These are a Few of My Favorite Books

A few weeks back, ChickLitLisa (as befits her handle on Twitter) asked me questions about books: what are my favorites, my least favorites? And why?

In general, I like escapist fiction, and have since I was young. From Narnia to Madeline L’Engels’ Wrinkle in Time series, that is what I have devoured. Now-a-days my taste runs more toward Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Charlene Harris, and J. K. Rowling. Just to name a few.

A few Lents ago, I gave up reading novels. It was good for me, as I discovered that I liked non-fiction. I just need it to be well-written, entertaining non-fiction. Bill Bryson is excellent for that. I’ve also developed a taste for Michael Pollan, Rachel Simmons, and Jon Krakauer. (I am always looking for suggestions, especially in non-fiction.)

I was surprised to learn that there are books I absolutely cannot read. Most of these have unlikable (to me) protagonists/lead characters. For example, Blue Angel by Francine Prose. The nominal protagonist is a whiny, married professor who starts an affair with one of his students. I remember that during their first tryst, he breaks a tooth. I don’t remember anything redeeming about him. I stopped reading it. With Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, I couldn’t even get through the first chapter. He describes his characters in such negative terms, I found myself thinking, “Why the hell should I care about these people?”

Now, unlikable and flawed, in my opinion, are two different things, the latter being more sympathetic. And mileage may vary. Wally Lamb’s characters are rife with faults, but I find his novels beautiful.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Favorite Non-Fiction
The Chicago Manual of Style — I’m sorry, I am a total grammar geek.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss — This book is an hysterical look at how to do punctuation correctly and why. I recommend it to fellow writers, editors, and/or language + grammar geeks everywhere.

Favorite series:
The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis
I cannot count how many times I have read these seven books. From the time I was in grade school, right through reading all of them, aloud to my belly, when I was pregnant (and on modified bedrest) with Flora. When my children are old enough for chapter books, we are starting with these. I also want to add: until I was an adult (and newly returned to the Catholic Church) I did not get the parallels between Aslan and Jesus. They were just breathtakingly magical books to me. And that’s all I want them to be to my children until they, too, are old enough to see the parallels for themselves.

The Harry Potter novels, J. K. Rowling
What’s not to love? An orphaned boy discovers his past, his powers, and fights for his world’s future. The redemptive power of love, loyalty, friendship. Plus, they are a lot of fun! Quidditch!

The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper
In the days before Rowling, Susan Cooper set out to write a series of novels, set in the United Kingdom, about a magical world within our own world: light against dark, the legacy of the legendary King Arthur. My Aunt Joanne and Uncle Frank bought each one for me as it was published in paperback. I tore through them, and eagerly awaited the next installment. My current set of paperbacks are tattered, and the last book has literally fallen apart. Time for a new set to pass on.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
If you’ve read these — and loved these — you understand why I love them, too. If you like wry (dry, British) humor and word play, you will love these too.

Favorite Book by Favorite Author: The Stand, by Stephen King
I don’t know what to say about this book. It’s amazing. The scope, the narrative, the characters and their development. King is phenomenal.

My Favorite Book (if I have to pick just one): The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Atwood has been hit or miss for me. I hated Oryx and Crake; The Blind Assassin was only okay; Alias Grace was very well done; Bodily Harm, The Robber Bride, and Cat’s Eye are all amazing. But The Handmaid’s Tale is Atwood at the very, very top of her game, combining a feminine view of sexuality, a cynic’s view of religious politics, and a dystopian world view that narrates a clash between the two. I have lost track of how many times I have read it, and I could pick it up and read it again tomorrow. The first-person narration is so true and affecting. Atwood gives voice to the real and complicated nature of sex, sexuality, desire and love, from a woman’s point of view. I always find it moving.

How about you? What do you love or hate in books? What on my list do you disagree with? We’re all snow-bound right? All we have to do is sit around and read! (Ha.)

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9 thoughts on “These are a Few of My Favorite Books

  1. I will have to give Atwood another go. I know we chatted about that a bit. I also didn’t “get” the Christian parallels in the Narnia series until it was pointed out to me. I reread them recently and really did enjoy them. I read and watched The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe over and over as a kid. Even went so far as to play Narnia as a pretend game. I was the White Witch, go figure. All I wanted was some Turkish Delight, which by the way is not really all that tasty imho.

    I’m also a grammar nerd. Holla. My mom got me Origins of the Specious for Christmas. It’s by Patricia O’Conner, same woman who wrote Woe is I (another good one).

    I haven’t read The Stand yet, but read for pleasure is hard for me right now 😛 Crazy busy life that just won’t slow down. I suppose I should be reading stuff now while we’re all stuck at home.

    • What have you tried by Atwood? If you don’t want to dive into The Handmaid’s Tale (heavy, IMO), I would suggest one of the other three on the top of my list: Bodily Harm, Cat’s Eye, or The Robber Bride. They are all very woman-centric, and deal with issues of friendships, love and desire, loyalty, and making it the world as a woman in general. Her feminine/feminist voice resonates with me. You’ll have to let me know what you think!

      I played Narnia, too, usually as Lucy or Susan.

      I’ll have to check out Origins of the Specious! That sounds like great fun (for me, as a grammar geek).

      If I didn’t read for pleasure, I would lose my mind. It’s the last refuge for me. My husband absolutely doesn’t get that. But then he has his cable TV (and LOTR) those are his things.

  2. Hey RPM – I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and I just want to say I really enjoy and relate to you. Thanks for blogging!

    I completely agree with you on The Corrections. I couldn’t get past chapter 1 either. It just didn’t hook me. I tried and tried but I just couldn’t connect.

    Chronicles of Narnia, however, changed my life.

    • Well, thanks for commenting! I’m glad you enjoy my blog. I certainly enjoy writing it.

      The Narnia books are amazing. I love the way they feed the imagination with other worlds. How did they change your life?

  3. someone in my former book club picked the Corrections…it was actually painful for me to read…didn’t finish either. I loved the Handmaids Tale and Alias Grace…I think my all time favorite is The Red Tent. by Anita Diamant. If you haven’t read I will lend to you. I also love Dorothy Allison’s Cavedweller…she is known for Bastard out of Carolina…never read that, but LOVE Cavedweller…great complex characters, great story. David Sedaris, featured often on NPR’s “This American Life” is hilarious. Me Talk Pretty One Day is one of my faves.

    Hey Grammar geek…have you ever read Ella Minnow Pea? Another former book club selection. You would LOVE it…it’s about this town that makes the use of certain letters illegal based on some monument that keeps losing letters…and the book follows the rules of the town, so it is very challenging to read as letter usage becomes more limited as you go on. Fascinating and compelling…I can’t imagine how difficult it was to write!

    I just wish I had more time to read!!!

    • I have read, and enjoyed, The Red Tent. I know I’ve read Dorothy Allison, too, but I can’t remember which one. Time for a re-read! I do enjoy Sedaris, too.

      I have heard of Ella Minnow Pea. I will have to put that on the list!

      Thanks, H! And I hear you on the ‘time to read’ thing. I try to take about 1/2 an hour each night just for a book. It drives Dan batty to see me curled up and reading, but I’m telling you (and everyone, again): It keeps me sane. My husband would not like me if I didn’t read.

  4. Great Post. Since you responded to my question-this response is longer than usual.
    I read the first few books of Narnia and then lost interest a long time ago. I think I need to revisit them as an adult. Also, I might revisit a Wrinkle in Time, too-it has been even longer.
    I have had Eat, Shoots and Leaves on my TBR list for awhile now. I should get on that.
    I also love The Stand! It is one of my favorite books. I think it is his most scary-because every time someone sneezes around me I remember his description of how the illness in that book spread.
    My favorite Series is Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon-a series i never would have read if I had just picked it up in a store and read the book jacket. Several of my friends recommended it so I pcked it up “just to please them.” Wow. I never turn down a book recommendation now. Which reminds me-I will have to add Atwood to my list. I also love the Harry Potter series and another one called Gregor the Overlander.

    I read the Hitchhikers series as a teen-and loved them-but for some reason I don’t remember them well-except maybe the end of the first one.

    I am not sure I have a favorite book. There are just too many to choose from.

    I know what I don’t like: Hard-core romances (harlequin and silhoette romances) I do like “lighter” romances-old Danielle Steel, Luanne rice, etc.

    I don’t like in depth sci fi/ fantasy-books where there is a whole new vocabulary to learn. I like sci-fi and fantasy as long as there is some of familiarity in it. Make sense? I’m probably more of a fiction with a sci-fi/fantasy flavor lover.

    I am currently making my way through the Charlaine Harris series as well. I am waiting for #6 at the library.

    I have a recommendation for you: Ex Libris, Confessions of a Common Reader. I can’t describe it-but I think if you loved Eats, Shoots and Leaves you will like this-even though the subject is reading and not grammar.

    Finally, Did you notice what’s missing from my comment? Chick Lit. Ironic isn’t it. I really have to be in the mood for it. It is *not* my preferred genre (mysteries and suspense claim that title). I just liked the moniker. 🙂

    • I agree about not having a favorite book. I thought about it for a long time. There are so many books that I love, it was hard to pick. But I realized how many times I have come back to The Handmaid’s Tale, and I am never bored with it.

      I liked the Outlander series, too. Very entertaining. I called it “bodice ripping historical fiction” but how can you not love Jamie and … Totally blanking on her name. Claire? Catherine? I’ll have to go look that up.

      I’ve had a lot of people tell me about the Gregor the Overlander books. I will have to check them out. A lot of times I tell myself I have to read YA fiction so that I’ll know what my kids are reading. But the truth is I love it, too.

      Chick Lit is good for the beach!

      Thanks for responding! I hope when we meet, we get to talk more about books!

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