I’ve been called an avid reader, actually I prefer the term voracious reader. I devoure anything in sight. Consistently, I have a two-foot stack of book beside my bed. When I read it down to a foot, I buy more books. (Thank you, Amazon.com) This averages to around 100 books a year. The books in the stack are a large range of fiction and non-fiction and do not include the many magic books I also read.
In the last Bill’s Book List, I offered up a selection of non-fiction books that I thought would be interesting, but also useful for the readers of this blog. I hope you looked into those titles. If not, please go back and try a few out. What is the worst that could happen? You learn something? Frightening! Well, here is a selection of fiction authors and books for a little entertainment.
I’ll start with a name familiar to magicians, but not exclusively, James Swain. James’ con game crime tales have improved with each new book. His first was good, but did not impress me. His latest, Dead Man’s Poker and Dead Man’s Bluff, move along at a rapid clip with some crisp storytelling.
You should know the name Daniel Stashower, but you probably don’t. Daniel wrote an enlightening, if not a definitive, biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He also wrote three Houdini mysteries, in which Houdini assumes the role of detective. Daniel creates a realistic Houdini character not seen in even his biographies. Fun books.
Most of the books on this list will be from the crime or horror genres. I make no apologies for this. I read very little “serious” fiction or science fiction/fantasy.
Here is an exception and a new discovery for me, Steven Millhauser. Do you know the name? The movie The Illusionist is based on a story of his. I just finished two collections of his short stories and can’t wait to read more.
The second Pulitzer Prize winner on my list is Michael Chabon. Most people recommend his book, The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a thinly fictionalized account of the early days of the comic book industry. I enjoyed his Sherlock Holmes story, The Final Solution. Also, although written by several other contributors, The Escapist is a cleverly designed retrospective based on the fictional characters created by the fictional Kavalier and Clay.
Now for a run of great crime fiction. Even if you don’t like the genre, don’t pass up these authors, their writing is superb.
Robert B. Parker is the grand daddy, the godfather, the king of crime writers. Pick a book, any book and savor the best dialogue writer ever. Period.
John Sanford is another one of my “don’t miss” authors. I can’t believe his Prey books have not been made into movies. This former crime reporter knows his stuff and puts it all on the page. Start with one of his early books like, Rules of Prey or Eyes of Prey. Fool's Run is a later book of his in the con game genre that is worth reading.
At the turn of the century, a person that was insane was thought to be “alien” (a stranger) in their own head. Thus, a psychiatrist was called an “Alienist” and that is the name of the next book on the list, The Alienist. Caleb Carr, already a respected historian, authored this spectacular piece of fiction. It is part of a trend of fictional stories intertwined with enough non-fiction to make it seem real. In turn of the century New York, an alienist applies early theories of profiling to uncover a dangerous serial killer. Wow.
Hard Case Crime is a relatively small publishing company specializing in retro-styled pulp crime fiction. I met one of the authors, Richard Aleas who also happens to be the head of the company, at my store. He turned me on to his company and I’ve read their books since.
To my knowledge, Steve Monroe has written only three novels. I read his ’57 Chicago some years back. That book has stayed with me. He evoked a time and place as well as any writer and I am surprised the books did not do better. (“Less a crime novel than a slice of underworld life” quoted from Booklist) Discover him for yourself.
Hugh Laurie, star of Jeeves and Wooster, The Black Adder, and the popular House M.D., wrote a terrific parody of the hard-boiled crime novel. The Gun Seller is a rip-roaring lark. Find it, read it, laugh at it.
Speaking of funny, Terry Pratchett’s books are hard to classify. They seem like fantasy and have many fantastical elements, but I would call them satire. Either way, don’t let the fantasy scare you away from one the world’s cleverest and wittiest writers.
Stephen King is the King of popular fiction. At one time, I read him religiously, not any more. I will recommend his early novels and short fiction as some of the best writing of the last century. Remember some of our most revered authors wrote “horror” or “supernatural” fiction.
Dean Koontz is another (like King and Parker) prolific savant. I am amazed at their ability to write such volumes of fiction. On Koontz’s works my opinion is opposite of King’s works, I favorite his later writing like, Odd Thomas, Life Expectancy, The Taking, Velocity, etc. All of those books I bought on audio for my mother, who loved them. She has some of the same sensibility I have; she loves a good mystery. So, what more recommendation do you need?
Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, wrote a very strange book titled, Lullaby. A man can’t himself from stop reciting a poem that kills. Compelling reading.
How can I classify Edward Gorey? Artist, author, strange strange man. Sometimes I find his work impenetrable, but read his The Gashlycrumb Tinies. If this doesn’t make you laugh, he is not for you.
Michael Crichton’s two books, Rising Sun and Jurassic Park, became movies, one very bad and one good. The books are just plain good, really good and easily his best work.
Last on my list is Neil Gaiman. His stories range from graphic comics to short stories to novels and they are all good. He co-wrote a fun end of the world tale, Good Omens, with Terry Pratchett. His writing overflows with horror, fantasy, and rich mythology and is always a joy to read.
That is it, just a last bit of preaching. I have realized through the years that the most creative times of my life are when I am reading the most. If you want to be creative, you need to you’re your head with data to process. Your brain cannot be empty and create new to the world ideas. So, have fun and always find time to read. As the saying goes, “leaders are readers”.