Name any book nowadays, and I bet I can name a segment of the population that would be offended by it's content. In the name of political correctness and family values, we get closer and closer to the worlds of Orwell and Bradbury. Of all the books I that have passed my eyes in the past year, I can think of no work that could be or should be offensive to any person of reasonable intelligence. Of course, reasonable intelligence is something that is fading as fast as personal responsibility. Through reading, I have discovered that my thoughts and ideals have expanded to embrace those of a culturally diverse world. I think that if everyone could expand their horizon's by the slightest margin, most of the society's problems would disappear. I'll step off the soap box now and move on to the subject at hand.
The books under consideration are not restricted to those only published in year 1994. Rather, it covers all books personally read during the afore-mentioned year. If I had tried to confine my recommendations to '94 copyrights, the list would have been quite short and might have forced me to recommend books that were not as strong as books from prior years.
I did not (and will not) provide a one-two-three ranking of books. It's just too difficult. What I have provided, is a selection of recommended works, in six categories, with some additional comments and recommendations added where I felt they were justified.
Recommending books to a friend, relative or even a stranger is like recommending a movie or a restaurant. As the recommend-er, you either over sell or under sell the article. As the recomend-ee you often come away with mixed results. Therefore, I offer the following as a guide:
First, seek confirmation from other readers/sources whose opinion you value. Don't ignore a book if you get mixed or even negative responses. Consider the next two recommendations before totally dismissing a book.
Second, check the accolades sometimes included on the back of the book jacket. Content is important. In most cases, these quotes are taken out of context and are worthless. However, in a few instances, I have used these in borderline decisions and had positive results.
Finally, read the abstract on the book jacket. Concentrate on keywords, ideas and subjects that suit your interests. I use these a lot when browsing, especially for fiction.
So, after all of my verbiage, please don't get bent out of shape if I panned your favorite novel of all time. Everybody's entitled to an opinion, whether you agree with it or not.
A piece of fiction that has risen above the name 'book' or 'novel' and has been renamed a 'classic'. An adequate description would be any work found on a high school reading list of several years ago. With the current censorship of public school libraries, I would suspect that recent lists ignore many great works.
Reading classics can be a struggle and is something that you should not step into lightly. It takes a different mind-set to adjust to a style of writing that existed many years ago. Occasionally, you will find a writer who has managed to eclipse this barrier to create something timeless. Dickens is definitely one such writer. A Tale of Two Cities is a classic (to abuse the word). Don't forget that it begins and ends with two of the most famous quotes in literature.
I considered omitting Catch-22 from the list, because I felt that it was too long with respect to story versus substance. However, substance (and the ending) won me over. I would equate Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five with Catch-22, except the story comes across in less pages.
Jules Verne should be read just for the amazement of his vivid imagination. So much of that imagination (from 1870) has come to be true. The amount of subject knowledge contained in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is incredible.
I found both, Lady Chatterly's Lover and Wuthering Heights, to be similar with respect to the age old struggle of love across one's position in society. I should state that I read Lady Chatterly's Lover because of it's history and Wuthering Heights because of Kate Bush's song of the same name.
Reading D.H. Lawrence in today's world loses much (though not all) of it's impact. To judge it properly, you need to adjust your mind to the period of it's release. Do you know what a John Thomas is?
This category includes any work of fiction that's not classified as a Classic, SCIENCE Fiction or as a Whodunit.
I really don't know how to describe The Fermata. The story is based around the ability of the main character to freeze time for everyone around him, excluding himself. Imagine what you could do if you had this ability.
It doesn't get much better than a Rita Mae Brown novel. Her words flow down the page like water over a fall. It's very easy to lose oneself in her characters and writing.
Six Of One and it's sequel Bingo are a great place to start. I would follow those with Venus Envy, which was major best-seller last year, and then Rubyfruit Jungle, which was her first major success. I have not read all her works, but I have read most. Like any writer, some works are better than others, but with Brown I've found none that disappoint.
If you have any hesitance about reading novels with gay characters, you can skip the books by Busch and Rodi, If you do, too bad for you. These were two of the most enjoyable books I read all year. Nobody has described the typical, comic book fanatic better than Rodi did in What They Did to Princess Paragon.
Jeanette Winterson's novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit is similar to Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle in subject and story. Even with the similarities, it's an outstanding work and is a must read.
NP was not quite as strong as last year's Kitchen, but it's was still a solid effort. A good book for one night's reading.
Mark Frost (one of the co-creaters of Twin Peaks) has a strong first effort in The List Of 7. It's a haunting tale, told from the point of view of Dr. Watson (from Sherlock Holmes). As a backdrop to the main story, Frost provides a pre-history to the emergence of Sherlock Holmes.
John Updike's Rabbit At Rest is the concluding book to his Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom series. A good accounting of what many of us have to look forward to in our declining years. Updike is definitely not a Florida lover. It won a Pulitzer Prize.
Mark Saltzman's The Soloist would have made the recommended list, except for the weak ending. Saltzman's put so much into the character development, that I guess he had nothing left for the end.
Haruki Murakami's Dance, Dance, Dance went on and off the recommended list several times. If I had read it later in the year it might of stayed. An excellent work in his usual quirky style. I would recommend reading A Wild Sheep Chase as a lead-in into Dance, Dance, Dance.
Moving into erotic tales, we have Anne Rice. The Sleeping Beauty trilogy was great, but when finished, I felt that something was missing. Her novel Exit To Eden, based on some of the same eroticism and emotions as the Sleeping Beauty trilogy, was done a gross injustice by the rip-off movie of last summer. Her other novel Belinda, the last of the non-vampire/witch novels, is the best of the bunch. I think I will regret omitting it from the recommended list.
This is the catch-all category for any work that can't be pigeon-holed somewhere else i.e. biographies, non-fiction works (non-science related), photographic journals, comic strip works, etc.
Not many completions this year, but Sallie Tisdale's Talk Dirty To Me did provide a good discussion on sexual attitudes and relationships in the 1990's. I found it much more insightful than a Nancy Friday book (no knock on Nancy).
Includes astronomy, cosmology, physics, genetics, biology, anthropology, paleontology, and just about any of the other -ologies out there. Also includes science and technological history.
Everyone should read Richard Preston's book. It vividly illustrates the fragility of our existence. Read the accolades on the book cover -- they don't lie. The first chapter was so graphic, that I had to skim parts of it. If you can survive the first chapter, you'll make the rest. If you have a week stomach, your in trouble.
Moonshot was incredible. The best account of the space race, yet. If Moonshot is the best book on the space race, then William Burrows' book is the best book on space exploration et al. It covers topics in Moonshot, plus a wealth of additional topics. If you read Moonshot and Exploring Space, you would have a good accounting of space exploration to the present day.
Although Richard Leakey's book does not have the force of the others, it still was a well written account of the current concerns of anthropology. A good book for an introduction in the subject, with a minimum of scientific terms.
Other works of interest include Alan Lightman's Time For The Stars. A solid writer who amazed everybody last year with his book Einstein's Dreams (highly recommended).
Another book recommended is Ivars Peterson's book Chaos In The Solar System. At points it gets somewhat technical, but overall a good effort.
The bold SCIENCE says enough.
It doesn't get much better than I, Robot and The Martian Chronicles. Even if you do not like science fiction, you should read these books which consist of jointed/dis-jointed short stories.
Clarke's Imperial Earth is not as strong as some of his other works, but I recommend it for the same reason I recommended Jules Verne's book. Clarke's description of the future and how it matches the current world are unbelievable. Of course, how can you go wrong with Clarke.
The Left Hand Of Darkness is quite different from the other books. Character development and story lines are much deeper and fuller. It's an excellent story exploring a race of people who are sexually neutral except for one period a month when they can be either male or female.
Arthur C. Clarke's and Gentry Lee's Rama Reveled was a great conclusion to the four book saga. The first book Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur alone, was the best.
Arthur's Expedition To Earth and Reach For Tomorrow are both great collections of short stories.
Asimov's robot series which starts with I, Robot and goes through The Caves Of Steel, The Naked Sun, The Robots of Dawn and finally Robots and Empire rivals Clarke's Rama series as outstanding body of science fiction.
Spelled as it's properly pronounced. Primarily (and almost exclusively) European authors who wrote/write in the style of Christie, Sayers and Simenon. American authors (other than a precious few like Grimes, Braun and now Brown) tend to sensationalize plot lines as if they were writing for a made-for-television movie.
No single recommendations, because it's an impossible task. It's like trying to recommend a single Sherlock Holmes story, when you know that they should read them all.
Rita Mae Brown's Sneaky Pie series puts a different spin on the use of animals in a story. Wish You Were Here and Rest In Pieces were excellent, but I felt her newest, Murder In Monticello, was too over burdened with history.
I read the complete Lillian Jackson Braun The Cat Who... series. If you are going to delve into these novels, I would highly recommend that you follow the copyrights. There are lots of references and characters that re-appear in subsequent books. The stronger efforts are the first three books, along with The Cat Who Went Underground and The Cat Who Talked To Ghosts. The weaker efforts are The Cat Who Lived High and The Cat Who Moved a Mountain. After reading that Braun did not choose her antagonist to the very end of writing a book, I lost a lot of respect for her work.
The closest I will come to an American-styled mystery, would be the Lovejoy series by Jonathan Gash. There are a couple of works, such as The California Game, where I think Gash has pushed the story beyond believability. The Judas Pair and The Grail Tree are two of the stronger works. All the books have a wealth of information on antiques (and faking antiques, if that interests you). The books and the television series are not the same, although there are more similarities than most book-to-television transfers.
I'm one short of finishing the Ngaio Marsh series. The nice thing about this series is that it's not necessary to read them in order of publication. If you match the copyrights to the character's ages, you will find that the stories jump around in time. Theaters and actors seem to pop up quite often. I've found that the earlier works are much better than the later. One to avoid is Last Ditch.
If you are looking for quick reads, there are probably none better than Georges Simenon's Maigret books. Considering there are hundreds of novels revolving around the character of Maigret, I will be reading these for quite some time to come. If you like the PBS Mystery version, you will like the books.