These Are a Few of My Favorite Books

Since I love to read even more than writing, it’s waaaaay past time for me to make a list of my favorite books and why I love them!

In no particular order, here are ten tomes that I’d want with me on a deserted island, provided there were no Others or smoke monsters to keep me busy.  My apologies for the length.


The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954 and 1955)

As a kid, I read The Hobbit but didn’t get around to this epic fantasy work until shortly before the movies came out.  I was so incredibly pissed at myself for not reading it sooner.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s masterpiece set the bar for medieval-type fantasy worlds.  A linguistic and Norse poetry scholar, Tolkien liked to play around with language.  He invented a couple and wrote this as a setting for them.  This is really one book, but it’s so big the publishers didn’t think anyone would buy it, so they split it up.  Probably made more money that way, too.


The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938)

This is the one about the boy and his pet deer.  A guaranteed bawl-fest, this one was a bestseller in 1938 and in 1939 it won the Pulitzer Prize.  The Florida backwoods are brought to vivid life by Rawlings, who lived there as a child.  You’ve got the hardscrabble life on swampy Baxter Island, a pack of feuding neighbors, and an exciting hunt for Old Slewfoot, a gargantuan bear who likes to steal the Baxters’ livestock.   A terrific coming-of-age story.


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)

Another semi-autobiographical story, spanning three generations.  Smith’s heroine is Francie Nolan, a wide-eyed young girl growing up in poverty in early twentieth-century Brooklyn.  She lives with her brother Neeley and their mother and father and an assortment of interesting relatives and neighbors.  Francie learns a lot during the novel, most of it through adverse circumstances, the worst being the death of her beloved but alcoholic father.  Despite these depressing elements, the novel glows with characters you can never forget.

Francie learns her most important lesson –perseverance—from a tough little tree, the “Tree of Heaven,” that grows rampant in her neighborhood.  I’ve read this book so many times I can quote from it verbatim.


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

I know, they all seem to be classic books, but there are good reasons these are still around.  Harper Lee only published one novel, but what a novel, rich with detail of the town and its inhabitants.

Scout Finch and her older brother Jem live in Maycomb Alabama during the Great Depression.  A notorious neighborhood recluse figures large in their daily activities.  Their lawyer father Atticus lands one of the most divisive cases ever to hit Maycomb County, the defense of a black man accused of raping a white woman.  Through this occurrence, the Finch children see into the hearts of familiar townspeople and don’t always understand or condone what they find there.

Yes, it’s true; the character of Dill was modeled on Truman Capote, a childhood friend of Lee’s.


The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (1997 – 2007)


I’ve said it before; any writer thinking about doing a series should read this, one of the most successful of all time.  In case you’ve been living under the sea and missed the biggest literary phenomenon of the twenty-first century, Harry Potter is about a boy who discovers he is a wizard, doomed to fight the most evil villain ever known.

Packed with fun, magic and tragedy, these books spurred non-readers to the library in droves.  I wish to God I could write something people would love as much as this.  Not for the fame or money, but because I would love to make other people feel the way these books make me feel.

I am a HUGE Potternerd and readily admit it.  In fact, I’m going to share something with you now:

3-1/2 hours listening to thrash metal. My ears hurt worse than the tat.

That is my left bicep (yes it was kind of fat in this picture, grr).  I got this in tribute because this series helped me through a tough time.  Yes, you may call me a geek.  It won’t bother me a bit.


The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (1971)

I was too young to read this novel about a young girl possessed by demons when it came out, nor was I allowed to see the film version until I was older and it appeared on network TV.  I heard about it, of course.  It’s a gripping read, although I don’t believe in demonic possession.  The character of the mother, actress Chris MacNeil, is every parent whose child has fallen inexplicably ill.

Blatty’s book is based loosely on an account of a real exorcism that took place in the late 1940s in St. Louis, Missouri.  Originally it was a boy, whose real identity has never been released.  He reportedly has no memory of the events.  The story seized Blatty’s imagination and a horror classic was born.

Thomas B. Allen wrote a great book about the case, Possessed, based on the diary of Fr. Willam Bowdern, the exorcist.


‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (1975)

SK’s treatment of Dracula.  Screw Twilight.  This is one of the best vampire books ever written.  The little town of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine gets a new resident and he’s thirsty for company.   King’s second published novel, it’s white-hot with dread.

I’m a horror fan but I’m jaded.  I’ve read too much stuff and seen too many slasher flicks.  But this book still gives me chills.  I seriously have goosebumps right now thinking about cemetery worker Mike Ryerson breaking open the coffin of poor little recently deceased Danny Glick and being transfixed by “that glittering, frozen stare.”


Looks like a nice, normal town...


Red Dragon by Thomas Harris (1981)

There hasn’t been a completely satisfactory movie adaptation of this, although the 1986 Michal Mann vehicle Manhunter was decent.  I hated the 2002 version.  It was too overblown and they messed up Harris’s perfect dialogue.  Only Ralph Fiennes’ performance as the monstrous and also pitiable serial killer Francis Dolarhyde kept me in my seat.  “Read the book,” I told everybody, “it’s frigging genius.”
Harris, a former newspaper reporter, has a succinct, detached style that still gives you everything you need to picture unspeakable things.  In this passage, retired FBI profiler Will Graham steps into the bedroom of the latest victims:

Graham switched on the lights and bloodstains shouted at him from the walls, from the mattress and the floor.  The very air had screams smeared on it.  He flinched from the noise in this silent room full of dark stains drying.


No description of the room at all, but you can see it as vividly as though you were there.


Tom Sawyer by Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain (1876)

Adventure, romance, treasure, solving a terrible murder…what more could any red-blooded boy want?  Tom and his best buddy Huck Finn find it all in their sleepy little river town, based loosely on Clemens’ boyhood in Hannibal, Missouri.  Whitewashing the fence, dosing the cat with Pain-Killer and sneaking into his own funeral—fun times!

This book has been adapted to film several times, including a perplexing musical treatment in the 1970s starring Johnny Whitaker.  Huck Finn went on to his own novel.  Its controversial language makes it the better known of the two, but this one is still my favorite.  Tom may be mischievous, but he’s a charmer.  Becky Thatcher thinks so too.


Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)

Not just a film, but a 1940 Hitchcock film, starring Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier and Judith Anderson, came from this thrilling book about an unnamed protagonist haunted by the beautiful specter of her new husband’s dead first wife.  This highly Gothic novel has been compared to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.  du Maurier illustrates the new Mrs. De Winter’s awkward growth with painful sincerity.  She’s a fish out of water and she knows it.

The literary device of an anonymous main character is difficult to pull off.  The author gets around that by only allowing us to hear her referred to directly as Mrs. De Winter, once she arrives at her husband’s fabulous estate.   Her gauche and condescending employer, Mrs. Van Hopper, doesn’t call her anything.  Eventually she learns the truth about Rebecca, and begins to emerge as a confident woman.

That’s my list for now.  I have a lot more books I would love to share with you, but this post is already too long as it is.   Find one or all of these at the library.  You won’t be sorry, but you may be up all night reading.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Feel free to list some of your faves in the comments.

Money is a Dirty Word

I just sold a consignment item and made a little money, enough to FINALLY open a savings account and pay off a couple of bills.  Whoopee!  Then I retrieved my mail and found a bill for the latest greatest medical test.  Now I’m worse off than I was before.  Gee, thanks for nothing, Universe!

Money.  We need it, we want it, we can’t live without it and if we don’t have enough, we suffer.  When it arrives in excess, it causes more problems than it solves.  Taxes, investments, people with their hands out asking or even demanding a payout “since you have so much.”

I’m sorry to say I don’t have the last problem, but in a way I’m glad, too.  No one who knows me ever hits me up because they all know how broke I am.  With a little extra income trickling in, the thought of getting caught up looks more possible than improbable lately.

Writing income is mostly freelance.  Freelancers and independent contractors have to think about taxes—taking them out, figuring them—and other things like health insurance employees can usually leave up to their employers.  Although I do work full-time, my finances are about to get a bit more complicated.

So why do I even care?  I’m not doing this for money, am I?  It’s art, right?

Piffle.  Artists get paid the same as other people.  Graphic designers do artwork, whether they are freelance or not, and they get paid. If I commission my fantastically talented friend Tiffany Turrill to paint my portrait, I know she’ll expect to be paid.

Some people are under the mistaken impression that artists, musicians and writers shouldn’t be paid because we enjoy our work.   Now hold on a minute there.  Certainly we enjoy it, or we wouldn’t be trying to make a career out of it.  This kind of activity isn’t likely to pay the bills the same way a job as an engineer or even a receptionist would.  (Pardon a moment…bwaa ha ha ha! Okay, I’m done)   Others think to even talk about fair pay for our creative work is—ahem!—indelicate.

Again piffle, and let me add, pooh.  Work is work.  I work just as hard when I’m writing as I do at my job, just doing different things.  I may not share with you what I’m earning for answering the phone or for the last ten articles I turned in.  That doesn’t mean I don’t care about it.  I worked every night, at lunch and on weekends for six months writing my book and then another five or six learning to edit the damn thing.  If I publish it, I expect to be paid, and I will be.

Yesterday I read a post by Susanne Lucas, aka Evil HR Lady, about doing work for free as part of an interview testing process.  Freelancers come across this all the time.  There’s a huge difference between submitting a sample or taking a brief software test and being asked to produce a useable document, program tweak or graphic that then becomes the property of the interviewer.  Bottom line:  rude and exploitive.  Everyone, not just freelancers, should be paid for the work they do.

I would probably write even if I didn’t get paid.  Did it for years, on my own, by cracky.  I like blogging and no one pays me for that.  I’m doing a lot of unpaid work learning my craft, with which I do hope to earn a living someday.  That’s neither indelicate nor greedy.

If we all could choose our life’s work and immediately begin doing it for a comfortable paycheck, how many of us would pick what we’re doing now?  Who would have thought when I was sitting in a treehouse as a kid making up stories that I would be here?  Where will here lead?  I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda excited to find out.  (Hurry up, Universe.  I ain’t gettin’ any younger.  Now get off my lawn.)

Whatever that secret aspiration is, if you get paid for it, you’re among the lucky.  Chances are you’ve worked like hell to be there.  Be proud of yourself, for cripes sake.  You deserve it.  And you might want to step aside, because I’m right behind you.


A comment I made on Jane Friedman’s blog There Are No Rules inspired this post.  Jane’s entry was about inspiration, and contained some quotes she found interesting about how writers can tap into their innermost selves when they are alone.

Tons of people think artists and writers are or should be solitary people, holed up in a studio or an office, painstakingly practicing their art at the point of a brush or the keyboard, with no distractions.  Actually, many writers struggle for those moments because they have so much going on in their personal lives.  Work, family, errands, chores; it’s all demanding.  Most of us don’t have the luxury of writing full-time, especially novelists.

What about the other side of the coin, those who don’t have much of anything?  I’ve known a lot of people who are alone, with no family or few friends.  They tend to bend your ear when you get a chance to talk to them, since at home there’s no one to listen.

I’ve been there.  Truly.  I’ve gone whole weekends without talking to a living soul, either on the phone or face-to-face.  Sometimes the only interaction I have is online.  Many times it’s by choice.  Lots of times, it’s not.  When I’m writing, that can be a blessing.  I’ve tried sneaking work during the day, and there are just too many damn interruptions unless I’m at lunch.

But other times, it sucks.  I’ve gone out and browsed around the flea market not because I want someone’s used dishes, but so I can be around other human beings.  (PS–It’s a great place for writers to eavesdrop on conversations.  Heh heh.)  Right now, I’m living in a place where it’s extremely hard to find like-minded people unless you belong to certain demographics, which I do not.  Judging by a local newspaper article I read a couple of years ago, I’m not the only one here with this perspective.

Writing is a solitary venture.  Even in a house filled with family, when we visit those worlds inside our heads, there’s no one there but us.  Eventually we have to pull ourselves out, if only to seek sustenance or use the bathroom.  That doesn’t mean your life has to be that way.

As I said in my comment, I think solitude is necessary for creativity, but too much isn’t a good thing.  The need for companionship, if not fulfilled, can usurp the good things about solitude and shut you down.  When you need food water won’t do it.  When you need to hear another human voice, forums and even chat rooms are dry bread compared to a steak sandwich. (Why do I try to write blog posts when I’m starving?)

Good writers need that human interaction.  You’re representing life.  Unless your book is set on another planet and your protagonists are all sentient squids, chances are you’re writing about other people.  Go out among them, if only to do field research.  If you’re lucky enough to have a family or live in a situation with housemates, you can mine them for inspiration, bits of dialogue and critiques.  And they will keep you anchored in the world.

For those who are mostly alone, I highly recommend seeking the company of other people on a regular basis.  It will help you recharge.  Church is good if you’re into that, or a group that involves some interest other than writing.  And no, online forums don’t count.  People need to be in the same room with each other.   Have some kind of activity other than your work to engage you.

Maybe you’ll find that your work is better when you isolate yourself.  That may be, but most humans are not meant to be completely solitary creatures.  Find your moments and use them and then get out there.  The reward is richer than you ever imagined.