Steuard's Favorite Books

What follows is a list of books that have meant something to me, either just as a good read or in some deeper way as well. The list is entirely based on personal preference and is subject to radical change at any time (I should rethink it at some point), but these books have for the most part been with me for a while, and I expect that they'll remain favorites for some time. The order that the books are listed here hardly corresponds at all to "order of preference"; really, the order is probably due to connections between the books (which makes me think of which) as much as anything else. Actual rankings would be difficult: I enjoy books from many different genres, and I find it next to impossible to say "this apple is better than that orange."


I want to insert a bit of philosophy here that occurred to me while writing the entry for Les Miserables. Fantasy, science fiction, and realistic fiction differ more than anything else in the amount of responsibility that the author has in designing the world described. In fantasy, the world and its history are entirely the author's creation. In science fiction, the world is the author's invention, but it relies fundamentally on our own world for its background details. In realistic fiction, the world described is our own, at some point in its history; the author's world-designing responsibility lies in filling in the details relevant to the story at hand. For this reason, the three genres are very different, and they should not be held to standards of judgement designed for the others: they aren't meant to have the same focus, or at least they don't have to.

Having said that, I should also say that none of them can afford to be bad at the others' areas of strength, either: poor writing is poor writing, wherever it is found. A realistic novel that never describes the scenery or the habitat of its characters seems empty or even forced, and one that never refers to the history and society of the world beyond its pages seems isolated and uninteresting. Similarly, a fantasy novel that does not involve deep, believable characters who develop and respond to the events around them seems meaningless and dull. (Examples of this abound.) My point is that the focus of the story may be different in different genres, and there's nothing wrong with that.


I don't have as much of a list here, because I don't have many strong "favorites" in non-fiction, not yet at least. So I'll mention a few things that stick out at least a little, some of which will be authors or even genres rather than specific books.

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