Well. I think it’s about time we talk about books.
I think it’s undeniable that most or all of us Christian literary bloggers are extremely attached to Tolkien and Lewis. A lot of us seem to like Chesterton as well. And it is not uncommon that I see people mention Brandon Sanderson, Megan Whalen Turner, and N.D. Wilson. None of which I’ve read–but the point is, there’s kind of a set of writers most of us like and ramble about.
So when I was thinking about doing the obligatory ‘Favorite Books’ post, I decided I wouldn’t talk about any of that jazz. I like a lot of things other people like. Tolkien and Chesterton are and will remain, The Bosses.TM But some of my favorite books of all time, nobody seems to have heard of. So let us have a little appreciation post for underrated books, shall we?
The Series I Can Always Return To
Fond as I am of this splendiferous series, I must admit that I have not read the last installment. In fact, I had no clue it existed until about a year ago when I stumbled across it on Goodreads. I have since wanted to read it, but not had the chance. No matter. This ‘St. Petersburg Saga’ spans the length of twentieth century Russia, covering first WW1 and the fall of the Tsars (Angel on the Square), and following the descendants of the original protagonists through the between-the-wars period (The Impossible Journey), WW2 (Burying the Sun), and whatever-the-heck-the-Turning-is-about.
I don’t really know how to describe these books except to say they’re fantastic. Angel on the Square was my childhood–I was OBSESSED with that one. When I discovered the two sequels that were currently published, I about lost it with excitement. I recently got ownership of all but The Turning (thank you, Belle!) and can confirm that they’re just as good as ever, although I must name Burying the Sun my favorite.
Guys I honestly don’t know how to explain how good these are. I’ve sat here for several minutes trying to, and the best I can come up with is…well, y’know the Kite Runner? Did your college English teacher make you read the Kite Runner or one of its counterparts, and while you were charmed by the cultural elements, you were absolutely horrified and disgusted by how graphically gross the author was in depicting the tragedies of the time? (#notbitter #totallydidn’tphysicallyripthebookapartassoonasIwasdonewithit)
So these books are like that, except, they’re not graphic, gross, or horrifying more than they need to be. They manage to make you think about the difficulties of the times–and goodness knows, those were difficult and confusing times–all while being reasonably PG. At least, the first two do. Burying the Sun can get a bit more graphic occasionally. But it’s still pretty family friendly. Suffice it to say, Grim will be reading all these books to her kids whenever she gets them–the kids, that is. These books are just home now, and I want my kids, and maybe somebody else, to someday find out how lovely they are with me. Because I have yet to meet a single person who’s heard of them, much less read of them.
The Series That Needs To Be Given a Chance
There are twelve books in this series. And if you think I’m gonna go fetch all twelve covers, then you are dead wrong, man. Allow me instead to present you with something else (one of the principal reasons I love this series):
Fishlegs is the most relatable character in history and if you think otherwise, you are gravely mistaken.
Or wait, you probably don’t think about it all BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T READ PAST THE THIRD BOOK. *accusing glare*
That’s right, gang, I’m talking about the How To Train Your Dragon books. And I get it. The first few books are a bit rough. The humor can be a bit…erm…little-boy…at times…the plot’s not always the best, and you have trouble getting attached to the characters. Friend. I get it.
BUT YOU CANNOT LET THAT STOP YOU FROM EXPERIENCING THE GREATEST SERIES IN MODERN LITERATURE.
I am dead serious. Y’all are probably fast readers. Speed through the first few books–skim ’em if you have to. Get to the books later on, and read the heck out of them. I promise you, you will thank me. The value of this series cannot be understated.
- The humor is so, so good; after the first few books, the cruder bits of it almost entirely die away, and you’re left with pure wit and slapstick. I mean, the above illustration comes from the middle of a life-or-death pursuit. Fishlegs, being an Eeyore, simply decides he’s going to “lie down on this nice comfy ice and die.” And it’s hilarious. And that’s just a small example. I think the closest thing I can relate it to is Megan‘s space opera. As far as the humor goes, that is. I mean, it doesn’t beat the Space Opera, because nothing does, but it’s certainly on par with it when it comes to comedy.
- Cressida Cowell’s writing style is SO FREAKIN’ GOOD MAN. Like you really have no idea how good she is, once she gets into her element. Somehow incredibly funny and incredibly tragic at the same time. I don’t cry over books. Like, ever. But I cried over these books.
- THE PLOT OF THIS STORY IS THE MOST UNEXPECTEDLY GORGEOUS AND BRILLIANT THING IN EXISTENCE. I know, in the beginning, you think she doesn’t know where she’s going. Then you keep reading. You keep reading–and you speed through the first seven or so books, no big deal, and it gets better and better, but you’re still not really getting what the overall plan is–and then you read book eight. Then you will realize that this is one of the most ingeniously plotted series in existence. I’m dead serious. Like. It’s better than Tolkien. Go read it–all of it–and then just try and argue with me. I dare you.
- The illustrations are quirky and hilarious, and really, really add to the story. Behold, a roster of my favorite characters in the series, as depicted by illustration:
All these illustrations are done by the illustrious author herself, and there are so many other wonderful characters and pictures and bits of the story that I can’t talk about because spoilers but I have never met a single person who read past book three so please somebody do that so we can talk about it together because otherwise I’m going to blow up.
The Book that Changed My Writing Forever
SOMEBODY, PLEASE TELL ME YOU’VE HEARD OF THIS BEAUTY.
Seriously, this book is incredible. The synopsis is bad. Don’t trust the synopsis. It kinda makes it sound lame. It’s not. It’s incredible. It has a charming ghost and a cold little boy without a hat and a little girl with grief problems and a security guard who’s determined, for some reason, to give the boy a hat, and a Lady Premiere who wants a particular spell and an Alchemist who’s managed to lose that spell–or rather, blame the boy, it’s not his fault–and the SUN is missing, guys, and the style is GORGEOUS and it makes you THINK so hard about life and death and immortality and light and darkness and it’s this beautiful Victorian-esque setting and all the threads get tied up so beautifully and it’s just. so. good.
If you’re not convinced yet, have a look at the illustrations (done by the fantabulous Kei Acedera):
Please, do yourself a favor, and go find this book. It seriously changed my writing style forever. I think I can safely say some of my best work would not exist if I had never read this beauty.
The One Chesterton Would Have Loved
This book is strange. Like, really strange. And I love it. It’ll make you think about the difference between knowledge and wisdom. It’ll make you wonder if you’re intellectually lazy. And best of all, it’ll make you facepalm even while you’re laughing, because the puns are many and varied and clever and hilarious. The way the wordplay and the worldbuilding fit together in this book is EXTREMELY Chestertonian. Just—I don’t even know how to describe it, I just know Chesterton would have loved this book. He’d have written essays analyzing it. (I can honestly see him doing that.) I don’t even know how to describe the book, synopsis wise. It’s got words and numbers in it, pitted against each other as two opposing kingdoms, and The Threadbare Excuse is #relatable. That’s all I can manage. Also. Allow me to say that it is very like Winnie the Pooh in its Random and Hilarious Capitalizations. *shoves you gently* Go read it. What are you waiting for?
The Guardian Angels of My Bookshelf
I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get these two covers on the same row. Both via goodreads, though. And these books–both so little, but so great. Short, sweet, packed with wisdom, just little books, for us little flowers–you can read a section or two a day before bed and it’s just–lovely. They’ll keep you out of trouble, and they’ll give you something to meditate on, and I genuinely believe they’ll change your life, especially the bottom one. So–yeah. Cannot recommend enough.
And I reckon that’s a good note to end on! Well, friends, what do you think? Have you heard of or read any of these? Have you read past book three in How To Train Your Dragon? What are some of your favorite underrated books? And do you think you’ll go try any of these ones now?
P.S. *clears throat* *Archibald Asparagus voice* “Tune in next week to hear Grim say ‘Let’s talk about the elephant in the room! (it’s a folk music elephant, so maybe the elephant in the tavern?)'”