There’s this thing on Twitter where you post a graphic reading “One Like = One Book,” then you wait for people to like the tweet. For each like, you mention a book you love/were influenced by, etc. I follow a number of bookish people on Twitter who get as many as 20-30 likes when they call for stuff like this. I love to talk books and would like to do so more, but I find on Twitter I’m more of a reader than a conversationalist. I try to use Goodreads for book talk, but I get lost there. On Facebook, it’s different. It’s a different audience, but one of people who seem interested in what I contribute. I think.
So I posted the graphic there and got 11 likes. Not bad for a first time doing this. Plus it gives me a reason to blog today. Eleven books, happy to talk about them.
Bear in mind, when I asked for “likes” to my Facebook post, I hadn’t intended to choose all Pulitzer winners or classics. Some of these titles, you may have read and hated. I may hate a few as well. The idea behind this is to share books that had some kind of influence on me, whether in my career, life, or my writing. Others, I consider crack between covers. Here we go, in no particular order:
My Dark Places by James Ellroy – We all have that one dark place where we retreat to have our Wednesday Addams moment, that guilty pleasure of noir and/or gore that should sicken us but ultimate fascinates. I don’t horror much, but James Ellroy is as close as I get. Blood on the Moon petrified me, The Black Dahlia enthralled me, Perfidia reminded me how long it’s been, but My Dark Places brought me into the seedy underworld of dark L.A. If I hadn’t heard Ellroy himself read from the first chapter in a Williamsburg pool hall, I’d have missed this entirely. Go to book signings at bars, y’all.
The Treasure Trap by Virginia Masterman-Smith – It wasn’t Nancy Drew. It wasn’t Trixie Belden, or the Bobbsey Twins, or Encyclopedia Brown. This was my gateway to mystery fiction. In fourth grade, Mrs. L’Herault began reading this to our class and I was riveted. Then she ended up on extended medical leave and never finished. I had to go to the library to find out if Billy and Angel ever found Old Man Waterman’s millions. I think this is out of print now, but if your kids like mysteries it’s worth a search.
Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey – About ten years ago I read on a Rush fan board that Merecedes Lackey was a Rush fan, and that she’d based a character in this book on Ged. I thought, interesting, though I’m not big on high fantasy maybe I’ll give it a read. So I read this, then the rest of the trilogy, then the next ten Valdemar books. Then this one again – rare is the book I’ll read more than once, to give you an idea of how much I like it. I have tried to read George RR Martin’s stuff, and I toil through Tolkien, but there’s something about Lackey I enjoy more. In this case, I got to read about a clever female protagonist who was the main focus, and I wonder why Hollywood hasn’t optioned this yet.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – I wrote this in my book journal: “A beautiful, beautiful book. I loved the movie and picked up the book afterward, and found I loved it even more. Where the film tends to focus more on the relationship of Stevens and Miss Kenton, the book is more introspective. It’s told from Stevens POV, and he spends much time talking about what makes a great butler and whether or not he has the aptitude for great service. The ending of the book differs a bit in that I don’t think it’s as depressing. The movie seemed to imply Stevens lost so much at the end, but I didn’t get that in the book.”
Thinking back, I wonder if the filmmakers wanted to show what Stevens lost by staying in service, but if he made the choice to stay. Having watched Downton Abbey, I’m tempted to pick up this book again because Stevens reminds me a bit of Carson, only on TV Carson got the best of both worlds, service and love.
Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila – I don’t discuss matters of faith much. I already wrote one book about it, and beyond that it’s my business. I’ve been attracted to Carmelite spirituality and thought for some time, though. I’ve read works by St. Therese, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa Avila’s works. This one in particular I find reached me first and best. In short, it could be considered a guide on prayer, but ultimately it’s deeper than that.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt – After college I got a job at the first Barnes and Noble in Jacksonville, Florida. It was 1994, and one day this guy walked in and introduced himself as John Berendt. He was in town to talk about his book, and was stopping by the local stores to see who carried it. Would we mind if he signed our stock? We had only a handful of books, since it was in demand at the time, but he signed them and they sold out that day. We had a hell of a time getting more copies, and we’re talking hardcover. I doubt we’ll see days like that again in publishing.
But the book…I’d been to Savannah dozens of times in the past, but never saw it the way Berendt did. Midnight gave me a deeper appreciation for creative non-fiction and travelogues. Because of this book I’m more inclined to drive the state highways instead of the interstates, eat where the locals go, and listen to people. It’s a damn shame the movie didn’t live up to this work.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson – In college I had a writing professor who conducted projects with students over the summer breaks. He would get five or six together to collaborate on a novel. To my knowledge, about four were completed but only one was published (self-published at that, long before this indie boom). The Devil’s Rood was a fictionalized account of the life of serial killer HH Holmes; it sold well locally, and my professor wanted to adapt the book for film. A short while later, though, Larson’s book came out and was immediately optioned. Them’s the breaks.
I can’t blame Hollywood, though. Devil feeds on that “dark places” part of me with the subject matter and narrative. You read a book like this and you never want to send your children out into the world. It’s that scary. I’m tempted to pass on the movie, because of the whole Midnight disappointment, but we’ll see.
The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir – Some of you might see this listing and go WTH? Note that each book is here for a reason. Some people think Weir’s research is bunk, and I won’t divulge whether or not I agree with her assessment of Richard III, but I list this book because (like with Ellroy in noir) this was my gateway to English history. From here I’ve launched into Tudor and Plantagenet histories, novels by Laura Andersen and Jean Plaidy, anything UK monarchy. Weir did what Shakespeare tried to do, get me interested in royals. One of these days I’ll do something constructive with the knowledge.
Six of One by Rita Mae Brown – Being a Southerner, I tend to gravitate toward Southern fiction. I didn’t study as much as I would have liked in college, but of what I’ve read Six of One stands out for me a story that blurs the lines of commercial and literary appeal. From this book it’s a short hop to early Fannie Flagg, Billie Letts, and similar authors.
Rita’s known more now for mysteries, but I count this as one of her best works. It’s a multi-generational story that touches on politics, rebellion, feminism, questioning societal norms, and it’s plain funny. I’ll be honest, though, if you’re interested in the whole Runnymeade series just read this one and Bingo. The other two books don’t hold up as well.
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann – I will never apologize for loving this book. Ever. Like Stefon from SNL would say: This book has everything – aging divas, secret lesbian affairs, swimming pool sex, and enough drugs to paralyze an elephant.
When I tell people I am a writer and editor, usually the first thing they ask is if I’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey. I don’t know why. I suppose they look to me for an explanation of its popularity. If I had to give an answer, I’d point to Valley as a predecessor. It’s the story you hear from a friend over beer and nachos, a gripping “so there I was…in a Berlin cab with a brick of coke and three rock stars who didn’t speak English” yarn that leaves you hanging chapter to chapter. Those two books are not Faulkner, they don’t pretend to be, but it’s storytelling.
Surrender the Pink by Carrie Fisher – Reading Carrie’s first two books made me want to be a better writer. It’s because of Carrie and this book that I discovered Dorothy Parker and other writers. I liked Postcards From the Edge, but I loved Surrender. This pre-dated Sex in the City and has that same balance of sharp wit and angst and patented-Carrie crazy. I knew she’d adapted the book for screen, and I’m sorry the movie never came to be.
I can’t just list eleven books. These have some significance for me as well:
If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I’m Going to Nail My Feet to the Ground by Lewis Grizzard – I originally wanted to go into journalism, and humor writing. Grizzard’s memoir of his career inspired me to go to journalism school, other circumstances caused me to bail. That’s a story for another day.
Mary, Sweet Mary by Claudette Williams – This is significant as it’s one of the first “adult” romances I read, and the first Regency. I borrowed it from my aunt, who used to buy Silhouettes and Harlequins by the grocery sack. The story stayed with me, though it’s out of print. The author writes under another name now, but I don’t believe she republished this one.
The Color of Water by James McBride – One of the best memoirs I’ve read, by a celebrity or otherwise. It’s a rough story, but you come away with hope that you can survive pretty much anything.
Eleven likes, eleven books, give or take. What are yours?