Tag Archives: Richard Adams

10 Things I Love to Read About

On Monday I blogged about the 10 Things I Won’t Read About. It was surprising to see how many of the people who read my posts have similar aversions to those topics.

Today I’m talking about 10 things that would make me keen to pick up and read a book. I tried to make this list as detailed as possible, so you won’t be seeing vague entries like “science fiction” here.

Instead, I’ll be drilling down to specific topics that I’d be excited to read about with little regard given to which genre they might pop up in.

1.  LGBT+ Historical Novels, Especially Mysteries.

I’m fascinated by how people in the LGBT+ community lived during eras when they had to keep such important parts of themselves hidden away. This is still something that happens with LGBT+ people in many countries and cultures today, of course. Seeing how this has changed or is changing in some parts of the world gives me hope that someday it will improve everywhere.

Watching LGBT+ characters attempt to solve a mystery while also holding tightly onto their own secrets also makes this sort of storyline even more nerve-wracking than it might otherwise be. I want some parts of the plot to be revealed while hoping that other portions are only shared with people who will treat the main character kindly.

Example: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. (I’m currently read this book, so please don’t share spoilers for it!)

2. Colonizing Mars (and Other Planets).

To put it mildly, humans made a lot of terrible mistakes when they invaded other countries and continents. While there isn’t any life on Mars* that could be destroyed if or when humans begin living there, there are still plenty of ways for that social experiment to have devastating consequences for everyone who participates in it.

Just think of how many people died due to accidents, violence, disease, and malnutrition when Europeans first began living in Australia, the Americas, and other parts of the world. I hope I’m wrong about this, but I expect the death rate for the first few waves of people who move to Mars to be quite high as our species figures out how to survive on a planet that doesn’t even have a breathable atmosphere for us.

*to the best of our current scientific knowledge.

Example: The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.

3. Diverse or Unlikely Heroes. 

I love it when writers create protagonists who don’t fit the audience’s expectations of what a hero should look like. There have been so many examples of young, straight, white men saving the world in various fictional universes that I’m always happy to see people from other demographic groups get an equal chance to fight bad guys, too.

Example: Buffy Summers from the 90’s TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

4. How Medical and Scientific Advancements Happened

This is by far the broadest category on this list, but I’m intrigued by how scientists and doctors solved any number of problems in the past that are either unknown in westernized cultures today or no longer exist anywhere in the world. The nice thing about reading about medical and scientific advancements is that the author generally spends most of their time talking about how that invention, cure, or breakthrough happened and how it changed society as a whole.

It’s been my experience that these sorts of books don’t spend much time at all discussing the graphic details of, say, a specific disease or injury. A portion of the first chapter might talk about the typical results for people before the invention of a certain drug or treatment, but generally everything else will be about how the researchers figured out a solution to the problem. I’ll endure a  brief discussion of surgery or gore early on if I’m otherwise interested in the topic and the author soon moves on to how that issue affected society as a whole and how the treatment or solution was eventually found.

Example: Breakthrough: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg.

5. How Social Justice Movements Actually Change the World.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I learned that Martin Luther King, Jr. was widely hated by the mainstream culture before his assassination. He was seen by many white Americans as someone who was pushing for too much change too soon. This wasn’t something that was covered in any of my lessons about him in school, although after reading his wife’s memoir about their life together I wish it had been.

Sometimes the people who originally fought for a more just world aren’t around to see how all of those long years of hard work will begin to pay off.

Changing laws and public opinion on an issue takes time. It’s not generally something that will happen overnight, but it can happen. This is a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past year or so, and it’s making me want to read more about what previous generations did to fix the things they saw that were wrong with their societies.

Example: My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King.

6. Foster Care and Foster-Adoption.

For the past three generations, various relatives of mine have fostered and adopted children. Honestly, this would be my #1 choice for becoming a parent if I had the desire to raise children. There is an urgent need for foster parents here in North America, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same could be said of many other parts of the world as well.

Having so many extended family members who were foster children makes my ears perk up every time a fiction or non-fiction book is written about this topic.

Example: Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter.

7. Rabbits Enjoying Adventures. 

Anyone who has known me longer than ten minutes will have some inkling of how much I love rabbits.

Anytime they show up as a main or secondary character in a story, I’m immediately interested in finding out what will happen to them.

There aren’t a lot of authors out there who write about rabbits going on quests, so I jump into every example of this niche I can find.

Example: Watership Down by Richard Adams.

8. Hopeful Visions of the Future.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m thirsty for stories that have a hopeful outlook on what is in store for humanity a few decades or centuries from now. The news is so full of fear and apprehension these days that I look for happier perspectives on what life will be like for future generations wherever I can find them.

Example: All of the Star Trek series.

9. Vengeful Ghosts Who Had a Point.

Many different types of ghost stories appeal to me, but the ones I enjoy the most are about folks who had excellent reasons for being so angry and restless in the afterlife.

There’s something emotionally satisfying about figuring out their backstories and seeing if the protagonists will finally be able to help them find the peace they were denied when they were still alive.

I’m also fascinated by how the actions of a small group of people can continue to negatively affect their descendants and/or community for generations to come. This regularly happens in non-paranormal ways in real life, and there often aren’t any easy answers for how to end those cycles once they begin.

Exploring this topic in a ghost story is a wonderful way to neutrally ask questions about justice, reconciliation, and what the current generation should be morally obligated to do to fix the mistakes of people who lived and died long ago.

Example: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

10. The Daily Lives of Prehistoric People.

I sure wouldn’t want to be part of a hunter-gatherer tribe in real life, but I love reading about characters who lived in that kind of society.

There is something fascinating to me about all of the different skills one would need to survive when you need to make, hunt, or gather everything you and your family need to survive.  I’m also drawn to the idea of living in such a tight-knit culture. It’s not something I’d want to do all day every day, but I do see the benefits of forging such strong bonds with others. Having so many adults working together must have made everything from raising children to looking after a sick or injured relative easier than it is in more individualistic cultures.

If there are Neanderthals or other now-extinct human (or human-like) species in the storyline, I’ll be even more interested since there are so many things that a skeleton, stone tool, or cave painting can’t tell you about what a group was actually like.

Example: The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron.

What topics are you always eager to read about?

Saturday Seven: Rabbit Tales

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Happy Easter to everyone who is celebrating that holiday this weekend! Rabbits are the first thing I think about when Easter comes to mind, so I thought I’d talk about them today. Since rabbits are my favourite animal of all time, it always makes me happy to see representations of them in books, cards, plush toys, candies, and so many other places at this time of the year.

The vast majority of the stories out there about rabbits are bedtime stories written for young children. I genuinely have no idea why that is the case. Today I tried to come up with as many examples as possible of books that were written for older audiences. No one is ever too old to like rabbits, and there are many different ways to write about this animal.

I mean, I’ve been a proper adult for years now, but I still get irrationally excited whenever a rabbit is nearby. They’re such soft fluffy, and often hilariously stubborn little creatures. If not for my unfortunate allergy to them, I’d have at least two or three of them hopping around my house and getting into mischief right this minute.

The Tale of a Fierce Bad Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

Nearly everyone has heard of Peter Rabbit. If you liked that story, you might really enjoy the author’s less widely known works, too. What I appreciated the most about The Tale of a Fierce Bad Rabbit was that all of the naughty things the rabbit did in it happened for a reason. He was a smart little creature who knew exactly what he was doing and why he was doing it.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Make sure you have a full box of tissues ready to go ahead of time. This is a real tearjerker, but it’s also one of my favourite stories of all time. For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, it’s about a toy rabbit who was deeply loved by a little boy. After the boy was diagnosed with scarlet fever, all of the toys in his room were sent away to be burned to prevent the spread of that awful disease.

What happened to the toy rabbit next is why I read this tale over and over again.

 

Zomo the Rabbit: A Trickster Tale from South Africa by Gerald McDermott

This was a story I accidentally stumbled across at my local library a few weeks ago. I’d never heard of the legend of Zomo the Rabbit before, but I loved seeing how he used his wits to outsmart creatures much larger and stronger than he was.

Watership Down by Richard Adams

I know this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about Watership Down on a Saturday Seven post, but it simply had to be included in this week’s list.

The bunnies in this story were courageous and kind. This was almost like a rabbit’s version of The Hobbit or some other epic adventure that required facing many dangers before the heroes had any hope at all of accomplishing their mission.

Disapproving Rabbits by Sharon Stiteler

Many years ago, there used to be a blog called “Disapproving Rabbits” that shared pictures of rabbits looking surly, annoyed, or like they disapproved of everything their humans were doing. That site sadly no longer exists, but this book is a collection of many of the photos that were featured on it back in the day.

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

The empathy in this story was beautiful. Grief and loss are difficult subjects for many adults to talk about, so I loved the fact that the authors wrote something explaining those things to young children who are even more bewildered by them than us grown-ups are.

Stories Rabbits Tell: A Natural and Cultural History of a Misunderstood Creature by Susan E. Davis

This is a book that I’ve actually been trying to get ahold of for quite a while now, although I’ll almost certainly skip the section about how and why rabbits are slaughtered for human consumption. With that being said, learning more about the history, sociology, and folklore of rabbits appeals to me quite a bit in general.

Have you ever had a pet rabbit? What is your favourite animal in general?

 

Saturday Seven: Series That Should Be Turned Into TV Shows

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

A friend of mine is absolutely obsessed with Game of Thrones. I’d guess that at least a third of the conversations we have somehow include a reference to this show. Even though I’ve never actually watched Game of Thrones, I’m beginning to understand a lot of her references to it because of how much she talks about it.

The more she gushes about it, the more I think about all of the series that I’d love to see brought to the small screen. All of them are so full of dazzling details about their worlds that it would take a few seasons of a TV show to even begin to fully explore what they have to offer.

 

1. The Earths’ Children series by Jean M. Auel. 

This series has it all: adventure; action, mammoths, romance, unsolved mysteries, Neanderthals, and even a stubborn pet wolf that occasionally refuses to do what he’s told.

Ayla, the main character, was a human who was orphaned at the age of five in an earthquake. She was discovered and raised by Neanderthals. The Clan of the Cave Bear told the story of her highly unusual childhood. The sequels showed what happened after she was disowned by the folks who raised her and forced to eke out a living alone while she searched for signs of other humans.

Without giving away any spoilers, I was not happy with how the final book ended due to how many conflicts were still left unresolved in the last scene. If this were made into a TV show, we’d have another chance to resolve those issues for the characters.

 

2. The Neanderthal Parallax trilogy Robert J. Sawyer.

If only all of you knew how tempted I was to talk about nothing but Neanderthals today! I love stories about them, and there are a lot of great ones out there. I might just have to blog about them on a future Saturday Seven post.

The unusual thing about this series is that it’s set in the present day. Ponter Boddit, the main character, accidentally pierced the veil between his Earth and our own early on in the plot and ended up accidentally getting transported to our universe. On his alternate version of Earth, humans died out tens of thousands of years ago while Neanderthals like him had become the dominant species.

I can’t tell you anything about the Neanderthals’ version of Earth without giving away major spoilers, but I was fascinated by all of the cultural and physiological differences between them and us. Some of them were things that I never would have thought of as a possible difference between our two species.

 

3. The Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.

This series immediately came to mind when I saw the film The Martian a few years ago. Colonizing Mars would be an incredibly expensive and difficult endeavour for the first few generations to do it.

Based on how much audiences loved watching Matt Damon’s character figure out how to survive alone on such a harsh planet, I think there would be an audience out there who would like to see Nadia Cherneshevsky and her team struggle to create the first Martian settlement.

Future generations in this trilogy even eventually terraformed Mars into something very Earth-like with lakes, forests, and everything else you’d expect from a habitable planet. How cool would that be to see on the small screen!

 

4. The Xenogenesis trilogy by Octavia E. Butler.

This series began with a massive nuclear war that (supposedly) killed every last human on Earth. The main character’s husband and son were among those dead.  When she woke up in an unfamiliar place hundreds of years later, she had no idea why or how she was still alive. It turned out that an alien species called the Oankali had intervened at the last possible moment and saved a small percentage of humanity from certain extinction.

That paragraph alone could provide enough fodder for the first season of a TV show, and that barely scratched the surface of everything that happened in this trilogy. Not only did the main character have to grieve the loss of her family, she had to figure out why the Oankali had saved a small percentage of humanity and what they wanted from us in exchange.

 

5. The Quintaglio Ascension trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer.

I have five words for you: intelligent dinosaurs who can speak.

Afsan, the main character, was about to go through a rite of passage that would make him an adult in the eyes of his society when this tale began. His species worshipped a heavenly body known as the Face of God. Every Quintaglio (which is their name for their reptilian species) must go on a quest to observe it when they become an adult.

The problem was, Afsan noticed something about the Face of God on his journey that contradicted a major tenant of his religion. He then had to decide whether to reveal this knowledge or keep it to himself.

The world building was extremely well done. Afsan had a deeply reptilian understanding of the world, and it showed in how he responded to all kinds of situations that a human would have a completely different response to. For example, the way his species treats their young is nothing at all like how humans treat their young. He would be as horrified by some of our practices as we would be of his, and that would make for must-watch television in my opinion!

 

6. The Avalon series by Marion Zimmer Bradley. 

I was never particularly into any Arthurian legends, but I loved this series immediately. The Mists of Avalon retold the legend of King Arthur from the perspective of his sister Morgaine. While The Mists of Avalon was technically made into a mini-series many years ago, the next six books in the series have never received the same treatment as far as I know.

They really fleshed out this world, though, and I think it would be wonderful to finally see the entire story from beginning to end on the small screen. One of them, Ancestors of Avalon, even described how and why Stonehenge was created. Sadly, I’ve forgotten most of the plot of that book, but now I really want to reread it. I am just a little bit obsessed with Stonehenge in general, so it would be really cool to see those scenes come to life.

 

7. The Watership Down series by Richard Adams.

Anyone who has read this blog for a long time and remembers how much I love rabbits won’t be surprised by the final entry on my list at all. I can’t imagine many things more interesting than an entire TV show about a warren of rabbits who are desperately trying to find a new home.

While there were cute and fuzzy moments just like you’d expect from this species, there were also a lot of heart-pounding action scenes. Life is frightening and dangerous for prey species. This is even more true when a large group of rabbits are trying to move to a new home through completely unfamiliar and often dangerous territory. I think this book would make a fantastic TV show because of that.

Have you read any of the books on my list this week? What series do you wish would be turned into a TV show?

10 Fantasy Books I’d Recommend to New Readers of This Genre

Last August I blogged about science fiction and fantasy books I’d recommend for elementary, middle school, and high school students.  Last week I blogged about science fiction books I’d recommend to adults who are unfamiliar with that genre.

Today let’s talk about books that are a wonderful introduction to fantasy in general for anyone who hasn’t explored this genre yet. I’m much more selective about what types of fantasy fiction I read than I am about science fiction. On the positive side, once I fall in love with a fantasy story I will become one of it’s biggest advocates for many years to come.

I generally have a preference for fantasy tales that were written for children or teenagers for reasons that are hard to tease out. This list reflect that, although there are still plenty of novels for adults on it as well.

Fantasy is a genre that requires a lot of world-building in order to make an unfamiliar place feel like home for the readers, so there won’t be any short stories in today’s post. Longer novels usually do better in this regard in my experience.

Finally, I gravitated towards books that have been made into films, TV shows, mini-series, or plays. I often prefer to watch fantasy rather than read it because of how rewarding it is to see a world I’ve spent years dreaming about finally come to life, dragons or intelligent little rabbits and all. Nearly all of the recommendations below have been transformed into one of these things at least once.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

First of all, everyone’s heard of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. There are references to it everywhere, and for good reason. This was actually one of the first fantasy tales I ever read, and it’s something I enjoy going back to visit again every so often.

The scene that made me a lifelong fan was the one where Alice drank a potion and magically shrunk to a fraction of her size. I giggled the first time I read it, and it’s still charming to me to this day.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman.

I saw The Princess Bride movie years before I had any idea it was based on a book. It was a fairy tale that seemed to somehow be self-aware, and it was like nothing I’d never read or heard of before. I’m still not entirely sure if it was supposed to be a kindhearted parody of the fantasy genre or an homage to it. Given the tongue-in-cheek but ultimately warm and supportive writing style, it’s probably a little of both.

What I do know about this story is that it’s timeless and appeals to kids and adults alike. To me, this is a sign of great fantasy.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Before I read The Mists of Avalon, I’d never known that retelling a classic legend from the point of view of an antagonist was something that had been or could be done. Morgan le Fay was someone I’d barely heard of at that point, and all of the reference to her in the versions of the older King Arthur legends I had read were fairly negative.

It came as a shock to me, then, to read about Arthur’s life and kingdom from the perspective of Morgan. I was fascinated by all of the details of her life that the author invented in order to explain why this character made certain decisions and why the other characters didn’t always understand her.  Morgan became much more human and likeable to me after I finished The Mists of Avalon.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.

Creating imaginary worlds and then playing in them is arguably one of the best parts of childhood. Terabithia was as complex and magical as any other world a kid could imagine, and I loved reading about Jesse and Leslie’s adventures there.

This is also one of the few fantasy novels I’ve ever read that had a sad ending. I don’t give generally give away spoilers in my posts, but I would recommend being cautious with this one for readers who are younger or sensitive.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.

Every once in a while I run across someone who has never read the Harry Potter series. I’m slightly surprised every time it happens, but I’m sure there are other series out there I haven’t tried yet that others would have the same reaction to.

This series is a smart introduction to modern fantasy for a few different reasons: it has a large fanbase; the movies were well done; the story telling only gets stronger as the series continues. It’s also aged well and is something I expect people to continue to read for generations to come because of that.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

I have one word for you: puns. This story is brimming with them, and it only makes the Kingdom of Wisdom even more amusing than it would have been otherwise. I also enjoyed the messages embedded in this one about the importance of education and the wonders you can discover if you explore the world around us with curiosity.

The fantasy genre can be quite good at exploring messages like these without feeling preachy or pushing the main plot off topic. The Phantom Tollbooth did a fantastic job of showing the readers the importance of these things without skimping on the development of the plot.

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman.

Disclaimer: I haven’t read the other two books in this trilogy yet. My recommendation only extends to The Golden Compass at this point.

This is the heaviest and most complex book recommendation for today’s post. I almost deleted it and replaced it with something else, but I eventually decided that it should stay. Complexity isn’t a bad thing, and neither are stories that are darker than what is typical for the age range or genre they were written for.

How do you know what is real? What do you do when your experiences of the world don’t match the orthodox explanations for how things work? When should – and shouldn’t – we trust authority figures simply because they’re authority figures?

These are hard questions for adults to answer, and they’re even tougher for kids to comprehend. I enjoyed seeing how Lyra tried to figure out what the truth really was regardless of who wanted to stop her.

 

Watership Down by Richard Adams.

Watership Down was something I discovered shortly after I developed my love of rabbits. The idea of reading an entire story about a fluffle* of rabbits who were searching for a new home was quite appealing, and I only enjoyed it more once I realized just how unique each rabbit was and how much they all mattered to the plot as well as to their urgent need to find a safe place to call home.

*No, I am not being cutesy here. This is the technical term for a group of rabbits, and I love it.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Not only is this a classic Christmas story, it’s a magical glimpse into what fantasy can look like if its set in an urban society that barely seems aware of its existence at all. Out of all of the different types of fantasy out there, this one is my favourite. It’s exciting to find the subtle hints that a fantasy realm has influenced an otherwise completely ordinary society.

Having such an ordinary setting also made Scrooge’s encounters with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future even more poignant than they would normally be. Who would have guessed that such a wealthy, greedy, and powerful man was being quietly watched by beings who desperately wanted him to change his tune before it was too late?

 

The Stand by Stephen King.

Will the world end with a bang or a whimper? This novel was so long that I only managed to read through the whole thing once. All of those extra pages and scenes were used to to create a frightening world in which 99.4% of the human population died from an unforgiving virus that had been accidentally released into the general human population.

The survivors were gradually separated into two distinct groups, one lead by a devil figure and the other lead by a woman who is fighting on the side of good. That’s when the plot became a must-read for me. This is such a classic trope in the fantasy genre, and it was explored fully in The Stand.

How about you? What fantasy books would you recommend to new readers of this genre?