her brutally strict Aunt at the behest of her dying uncle. It's a first-person novel that follows her throughout her entire life. No novel did more for "popular fiction" than Jane Eyre did- it was an unapologetic romance that was also very feminist in it's approach and tackled many of the social issues of the day. It's a first-rate love story with a strong mystery in the form of Mr. Rochester's history. I gave this one to my daughter when she was about 8 and she fell straight in love with it. It's a book that works in ANY generation.
- "The Stand" by Stephen King (1978): The ultimate tale of the apocalypse. Period. A superflu wipes out 99.4% of the world's population, leaving the scattered survivors in a battle for their very souls, aligning them with either Mother Abigail or Randall Flagg (aka The Walkin' Dude) via their visionary dreams. It's a book about what's left after the end of the world and what your place in it may be. It's another massive King tome (the uncut edition is well over 1000 pages) that will take you some time, but it's one hell of a ride with some amazing characters. Nobody does characterization like Stephen King. Randall Flagg is the bad guy to end all bad guys, and he appears in many of King's stories.
- "Animal Farm" by George Orwell (1945): It's the mother of all allegories and dystopian stories, written by a democratic socialist in response to his hatred of Stalinist Socialism. Yeah, it's very political, but it's also a damn good story. You don't have to nitpick all of the animals on the farm and assign them each a political counterpart (though many have) to be sucked into this one. The allegory is universal to practically every society on Earth. It's technically a novella in length, so you can get through it in one good sitting. And you will. It's a powerful and important book; one of those they teach you in school that I agree wholeheartedly with.
- "The Hellbound Heart" by Clive Barker (1986): It's the book that gave us the Hellraiser series. Isn't that enough for you? Where would we be without the signature sick voice of Clive Barker? This book is hardcore and supremely nasty. Not for the faint of heart.
- "NOS4A2" by Joe Hill (2013): Many have called this Joe Hill's version of "It", his father's famous novel. I would agree with that statement. "NOS4A2" is an often uncomfortable and unsettling tale of a supernaturally gifted child killer and all around sicko name Charlie Manx who kidnaps children and takes them to a place called Christmasland where they will never grow old or die. Manx is essentially a vampire who feeds on the life energy of his young victims. He cruises the land in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith. It's inside this vehicle that the kids are trapped in an alternate reality until they can be brought over. A mentally challenged man named Bing aids Manx in his pursuits by using gingerbread flavored Sevoflourane gas, hence the name The Gingerbread Man. This one goes all over the place, and all of the places it goes are very, very dark. A true masterpiece of singularly unique terror.
- "The Voice of the Night" by Dean Koontz (1980): Before Koontz went super commercial (not that there's anything wrong with that) he was writing some terrifying shit in the 70's and 80's. This one is a story of two young teens, Roy and Collin. Collin thought Roy was the coolest kid he knew- good with the ladies and brave as hell. Roy was, in fact, a total sociopath obsessed with murder. Their ensuing friendship is creepy and intense and gets even more so when Roy decides they should rape and kill the sexy neighbor. Koontz used to have some serious power in his words.
- "The Shining" by Stephen King (1977): It's the story of an alcoholic and his struggles to hold onto his family and beat his demons. That really is all that :The Shining" is TRULY about. However, his struggle takes place while snowed in an extremely haunted hotel with a very bloody past. His son has an amazing psychic gift, and The Overlook hotel is a bad place for him to be. "The Shining" is a book that doesn't get it's due as a legitimately important piece of American Literature and not just "pop fiction".
- "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee (1960): They teach this one is school for a good reason- it's the most important American novel ever written. The themes of racism and poverty and how you rise above it and get through it are a critical lesson wrapped up in a beautifully written story. It could've been called The Destruction of Innocence and that still would've been a perfectly accurate title. Even if you read it in school you should read it again as an adult. There are many layers to this one.
- "NIght" by Elie Wiesel (1960): This is the first-hand account of a concentration camp survivor. It's only about 100 pages and is easily the most powerful thing I've ever read. You can't read it with dry eyes. So fucking powerful. Make your kids read it. I'm not joking in the slightest about this.
The Series (I fucking love a good series):
- The Dark Tower series by Stephen King: Consisting of 8 books (The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, The Wind Through the Keyhole, Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower), this is Stephen King's self described "magnum opus". That's saying something for a writer as prolific as King. It's a western. It's horror. It's science fiction. It's action. It's allegorical. It's one of the strangest things ever written, but it will suck you in like a damn tractor beam. "The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed"........go get you some. You'll thank me.
- Dune series by Frank Herbert: Consisting of 6 novels by Frank Herbert- "Dune", "Dune Messiah", "Children of Dune", "God Emperor of Dune", "Heretics of Dune", & "Chapterhouse: Dune", this is the best selling science fiction series of all time. I don't think even Tolkien imagined a more richly detailed universe to play in (bold statement, I know). It's got Muad'Dib, the Bene Gesserit, Sandworms, spice melange, and so much more. Trust me....all of those things are awesome. Especially the sandworms. The series is continued by his son.
- The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien: Consists of 4 novels- "The Hobbit", "The Fellowship of the Ring", "The Two Towers", & "The Return of the King". I shouldn't have to explain this one. Even if you haven't read the books you should be familiar with the excellent movies from Peter Jackson. If you haven't read the books then SHAME ON YOU!!! And read "The Hobbit" first.
- A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin: Consists of 5 novels (currently)- "A Game of Thrones", "A Clash of KIngs", "A Storm of Swords", "A Feast for Crows", & "A Dance with Dragons". It's better known to the world as Game of Thrones, the insanely popular TV show on HBO. The show truly is like crack, but so are the books. There are glaring differences. It's the only one on the list that I'm not current on due simply to time constraints. Be warned- the books are VERY deep in characters and connections. Bring your A-game. It's worth it. As brutal as the show is the books are crazy violent and unforgiving. That's a compliment.
- North and South series by John Jakes: Consists of 3 novels- "North and South", "Love and War", & "Heaven and Hell". It's the tale of two families through the trials and tribulations of Civil War era America. The Hazards are a Northern ironworking dynasty, and the Mains are a South Carolina farming dynasty. There was a series of excellent miniseries made off of the books in the 1980's starring Patrick Swayze. The novels are so rich in detail they are decadent, and they are historically factual at almost all times. It's a classic American story. I was hooked on these throughout the 5th grade, and they are still great to go back and visit today.
- Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay: Yes, that's Dexter as in the Showtime TV show that ended a few years ago....it was a book series first. It consists of 7 novels- "Darkly Dreaming Dexter", "Dearly Devoted Dexter", "Dexter in the Dark", "Dexter by Design", "Dexter is Delicious", "Double Dexter", & "Dexter's Final Cut". Only the first book was used by Showtime for the TV show, so the books give you something totally new and different with the same cast of characters. They are a bit formulaic, but the format works well with the character. They're fun and not too challenging to read.
The Authors (who make it safe to try any of their stuff):
- Stephen King: He's the Master. Period. Amazing, in-depth characterization and rich settings and description. He's the most literate and well read writer of his generation and a certified English professor to boot. He does horror, suspense, drama, crime..........you name it. He's won every award there is and he's the definition of a "rock star" author.
- Clive Barker: Nobody, including King, brings the scares like Barker. He's a totally unique entity, weaving fantasy and horror and the erotic all in one. You can't find a bad Clive Barker book.
- Richard Matheson: The man gave us "I Am Legend" and "Somewhere In Time" and "What Dreams May Come". That should be enough, but he also pumped out 16 episodes of The Twilight Zone aka The Greatest Show Ever Put on TV. He was a true God of the written word.
- Frank Herbert: The Stephen King of science fiction. The Dune series isn't the only thing he wrote.
- John Jakes: The North and South Series and the Kent Family Chronicles are both great series from a man who really does his homework and has a passion for telling the American story.
- Thomas Harris: Harris gave the world Hannibal Lecter. He writes some of the tightest and most tense suspense you'll find anywhere, pound for pound. Another incredibly educated and literate writer.
- Joe Hill: Let me be clear about one thing: if Joe Hill WEREN'T the son of Stephen King he'd still be one of my favorites. His talent is immense, though he doesn't crank them out as fast as his old man does. That's not a bad thing. His Locke and Key comic series is also totally primo if you like dark and mythological.
- H.P. Lovecraft: One of the two Godfathers of horror (the other being Poe, of course). Lovecraft created a mythos that has become a near religion for millions of fans. His work wasn't really appreciated fully until decades after his death in 1937. His work is xenophobic at best and (at times) flat out racist at worst, but what do you expect from an early 20th century guy from old money?
- A. Lee Martinez: A local (DFW area) author who writes what gets classified as "weird fiction". He's carved out a nice little niche for himself. "Gil's All-Fright Diner" and "A Nameless Witch" are endlessly entertaining and balls-out hilarious. You'll have to look a little for his stuff, but it's worth looking for.
- Ramsey Campbell: He's very British and his horror is very British.........and I mean that in the best way possible.
- Edgar Allan Poe: I don't really need to tell you about him, do I?
There you have it, folks. There are many fine books that I have forgotten or that didn't fit into the format here, so I'll end it with an Honorable Mention list. Enjoy.
- "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson
- "Ghost Story" by Peter Straub
- "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert A. Heinlein
- "Fahrenheit 451" & "The Martian Chronicles" by Ray Bradbury (required reading)
- "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card (far superior to the film)
- "Fatherland" by Robert Harris (best of the "if the Nazis won" stuff)
- "A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess (a very tough read)
- "Freezer Burn" by Joe R. Lansdale