My Favorite Books of 2019

This list is made up of my favorite books I read in 2019, regardless of publication year.

Nonfiction

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs: I’ve read bits of this before, but not altogether. Extraordinary book, extraordinary woman.
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom: Another book by an extraordinary woman, and disturbingly relevant to the 21st century.
American Nightingale: The Story of Frances Slanger, Forgotten Heroine of Normandy by Bob Welch: I’m sensing a theme of extraordinary women here…
Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose by Flannery O’Connor: A really great collection of published/unpublished talks and essays about writing, religion, life, and literature.
Dragon Lords: The History and Legends of Vikings in England by Eleanor Parker: What it says on the tin.
Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-Earth by John Garth: Possibly my favorite Tolkien biography ever? Although Humphrey Carpenter’s is hard to beat.
Homeric Moments: Clues to Delight in Reading the Odyssey and the Iliad by Eva Brann: Very nerdy and fun, but I only recommend it if you, you know, enjoy Homer at least a little already.

Adult Novels

Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan: The last book in the Lady Trent series, about a Victorian-analogue lady who just wants to study dragons in their natural habitat.
The Chanur Saga 1-3 by CJ Cherryh: I finally read Cherryh this year! She’s incredible! I love these dumb space-lions with all of my cold shriveled heart!
Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear: It took me a bit to get into this one, but I adore Bear space opera SO SO SO MUCH.
The Kindly Ones by Melissa Scott: I read a lot of Melissa Scott’s older stuff this year and this is a work of art. No questions at this time.
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor:
Cyteen by CJ Cherryh: This genius book is really dark and really happy and I don’t know how to move on from it.
Regenesis by CJ Cherryh: A sequel to Cyteen and very different in some ways, but such a soft story about found family and about picking up the pieces after the big status-quo shift.
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers: I adore every chapter, page, sentence, and word of this.
The Hanged Man by KD Edwards: The only urban fantasy I’ve found so far to fill the Ilona-Andrews-shaped home in my reading life.
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers: The only non-SFF on this list. I’ve been loving all of the Peter Wimsy novels but so far this is my favorite.
Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn: Thrawn was my least favorite part of this book and I like Thrawn quite a bit. I really want more space opera Star Wars like this.
X-Wing: Mercy Kill by Aaron Allston: Somehow this book packed in everything I love about the X-Wing series and non-Jedi Star Wars in general. Fantastic cast of characters, suspenseful story, aLL THE FEELS.

Young Adult Fiction

Slayer by Kiersten White: Set in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe, hilarious, scary, and cozy, and by one of my favorite living authors.
Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig: Heists! Drag queens! Revenge!
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by EK Johnston: One of my favorite books of the decade, truly perfect, give respect, etc.
The Story of Owen by EK Johnston: Dragons! Family! Found family! Canada! Jokes!
The Afterward by EK Johnston: The aftermath of the epic quest, and the softest story ever.
The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson: SDH’s books get better and better and better and, respectfully, it’s alarming.
Ziggy, Stardust and Me by James Brandon: Sometimes I get frustrated with YA, and then I come across an amazing piece of writing like this one.
Radio Silence by Alice Oseman: Friendship and podcasts! Podcasts and friendship!
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black: A perfect vampire book, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater: A lot of nightmares packed into one book, but I loved it anyway.
Black Enough: Stories About Being Young and Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi: One of the best short-story anthologies I’ve read. There are many gems in here.

Children’s Novels

Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones: Diana Wynne Jones is a genius.
Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones: Diana Wynne Jones is a gEniUs.
Nate Expectations by Tim Federle: The third in Tim Federle’s hilarious theater kid trilogy and an absolute gem.
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez: VERY FUNNY AND WHIMSICAL.
Aru Shah and the Song of Death by Roshani Chokshi: Part of an epic ongoing series based on Hindu mythology.
Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones: [diana wynne jones is a genius]

Comics/Graphic Novels

The Royal Tutor 1-10 by Higasa Akai: One of the funniest things I read this year, a delight.
Runaways 1-3 by Rainbow Rowell: All-around incredible art, story, and characters.
Silver Spoon 1-10 by Hiromu Arakawa: This rich kid decides to quit fancy prep school and go to ag school instead and I never thought I would care so much about making food.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 9-11 by Ryan North: This series, as the kids say, slaps. I wish more superhero comics were like this one.
Captain America 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates: COATES DOES NOT HOLD BACK, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks: Very cozy love story set at a fall festival. So much autumn joy packed into one book!
Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle: If you haven’t read the webcomic, go ahead and do that now.

Poetry

A Spring Harvest by Geoffrey Bache Smith
An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo

Best Books of the Decade: A Super Fake List

Welcome to my 100% certified Subjective list of Best Books of the Decade (2010-2019).

I read a lot of books but I know there are lots of really good books published in the last decade that I haven’t even read! I tried to pick the ones that have stuck with me the most since I read them and that had the greatest craft, story, and characters, rather than my favorite-but-also-way-flawed books.

I also had an especially difficult time narrowing down my YA list, so while I wanted to include 5 books by several authors, I decided to only include 1 book per author in that one.

The titles are in no particular order. The short story collection list is much shorter because I don’t read that many (I’m aiming to change that in 2020).

Short Story Collections

So You Want to Be a Robot and Other Stories—Merc Rustad
Somewhere Beneath Those Waves—Sarah Monette
Black Enough—edited by Ibi Zoboi
Kaleidoscope—edited by Alisa Krasnostein
My True Love Gave to Me—edited by Stephanie Perkins

Nonfiction

Dragon-Lords—Eleanor Parker
Braving the Wilderness—Brene Brown
Hidden Figures—Margot Lee Shatterly
Between the World and Me—Ta-Nehisi Coates
Do-Over—Jon Acuff
We Should All Be Feminists—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My Life in Middlemarch—Rebecca Mead
I am Malala—Malala Yousafzai
Reflections: On the Magic of Writing—Diana Wynne Jones
Do the Gods Wear Capes? Spirituality, Fantasy, and Superheroes—Ben Saunders

Adult Novels

The Goblin Emperor—Katherine Addison
Books of the Raksura (series)—Martha Wells
Murderbot (series)—Martha Wells
A Closed and Common Orbit—Becky Chambers
A Taste of Honey—Kai Ashante Wilson
Lost Things—Melissa Scott and Jo Graham
Black Tides of Heaven—JY Yang
Attachments—Rainbow Rowell
The Memoirs of Lady Trent (series)—Marie Brennan
Welcome to Night Vale—Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
Innkeeper Chronicles (series)—Ilona Andrews

Young Adult Novels

Exit, Pursued by a Bear—EK Johnston
Last Seen Leaving—Caleb Roehrig
The Raven Cycle (series)—Maggie Stiefvater
We Are the Ants—Shaun David Hutchinson
An Inheritance of Ashes—Leah Bobet
In Other Lands—Sarah Rees Brennan
More Than This—Patrick Ness
Fire and Thorns (trilogy) —Rae Carson
A Conspiracy of Kings—Megan Whalen Turner
The Darkest Part of the Forest—Holly Black
The Conqueror’s Saga (trilogy)—Kiersten White

Children’s Novels

Fairyland (series)—Catherynne M. Valente
The Heroes of Olympus (series)—Rick Riordan
Better Nate Than Ever—Tim Federle
Wings of Fire (series)—Tui T. Sutherland
Palace of Stone—Shannon Hale
Ordinary Magic—Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
Seraphina—Rachel Hartman
The Princess Curse—Merrie Haskell
Earwig and the Witch—Diana Wynne Jones
The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart—Stephanie Burgis

 

Comics/Graphic Novels/Manga

Ms. Marvel (series)—G. Willow Wilson
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (series)—Ryan North
Runaways (series)—Rainbow Rowell
Fullmetal Alchemist (series)—Hiromu Arakawa
Lumberjanes (series)—Noelle Stevenson (and later Shannon Watters)
Giant Days (series)—John Allison
March (trilogy)—John Robert Lewis
Nimona—Noelle Stevenson
Library Wars (series)—Kiiro Yumi
Silver Spoon (series)—Hiromu Arakawa

Star Wars

Razor’s Edge—Martha Wells
X-Wing: Mercy Kill—Aaron Allston
Thrawn: Treason—Timothy Zahn
Queen’s Shadow—EK Johnston
The Legends of Luke Skywalker—Ken Liu
Guardians of the Whills—Greg Rucka
The Weapon of a Jedi—Jason Fry
Cobalt Squadron—Elizabeth Wein
Ahsoka—EK Johnston
Aftermath—Chuck Wendig

 

Best Reads of 2018

I did the thing! Here are my favorite books that I read during this year (only some actually came out in 2018). I also threw my favorite movies in at the end, because I do what I want and because they are all adapted from books or comics.

Some of my favorite reads were audiobooks, but my top audiobooks below are ones that had great book-content AND great narration/production. I only have two poetry picks because I don’t read much poetry; I’m going to try to read more in 2019. 

Thank you to Snazel, Gingernifty, Em M, and Kemendraugh for some extremely excellent book recommendations this year, several of which show up below. 

Audiobooks

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (multi-cast)

The Queen’s Thief (series) by Megan Whalen Turner (narrated by Steve West)

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan (narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies)

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (narrated by Steve West)

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (narrated by Kyle McCarley)

Poetry

How We Became Human by Joy Harjo

The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson

Nonfiction

The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski

The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown

The Portland Black Panthers by Judson L. Jeffries and Lucas N. N. Burke

Dressing the Galaxy by Trisha Biggar

Bitchfest edited by Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler

Fiction: Series

And I Darken (trilogy) by Kiersten White

Tensorate (series) by J.Y. Yang

The Books of the Raksura (series) by Martha Wells

Murderbot (series) by Martha Wells

Fiction: Stand-alone

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip

Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

Fiction: Kids

Hamster Princess (series) by Ursula Vernon

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Comics

Ms. Marvel (ongoing) by G. Willow Wilson

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (ongoing) by Ryan North

Lumberjanes (ongoing) by Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh

The Backstagers (ongoing) by James Tynion IV

Library Wars by Hiro Arikawa and Kiiro Yumi

Movies

Black Panther

Annihilation

Crazy Rich Asians

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

Bahnreads Overseas: Literary Sights

I recently traveled from the West Coast overseas to London, Dublin, and Italy. I already blogged about my favorite bookshops I found while traveling. I also visited and/or discovered a few literature-related spots, some of them by accident because I am not as good at planning as I like to pretend. Read on for my favorite literary sites that we visited.

The Jane Austen Centre (Bath, England)

Is it touristy? Yes. Is it gimmicky? Yes. Is it a ton of fun? ALSO YES.

What first struck me at the Jane Austen Centre was the sincere enthusiasm of everyone who worked there. The young woman calling herself Louisa Musgrove gave a practiced monologue on Jane Austen’s family, but she made it interesting enough and got some laughs, and she handed us off to Lady Catherine De Burg who told us about the different portraits of Jane Austen and the arguments over their authenticity. Everyone else we interacted with, whether it was the costumed gentlemen at the door or the cashier in the gift shop seemed knowledgeable and honestly glad to be there.

The Centre itself was full of both contemporary Austen artifacts and reproduced versions. Besides the information displays and museum exhibits, there were some interactive areas where you could try on costumes, practice writing with a quill, and play contemporary tabletop games.

Check out my photos below for some examples of the displays and costumes.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Book of Kells and Long Library Exhibit (Trinity College, Dublin)

On our first full day in Dublin, we took a tram (because Trams Are Best) to the Trinity College campus. First of all, gorgeous campus, what is this, ridiculous, so beautiful. Second of all, they have the Book of Kells at their library so we visited that. Unfortunately, they don’t let you take pictures of the old books in the exhibit. But trust me when I tell you, WOW ILLUMINATED BOOKS, THEY ARE GORGEOUS AND BEST. The level of detail and the bright colors and gold were incredible. The pages we saw were the genealogy of Jesus and a section from the Gospel of John. You can see some official photos here.

We were able to see the Long Room in the same library building. It’s the perfect library aesthetic with a longgggggg room (imagine that) with fabulous-looking arches, as well as a bust or fifty of famous writers. You can check out my photos below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Via Dante Alighieri (Florence, Italy)

dante

There are quite a few Dante-related sites in Florence, Italy, which you can read about here on Walkabout. Our time was very limited there, although we did, of course, see the Duomo. I spotted this street named after Dante and snapped a photo. It’s really fun going to cities where these famous writers lived and worked, and imagine them as they were.

 

Jonathan Swift’s tomb (St. Patrick’s Cathedral)

While in Dublin we visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I had no idea that Jonathan Swift’s tomb was there! I really need to brush up on my author history because Jonathan Swift was Dean there for 32 years. If you visit the Cathedral, which is beautiful in its own right, you can see artifacts such as Swift’s pulpit. Swift wrote his own epitaph, because of course he did. The epitaph marks Swift’s grave and is in Latin, but the translation is:

Here lies the body of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Divinity and Dean of this Cathedral,
Where savage indignation can no longer lacerate his heart;
Go traveller and imitate if you can, this dedicated and earnest champion of liberty
He died on the 19th October 1745, aged 78 years

Check out my photos below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Overall I had an amazing time exploring, especially when we found places and sites we didn’t always know were there.

Bahnreads Overseas: My Favorite Bookshops

It’s good to be blogging again! I returned a few days ago from a long trip overseas, with stops in London, Dublin, Rome, Venice, and Florence (with a tiny stop in Keflavik). While I didn’t do any sort of comprehensive tour of libraries or bookshops, I did my best to visit and explore them when I could. In this post I’m going to share my favorite bookshops I found while traveling. In a later post, I will share about other literature-related places I visited, including a certain fantastic library.

London

IMG_7828Okay, it’s not technically a bookstore, but the Globe Theater gift shop sells a lot of books by William Shakespeare. The theater is a reconstruction of the Globe Theater that Shakespeare worked in and wrote his plays for. We were able to do a tour as well as see a show. I highly recommend the experience! As far as books are concerned, the gift shop sells many different editions of the plays and sonnets, including big fancy folio-like reproductions.

I also managed to visit Forbidden Planet, which has been on my list for a while. If you like science fiction or fantasy, this is a magical place. The ground floor is entirely non-book nerd gear: toys, games, shirts, etc, from alllll the franchises. The Star Wars wall was really delicious. The basement floor is all books! They had many signed editions, along with a fantastic selection. Yay Forbidden Planet!

Dublin

Manor Books Limited in Malahide (just outside Dublin) was a fun little shop. They had a lot of Ireland-related books and books by Irish authors. What I love about independent bookstores is that I discover books I would never otherwise know the existence of. I bought a book here titled How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of The Crossroads (by Daniel Cassidy). I haven’t read it yet, but our tour guide at Malahide Castle mentioned quite a few common expressions that supposedly came from Ireland, so I’m very intrigued!

The Winding Stair Bookshop was one of my favorite finds on the trip. It’s pretty small, but very carefully curated to include both new books and used, with an emphasis on feminist books and Irish authors. I found a tiny little book titled A Little History of Dragons by Joyce Hargreaves, but there were a bunch of other books I wanted to carry off with me.  It’s also right next door to The Winding Stair restaurant.

I went into at least one branch of the Dubray Books chain. Besides being a decent all-around bookstore, they always had sizeable displays on Irish authors and Ireland-related topics, which, as a tourist, I really appreciated.

Rome

So the thing about Italy is that they speak and read Italian there, and I don’t. We went into a couple of little bookshops but the only place I bought books was actually the Colosseum gift shop, where I found a delightful little book called A Journey to Rome that had beautiful watercolor illustrations paired with quotes from famous literary people who visited Rome. Not to worry: I definitely plan to visit Rome again and next time I will plan my bookshop visits a little better.

Venice

Okay, first of all, Venice is surreally beautiful and probably not even a real place. Second, it contains a bookshop called Alta Acqua that is also probably not real. I have photographs of it and I’m still not sure. They keep many of their books in waterproof flotation devices, whether it be a gondola, a bathtub, or a canoe. I didn’t actually buy any books here, although they did both English and Italian. Enjoy the photos, and visit this place if you can.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Florence

Right outside the Accademia Gallery (which is awesome, you should go there) is a bookshop called Libreria Gozzini. I definitely only saw like four rooms when I was there, so I was surprised to look it up online and be told there are multiple floors and 23 rooms! We really missed out. However, we did find a few shelves of English books and I found a couple of tiny old copies of Shakespeare plays, one of which I took home with me (Romeo and Juliet). Besides beautiful shelves of books, there were many old prints and drawings, which were fun to look through.

IMG_7532

Overall, I really enjoyed my trip. But being in a strange place can be disorienting, and it’s always very comforting to hang out with books in between eating delicious food and seeing the sights. What are your favorite bookshops you’ve found while traveling?

A Book for the Book Nerds

95979.jpgI recently read a fantastic book detailing the technology of books and bookshelves in the western world called The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski. I recommend reading it if you’re a bookworm or interested in learning about basic things that we take for granted.

The main questions this book answers are: “How and why did we get books in the form they are today? How and why did we get bookshelves in the form they are today?

The Book on the Bookshelf goes through the history of books in the western world, starting with scrolls, tablets, etc and going all the way through 1999 (when it was published), when e-readers were in development. This book is worth it if only for the (sometimes hilarious) speculation and analysis the potential effects of e-readers and e-books. It also goes into how we came to organize the books the way we do, and goes over the different ways of arranging books, which I found fascinating because I am constantly reorganizing my personal library.

However, whether or not you end up reading it, I’m going to share some (BUT NOT ALL) of my favorite facts that I learned from this book:

  • capsae are adorable-looking hat-boxes that one could use to carry one’s scrolls about with them. I want to get some scrolls and then I want to get a capsae and I want to frolic around and whip out my scrolls whenever I need to look up fun facts.

    clark-the_care_of_books-book_box
    Online Source (this image of a capsae is also shown in The Book on the Bookshelf)
  •  Apparently in the 11th century, English Benedictines had really strict rules on using the limited-and-precious books they had. In some monasteries, the librarian would assign ONE book per brother per year to read. At the end of the year, the librarian would gather all the brothers and read off their names and the book they had been assigned. If the brother had NOT read their assigned book, they had to confess their terrible literary sin on their knees to the librarian. I’m not saying we should bring this one back, but….
  • Books were stored in locked chests, but eventually the chests were turned on one end and left open and shelves put in, leading to the first armarium which turned into bookshelves!
  • Monasteries had the biggest collections of books until the Reformation, when they DESTROYED ALL THE MONASTERIES AND BURNED ALL THE BOOKS because no one has any religious chill. The printing press took a while to replace all of those big collections. Boo!
  • Spines were considered ugly for a VERY LONG TIME, like until the 17th/18th centuries. Books were shelved with their spines facing the back, because no one wants to look at that ugly thing. Sometimes librarians used slips of paper sticking out of the pages to mark what book it was, since titles weren’t on the spines and the spines were facing the back.

 

There’s lots more where those came from! I really enjoyed this book, although I’d love to read something similar that looks at book technology around the world. This one didn’t often specify if/what technology we received from or gave to the middle-east, east, etc.

 

Rec-post: Alexander the Great

I really like history, and I really like ancient history, but Alexander the Great is probably my favorite historical subject. I have a bad habit of finding books about Alexander whenever I wander into a physical or virtual bookstore;  I enjoy reading them even though they’re all hypothetically telling the same story and relaying the same facts. Alexander historians have a LOT OF OPINIONS and they disagree most of the time, which keeps it interesting if I ever get tired of the Siege of Tyre and the invasion of Persia (spoiler: I don’t).

If you are interested in reading a book about Alexander, or you have read some but want more, or you have read a LOT and want to tell me how wrong I am, look no further! Listed below are my favorite books on Alexander the Great, whether they’re novels, biographies, or picture books.

If you have Alexander the Great recommendations for me, please share them in the comments!

348e7b37a4eb471b83aaddd0fab00e09
A famous mosaic or whatever 

 

Nonfiction

The Age of Alexander by Plutarch: If you don’t know anything about Alexander the Great, this would be my first nonfiction recommendation. Plutarch was a Roman historian who wrote a few centuries after Alexander, but he was working off of the primary sources (biographies written during or soon after Alexander’s lifetime). That being said, he is an anecdotal writer, so he embellishes where he feels he needs to, and slathers his Roman bias all over everything. Still, it’s a great place to start and pretty entertaining to read. Plutarch knows how to tell a good story. Later biographers tend to use Plutarch and Arrian the most.

The Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian: Arrian is probably the best, most comprehensive source in existence for Alexander. Like Plutarch, Arrian was a Roman writer using the primary sources to write his own Alexander biography, but Arrian does his best to accurately record Alexander’s military exploits. Arrian has less fun storytelling than Plutarch, but more accuracy (in relative terms) and lots of specifics military details.

Head of

Everyone knows that Alexander the Great didn’t have pupils.

The History of Alexander by Quintus Curtius Rufus: If you really want to cover all the main secondary sources, you should tackle Rufus as well. He has really strong opinions about Alexander, like the others he slathers his Roman bias all over everything, but he’s a lot closer to the source material than we are. Rufus gets only a half-hearted recommendation from me because he includes a lot of embellished speeches, he is obsessed with Darius (king of Persia) and he kind of hates Alexander.

Note: Other main sources include Diodorus and Justin, but I haven’t read those guys yet.

Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Empire (Great Courses) by Kenneth Harl: I listened to these lectures but there are DVDs available as well. This is a fantastic and  comprehensive run-down of Alexander, his historical context, and his legacy. My only complaint is that Harl has a huge crush on Alexander, and tends to rationalize or justify some of Alex’s less awesome choices. If you like audiobooks, this would be my #1 rec.

Alexander of Macedon by Peter Green: This is the best biography; I want to eat it up. This and the Harl lectures are the best of the more modern biographies I’ve come across so far. Peter Green doesn’t hate Alexander, and he doesn’t love him, but he respects Alexander is a megolomaniac genius and admires his skill in manipulating everything and everyone around him. I subscribe to this view also, in part because of this book.

The Nature of Alexander by Mary Renault: This is Mary Renault’s nonfiction treatment of Alexander the Great; see below for her fiction treatment. Like Harl, Renault has a huge crush on Alexander and she will stop at nothing to justify any torture, genocide, or palace burnings that her dear Alex gets up to. Like, relax. Sometimes people do bad things but they can’t be boiled down to that one bad thing.

Alexander the Great by Paul Cartledge: This book is repetitive and boring at times, but Cartledge does a great job of analyzing the sources and rejecting the less plausible versions of Alexander episodes. This book isn’t as readable or engaging as some (see Freeman, below), but it is one of the more accurate biographies, and Cartledge has a dry humor that comes out in places.

Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman: If you’re new to Alexander the Great, this is a nice contemporary overview of his life. It’s very readable, but Freeman is not very discriminating with his sources. He’s here for the sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

Fiction

099062fb09c7b8a2862b90e5374b80cc
Alex’s mom Olympias gets a bad rap but at least she got some good coinage out of it.

Stealing Fire by Jo Graham: This book is set after Alexander’s death, but has a lot of flashbacks to various points in his career. It’s told from the perspective of one of Alexander’s officers, who made his way up through the ranks from being a groom. who The plot revolves around the theft of Alexander’s body by one of his generals, and that same general taking over Egypt. You know, the fun stuff. This is a great historical fiction book with some fantasy elements. My main complaint is that Alexander isn’t physically present for most of the events depicted, but his presence is felt throughout by the other characters and in the flashbacks.

Fire From Heaven and The Persian Boy by Mary Renault: These books have a couple of big problems: Mary Renault has a huge crush on Alexander, and the female characters are generally thrown into the whore or witch categories. However,  Renault tries to give an accurate, engaging view of what happened and illustrate what kind of man Alexander was personally. He comes across very positively in these books which is problematic in some cases, but as a work of fiction, it is well-crafted. I haven’t read the third book in the trilogy, The Funeral Games, because it’s post-Alexander and I’m not about that.

Alexander the Great by Demi: If I was going to make a picture book version of Alexander, this is what it would look like. Yes, it’s very idealized. Yes, it mostly draws on Plutarch anecdotes which may or may not be have actually happened. But the storytelling is coherent, and as a broad character study, you get the gist of Alexander’s personality and goals. The art is gorgeous, and the use of gold is absolutely perfect. I want to stare at every page for hours. There’s an epic quality to the illustrations that, yes, romanticized, but go big or go home, unless you’re satirizing the guy. He’s Great, after all.

c6eaa5e845e3111c041d857f3ea535f1
These sarissas were 18-feet long so that ancient Macedonians could fit all their enemies on one shish-kabob.

A Choice of Destinies by Melissa Scott: This is my favorite Alexander novel I have read so far, but it’s an alternate history. This book explores what might have happened if Alexander hadn’t gone to India, had an heir that’s old enough to have a chance once Alexander dies, and various other differences. I don’t recommend reading it if you don’t know much about Alex, because you will be very very confused and probably be convinced that he fought Romans. The book doesn’t make clear if Alex still dies of a fever in Babylon, but it does emphasize that his Empire is stabilized in his lifetime and survives for a long time. It has science fiction undertones, but what I love most about this book is how believable the alternate events are, and how well Scott characterizes everyone believably considering the historical sources. I also love the emphasis on Alexander’s engineers: those guys were smart and crucial to Alexander’s campaigns.