Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Into The Past with Alex Epstein - The Circle Cast Blog Tour (& A Giveaway)

Alex Epstein, author of The Circle Cast, is here to discuss what books his past self would recommend at ages 5, 11, 16 and 20.

Age 5

Where the Wild Things Are
I’ve always loved this book. I might be able to recite it from memory. I’ve probably read it to my daughter, Jesse, a hundred times.

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge
I’ve never been able to get Jesse to sit still for this one. And reading it now, it seems like a hard read for a kid. But when I ran across it in a bookstore, I suddenly realized I was crying.

The Little Engine That Could
Do I even have to explain this?

The Jungle Book
Just So Stories
I think my dad read me The Jungle Book. I prefer the Just-So Stories. I choke up every time I read “The Cat That Walked by Himself.” Unfortunately it’s the last one in the book, and Jesse insists I read the book in order, so I never get to read it to her. These books are magic at any age.

Age 11

The Sword in the Stone, The Once and Future King, The Book of Merlyn by TH White.
The Black Arrow, by Robert Louis Stevenson

I remember when I was a little older than 5, my dad used to read to me out of the T. H. White books about King Arthur. They obviously stuck in my head, since here I am with my own Arthur book. I’m pretty sure I would have reread them on my own when I was a little older. Swords! Sorcery! Knights! Eleven sounds about right.

Age 16

The Shockwave Rider, The Sheep Look Up, Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner
Stranger in a Strange Land, I Will Fear No Evil, Time Enough for Love, by Robert Heinlein
Foundation, Foundation & Empire, Second Foundation, by Isaac Asimov
The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien
Liddell Hart, A History of the Great War
In the Shadow of Man, by Jane Goodall

I real a lot of science fiction when I was a teenager. I loved the big fat books by Robert Heinlein, with their epic sweep and their rather naughty sexual behavior. (In Time Enough for Love, at one point, a character sleeps with his differently-gendered clone.) I loved John Brunner’s books about the future of society. Stand on Zanzibar was about what happens when the world’s population gets out of control. The Sheep Look Up is about what happens when people can change jobs and identities without trouble. The Shockwave Rider is about a hacker on the run in a future where everyone has access to a sort of planet-wide network of computers and information – a sort of world-wide web, if you will.

I wouldn’t recommend the Asimov books now. I care more about characters now. At the time, I liked the big sweep of epic future history books. He can’t write characters worth a damn, though. If I were giving me then books from now, I’d give me Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash, not to mention his Baroque trilogy. Also Vernor Vinge and Charlies Stross (but not the Merchant Princes series). Also Tim Powers.

I also read histories about Napoleon and the Persian Wars and the great sweep of real actual history. There’s a bit of that in The Circle Cast -- the Saxon invasion, and Morgan’s effort to unite Ireland. But it’s more a background to her struggle to choose her own path between love and magic. I wish I could have read Jared Diamond’s books Guns, Germs & Steel and Collapse then; they would have blown my mind. Also, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus.

Age 20

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Moveable Feast; The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; Picasso by Gertrude Stein
My Life and Loves, Frank Harris
Memoirs, Casanova
Ulysses, by James Joyce
Graves, The White Goddess
Fraser, The Golden Bough
Eliot, The Wasteland
Ezra Pound, Translations
Rimbaud, Illuminations
Frank O’Hara poems (“The Day Lady Died”; “A True Account of Talking to the Sun on Fire Island”)
Rainer Maria Rilke, poems

In college I was on a Modernist kick. I also read a lot of poems. I’d taken a semester off Yale to hang around Columbia and take creative writing courses, which were not offered at Yale. I spent most of my free time in an intense Platonic relationship with my ex-girlfriend, Lisa, which was all about Paris in the 1920’s. She dumped me, but I went to Paris after university anyway.

(That led to film school, which led to becoming a professional screenwriter.
Then 14 years later, she emailed me, and we wound up getting married after all.)

If I were recommending books to me at 20 now, I would hook me up with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series of graphic novels; also his American Gods and Neverwhere. I’d give me anything by Malcolm Gladwell. I’d tell me to check out Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon, and Starhawk’s Spiral Dance, from both of which I learned about Wicca. Almost anything by Ernle Bradford, but especially Ulysses Found. Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia). In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch. Understanding Comics and Making Comics by Scott McCloud.

Of course I could have read any of these at 16, too, if I didn’t have a science fiction book handy…

I’m forgetting tons of great books here. Fortunately, I’m starting to put my library on LibraryThing – check it out here: http://www.librarything.com/catalog/AlexEpstein

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your book picks, Alex!

Giveaway Details:

4 e-books will be up for grabs over the course of the blog tour. 
1 winner will be chosen each week.
Follow The Circle Cast Blog Tour & comment for your chance to win!


  1. Wow, that list at age 20 is just fabulous!!

    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  2. Victoria ZumbrumJuly 20, 2011 at 8:40 AM

    Please enter me in contest. I would love to read these books. Tore923@aol.com

  3. Wow. Impressive reader. I feel like I have so many classics yet to read.
    (not an entry)

  4. Well, I now have a lot of new books to add to my TRB list! I feel a bit behind on my school reading list now. Thanks so much for this great guest post and for the awesome giveaway:)

    jwitt33 at live dot com

  5. I'm so excited to read this book!

    stephfenner (at) gmail (dot) com