Jul 18 2010 11:01am

OK, where do I start with that? O.

This week my exhaustive survey of where to start reading new-to-you writers gets to O. These are my personal suggestions for where to start with writers I read—please feel free to add any that you read and I don’t, with good places to start. If you disagree with me, or with each other, about what’s a good place, please comment with your reasoning.

Patrick O’Brian all by himself fills up an entire shelf and makes O seem like quite an extensive letter. The best place to start is right at the beginning of his 21-book Aubrey and Maturin series, with Master and Commander. Having said that, I read them first in completely random order, but I wouldn’t recommend it. If you haven’t read them, do, you’ll like them.

Baroness Orczy wrote a large number of books about the Scarlet Pimpernel helping people escape from the guillotine. They’re not very historically accurate, but they’re an odd kind of old fashioned fun. Start with The Scarlet Pimpernel, and unless you love it stop there too.

Chad Orzel’s How to Teach Physics To Your Dog is a popular science book about quantum physics that’s funny and makes it all actually make sense in exactly the way it never did before.

George Orwell—if by any chance you haven’t read Nineteen Eighty Four, it’s presently in print in a really nice edition. If you’ve read it and you’re wondering where to go on with Orwell, his four volumes of essays and letters and journalism are wonderful.

And I’m afraid that’s it for O—I hope you have more!

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

Linden Wolfe
1. Lilith
The O authors are so thin on the ground, I was expecting they would be rolled in with P.

While we are talking George Orwell, I recommend everyone also read Animal Farm. The non-fic book, Down and Out in Paris and London, is interesting, too.

Joyce Carol Oates – Perhaps begin with one of her collections, such as The Collector of Hearts: New Tales of the Grotesque.

Mel Odom – the king of franchise fiction (under various pseudonyms). Where to start? Pick the franchise you like best, I guess. I’ve only read his Shadowrun tie-ins and they were enjoyable.

Rebecca Ore – the first book in the Becoming Alien trilogy: Becoming Alien .
David Levinson
2. DemetriosX
Flann O'Brien: He's best known for The Third Policeman and At Swim-Two-Birds. Somewhat difficult to describe and on the surreal/absurdist side, but worth a look.

Chad Oliver: Here we have an actual SF writer. He started out in the 50s, wrote for a decade or so, then took a break before returning to the field in the last few years of his life. Look for Shores of Another Sea.

Baroness Orczy: She also created one of the first female detectives, Lady Molly. If you prefer Holmes to tales of derring-do, then give these stories a try.

Pat O'Shea: The Hounds of the Morrigan is an absolutely wonderful book. It's a fantasy set in modern Ireland based on Irish myths and legends. I suppose it's YA, but it's really so much more. If you haven't read this, you must track it down. Alas, it's pretty much the only thing she ever wrote.
James Davis Nicoll
3. James Davis Nicoll
Kevin O'Donnell, Jr., whose most recent novel was (If one does not count his contribution to Atlanta Nights] 1990's Fire on the Border.

He might be best known for the McGill Feighan series, about a young man who is known for two things: being one of the Flingers on whose teleporting backs interstellar commerce rests, and for having been non-fatally ingested as a baby by an alien whose purpose in doing this is obscure.

The series can be amusing but don't get too attached to the supporting characters.

Not to be confused with K.M. O'Donnell, who was actually Barry Malzberg.

I guess there's also Andrew J. Offutt. Uh, I think he wrote Galactic Rejects.
Tex Anne
4. TexAnne
O'Brian: Whatever you do, don't start with Treason's Harbour. I did, and got a major character spoiler on the first page. It didn't stop me from enjoying the rest of the series, but it would have been much more fun if I'd been able to figure it out for myself.

O'Donnell: In high school, I loved his Bander Snatch. But I haven't read it in years, and I suspect that it might not have aged well.

Flannery O'Connor did juicy Southern Gothic stuff. I read her short stories many years ago, and I don't remember which were best.
Sandi Kallas
5. Sandikal
For Flannery O'Connor, I recommend here short story collection, "A Good Man is Hard to Find". Her novel, "The Violent Bear it Away" was very disturbing.
Stephen W
6. Xelgaex
Ben Okri is a Nigerian magical realist. Start with The Famished Road which won the Booker Prize.

Silvina Ocampo was another magical realist and contemporary of Borges. She worked with him on The Book of Fantasy. There doesn't seem to be much in print in English translation other than that, though Hesperus has a translation of The Topless Tower coming out in August.

Otsuichi is the pen name of Japanese horror writer Hirotaka Adachi. Haikasoru has a translation of Zoo out and one of Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse due out in September. If you'd prefer his work adapted to manga, Tokyo Pop has published Calling You and Goth.

Ovid was a Roman poet. Definitely start with Metamorphoses which is one of our best sources for Greco-Roman mythology.
Kate Shaw
7. KateShaw
I second Flannery O'Connor, whose short stories are brilliant and darkly humorous.

And since we're all scraping around for O authors, I'll mention Mary O'Hara, whose book My Friend Flicka is a very well written historical/horse story for young adults. Ignore the recent movie--it had nothing to do with the book except the title. There's a sequel, which I think is called Thunderhead, but it's not as good as the original book.
Chad Orzel
8. orzelc
Thanks for plugging How to Teach Physics to Your Dog. I hope that there will be a time when there's genuine confusion about where to start reading my stuff...

A couple more names:

Tim O'Brien writes literary fiction about Vietnam. The Things they Carried is a collection of fictional short pieces based on his experiences as a soldier there. If slightly metafictional war stories aren't your thing, In the Lake of the Woods is a novel about the disappearance of an American politician, and is also excellent.

Patrick O'Leary's The Gift is an excellent fantasy novel about stories and story-telling. He's got a couple of other books out, but for some reason the only other thing of his I've read is a short story about two astronauts on Mars who may have been infected by an alien bug, with a bunch of references to Midnight Run, one of my favorite movies.

I'll second the recommendation of Ben Okri's The Famished Road as well.
Ashley McGee
9. AshleyMcGee
I didn't see Tim O'Brian on the list. The Things They Carried is an excellent book recounting war stories of Vietnam. The premise of the book, which O'Brian repeats often, is that one war story is every war story, and just because a certain war story doesn't apply to you, doesn't mean it doesn't to someone else, therefore, every war story is everyone's war story. Since I read it for college, I didn't ever ready anything else of his. Does anyone else have any suggestions?
Ashley McGee
10. AshleyMcGee
My bad, there Tim O'Brian is. Thanks Orzelc.
James Davis Nicoll
11. Kvon
Nnedi Okorafor is another Nigerian writer, she recently won the Tiptree award. I've only read the one by her so far, The Shadow Speaker, she has two others out there.
James Davis Nicoll
12. reddwarf
Gerard O'Neill - High Frontier?
Invisible Cheese
13. MatOdin
@6 Ovid adapted his stories more than recorded them. You could say he took poetic liberty, but I agree it is excellent.

Also, there's O. Henry, pen name of American short story writer William Sydney Porter.
Clark Myers
14. ClarkEMyers
For Orwell (Blair) I just might suggest Coming Up for Air to the Tolkien fan. For the general public I'd say start with The Road to Wigan Pieras an introduction to the man and to his ideas - and especially for a view of time and place too often thought to belong much farther in the past.

For the person who might stop there I'd say Animal Farm and 1984 are not to be missed - bearing in mind that it is at least credible that publication of Animal Farm was delayed/hindered by Comintern interests and folks should always go out of their way to read banned books.

For the fan of milsf/space opera elements of Homage to Catlonia may be familiar. Likely O'Brian as well.
David Goldfarb
15. David_Goldfarb
I actually disagree that the place to start with Patrick O'Brian is Master and Commander. I feel that the writing in the first two books is noticeably weaker than the later volumes, and since the first five or so all pretty much stand alone, I recommend starting with the third one, HMS Surprise. If you like that one, then you can go back and read the first two, then continue through the rest.
David Levinson
16. DemetriosX
I agree with David Goldfarb @15. I found the first couple of books rather disjointed and sort of stream-of-consciousness. A difficult go. Later books have a smoother narrative style.
Alex Brown
17. AlexBrown
As far as Orwell's concerned, if you're going to read Animal Farm then the best version to do is this one: It's the 50th anniversary edition (published in 1996, obvs) and is wonderfully and creepily illustrated by Ralph Steadman.
Clark Myers
18. ClarkEMyers
Going afield in search of O' writers I suggest any of the earlier Modesty Blaise novels as available for a fun read - and occasionally discussed on rec.arts.sf.written so arguable fantasy enough to be genre. Cobra Trap is not a good start and a worse finish. Other forms - graphic and media - I'd take the graphic and leave the media.
Jo Walton
19. bluejo
Lilith: I could have done that, but there is no Q, and R is very long.

Everyone: especially good suggestions so far. I'm impressed.
Madeline Ferwerda
20. MadelineF
I'm always pleased when I can contribute something that people will be all "Doh" about. In this case,

-Robert C. O'Brien, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which is a good read even now.

I've read the first two Patrick O' Brian books, and they were fine, but now I'll be interested to see if the third is something finer.
James Davis Nicoll
21. legionseagle
One book I adored as a child is Jenny Overton's The Thirteen Days of Christmas; set in a sort of generic late seventeenth century, about a suitor who, being a merchant, is used to buying in bulk and whose romantic gestures to his would-be bride Annaple become somewhat awkward - and musical - as a result.
Rich Horton
22. ecbatan
I certainly second the recommendations for Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise books, and for Patrick O'Leary, and for Kevin O'Donnell, Jr., who was great fun.

But Flann O'Brien is the essential one! I enjoy all his novels a great deal. THE THIRD POLICEMAN is the most overtly fantastical, but all at least touch on the fantastic.

Patrick O'Brian is great too of course. I started with MASTER AND COMMANDER and I think it's a great place to start. I won't argue that H. M. S. SURPRISE isn't a better book -- it is, it's one of the best two or three in the series -- but M&C worked great for me. I read the books, all 20, over about a 20 month period*, insisting on waiting a month in between -- because after each one I desperately wanted to go immediately to the next.

(*Actually, I think when I started we was on 17 or so, so I had to wait for the last couple until they got published.)

Michael Ondaatje is also worth reading. THE ENGLISH PATIENT is a lovely book.

And finally -- a definite second for recommendations for Flannery O'Connor, a remarkable writer. A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND is a great story collection, and I also quite like her short, strange, first novel, WISE BLOOD.
Christopher Cabanillas
23. restiffbard
Just wanted to second Patrick O'Brian. The Aubrey-Maturin series is possibly one of the best reads you may ever come across.

If you're confused about where to go after Master and Commander then head to wikipedia which lists them all in their proper order.

Also, if you're not much of a reader or short on time the audiobook versions of each novel as read by Patrick Tull (accept no substitutes) should be noted in history as the best read books you can find. All of which are available from Audible.

I swear, I'm not a shill. I simply adore the series. Go. Go get them now.
James Davis Nicoll
24. Story Cottage
What about Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O'Brien?
Phoenix Falls
25. PhoenixFalls
I only have one O author to add: Scott O'Dell, who you should clearly start with Island of the Blue Dolphins. I read my copy to pieces as a kid, though I never got around to reading the sequel.
James Davis Nicoll
26. Rush-That-Speaks
The place to start with Nnedi Okorafor is her YA novel Zahrah the Windseeker, which has charming worldbuilding, fun characters, and sadly slightly clunky prose. It will tell you whether you like her YA. I have not yet read the new one, Who Fears Death, which is an adult novel; reviews indicate that it is a new direction and a good one.
James Davis Nicoll
27. endymion
a 3rd for Ben Okri, one of my favorites
James Davis Nicoll
28. Elana
Nick O'donohoe, The Magic and the Healing. Veterinary students in fantasyland! It's the first in a trilogy, all good. He's written some other stuff, but it was all in paperback and went out of print fast.
James Davis Nicoll
29. beket
No Q? But I have two.... Okay, they're not SF/F... and one is a romance author... but she's still a Q.

Flannery O'Connor. Blah.

There's Frank O'Connor who wrote "First Confession."

Thanks for the Patrick O'Brian recommendations. I just bought three of his books-- the first two and Treason's Harbour, so now I know not even to look at TH.
Mary Aileen Buss
30. maryaileen
Mary O'Hara wrote two sequels to My Friend Flicka; the second is Green Grass of Wyoming. I definitely agree that one can stop after MFF, though.

And I second the recommendation for Pat O'Shea's The Hounds of the Morrigan.
James Davis Nicoll
31. Carbonel
Edward Ormondroyd's Time at the Top. It's a time travel adventure: very sprightly with a heroine pining for long dresses that go swish...
john mullen
32. johntheirishmongol
I looked at my library and it was totally empty of O's. Thought I was empty then I remembered maybe the most important playwright in modern america theater, Eugene O'Neill. If nothing else, Death of a Salesman should still be required reading.
Rob Munnelly
33. RobMRobM
Second the recommendations out of genre for Patrick O'Brien (who was an amazing bastard in real life but, boy, he could write well), Tim O'Brien (The Things They Carried is my fav Vietnam story ever), Michael Ontaatjie for the English Patient and George Orwell (novels plus Politics and the English Language -think that's the name of the nonfiction work I studied).

Can't think of anything in genre other than a vague recollection of reading some andrew offutt (note he never used capital letters)short stories, probably in Harlan Ellison's excellent collection Again Dangerous Visions.

James Davis Nicoll
34. mike shupp
You left him out of the H's, and I'm not sure he'll fit too well with the P's but William Sidney Porter, most commonly remembered as "O. Henry" deserves mention. A leading short story writer from a century ago, the tale most of us are likely to encounter is "The Gift of the Magi" -- but if memory serves one or two of his other stories wound up in SF anthologies in the 1950's.
Alice Arneson
35. Wetlandernw
On Flannery O'Connor, my only suggestion is do NOT start with The Violent Bear It Away. As someone mentioned, it's very disturbing in several ways, and not at all the place to start. Go with some of the short stories first; if you can handle it, go on from there. But she's not for everyone; if you can't see the redemption in her stories, they're too dark to read.
James Davis Nicoll
36. a-j
Although I started Patrick O'Brian with 'Master & Commander' I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as a starting point, I know a few people who never got beyond it and it does have a different atmosphere from the others being, I believe, written as a stand-alone novel. I have successfully launched people on the series with 'The Thirteen Gun Salute' then back to the beginning and they should be read in order.
Joe Romano
37. Drunes
I haven't seen Paul O'Williams on here yet. His Pelbar Cycle about an America 1000 years in the future was quite popular in the early 1980s and is still worth a look. Start with "The Breaking of Northwall." It's the first book in the series, but a good stand-alone book. Be forewarned, though, America 1000 years in the future looks suspiciously like the tribal cultures of the past -- or at least a romantic, Saturday afternoon matinee type version of it.

Also, I'm surprised at the varying opinions of Flannery O'Connor, but that's what makes these discussions so wonderful.
David Levinson
38. DemetriosX
Drunes @37: [quote][i]I haven't seen Paul O'Williams on here yet.[/i]
That's because he is Paul O. Williams and we won't get to the Ws for several weeks. Don't feel too bad; I already mixed up Austin Tappan Wright and Tappan Wright King.
James Davis Nicoll
40. James Davis Nicoll
There's always Poe Must Die! about which I remember nothing beyond the title and the name of its author, Marc Olden. Oh, and I think it's about Edgar Allen Poe and I surmise that there are some characters in it who want him to die.
Jeff Weston
41. JWezy
Another "Henry, O" story well worth the read is "The Ransom of Red Chief", about a kidnap plot gone amusingly wrong. Well worth it.
James Davis Nicoll
42. Susan Loyal
Another vote for Nnedi Okorafor, especially for her recent adult novel, Who Fears Death. However, I think that I'd recommend reading The Shadow Speaker first.

On the issue of differing reactions to Flannery O'Connor, I've never met anyone who was neutral about her work, and whether people love it or hate it depends very much (more than with most writers, I think) on how it intersects their personal experience. I'd say that everything she wrote is both very disturbing and very funny, although certainly not in the ways that most funny things are funny. If you find William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying laugh out loud funny, you'd likely be fine with her. Readers from Southern families where abuse occurred should approach tentatively. A Good Man is Hard to Find is probably the logical place to start. Some years I love her stuff. Some years I can't read it at all.
43. AlecAustin
I'll second the positive comments about Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin books, as well as the recommendations for Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.

That book drove me crazy when I was a senior in high school, and then I went back to it after getting my Bachelor's and realized that I'd mostly been annoyed at the world in high school and actually loved most of its contents. "How to Tell a True War Story" and "The Man I Killed" are two of my all-time favorite stories ever.
Scientist, Father
44. Silvertip
"Death of a Salesman" is Arthur Miller. For Eugene O'Neill, the most familiar play (translation: the one I've read) is "Long Day's Journey Into Night," a deeply affecting look at the effects of addiction on a family that takes place over the course of one long day.


edit: add translation
Andrew Belmont
45. rosetintdworld
On the subject of Flannery O'Connor, I strongly recommend reading a quick short story ("A Good Man is Hard to Find" is popular) and if you find you can bear any more, dive into her collection of essays "Mystery and Manners." It provides a lucid and often very funny explanation of exactly why her stories are about redemption instead of eternal suffering.

She is my favorite American writer, bar none, but I understand that many, many people have trouble with her. Once you understand her particular concerns with mystery, the grotesque, and the ineffable, she becomes incredibly fascinating and very amusing.

But yeah, don't start with The Violent Bear It Away. It includes a rape that is difficult to read even when you understand why she's writing about it.
James Davis Nicoll
46. Jeff R.
Has anyone here read both of the Issui Ogawa books that have been translated and published here? If so, which would you recommend?
James Davis Nicoll
47. lampwick
I liked Patrick O'Leary's _Door Number Three_ the best -- it's funny in an almost Philip K. Dick way.
James Davis Nicoll
48. David DeLaney
O. Not much here that I know of. Though there's a certain quantity of O', I must admit. Snipping the ones others have mentioned with data (which I didn't do enough of for N, apologies):

Mel Odom has written quite a number of RPG-setting books (Diablo, Forgotten Realms, Might & Magic, etc.), but also has a few of his own; _The Rover_ starts a trilogy (so far) about a rather unusual librarian.

Andrew J. Offutt wrote novels as well as short stories, of which I own some; _Shadowspawn_ starts his contributions to Thieves' World, while _Demon in the Mirror_ starts his War of the Wizards series, but I only have the last (Web of the Spider), but if the others are like it they're enjoyable fluffy bits of pulp heroic fantasy. He's also apparently written quite a bit as "John Cleve".

Cary G. Osborne wrote a series about ghost survivors of an alien race training humans in ninja-like martial arts, which manages to be less interesting than it sounds from that, but still readable, and which starts with _Iroshi_. I only know of two books in the series, and my usual shallow research isn't helping this time to see if he wrote others, or indeed anything else at all.

Robin D. Owens has recently finished a Luna Press (so trade-paperback size, since that press seems to never EVER release any mass market paperbacks, which means I've stopped purchasing at least one other series that went over to them partway through, bah) fantasy / paranormal romance series that starts with _Guardian of Honor_, in which volumes various women get pulled from our world to a magical country of Lladrana, to help the Marshals fight evil.

Linden Wolfe
49. Lilith
@David DeLaney re: Cary Osborne:

1. Iroshi (1995)
2. The Glaive (1996)
3. Persea (1996)

Arden Grenfell
1. Darkloom (1998)
2. Deathweave (1998)

He/she also wrote The Winter Queen (1999)under the pseudonym, Devin Cary. is a great aide memoire for this series when you blank on authors beginning with a given letter (and an excellent way to see if some of your favourite authors have new books coming out).
James Davis Nicoll
50. MBG
Wow! The letter O is seriously underrepresented in my past reading. Of the 3000+ books that I remember having read, I can only find 3 O authors.

Two have been mentioned above, and the other is worth mentioning as it is one of the weirder novels that I remember reading. It is Ruth Ozeki's "My Year of Meats".
James Davis Nicoll
51. dmg
Hi, Jo,

Completely off topic, and for that please accept my sincere apology...

I wonder whether you have read Ken Follet's The Pillars of the Earth? (You read everything! :-) The mini-series begins Friday, which could represent my Classix Comics entry into the novel. I do no ask your opinion of the TV series, of course, but of the book: Is it worth the investment of (my) time?

Thank you!
Estara Swanberg
52. Estara
Seconding the Nick O'Donohoe paperbacks!

Quoting "a customer" on Amazon about The Magic and the Healing

The beauty of "The Magic and the Healing" is in how author Nick O'Donohoe writes beyond his gimmick: that mythological creatures sometimes need medical care, a concept that seems so self-evident you wonder that it hasn't been written about before.

But protagonist B.J., a veterinary student, has medical problems of her own, which she hides from the other main characters, and that's the brilliance of O'Donohoe's work. By keeping B.J.'s difficulties private, the reader is granted a view into her introspection, rather than a series of lectures by others as to how she should cope. When B.J. finds herself in a new world that challenges everything she thought she knew about veterinary medicine -- after all, none of her patients have ever been able to talk back before -- she has no choice but to heal herself so that she can keep from hurting others. And the process is beautiful.

I remember there being three books though. Amazon only has info on two...
James Davis Nicoll
53. LadyGrey
Estara--I had no idea the third Crossroads book existed until I found a copy in a used bookstore, at which point I snatched it, cuddled it, and may have crooned "My Precious!". I never saw any of them new in stores, although I heard that the Firebird imprint reissued the first some years back. Maybe it's just the used sellers on Amazon or B&N that have it.

Don't forget the wonder that is the Griffin. Seriously, I picked up the first book for the sake of the unicorn on the cover, but the Griffin had me at "hello". Or rather, when he quoted "Macbeth".
Jo Walton
54. bluejo
DMG: Sorry, I have not read everything, and indeed, I have not read that. It would be awful if I'd read everything. I mean I do like re-reading, but I do also like something new!
Bob Blough
55. Bob
Chad Oliver's works are wonderful. NESFA PRESS did a two book collection of his best short fiction a short time ago.

Eugene O'Neil's other work is "Morning Becomes Electra", "The Iceman Cometh' and lots of others. They are wonderful to perform!
James Davis Nicoll
56. anneonymous
Sheri Tepper wrote two detective story series as A J Orde and B J Oliphant. I enjoyed both.
James Davis Nicoll
57. a-j
If it's any help (and I'm no Jo Walton!), I adored and devoured 'The Pillars of the Earth' when I read it on its paperback publication in the UK. I tried a re-read a few years ago when the sequel was published and found it unreadable. Still have happy memories of the original reading though.
Rachel Hyland
58. RachelHyland
Jo @ 19

No "Q"? What, you've never read any Amanda Quick? ;-) And How to Teach Physics to Your Dog is such a great book. Good call.

DMG @ 51

The Pillars of the Earth is my favorite Follett, and I love me some Follett. Ever since a non-age-appropriate reading of Lie Down with Lions in my early teens, I have devoured all his works, and -- with the exception of On Wings of Eagles -- have enjoyed both his thrillers and his historical novels immensely. As a result, I am quite simply terrified to watch this mini-series, but obviously will, because it's Ken Follett, man! But were you asking Jo if the book or the series is worth your time? 'Cause I say, yes, the book, read the book, and then if you like it, assay the series upon its inevitable DVD release; surely watching a movie or TV adaptation before reading the book is rarely, if ever, a good idea?

* Michael Oliveri and his gender politics horror allegory Deadliest of the Species are surely worth a mention?

* The Secret of NIMH and My Friend Flicka are excellent "O author" additions, and while we're talking Children's/YA fare, I'd like to submit Elsie J. Oxenham, author of The Abbey Series, for consideration. Published over a span of about fifty years, The Abbey Series is a fun, window-into-the-past collection of British girls' school books with a grown up twist, as we follow the adventures of the original generation into adulthood, and then go back to school with their daughters. I started with the second book in the series, The Abbey Girls (1920), about fifteen years ago and have yet to round out my collection of all 40 or so of these hard-to-find titles... on a related note, if anyone has a copy of Rachel in the Abbey they'd be willing to part with, I'll be your best friend!
James Davis Nicoll
59. beket
RachelHyland@58 wrote-
surely watching a movie or TV adaptation before reading the book is rarely, if ever, a good idea?

Slightly off-topic but still nearby.... I have to say, in recent years, I don't know the answer to this. For a couple of decades, I was a firm believer in watching the movie FIRST and then reading the book. Since the book is always better (or so I thought), you still get to enjoy both this way. Otherwise (in my former thinking), if you read the book first, you were bound to be disappointed with the film version.

But over the last two years or so, I've read several books (The English Patient, The Hours, and The End of the Affair come to mind) where I thought the movie was much better than the book.

So now I have no idea which should come first. (Oh, I couldn't get past the first few chapters of Pillars of the Earth but my father loved it. It does, however, make an excellent doorstop, particularly in hardback.)
James Davis Nicoll
60. dmg
Thank you, Jo. I thought certainly you, if anyone... :-)

And thank you, also, a-j and RachelHyland,

My experience with Follet's story will occur backwards. I will watch the TV show, and then read the book. Heck, there is no way, even in a mini-series, the crew could cram in all that exposition!

My contributions to the letter, "O"...
1) Last Things by Jenny Offill
"My mother knew a lot about spies and sometimes hinted that she had been one once. She knew a way, for example, to make an umbrella shoot a poison dart. Also that the CIA had tried to kill the president of Cuba with an exploding clam. She showed me how to send secret messages by underlining words in a newspaper and dropping it on a bench."
To 8-year-old Grace Davitt, her mother is a puzzling yet wonderful mystery. This is a woman who has seen a sea serpent in the lake, who paints a timeline of the universe (in which "one billion years of real time = 24 days on the cosmic calendar") on the sewing-room wall, and who teaches her daughter a secret language which only they can speak. To the reader, however, it soon becomes clear that Anna Davitt is more than just eccentric. As her obsessions grow, her relationship with Grace's father, Robert, gradually deteriorates until at last the family breaks apart and Grace is left alone with her unstable mother.

Writing an adult novel from a young child's point of view is a tricky business, but Jenny Offill pulls it off without breaking a sweat. God is in the details here, and these are spot-on, from young Grace's fascination with the blind girl who lives in the neighborhood to her speculations about the prior tenant of the uninhabited dog house in the backyard. Grace inhabits that peculiar geography of childhood where all things are reasonable, from the descriptions of gazelle-boys in her Encyclopedia of the Unexplained to her mother's mercurial mood shifts. What makes Anna Davitt's spiral into madness so unnerving is the fact that to her daughter this is business as usual. Last Things has been compared to that other classic of unconventional childhood, Housekeeping; certainly Offill's debut is richly deserving of the company it keeps. --Alix Wilber

2) The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
A poignant tale of beauty, heart and sorrow, narrated by the Housekeeper, the characters are known only as the Professor and Root, the Housekeepers 10-year-old son, nicknamed by the Professor because the shape of his hair and head remind the Professor of the square root symbol. A brilliant mathematician, the Professor was seriously injured in a car accident and his short-term memory only lasts for 80 minutes. He can remember his theorems and favorite baseball players, but the Housekeeper must reintroduce herself every morning, sometimes several times a day. The Professor, who adores Root, is able to connect with the child through baseball, and the Housekeeper learns how to work with him through the memory lapses until they can come together on common ground, at least for 80 minutes. In this gorgeous tale, Ogawa lifts the window shade to allow readers to observe the characters for a short while, then closes the shade.

3) The Futurist by James Othmer
As Young & Rubicam ad exec Othmer's satirical first novel opens, famed pop pundit J.P. Yates, having emptied his hotel minibar, experiences an epiphany: he's a fake. After years of peddling insights to any group willing to pay him well—one week he assures a Bible college's graduates that God has a future, the next he assures adult video distributors that porn has a future—he stuns attendees at a Futureworld conference in South Africa by declaring himself "founding father of the Coalition of the Clueless." Ironically, his career takes off: he's more in demand than ever and is even recruited to travel the world asking why everyone hates the U.S. Othmer takes amusing swipes at the likes of (real-life) futurist Faith Popcorn, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and billionaires Ted Turner and Bill Gates, but the real target of this blistering tale is the American government's post-9/11 arrogance, come home to roost in the fictional Middle East nation of Bas'ar, where press release cant substitutes for untenable reality. A short story excerpted from the novel was a National Magazine Award finalist; this spirited dissection of the contemporary cultural and political zeitgeist is a stylish winner in its own intelligently weird right. --Publisher's Weekly
James Davis Nicoll
ecbatan @22 - Yes, Peter O'Donnel! Wonderful books.

I wish someone would do a decent Modesty Blaise movie.

And, despite all the action adventure, also Science Fiction--at least with all the James Bondian bad guys she encounters. But better than James Bond IMO.
Robert James
62. DocJames
Flannery O'Connor is a national American treasure. "Wise Blood" is still one of the great American novels, and should be read side by side with "Stranger in a Strange Land" and "Dune". In many ways, the same story.

As for Patrick O'Brian, I've read the Master and Commander series twice. Consecutively. Now I want to go read them again. There are very, very few series to compare with the richness and depth he produces here. Along with Holmes and Watson, perhaps the greatest tales of friendship and adventure ever written.
James Davis Nicoll
63. James Davis Nicoll
Sorry to add to this so long after it began but I'd like to add Issui Ogawa, one of the Japanese authors whose translated works Haikasoru is publishing in the USA. I've actually only read one of his books, The Next Continent, an optimistic, upbeat hard SF novel set in the 2020s and 2030s, but it impressed me enough that I will be picking up everything else Ogawa has in English and the rest of Haikasoru's output as well.

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