Saturday, September 25, 2010

Quirkiness is All

Yesterday I listed the 10 books I would keep if forced to get rid of all the rest.  The novels on today's list missed the cut, but belong to perhaps my favorite reading category - "quirky."  Regardless of genre, they have these things in common:
  • The narrative is first or limited third person, by turns funny, ironic, and thoughtful.
  • The characters are convincingly real, and people I would like to have for friends.
  • The setting is either firmly grounded in historical fact or solidly visualized by an imaginative author.
  • The language sweeps the reader along.
  • Somewhere in the plot or the characterization is an unusual, unexpected, quirky twist.

Here without further ado are the quirky books I regularly re-read:

  • Bride of the Rat God, Barbara Hambly.  A fantasy novel set in Prohibition-era Hollywood.  Ancient Chinese magic, bootleg liquor, Pekingese dogs, mah-jongg, silent film-making, and coping with emotional loss.
  • The Tightrope Walker, Dorothy Gilman.  A very unusual heroine who owns a second-hand shop finds a note in an antique hurdy-gurdy written by a woman who says she's about to be murdered, and follows the trail to its source.  Handwriting analysis, politics, girlie calendars and various mostly-useless 1970's methods for finding oneself all figure into the plot.
  • Very Far Away from Anywhere Else, Ursula K. LeGuin.  This is my favorite coming-of-age novel.  Although written by a famous author of science fiction and fantasy, this books contains neither.  Anyone who has ever felt like an outsider in his or her own family will identify with and root for Owen, the protagonist, struggling through his last year of high school.  The quirkiness in this book centers on his relationship with Natalie, a classmate and budding composer whose life has the focus Owen's lacks.
  • Tea with the Black Dragon, R.A. MacAvoy.  Winner of the John W. Campbell award, this fantasy/mystery hybrid features among its characters a classically trained musician who now plays Renaissance festivals and sits zazen every morning, several 80's-era computer geeks, and an Asian gentleman who started life as a five-toed imperial dragon.
  • Thus Was Adonis Murdered, Sarah Caudwell.  An English barrister becomes embroiled in murder while on an Art Lover's Holiday in Italy and must be rescued by the other members of her firm.  Julia, the brilliant, attractive, and hopelessly absent-minded suspect, tells part of the story through a series of hysterically funny letters which are presented with dry commentary by the main narrator, a pompous co-worker.
  • A Cluster of Separate Sparks, Joan Aiken.  This book is a clever parody of the formulaic romantic suspense novel.  The heroine is hired to teach at the hilltop castle of an eccentric Greek millionaire, and the ensuing dangers include killer bees, Russian spies, and bad taste.
  • Bellwether, Connie Willis.  Set in the near future, this fantasy novel makes gentle fun of Starbucks, Barbie, self-help books and mindless trend-followers while the main characters study chaos theory, the root causes of fads, and sheep.
Since some of these books are now rather elderly they may only be available used, but every one of them is worth the search.  And yes, I know I'm supposed to be eliminating books, but if you have any enchantingly quirky favorites I didn't mention, please tell me about them.  After all, once I finish the weeding process, I should have quite a bit of empty space on my bookshelves!

"If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all." - Oscar Wilde 

No comments:

Post a Comment