There is a shelf in my bedroom separate from the four bookcases that line the wall. On it there is a pile of books set aside. They are all single volumes, not part of any particular series. And though a few do have sequels, they all stand perfectly well on their own. When combined, they form the “Canon of Devastation and Delight”.
What makes these books so special?
It is not simply their stand alone quality. There are other single volumes I love: Howl’s Moving Castle, Dune, The Courtship of Princess Leia (trust me it was great). And yet they don’t make the list.
Of course there are a few series that I love and have read over and over as well. It is well documented that Lord of the Rings, the Little House books, Harry Potter, etc. are all fabulous.
These books I’ve mentioned, along with hundreds of others I’ve read over the years are formative, wonderful creations and I love them, in some cases more than the pile of stories I’ve set aside. But they are not the “Canon of Devastation and Delight”. Nope.
That special stack, currently standing at ten books, is the zenith of my personal collection. They are the books I have read multiple times or plan on doing so. Most of them are by fairly obscure authors. Recently the very first nonfiction book joined these hallowed ranks. They are quite simply the books that have filled me with Delight while also leaving me Devastated.
The title for this pile came to me recently, when I was pondering adding that first non-fiction volume. What was it that pulled these volumes together? What made them some sort of cohesive whole, despite their singular natures?
It turns out this is very hard to put into words, which is part of what makes them so special. The fact that these books make me feel things that only their companions make me feel is testament to the power of the storytelling within them.
They leave me breathless in some way, make my heart ache and sing. They are well-written, but beyond that they tell stories that I have not read the like of anywhere else. Unique characters, settings, language, and a million other little things set these books apart. They’re the ones that have made me actually cry, the ones that don’t leave me for weeks after, the ones that have settled into my bones and left me irrevocably changed.
In the coming months, I’ll be trying to put into words what makes these books tick for me, what makes them do the things they do to me, and I’ll try to do it as spoiler-free as possible, so you can enjoy them yourself and see if they do the same to you.
Would you like to know what made this hallowed list?
- The Hero and the Crown – Robin McKinley
- The Last Unicorn – Peter S. Beagle
- Moth & Spark – Anne Leonard
- The Sparrow – Maria Doria Russel
- Under the Poppy – Kathe Koja
- Love is a Mix Tape – Rob Sheffield
- Constance – Patricia Lipp
- The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
- Elantris – Brandon Sanderson
- Orlando – Virginia Woolf
- The Book of Flying – Keith Miller
Feel free to read along as I walk you through some truly outstanding stories. First up will be The Hero and the Crown.