Awesome Books

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Paul Whybrow

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I clenched my teeth typing that title, as ‘awesome’ is the most overused adjective in the 21st-century. Describing a pizza as awesome is ridiculous, but it’s appropriate if looking at Niagara Falls.

Awe as a word originally meant terror (think 'awful') but came to mean something that creates a sense of wonder. Nowadays, it’s applied willy-nilly to anything that’s good.

If we use awesome to describe wondrous or even intimidating books, I find that I’m impressed by the works of those who write simply to convey meaning and by those who create worlds with many characters. For me, the first category means poetry and what might be called ‘outsider fiction’, writers such as Richard Brautigan and Charles Bukowski.

Here’s an awesome poem describing the human condition in twelve lines:


The Ideal

This is where I came from.
I passed this way.
This should not be shameful
Or hard to say.

A self is a self.
It is not a screen.
A person should respect
What he has been.

This is my past
Which I shall not discard.
This is the ideal.
This is hard.

James Fenton


Complex books written by C.J. Sansom and Robin Hobb which are part of a series blow me away. I’m currently reading Tombland, the seventh story in Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series. It’s 854 pages long, including a 50-page historical essay on the rebellion described. I hazard a guess, that there must be at least 125 characters in the story. It’s hard to keep track of who’s who, so I’d have appreciated a cast of characters at the beginning of the book to refer to. There is a map of Norwich and Mousehold Heath in 1549, which is interesting, but not essential.

I’m staggered by how these authors organise their plotting. The first Cornish Detective story I wrote had forty characters, which made me worry the reader would be confused.

Which books do you find awesome?

And, why?

iu
 
I am awed by books where the author has created a truly immersive world, right down to the most intricate details, languages, mythology and history.

There are a number of fantasy series that fall into this category. Tolkein was a master at this and while I have issues with his writing style and the pacing of his narrative, his world building was properly awesome.

Terry Pratchett, Patrick Rothfuss and JK Rowling have likewise trodden this impressive path (and indeed, other authors I haven't mentioned by name). Keeping track of all that must be a heck of a job, but also a true labour of love.
 
I find it hard to list books that have blown me away because the older I get the harder it is to remember them. And I’m not really a book worm, I probably haven’t even read that many!

But I’ve just finished The Underground Railroad, and that was pretty awesome. On the subject of Richard Brautigan I read The Sombrero Fallout recently and that was great.

The Road is one of my all time favourites for so many reasons: the style of the writing, the tension of the narrator’s voice, the cold bitten back emotion running all the way through it and an ending that just floored me.

And I love Salinger just for the simplicity, vulnerability and intelligence of his voice I think. The opening title story of For Esme with Love and Squalor is just perfect to me.
 
Brilliant quote. In fact, it's hard to pass by GRR Martin.

There are so many, for different reasons, it's hard to pick.

Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth plunges you into the wringer of emotion; Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver has undescribably brilliant dialogue; Silence of the Lambs has a brilliant villain; Phillip Reeves' Mortal Engines has truly unique world building; Michael Crichton's The Lost World (Jurassic Park), has the most obstacles I've ever read in the second half of a novel, just when you think things can't get worse they do (It's fascinating as a writer to see this done).

Both Pillars of the Earth and The Lost World affected me so much (in different ways), I needed to stop reading to harness the strength to go on. That's pretty awesome :)
 
I find it hard to list books that have blown me away because the older I get the harder it is to remember them. And I’m not really a book worm, I probably haven’t even read that many!

But I’ve just finished The Underground Railroad, and that was pretty awesome. On the subject of Richard Brautigan I read The Sombrero Fallout recently and that was great.

The Road is one of my all time favourites for so many reasons: the style of the writing, the tension of the narrator’s voice, the cold bitten back emotion running all the way through it and an ending that just floored me.

And I love Salinger just for the simplicity, vulnerability and intelligence of his voice I think. The opening title story of For Esme with Love and Squalor is just perfect to me.

@Andy D, if you enjoyed Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad try Benjamin H. Winter's Underground Airlines, which I chose as one of my favourite reads of 2018.

https://colony.litopia.com/threads/my-favourite-reads-of-2018.5132/
 
Philip Pullman's trilogy - especially Northern Lights - fits the bill I think, among recent novels. I associate awe with the sublime. If you want a brilliant definition of that, read Edmund Burke's essay 'On the Sublime and Beautiful'.
 
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