Books, Books, Books


I was tagged twice in the same day to talk about my ten favorite books, or the books that influenced me or something. Here is my list, cheating a bit.

Before starting I need to give a shout out to the book I just finished: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek, MD and T.J. Mitchell. I laughed; I cried; I nearly lost my lunch. It was awesome.

Selecting just 10 books that I have enjoyed or been influenced by is excruciating. As I choose which ones to feature, others cry out, “what about me?” Honestly, I need my lists to be by literary period or genre. And still I will feel like I am excluding something that means the world to me. I, also, can’t just rank them. Plus, what about essays, short stories, poems, and comics/manga? That said, I tried really hard. So here we go!

East of Eden by John Steinbeck: Growing up in Oklahoma, I was forced to read many Steinbeck novels. I wish I could say I loved Steinbeck, but I didn’t. The one book of his we never read is the only one I truly love. The characters resonate with me.

The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman: After finishing Lord of the Rings, I felt drained. Books did not satisfy, and I couldn’t finish anything. I just wanted more Tolkien, and I indulged, but it had to come to an end because he was dead, you know? Dragonlance was my methadone to my Tolkien heroin. The language is not elevated and the plot simple, but I love it.

The Cigarette Sellers of Three Crosses Square by Joseph Ziemian: The true story of Jewish children who escaped the ghetto and survived by selling cigarettes to the Nazi soldiers. Not all of them escaped the concentration camps. I read this book in the sixth grade, the same age as many of the sellers, and I spent the better part of 15 years searching for a copy to own. I still dream about this book.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card: This book made me acknowledge to myself and publicly, “I love science fiction.” What is amazing about this book is that space battle takes place three-dimensionally. Prior to that space battles were treated like space is the sea – one dimension, no underneath or overhead attacks. On top of the wicked explanations of space battle, Ender endures as one of my favorite protagonists. My heart still breaks for him. (The recent movie captured all of the important stuff even though it was different, and I sobbed at the end as if I had never read the book.)

Beach Music by Pat Conroy: A book about the scars life leaves on us and how to live with them. Conroy’s prose affects and infects drawing me deep into his world. I don’t know how to really describe this, but I have never forgotten it, and some nights I want to scream, “Shyla, don’t do it!”

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: The first book I was forced to read by a school that I thoroughly enjoyed. It also changed the way I look at literature and fostered the love of analyzing it that I have today. Plus, I don’t want to strangle Mr. Rochester nearly as much as Mr. Darcy or Heathcliff. (I completely don’t know what people see in Heathcliff.)

The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon: Honestly, this is toss-up between this book and Lackey’s Arrows of the Queen. Both feature rich fantasy worlds with magical mishaps, world ending events, and memorable characters but I believe it is in these fantastical stories that we learn the most about being human. This author’s work has made me a more compassionate and accepting person. S

Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny: I can honestly say this omnibus changed the trajectory of my life. The books are fast, easy reads, and I am not sure if the author knew where he was going from one book to the next. Still, the first five books have an incredible story. And I never would have met Neil without them.

I love all of the amazing work that is coming from the young adult genre this century. I am not sure what happened, but suddenly it seems that young adult literature is full of complex plots, characters, and themes. I could easily see Divergent, Hunger Games, If I Stay, If He Had Been With Me, or Girl of Fire and Thorns here, but the Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman is by far my favorite. It’s horrific, heartbreaking, and redemptive. Also, the characters are worth the emotional torture. During the first book, I despised Lev and thought “how will I ever forgive or like him?” By the end of the second book I was crying as he fought to get through to Miracolina. He is definitely in my top five Unwind characters.

My final selection is reserved for two books because I do recommend reading them in tandem or reading two similar books at the same time. Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers by Brooke Allen and Patriots by A.J. Langguth: I actually pair these because they are a great contrast and by the end your understanding of American Revolutionary history, the writing of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, and the philosophical beliefs of the Founding Fathers will be deep. I realize my love for Enlightenment political philosophy and extant texts is seen as odd, but what a person can learn is infinitely valuable. They certainly helped frame my current thoughts on religion, liberty, and freedom.

Honorable mentions: Aspects of Love by David Garret (Alexis is named after the main characters); On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony; The Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout; the works of Lord Dunsany; the works of H.P. Lovecraft; any romance novel because after you read heavy philosophy or science, you need a break; In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick; The Hot Zone by Robert Preston; anything by David McCullough; Socrates in Love by Kyoichi Katayama (similar to The Fault In Our Stars).

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