Bringing their "A" games

Today I begin my review of my top 100 books...

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
fantasy, young adult
A girl disguised as a boy sneaks into knight training school and dominates on behalf of her gender. This is the first in a four-book series notable for its beautifully three-dimensional heroine who likes fighting and riding and saving damsels and also likes wearing dresses and having sex.

"The gods willed you to be female and small and redheaded, and obviously silly as well."

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
fantasy, young adult
A little girl falls down a rabbit hole into what is either a hallucinogenic drug trip, a political satire or simply a weird children's story. (In Looking Glass, she goes through a mirror into a giant chess game.) Filled with quirky poetry, talking animals and a series of size problems for Alice that really resonate if you're the tallest kid in class, Alice is one of those books you can read for the first time when you're six and go on reading until you're a senior citizen.

"The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright --
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night."

Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip
This is a fantasy novel about a tall woman who works in a library, falls in love and (in her spare time) saves the world through reading. I'm not sure I need to explain any further why this book made my list. I also love McKillip's prose style, which is rich but never swamped with detail, not unlike the Kinuko Craft covers on her books.

"Within these stones she had grown her weedy way into a young woman, long-boned and strong, able to reach high shelves without a stool."

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
magical realism
What happens to a god deferred? According to Gaiman, they dwindle into undertakers, prostitutes, barflies and card sharks. American Gods presents a remarkably believable portrait of the American diaspora of the world's forgotten gods. This is at least partly due to the protagonist, Shadow, who passively slides through the underworld of gods, allowing the reader to slip into his mind and be present in the story more easily than we could with a more invested hero. Plus, gods who have to get jobs? Cool.

"'Call no man happy,' said Shadow, 'until he is dead.'
'Herodotus,' said Low Key. 'Hey. You're learning.'
'Who the fuck's Herodotus?' asked the Iceman [...].
'Dead Greek,' said Shadow.
'My last girlfriend was Greek,' said the Iceman. 'The shit her family ate. You would not believe. Like rice wrapped in leaves. Shit like that.'"

Amphigorey by Edward Gorey
comics/graphic novels, humor
The first of four volumes of Gorey's work, Amphigorey contains some of my favorite pieces, like "The Doubtful Guest," "The Curious Sofa" and "The Gashlycrumb Tinies," Gorey's hilarious alphabet of horrific child deaths. ("A is for Amy who fell down the stairs, B is for Basil, assaulted by bears...") It also contains "The Unstrung Harp," the story of a writer who struggles with his latest book. I often consult TUH in times of blockage.

"Mr. Earbrass has been rashly skimming through the early chapters, which he has not looked at for months, and now sees TUH for what it is. Dreadful, dreadful, DREADFUL. He must be mad to go on enduring the unexquisite agony of writing when it all turns out drivel."

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
young adult
This is a book about a chatty girl with imagination issues: it resonated. Everyone remembers the story of Anne, the plucky redheaded orphan who transforms the already idyllic town of Avonlea into an even more idyllic town, but you might be surprised if you pick this up again as an adult. Anne will reward your visit. And if you just can't get enough of her, there are seven more books in the series, plus countless similar heroines to be found in Montgomery's bibliography. Just remember to skim over the endless purple descriptions of Prince Edward Island scenery or your eyes may explode.

"I'm awfully sorry I ever criticized his prayers. I believe now he really does mean them, only he has got into the habit of saying them as if he didn't. He could get over that if he'd take a little trouble. I gave him a good broad hint."

Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins
magical realism
Moving about as far from pure-minded Anne as possible, we come to one of Robbins' greatest novels. This book has all the delirious, joyful, drug-addled prose one expects from Robbins, but avoids his frequent mistake of devolving into boring speculations about the inner lives of inanimate objects or conspiracy theories involving the pyramids. The heroine, Amanda, is one of the sexiest characters in literature, despite (or maybe because of) her marriage to fellow carny weirdo John Paul. Read this book when you feel like having sex on a roller coaster.

"Marriage is not a synonym for monogamy any more than monogamy is a synonym for ideal love [...]. A strange spurt of semen is not going to wash our love away."