Don’t forget about the Kim Harrison Book Giveaway!!
This week we chose to answer two similar questions and also reveal something we’ve been working on for a time: A list of our Favorite Books!
Christina: Hey, I was wondering what maybe your top 5 or so favorite books were that inspired you to write or that you wish that everyone would read at some point in their lifetime and why.
Christina: If you could recommend a few books that you believe everyone should read at some point in their life becuase it made that great of an impression on you, inspired you, or it was just that amazing, what books would you recommend for others to read?
The Lord of the Rings. I feel like every fantasy writer says this, but that’s because LotR is soo good. The world just feels complete; there’s mythology, history, cultural differences, and a whole delightful ecosystem complete with oliphants. I wanted to visit Middle Earth (in a protective bubble where no orcs could get me), I wanted to be friends with the hobbits, and I always wanted to know why there weren’t more kickass girls like Eowyn.
Alanna, The First Adventure taught me girls could be awesome, active main characters in fantasy. They could go out and fight evil and have adventures, they just might have to dress as a boy to do it. I loved Alanna, I loved the school for knights and the world’s magic and it made me want to try writing something of my own.
Pride and Prejudice made me love love, or romances, especially period romance. It showed me that love stories didn’t all have to be sappy tales of women pining for men and couples talking about how much they loved each other, they could be sharp and witty and comment on life and involve men like Colin Firth (yes, I watched the BBC version before reading).
The Curse of the Pharaohs, by Elizabeth Peters. This series is my guilty pleasure, and The Curse of the Pharaohs was the first book from it I read, way back when I was nine or ten. It’s a Victorian murder mystery set at an archaeological excavation in Egypt. I can’t think of any other sentence that has so many of my favorite things in it. The main character is spunky and outspoken, she has a hot husband and she isn’t beautiful. It wasn’t just the plot or the characters that hooked me, the writing style reflects the period and I decided that it meant I could get away with an elevated style if I could write well enough. I’m still working on that.
Beloved by Toni Morrison. This was the first book I read whose characters and emotions seemed to drip off the page. All of the description and themes were so intense and emotional that the book changed me forever as a writer. Now I seek to make my writing as lyrical and saturated as Toni’s, and it also gave me a craving for spooky stories and characters compelled by their own legends. It’s not a book for everyone, but it hit me at just the right time and will forever be one of my favorites.
RANT by Chuck Palahniuk. This is another book that changed me as a writer; this story is so complex and amazing that it blew my mind and made me want to write stories like nothing I’ve ever heard before: rabies epidemic, time travel, crashing cars as sports, immortality, and ‘porting’: a personally-experienced hologram. I had to read this book twice to really understand what was going on, and five times to catch all the nuances. I wish that Rant Casey lived in my head instead of Palahniuk’s.
The Animorphs by K.A. Applegate (mostly). The Animorphs were the first books I ever had a ‘fangasm’ for, and the character of Tobias influenced my own character Shaedyn in Antebellum. The Animorphs compelled me to begin writing fan fiction, which eventually led to me writing my own fiction. For that, and for a world I could visit again and again, they will always have a special place in my heart.
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman: This is one of the books that first inspired my writing style. Of course, that was over six years ago, and I’ve developed a lot since then, so you can’t really tell anymore. But I remember reading his work and being breathless with the raw emotion and beauty in many of the scenes. Plus, I adored Lyra with all my heart and was absolutely devastated when a certain something happened at the end of the series. I remember wanting so, so badly to live in that world and have a daemon of my own. Pullman’s world-building, language, and deftness with Lyra’s character development made this my absolute favorite book as a child, one that lived with me for years and still occupies a very special place in my heart.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card: This book made me cry so hard. I wanted to protect Ender so badly, but even as I hated the people manipulating him, I understood their motives. This book taught me a lot about complex characters–people whose motives are in shades of gray, and how the line between Good and Bad jumps around depending on the angle with which you view the ground. Also, I know some people say they saw the twist at the end coming from a mile off, but when I read it at twelve years old, I couldn’t have predicted it for the world. It blew me away. Like The Golden Compass, this book haunted me for years, and a tattered copy sits on my bookshelf.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy: Unlike The Golden Compass and Ender’s Game, I first read this book recently. It’s a powerfully told story of both present and past, the two weaving into each other brilliantly. There’s a lot of word play, and certain metaphors or descriptions are so rich and full they fairly burst before your eyes. It’s a sensuous novel. It taught me to paint a scene with all four senses and not not be afraid to dig deeper than the usual clean, shiny descriptions because those fall flat the easiest. Unlike the other two I have listed here, I’ve only read The God of Small Things once straight through and have not really felt the urge to read it again and again as I have the others. But that has nothing to do with the greatness of the book–it’s strange, but I feel like the story is already whole and alive inside of me, and I have no need to revisit it…or maybe it’s just because I wrote a number of essays on it already, and have memorized many of the passages 🙂
The Harry Potter Series – I actually just started getting back into this series after giving up on it (for reasons unknown even to myself–I was probably getting annoyed having to wait for each one to come out) somewhere in the fifth book. Though there are undoubtedly a lot more “notable” works out there, if that’s how some are inclined to think, I think this series is incredible because it’s a great example of good writing in present-day publication. A lot of writers (myself, included!) can get stuck on the delusion that the “classics” are the only truly good works out there, and that modern writing will never live up to them. But J.K. Rowling is a new author, and a good one at that. She has a knack for creating believable characters and complex yet interesting storylines that amaze me, especially since one of my biggest weaknesses is creating substantial plots and subplots that have more than one layer to them. I like to think of her as one of the ultimate storytellers!
The Picture of Dorian Gray – going back to what I said in my comment above, I’d feel like a bad writer if I didn’t have at least one of the oldies in here. So I’m going to bring in Dorian Gray, because it’s simply an amazing book. The story is unique and interesting, the characters are entertaining, and the description is vivid and full of symbolism. In a time when there seems to be very few “original” ideas left, Dorian Gray can teach you a thing or two about originality and how to make crazy concepts work.
Summer by Edith Wharton – reading romances has been a huge guilty pleasure for me from the time I picked up The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks years ago. But the problem with a lot of romances is that they’re unrealistic; this is fine, when a reader is looking to escape into a fantasy, but when a writer is trying to form believable relationships… it’s time to pick up some Wharton. Maybe she tends to be a bit on the pessimistic side–real-life stories CAN have happy endings–but I like to call Summer the first and only convincing love story I’ve ever read. I won’t spoil it for you, but if you want to brush up on building tangible relationships between your characters, this would be the book to go for. It might be a bit dated, but the way people interact with each other never seems to change–I’d say that if you can get past the 19th century language, you’ll definitely connect with and understand the protagonist on some level, whether you agree with her actions/ways of thinking or not.
I have many books that I love, but the following three are probably the YA/MG books that influenced my own writing the most. All but one are somewhat unknown, so I’m thrilled to have the chance to talk them up a bit!
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. I read this book when I was 11, and it forever changed me. THatC made me fall in love with kick-ass heroines—it made me want to WRITE about kick-ass heroines, who could go out and slay a dragon while still maintaining their girly side. It’s also a book that made me realize fantasy wasn’t just epic quests, but also about characters—and the impact of tough choices. McKinley doesn’t make things easy for her characters—and she made me fall in love with The Bittersweet Ending long before Lloyd Alexander made me fall in love with it again.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Don’t laugh at the title. No, seriously. I wish it were different, too. I wish I didn’t blush when people ask about my favorite books, and I mutter “The Last Unicorn.” But, title aside, it’s brilliant. Beautiful. Heart-breaking. TLU showed me the loveliness of prose—proved to me that fantasy COULD be beautiful while being epic. It made me savor words; it made me savor IDEAS. Some of my all-time favorite quotes (see my Facebook info) are from this book. And if that’s not enough to entice you, it has some of the most beautiful opening lines ever.
“The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea.”
The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. It will ALWAYS be Number 1 favorite book. Why? Because I’ve read the series every year since I was 18 (I curse myself for not reading them earlier), and each time I read it, I learn something new. Alexander is a master of world-building—none of the books are very long, but Prydain remains one of the most vivid and detailed worlds I’ve ever read. Not to mention, the fourth book in the series, TARAN WANDERER, is one of the greatest books of ALL-TIME (trying really hard to refrain from making the Kanye reference). I think most of the wisdom in the world is contained within the pages of THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN, not to mention Taran will always be my #1 hero. I wept for hours after I finally finished the series. HOURS.
This book changed my life—it changed the way I wrote, the way I saw books, the way I saw characters—most of all, it changed the way I saw the world OUTSIDE of my books. To this day, if I come to a moral crossroads, I’ll sometimes ask myself “What Would Taran Do?” Yes, I am a dork—but I cannot emphasize enough how incredible these books are. If you love high fantasy, memorable characters, and the threat of an unstoppable army of the walking dead, READ this series!
I have so many favourites, but if I had to choose a few, one of them would be The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. I read this before I ever started writing, and after I finished this book (and the rest of the trilogy), I found myself not only crying (if you’ve read it, you’ll know why!), but absolutely inspired. I’m not sure how many years later I began to write; but His Dark Materials trilogy made me fall in love with reading all over again (which I believe to be one of the reasons I write). There was something so relatable about Lyra; and like Kat mentioned, I wanted desperately to have my own daemon. It is one of those books that I look forward to rereading. I loved the complexity, and it is proof that something so complex was still understood by me as a child. Rereading it has only added more respect for the many intricacies. This story was proof that something epic wasn’t just about huge armies battling it out, but also about the scope of one character’s journey to find the truth, save the world, and come of age.
Sabriel by Garth Nix is another story I could reread over and over again! I absolutely love writing when it comes to world building; and the Abhorsen trilogy was brilliant at it. Magic was truly magical in this book. It was so brilliant, so beautiful in its simplicity, that I was entranced right from the start. It infused every page, and I never got tired of it. Sabriel isn’t a scared damsel in distress, though she does feel fear; nor is she a fearless warrior woman, though she is strong and can be brave. She is believable, and it is one of the reasons why I’m still so drawn to her character. And then there is Mogget; you’re never quite sure whether he is good or bad. His ambiguity is absolutely brilliant; and yet you still find yourself liking him, nonetheless.
Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce, will always be a favourite. Like Jenn, this book made me realize that women can kick ass! Alanna is a heroine who wants to be treated equally, and is willing to risk so much for what she wants. She works hard to get to where she ends up, and it never ceased to inspire me. This was one of the first times I came across feminism, and it really struck a chord with me. This is another book that I could reread over and over (and have!). I wanted to be able to create worlds just as breathtaking, and characters just as complex, and write stories about one’s coming of age in wonderful, magical, and dangerous setting. I wanted to write about strong women after reading this series.
And since I can’t only choose three, there is The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman. After reading this, I was blown away. I wanted to be able to write like her. Hoffman’s prose is poetically beautiful, and absolutely haunting at times. Some of my favourite lines are from this book. The story and characters are complicated, and the answers are never quite so clear-cut. Rain is a girl of the Amazon tribe of warrior women; and she rebels, through all the sorrow and hate in her life. In a search for herself, we see how she reacts to the ruthless women of her tribe. I was blown away when I first read it, and I am still blown away when I read it.
The book Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky was a big influence. I read it a couple years ago, and it’s a totally different genre (literary) than the fantasy/sci-fi I usually read, so it was a bit of an eye-opener. It was also a very sobering read in terms of the human condition and what people will do in a time of crisis. It’s about the French Exodus in WWII when Germany invaded, and what I enjoyed most about it was its feeling of almost total neutrality. She didn’t favour any sides, and it exposed me to writing techniques that help display a character clearly without saying “They are evil” or “They are good”. She let’s the reader interpret they goodness or evilness according to their morals, and I think that’s very, very cool.
On top of that, Némirovsky gave me a flavour for mystery and things in a book that are never really cleared up. Of course, it’s because of tragic circumstances that this happened in hers: she died in Auschwitz before she could complete it (which makes the neutrality even more fascinating) and at the end of the book you see her notes on how she was going to continue the story. Like, there is a part 1 and a part 2, and they’re finished, so the book has an ending, but there was supposed to be a 3, 4, 5… And I loved imagining all the different possibilities, and even still adore it when there’s an unexplained phenomenon going on in a book (provided that it makes sense) and I even add little bits like that my writing. Of, course, I know the truth behind it, but not many other people do :).
And then there’s…. Ugh this is going to sound cliché and not very helpful in terms of recommendation because sooo many people have read them but….the Harry Potter books. They’re basically the reason I started reading, and the reason I started writing. I went to a French Immersion elementary school and during English class in Grade 3 we, as a class, read a novel. We had a choice between Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Bunnicula. My vote was Harry Potter, not, get this, because I thought it’d be good, but because I didn’t like Bunnicula’s glowing red eyes. The other class read it though (they didn’t know what they were missing) and we had this stupid little rivalry of whose book was better. Obviously we won. It wasn’t even a competition.
But back to the point. Before then, I wasn’t a big reader, mostly because at school I spoke French, at home I spoke Serbian, and I only spoke English in the schoolyard or with my neighbourhood friends. Or during English class. I was at a point where my reading skills in English weren’t at as strong a level as they were in French and Serbian, but when we read Harry Potter, I liked it so much I went and read the second, and then third, and then waited excitedly for the fourth like every other person when I caught up. In my early teens I’d go and read fanfics until one day, at the very end of Grade 8, I thought it’d be fun to write some of my own.
And I couldn’t. Here was the problem: it kept straying from Harry Potter. In other words, it was becoming too original.
Lo and behold, and I cannot believe I’m admitting this publicly, it turned into TIME IS A FUNNY THING….
The following is a list of our collective favorite books!
The Paperbag Princess
The Island of the Blue Dolphins
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
The Chronicles of Prydain–The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, etc.
Z for Zachariah
True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
The Secret Identity of Devon Delaney
A Wrinkle in Time
Ronia the Robber’s Daughter
Into the Painted Bear Lair
The Golden Compass/His Dark Materials
The Hunger Games Trilogy
The Alanna Series/Song of the Lioness Quartet
The Hero and the Crown
The Forest of Hands and Teeth
The Wind Singer/ Wind on Fire Trilogy
The Last Unicorn
The Chosen One
Living Dead Girl
The Westing Game
The Earthsea Cycle
The Catcher In The Rye
The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman
The Once and Future King
The Great Gatsby
Pride & Prejudice
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Life of Pi
The God of Small Things
Alphabet of Thorn
War For the Oaks
Water for Elephants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies
Bridget Jones’s Diary
The Amelia Peabody series
Always Coming Home
The Atonement Child
Summer by Edith Wharton
Metamorphoses by Ovid
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
The Oresteia plays
What are your favorite books, and why?