If you were to ask me for book recomendations right now – and yes, I know you aren’t, but lets just say you were – you’d probably get a list that runs something like this:
The Thin Man, Dashiel Hammett: Screw The Maltese Falcon – if you’re only going to read one hardboiled detective story by Hammett then you really should start with this one. I picked it up on the back of watching Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist when it was mentioned that the title characters in the film were based on the relationship between Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles in the film version of this book, and it’s not hard to see why they were taken with the couple. Nick and Nora Charles are fricken’ awesome – their banter, their affection for one another, their goddamn chemistry as a literary couple – and it’s refreshing to see a hardboiled investigator who is actually happy much of the time.
The Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler: I keep talking to people who haven’t read this, even if they’re fans of Fowler’s other work. Apparently there’s some combination of the cover art and the movie that was made that warns people off, thinking it’ll be a very different book than it actually is. And I keep telling people “no, no, you’re wrong. It’s fricken’ awesome!” and occasionally they’ll listen to me and actually read the book and get in contact and say “yes, actually, you’re right, it is kind of awesome.” From the communal narrator to the unabashed love of books (both Austen and SF) that permeates the narrative, it’s just good.
Blush: Faces of Shame, Elspeth Probyn: There are very few books in the world that make me miss working in universities, but this is one of them. Essentially a long essay examining the role shame and embarrassment plays in contemporary culture, complete with a series of eloquent and personal arguments for the many ways they can be recontextualizes as positive things. Utterly fascinating.
The Conversations: Walter Murch and The Art of Editing Film, Michael Ondaatje:Just what it says on the tin – this is essentially the transcripts of several conversations Ondaatje (who wrote The English Patient, among other things) had with Murch (who edited a bunch of films, Apocalypse Now among them). I have this working theory that there is nothing better than getting two smart, passionate people together and letting them talk about the stuff that interests them, regardless of whether it how interesting it seems on the surface. Despite its title, this ranges across a variety of editorial approaches (including poetry and fiction) that makes it one of those books all writers should read. I keep coming back to it, again and again.
The Chains That You Refuse, Elizabeth Bear: One of the first books I picked up ’cause I saw it mentioned on livejournal, which then lead me to a series of novels that were similarly cool. But this, Bear’s short story collection, remains my favorite thing that she’s done – it’s wide-ranging in terms of genres, voices and approaches, setting seeds for the seemingly disparate approaches she’s touched upon in longer works since, and there are several stories that are worth the price of entry on their own (including Two Dreams on Trains, And the Deep Blue Sea, One Eyed Jack and the Suicide King, This Tragic Glass).