9 of My Favorite Fantasy Stories

TrollWhen people hear the words “fantasy stories,” their thoughts leap to J.R.R. Tolkien and his works. These may be among the most popular fantasy books, but there’s a lot more out there than Tolkien (and his imitators). Here, in no particular order, are some of my personal favorite fantasy books:

  • Bleach – I’ll admit it: I’m a manga/anime fan. This is one I enjoy a lot.
  • War in Heaven – Charles Williams is probably the least known of the Inklings, the group that also included Tokien and C.S. Lewis. To be honest, even though I like Tolkien a lot, Williams is probably my favorite. War in Heaven is a modern-day Grail romance/murder story. If you haven’t read it, I recommend you give it a try. $0.99 on Kindle, what have you got to lose?
  • Animal Farm – This is truly a classic. A cautionary tale about what happens when a class of citizens gets greedy for power and “stuff.” Not a children’s tale, but one every adult should read at least once.
  • Xanth – Start with A Spell for Chameleon, and then just keep going. A funny (punny?) but seriously good fantasy series set in an analogue of Florida, where magic works.
  • The Worm Ouroboros – A strange story, and a precursor to Tolkien. Anthony Boucher considered it to be one of the greatest imaginative works of the 20th century. I would have to agree.
  • Rhinegold – If you like the northern myths, then you’ll enjoy Stephan Grundy’s retelling of the Volsunga Saga. It’s out of print, but you may find it in a library or a used bookstore. If you do, grab it!
  • Troll: A Love Story – Here’s an odd one: Johanna Sinisalo tells the story of a man who finds a young troll near his apartment and takes it into his life. I enjoyed this book quite a lot.
  • A Princess of Mars – The first of Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter of Mars series. It seems a little dated today, but it is a classic and a must read for any fantasy fan. It’s also much better than the recent movie.
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Not a book, but an excellent movie, that easily qualifies as a modern classic. This is the film that popularized fantastic martial arts in the USA. If you like fantasy films, you’ve got to watch this one!
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48 Hour Book Challenge Finish Line

OK, my first 48 Hour Book Challenge is complete! I actually spent more time reading than I thought I would, but not as much as I would have liked. I also only finished three books. Well, such is life!

Books completed, time spent, and pages read (pages may not match official page count because I had already read part of the books): Links are to my review on Goodreads.

  1. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by Gregory Maguire (4 hours, 252 pp.)
  2. Inferno, by Dan Brown (7.5 hours, 376 pp.)
  3. City of Jade, by L.J. LaBarthe (6 hours, 350 pp.)

Total time spent reading: 17.5 hours.

Total pages read: 978

I think that’s pretty good for my first time. I’ll try to improve it next year. Hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did!

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48 Hour Book Challenge Update #4

Still reading City of Jade, by L.J. LaBarthe, a historical novel set in 12th century Constantinople and points east along the Silk Road. An interesting book, but seems very sedate. Maybe it’s because I just finished Inferno yesterday, which was a real thrill-ride! I keep waiting for something unexpected to happen in City of Jade, but it hasn’t yet. Anyway, here’s what I’ve read so far:

  1. Finished Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (4 hours, 252 pp.)
  2. Finished Inferno (7.5 hours, 276 pp.)
  3. 70 pp. into City of Jade (1.5 hours, seems to be going slowly)
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48 Hour Book Challenge Update #3

Just finished Dan Brown’s Inferno. I’ve enjoyed the three previous titles in his Robert Langdon series (see also Angels & Demons, The DaVinci Code, and The Lost Symbol), but this one is by far the best. So many twists and turns, complicated plot lines, unexpected revelations, and some very interesting ethical questions. I’m not at all sure he can top this one.

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48 Hour Book Challenge

Ok. I’m going to try this 48 Hour Book Challenge for the first time. Abby the Librarian has talked about it every year, so I figure it’s time. My 48 hours begins now, 9PM on Friday night. I’ve got some books I really need to finish:

  • Gregory Maguire’s Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (for our Beyond Imagination book group next week)
  • Inferno, by Dan Brown (it’s due pretty soon, I love his books, and I really want to finish it)
  • Wild, by Cheryl Strayed (for our noon book group a week and a half from now)

If I work at it, I can probably get those done before this time Sunday night. First up, finish Maguire!

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Grad School Jitters

I’m looking at starting graduate school in January of 2014. I’ve pretty much decided on San Jose State’s Master of Library Science program. It seems to be a great program, and doesn’t cost much more than the more traditional program offered by my state university. Still, I hesitate…

It’s a lot of money. Will it really be worth it? Will I be able to pay off the student loans before I retire?

Even though I really enjoy library work, will I be able to handle graduate school? SJSU seems to have a curriculum that fits me better. But is it what I should really be doing? Maybe I’d be better of focusing on web site development and marketing.

I’ll be almost 58 when I finish the program! Should I really be doing this at my age? I’ll have at least ten more years of professional life before I retire, but really…is this the best time to start this?

I know. It’s just pre-grad school jitters. But it’s still something I’ve got to face before I begin the application process in August. Wish me luck!

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Chinua Achebe has died

Chinua Achebe, widely seen as the primary force behind post-colonial African literature, has died at the age of 82. Although he wrote many books (most recently There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra) and taught at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), he’s probably best known for his 1958 novel Things Fall Apart. He was one of my favorite writers, and is one of the major influences on my interest in modern, post-colonial literature. He will be missed, both by friends and family, and by the literary world (BBC News story).

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Great Resources for Social Statistics

Pie Chart

Pie Chart

Do you get asked to find social and cultural statistics a lot in your work? Maybe you’re like me, and you just really enjoy browsing through data and seeing what’s there (there’s a reason my undergraduate degree’s in sociology). Well, just for you, here’s some of my favorite online resources for social and cultural statistics.

  1. United States Census Bureau – The mother lode of statistics for the United States. Of course, the decennial census is the big draw, but there’s all kinds of things on this site. Be sure to check out the American FactFinder and the American Community Survey.
  2. The Association of Religion Data Archives – Do you need information about religion and religious groups in the US? This is the place you’re most likely to find what you want. Like the census, the primary update is every ten years, but in between there’s all kinds of survey information added to the site. If you’re a visual kind of person, be sure to check out the GIS maps.
  3. Need to know how people voted in the last (or any!) US presidential election? Check out Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. He’s got election returns down to the county level for free, going all the way back to 1960, state level returns to 1824, and national returns all the way back to our first presidential election in 1789.
  4. For Canadian information, you can’t do any better than Statistics Canada. It’s kind of like the US Census Bureau site, but it has data from more than just the Canadian census. There’s questionnaires, surveys, economic data, and more.
  5. Want a more global reach? Try the United Nations statistical databases. They’re not as comprehensive as some of the national sites, but there’s information you’ll have a hard time finding for some countries here.
  6. Everybody loves a survey. And the grandfather of all surveying organizations in the US is Gallup. Whether it’s election polls, opinion surveys, or economic opinions, you’ll find it here. A nice touch is that if you’re interested in a particular topic, you can subscribe to be notified when a new report is available on that topic.
  7. Another major polling organization is the Pew Research Center. In addition to their general polling, they have special ongoing topics, such as the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. They issue important (and fascinating) reports on a regular basis on a wide variety of topics.

I’m sure I’ve missed some, especially ones outside the US. If you have a favorite site I forgot to mention, let us know in the comments!

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