Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Books for People who Need People

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. If you like lists and books this is the meme for you!  I really like this week's topic which is all about books with great characters, officially stated as:  "Ten Books For Readers Who Like Character Driven Novels."  Of the three major elements important in fiction, character, story and writing, I definitely rank characters as the element I most want to shine.  All three are really important but I can forgive some weakness in the other two if I am happily spending time with some characters I find interesting.

In consequence, I feel a lot of pressure to choose books for this list that are truly amazing.  Let's see how I'll bear up.... (in no particular order):


1) George R.R. Martin - The Song of Ice and Fire Series

I'm under the impression that there is now a backlash against the idea that Martin is brilliant at writing characters and you know what?  I don't care.  I still think he's brilliant.  By pure dumb luck I picked up A Game of Thrones really early, like before there was a bandwagon, like 1996/1997 early. And that book BLEW MY MIND.  After consuming, and loving, standard epic fantasy for fifteen years A Game of Thrones was a revelation and not just because no character was safe from the ax.  Characters were gray.  We got to see the world from the "bad guys" perspective.  And that perspective was often sympathetic.  Some of his characters I love so much that I have crazy anxiety about their fates (Arya, Tyrion).  Sure he wasn't the first (thinking of Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series for one) and it's become a normal thing now but George R.R. does it really really well. 

2. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The characters and their relationships will delight you and stick with you.  It's one of the strongest elements of an all around strong book that combines mystery, romance, history.

3. Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

Bujold is one of the very best at writing realistic and complex characters, especially in the Fantasy and Science fiction realm.  Paladin of Souls is my favorite of hers and it is a fantasy novel but she is probably most famous for her science fiction series, the Vorkosigan Saga and those book's diminutive-in-stature-but-not-at-all-in-spirit hero Miles Vorkosigan.

4. Doc or The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

I'm finding that I want to put authors rather than books on the list.  I feel like some authors are just really talented at writing characters and so all their books tend to have strong characters.  These two books are both excellent and both very different.  In Doc she tackles the iconic figure of Doc Holliday and makes him come to life.  In The Sparrow she creates a group of characters that are unique and always interesting and puts them in extraordinary circumstances. 

5. In the Woods by Tana French 

This is the second time that this book has made an appearance on a Top Ten Tuesday in the last 3 weeks.  I list it here because while it is a fascinating murder mystery it is really all about it's narrator Rob and his partner on the Dublin Murder Squad, Cassie.  As I mentioned before, Rob who has been very likeable for the first 3/4 of the book turns into a complete asshat to a degree that I almost put the book down.  I was flummoxed by why an author would crucify one of her main characters, the narrator no less.  But after finishing the book and reflecting I realized that French had laid the seeds of Rob's asshattery with great subtlety throughout the book.  It was masterfully done and AWESOME. 

6. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

While my experience with YA literature is limited to the last couple years and to books in the fantasy genre, Seraphina has become my gold standard for richly drawn, realistic and interesting characters.  I compare all other YA books to.  It remains my favorite, at least of more modernly produced YA literature.  Except for Harry Potter though I get confused how to classify those - are they YA?  Moving on and speaking of which...

7. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

The thing that Rowling did so well was not just creating a trio of main characters that you love and root for but a whole huge rich cast of characters that are at the heart of the world of Harry Potter.  She also did not shy away from creating some gray characters like Snape who kept you guessing through almost all 7 books.  Honestly the feat of managing them all and never really missing a beat, is impressive.

8. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is another author who is very good at and somewhat specializes in writing really interesting characters.  I've read two of her books and I like this one best though State of Wonder is also good reading for characters.  Bel Canto has the advantage of putting captors and captives from very different backgrounds together in a house for many weeks.  The reader gets to know many of the characters on both sides and the ending is devastating.

9. Fables by Bill Willingham and many artists

I thought I'd mix things up a bit with a series of graphic novels.  I am pretty new to graphic novels and was super impressed by how vividly and well each of the fairy tale characters is given life.  I was truly wrecked by the last two volumes I've read, the one pictured above and volume 19 Snow White mostly because of how attached to the characters I have become. 

10. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

So many books could go in this last spot but Gone with the Wind is one of my favorite books of all time and it is because of the characters.  Interestingly I read it when I was 15 or 16 and I'm not sure if I would be as fascinated by the characters now which makes me not want to read it ever again.  I just want to hold on to my fond feelings for Scarlett and Rhett and their doomed marriage.  Scarlett is so easy to hate that it always surprises how much I love and admire her.  That takes some serious character writing chops to pull that off. 

That's it for me.  I am REALLY excited to see everyone else's list and am ready to add all sorts of books to me TBR. Bring it on!

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