1) 'Child 44' by Tom Rob Smith
This is the first book I ever loved. That sounded cheesy. Anyway, sure, I read 'Harry Potter' as a kid, but I never loved it. I read this when I was about, I don't know, 18 I guess and it had me with the cover. I didn't care that it was a crime book, (a genre I hate) I loved that it was set in Soviet Russia during Stalin's last years and the blurb summed up the sense of the book better than I ever could. I mean, come on, a bunch of crimes set in a place where the government insist there isn't any crime? That's golden. For the MGB (the secret police) to admit there was crime would be admitting that Communism was flawed in some way and Stalin wouldn't have that. Tom Rob Smith created such an interesting story set in a dark time in Russian history and the story is sinister. The characters are alive and well with substance and you really come to like Leo Demidov, the protagonist, even though to begin with he represents the mass-murdering system. For me, it was a breath of fresh air and to this day, I still can't get into crime fiction. Murder mysteries just aren't my thing. But, 'Child 44' is and it's two sequels, 'The Secret Speech' and 'Agent 6' make for excellent stories too.
2) 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy
If hopelessness is what you look for in your stories, read this. Post-apocalyptic fiction for me can be deeply engrossing, as well as fantasy. There's something fascinating about life without internet, a government or any kind of functional law at all. Whether it's because of a pandemic, nuclear fallout, a third world war or natural disasters, if done well, they are incredible to read, watch or play. 'The Road' is a masterful story about a father and his son who travel through a burned America hoping to reach the coast. Throughout the book, the reader is constantly reminded that nothing exists anymore. Plant life has been torn from the roots, trees are falling, random earthquakes rattle the earth and nasty hillbilly cannibals terrorize anybody still alive. They roam America knowing there's nothing to live for and the only things they have to lose are each other, and with a pistol loaded with two shots, they'll kill themselves if they can't survive together. At times, as in, most of the time, the book is harrowing. I've never read a post-apocalyptic story like 'The Road' before and the chief reason is because it's so hopeless. Usually, there is a glimmer of hope such as a small pocket of civilization holding out against the odds or some ultimate rescue, but there's nothing in the road. Even small one-time characters are placed in situations out of their control. One startling scene early on involves the father and son who stumble across a man wandering aimlessly along the road. When he falls over, they discover he's been struck by lightning. I've not the seen the film, only bits, but from what I'm told, it's faithful to the book. Also, the videogame I'm itching to play, 'The Last of Us' is supposed to be a videogame equivalent of the book. Not the same story or characters, but the same atmosphere and emotions. Hopelessness.
3) 'Looking for Alaska' by John Green
'Looking for Alaska' is my favourite book, ever. Having read it last year, I stumbled across not only an amazing author, but the book that changed my writing life. After reading it, I wanted to write a book that did the same things to a reader that 'Looking for Alaska' did for me. If somebody were to say to me that a book I wrote somehow reminded them or even remotely compared it to 'Looking for Alaska's' quality, then that would be it for me. I'm not saying I want to write another 'Alaska', that would be silly. No, I want to write a book that hits somebody as hard as 'Alaska' did for me. Something that changes something. Isn't that what art should do one way or another, something that does something that you just can't put your finger on when you describe it to someone else. They'll think you're nuts when trying to describe it, but no, you're not nuts, you just read a great book and eager to tell someone about it. After reading it, I read the rest of John Green's work and loved them all. In fact, I gave 'Alaska' to my best mate and he loved it as well. He's delirious with it at the moment. Young adult fiction, as it turns out it is what I love to write the most. I've never had more fun than writing my last novel which is young adult fiction. Thanks to 'Alaska', I write what I find most fun to write and what I believe to be what I'm best at writing.
Bonus!) 'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley
Just a special mention to this masterpiece that certainly would be next in line in my top 10 books. If you haven't read it, I heartily recommend it. It's nutty as hell, full of a future I don't want to see, but what's interesting about it is that, sure, it's a scary place, but it's really a utopia. All disease is gone and mankind lives happily. If they feel the blues coming on, they take a dose of Soma and they become happy again. If only it was that easy in real life. The whole process of bottle-grown babies and how people are labelled in classes is truly terrifying and it makes you think about how life is like now. How class creates problems and how drug use is used to ward off sadness and addiction itself. Then there's John the Savage who represents the old life, full of despair and other emotions. How he comes to terms with the new world and how everybody has sex with everybody, the mass usage of drugs and classes. No book comes close to 'Brave New World's' insanity.
Songs of the Week:
- 'I Can See the Pines Are Dancing' by A.A Bondy
- 'Silently She Cries' by Komatic
- 'Nine is God' by Wavves
- 'Demon to Lean On' by Wavves
- 'Sleepwalking' by The Chain Gang of 1974
- 'Wait for Me' by Rise Against
- 'All the Things She Said' by Simple Minds