The Canon of Devastation & Delight

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 Devestation 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.

It is not their rereadability either. Good Omens, Hitchhiker’s Guide, and any of the books mentioned above all would qualify on that aspect alone.

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 is the zenith of my personal collection. They are the books I have read multiple times or plan on doing so. 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.

Single Volumes

  • “The Last Unicorn” by Peter S. Beagle
  • “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman
  • “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell
  • “Love is a Mixtape” by Rob Sheffield
  • “Moth and Spark” by Anne Leonard
  • “The Hero and the Crown” by Robin McKinley
  • “Constance” by Patricia Clapp
  • “Elantris” by Brandon Sanderson
  • “Orlando” by Virginia Woolf
  • “The Book of Flying” by Keith Miller

Wayfarers by Becky Chambers

  • “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet”
  • “A Closed and Common Orbit”

The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss

  • “The Name of the Wind”
  • “A Wise Man’s Fear”