Thursday, June 04, 2009

Essential Fantasy Reading

I didn't do quite as much yesterday, as I expected, but I still passed my goal for the day. I'll have to do some reworking of what I wrote because there was some thinking on paper, and I didn't realize until I'd written it all out that it probably would happen in a slightly different way and would be more interesting that way. There won't be much deleting, just a lot of moving things around. I can deal with that.

I'm not sure if it will help or hurt that something is happening now that is my equivalent of the Final Four. It's the final round of the Van Cliburn Piano Competition. Every time they do this I say that next time I'll go over to Fort Worth and get tickets for at least the preliminaries, which are somewhat affordable, but I never have. One year, I was able to listen to the whole competition on the radio, but I can't pick up that radio station here since my current house seems to be in an RF dead zone and I can barely listen to the radio at all in my house. Fortunately, the final round is also being broadcast on the Dallas classical station that I can pick up (with some hissing). That means I'll be listening to the radio every night the rest of the week and then on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Two of the finalists are playing the Rachmaninoff second piano concerto, which is my favorite piece of music ever. Sometimes the piano music helps with the creativity, but I can't write and listen to that particular Rachmaninoff piece.

I don't actually play the piano, but I've had a lifelong fascination with it. Some of my friends were taking lessons when I was a kid, and when I was at their house, I'd try to work through their lesson books. I taught myself to read music from those books. I actually begged for piano lessons, but that was in the Dark Ages before there were decent electronic pianos and a real piano just wasn't feasible for people who moved every year or so and were likely to move overseas. I've got a keyboard now, so I probably should start learning, but now I find it very frustrating. I play flute and sing and used to play oboe (I started playing guitar and got pretty good at classical guitar, but my skin doesn't form calluses, so I had to give that up due to the pain and bleeding), so I'm fairly advanced musically, but only in treble clef. I have to think about the bass clef, and I'm not used to having to play two notes at the same time. Even very easy piano music is very difficult for me, but my brain sees that easy music and thinks, "Piece of cake!" and then I get frustrated that something that should be easy is so hard. I can see why they recommend piano as a first instrument. It's more difficult to learn later in life when you already play other instruments. Maybe when I count as a senior citizen, I can take one of those "senior piano camps" they're always advertising at music stores.

I kind of have to confess that I first became interested in most of the guys I've dated (the ones I pursued in any way instead of it being a blind date or them pursuing me) because they played the piano. Strangely, that did not prove to be a viable mate selection criterion.

Everyone was talking yesterday about the death of author David Eddings, and I'm starting to feel fantasy illiterate again because while I'd heard of him, I'd never gotten around to reading any of his books, and apparently they're a fantasy "gateway drug" for a lot of people. It would be handy if there was some kind of recommended reading list of the fantasy novels every fantasy fan should at least try to read, like they have for all the literary and classic works. I've read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the entire Chronicles of Narnia series and the entire Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander. I read the first few Anne McCaffrey dragon books (although technically they're science fiction, but they always seem to be classified as fantasy). I read maybe the first four Shannara books by Terry Brooks. In high school I was obsessed with the Deryni series by Katherine Kurtz, and I've mostly kept up, though I haven't read the latest one. I got about two and a half books into the Robert Jordan Wheel of Time series before deciding I no longer cared. I've read most of the Tad Williams Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series (though the last volume has a bookmark stuck in it, so I don't think I finished it). I only got one chapter into the Thomas Covenant series before deciding it wasn't for me, but I have read Donaldson's mirror series. I've read Emma Bull's The War for the Oaks, a fair amount of Charles deLint, most of Gaiman's adult novels and short stories and am making a fair dent into Pratchett's Discworld series.

Then there's all the current stuff to keep up with. But I still feel like I've missed a lot. What would you put on the Essential Fantasy Reading List -- both "classic" and more current?

I do seem to have a bad habit of burning out on series or losing track of them. If most of them have already been published, then I tend to binge and burn out. If I have to wait for each new book to come out, I'll lose interest and move on to something else before the next book comes out. The series I stick with tend to be finite/closed-ended, so there's an end point in sight instead of books stretching out to infinity, each book is somewhat self-contained with no real cliffhanger endings (I hate the fantasy doorstop series where they seem to end the book at the point where they can't fit more paper in the binding, so there's no sense of real structure to the plot), and where books come out on a fairly regular schedule, close enough together to not lose interest, but not so close that I can't keep up. But most of all, the series has to stay good. Too many times, the first book is brilliant and then the quality tapers off, or the characters change so that I no longer care about them, or else the author's favorite character is not my favorite character and I lose interest as the books focus on someone I dislike while marginalizing the person I do like. Or the plot starts to focus on something that I don't find interesting. There are very few series I've read in their entirety.

If we can come up with a good Essential Fantasy Reading List, I'll post it on my web site as a reference. Or if you know of one someone else has compiled, point me toward it.

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