A few of my favorite things (books, just books)

I always feel weird thinking about my favorite this or that, because favorite doesn’t always mean favorite. I mean, Love Actually is one of my favorite movies but really, when I watch it, I snark on it a ton and reread Lindy West’s seminal post on it as tribute. It’s a Christmas tradition. Or, for books, there are a ton of books I’ve read, sighed, and said, “That was absolutely beautiful, perfect, nothing bad to say about it”, and then: it doesn’t go on my favorite book list. How is that?

Or think of colors. My favorite color for the longest time was red. But was it really? People bought me red things: kitchen appliances, dresses, journals. So much red. And after a while, I realized…my favorite color isn’t red. But my whole identity had been wrapped up into my favorite color being red, so how could I now switch to blue?

(It really is blue now. Like, that slate gray blue color? And some turquoise and teal blues as well? Love them).

So, the concept of favorite is a bit sketchy. And so my favorite book list is part nostalgia/formative, and part just: how did it make me feel when I read this?

And then I start feeling guilty I haven’t added other books. Are they not worthy? Shouldn’t Dune be on the list somewhere? And what about books I know I loved when I read them. Do they still hold up? Great Gatsby didn’t. Great book and all, but rereading it twenty years later elicited nothing more than a shrug. Would Wuthering Heights and A Tale of Two Cities hold up as well? Who the heck knows.

I mean, if you asked me as a teen, I’d put Atlas Shrugged on there, so….let’s just say I’ve avoided most of the “classics” read when young because I may need to reinterrogate them now that I’m older and wiser.

Regardless, here’s my top twenty-or-so (edit: 25, apparently) favorite books that have touched me in some way, in no particular order.

1.) Les Miserables

I mean, it may or may not hold up if I reread it, but considering it spawned a musical I also love, it has to be there at least as a formative book. I read the unabridged version (oh yes, oh yes I did), which I wouldn’t recommend, although I don’t like that the abridged version didn’t explain Gavroche was Eponine’s younger brother. For the longest time, Les Mis was my favorite musical (of course it was. I’m so basic), but after seeing it enough times, I’m over it. Now, like the basic bitch I am, Hamilton is my favorite. Sorry not sorry.

2.) Heir to the Empire (Star Wars)

Timothy Zahn, y’all. This entire trilogy has reread potential up the wazoo, and it introduced Mara Jade to the Star Wars Extended Universe. Hell, it pretty much created the Extended Universe (I think a few books had been published pre-Thrawn Trilogy? Courtship of Princess Leia, perhaps? Truce at Bakura? Splinters in the Mind’s Eye?)

3.) Firebird

Speaking of Kathy Tyers (Truce at Bakura), I love the Firebird Trilogy. Yeah, I know. Fight me. Yes, it’s unapologetically Christian, and I read it while I was a nonbeliever, but…I dunno. I loved it as a teen, and therefore it will always have a place in my heart.

4.) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I’m going all word-association, here, so let’s add some C.S. Lewis. The allegory, the wonder, the magic, a book for kids that doesn’t talk down to them…wonderful. C.S. Lewis is a damn treasure, and again, fight me. Mere Christianity is also a nonfiction gem of a Christian apologist book, and again, read it as a nonbeliever and may not agree with everything in there, but man, Lewis can write.

5.) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I’m just tryna’ get the controversial authors out of the way, ok? I know. It’s a damned shame. But POA introduced the Marauders, and…that just made this book perfect in my eyes. I love the Marauders. I love James Potter, even though he’s a git and a bully. Remus can do no wrong, of course.

An edit: speaking of reinterrogation, “controversial” doesn’t cover it any more. As this list includes books that were formative and influential, I’m keeping it on here.. for now… And I’m leaving this as a placeholder for when I can come back and gather my thoughts and sum this is less flippantly. Forgive the mess, we’re under construction

6.) Gideon the Ninth

Varying this list a bit. Lesbian necromancers in space, duh, who wouldn’t read this? Now, actually, I don’t usually like creepy and goth and dark. But Gideon’s voice was amazing. You give me great voice, and you slay me. Loved it from the first moment. Masterfully plotted, too. And anything that makes me laugh as hard as this book did is special.

7.) The Lies of Locke Lamora

(Speaking of laughing out loud…I mean: “nice bird, asshole.)

I don’t know how Scott Lynch managed to juggle two timelines without confusing or frustrating me, but goals, y’all (my WIP has two timelines and…urgh.) And I love heist stories, so heist+fantasy? Swoon. I did love Sanderson’s Mistborn, too, but Lynch gets it done better (and dirtier, and funnier).

8.) The Emperor’s Soul

Well, since I mentioned Sanderson, let’s put this on here. Yeah, most people would talk about Mistborn or Stormlight Archives, but The Emperor’s Soul was beautiful, lyrical, simple, and it spoke to my heart.

9.) This is How You Lose the Time War

Beautiful, lyrical novellas? Yes, this one. This one. I can’t do much but squee. I can’t word like this, folks. How do Max Gladstone and Amal el-Mohtar write so beautifully? Just …red and blue…and squee…no words. I’m sorry. I’ll think of words at some point.

10.) The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Well, this is one of my comp titles for my completed MS, and well — it’s Firefly. But, like, a happy solarpunk Firefly. Gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling all the way through and isn’t that just the best?

11.) A Civil Campaign (and Shards of Honor, and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen)

I had to pick one Vorkosigan book. It would have to be A Civil Campaign, considering how many times I fire it up on my Kindle and read various passages just to crack up. But Shards of Honor and Gentleman Jole are beautiful, and they feature Cordelia, who, of course, is a kickass character. My WIP basically jumped off from my reading Shards/Barrayar and reimagining that world.

12.) Wraith Squadron

Reread power just to laugh again: that would be Wraith Squadron (a Star Wars book), at least when I was a teen. I picked it up a few months ago to reread and couldn’t get into it, but that doesn’t diminish my love for it. Dinner Squadron? Wearing an Ewok as a swimsuit? Scalabrious pirates to you!

13.) Star Trek: New Frontier (House of Cards)

Total. Crackfic. How did this get published? I don’t know, and I don’t care. Also, I consider this the precursor to The Orville. Those less-than-perfect Starfleeters. A freaking megalomaniac captain. Ex-fiances working together! What’s not to love?

14.) Red Rising

The first book is like Hunger Games in space but done even better, and then the entire series just takes off. Some people try to classify this as YA…and…what? I like YA (despite there not being a YA title on here), but this ain’t it, chief. This is one of those series I just blew through. My heart isn’t ready for book 6.

15.) City of Brass

Oh-so-beautiful. You know, as a querying author, sometimes I look at the agents that represent people like SA Charkaborty and I’m like…well, if they have her, they sure ain’t going to pick me.

Fantasy in a non-European setting! Mythology and symbolism from my childhood! The writing! I can not wait to watch this Netflix series. And she’s so wonderfully active on Twitter and with her fanbase, which is like, goals.

edit: there are so many books I love as much as City of Brass now. The Unbroken, The Jasmine Throne, The Poppy War, She Who Became the Sun… I might have to consider removing this until I reconcile all this in my mind!

16.) The Calculating Stars

Can we talk about this title? This freaking title, man. They’re stars..superstars. They are human computers…they calculate. They are calculating stars! And leaving off the pun, calculating (scheming and determined) is just the coolest word and I love the image of stars that are just…watching.

And the stars disappeared when the meteor hit…this title! I love it!

17.) The Name of the Wind

A silence in three parts. The folklore and poetry. The magic system. Trying to constantly make ends meet to stay in school. I don’t care if the series never gets finished. I don’t even care about the mystery. I just love the atmosphere of this book.

18.) Red, White, and Royal Blue

And a shaaarp left turn into romantic comedy. It’s rare a book makes me cackle but between the turkey and mom’s powerpoint presentation..I died. I also have a thing for both royal romance and stories about the White House, so…

19.) Confessions of a Shopaholic

My first foray into romantic comedies, and for that, I will forever be grateful.

20.) The Princess Bride

Has anyone written Princess Bride in space? Because..I need it in my life, and if no one has, I’m gonna.

21.) A Game of Thrones

Problematic? Yep. Didn’t even watch the HBO series, and couldn’t keep reading hte book series because it just got too depressing. Too much death/violence/sex. But the worldbjuilding is…well..epic, and the first book kept me reading and reading.

22.) The Little Prince

I mean, I’m basic, so I have to love this book, right?

23.) The Martian

From the first line, he hooked me. I love the idea of sciencing the shit out of things.

24.) Nemesis Games (Expanse series)

Entire series is greeeeeat, so is the TV show, but Nemesis Games brought the backstory, Naomi’s past pain, and chickens coming home to roost. Strongest in the series, in my opinion.

25.) Ninth House

Six of Crows isn’t on here, especially because I try to keep one author/book series on the list, but it’s also really really good. But Ninth House is Bardugo’s adult debut, and it just stays with you. Again, I don’t usually like creepy, but it’s like…sooo good I don’t care?

edit: Ok, I’m a Grishaverse stan all over again (thank you, Netflix), so maybe it’s Six of Crows on this list. But I’ve decided I’m in love with King Nikolai, so maybe King of Scars. Look, just, Bardugo, y’all, okay?

Edit – 26.)! All Systems Red

How, oh how could I forget my favorite introverted murder bot?!?

27: ) The Lightning-Struck Heart

I had to update, because I read this book and was gasping with laughter the entire time, and then I went ahead and read the whole series and OMG I will never be the same again.

28.) Red Sparrow

It’s unusual that I have a non-SFF book on the list, but I loved this trilogy. Mostly because I’m obsessed with spy stories, and this series wrecked me.

The list keeps growing. I might need to discard some of my childhood favorites to make room. (Les Mis? Never heard of her)

29.) The Traitor Baru Comorant

holy shit, y’all. Twisty and twisty and poignant

30.).Queen of the Conquered

another book that made me think I knew everything, and then I didn’t.

31.) On Basilisk Station

The Honor Harrington series got…weird.. And it’s always been preachy. But the first foray into this world is masterful.

On Writing

“Write what you know.” No four words have elicited more anxiety from aspiring creatives.

I love to write.  When I was 16 I was trying to choose between Dartmouth and Georgetown.  I wanted to double major in creative writing and in government and I was torn between a really awesome international relations major at Georgetown versus the creative writing chops of Dartmouth. (“Dartmouth has Toni Morrison!” I remember writing.)

Joke’s on me. I didn’t actually get into Dartmouth. And thus ended my creative writing career.

And ackchyually, I was never a creative writer. I was a “creative writer” the way any moody teenager who knew how to write a poem was a creative writer. I was in the school lit mags. Anyone can get published in a school literary magazine. (My favorite line from a poem that I had in the Georgetown literary magazine goes, “And the I Love India T-shirts/ can go fuck themselves”. I used profanity. I was deep, y’all.)

In high school I won some sort of maritime poetry contest but guys, I had all these made up references in there and when they read my poem for the award the guy was so serious and was raising his eyebrows in appreciation of all this faux-deepness and that’s when I realized that, sure, maybe not all poetry was bullshit but anything I wrote totally would be.

Seriously, I had two creative writing claims to fame. One was a caption contest online that showed some guy’s car parked crookedly in a  spot, and my winning line was, “Sometimes I feel like I’m parked diagonally in a parallel universe “ I won, y’all! I was so proud of that shit. I would quote myself on AIM away messages.


And then I went to college and improved it to, “Truly, at times I feel as though I am parked diagonally in a simulacrum of a parallel universe. What a twisted life we lead.”

The second was that my best friend and I made our own literary journal when we were in elementary school.   My favorite of hers went something like, “Give me some peas./Give me some peas/ please, Woman./I want them right now”. (I think the last line is wrong. I haven’t managed to dig out all my childhood stuff from my basement for this post.  But just you wait! That basement might as well be a gold mine.)

My best poem was also the first one I ever wrote:

I love the hot water

The hot water loves me

It’s the best friend, as best as can be

It warms up my toes

It warms up my hands

It gives me a lot of tans.

This poem has followed me throughout my life. I literally still, when the water from the shower head is too cold, chant to myself, “ilovethehotwaterthehotwaterlovesme…”. On my second date with Adam we were walking on the beach and came across a stage, and he dared me to go up there and recite something.  Since this was only the second date and I had somehow fooled him into thinking I was spontaneous and fun (spoiler alert: I am neither spontaneous nor fun), I got up there and recited my hot water poem. And then fireworks went off. Really. And then six years later our friend who was marrying us mentioned this story in his sermon but in this completely amazing, “isn’t this romantic?” way. So yeah, best poem ever.

Oh, I also wrote Star Wars fanfic. Let’s save that for another day, shall we?

Suffice to say, I’m never going to be Sylvia Plath. Most of my professional writing has been either analytical writing or opinion journalism, and in neither profession is it acceptable  to feature run-on sentences and curse words.

So although it feels silly to do this unless I’m getting paid, at least there are no editors to stop me from the run-on sentences, amirite?

So what do I know?

Well, I don’t really have that much going on, you know? My former career was kinda kick-ass but by its very nature I can’t really talk about it. I tried writing a book, guys.  A thriller novel. Almost got to the end but realized a.) It totally sucked but also b.) Since I was writing what I knew, it almost seemed like a memoir about the work-that-shall-not-be-discussed, and when I changed things it wasn’t obvious I changed them, which made it somehow even worse than if I had just told a true story, and how many commas can I put in this sentence?

(Although there was a scene where the main character figures out the super secret way to get into the tunnels under Georgetown and goes, “I’m in Harry Potter. I did too much blow last night and I must still be passed out.” Classic. Sad I’ll never get to use that.)

So what do I know?

I know what it’s like to live in a beautiful home in a beautiful neighborhood, holding an absolutely gorgeous one year old boy in my arms while the older two… Well, okay maybe this isn’t a completely bucolic scene because the older two are probably screeching at each other and then the baby sticks his hand up my nose and goes, “Mama. Mama. Maaamaaa!” But whatever. Go with it. Beautiful home, beautiful kids, supportive husband, don’t want for anything…

And I want to scream.

Something is trying to get out. Something that is saying that I need to be needed by people other than my family. I want to be recognized for more than my birthing hips (them hips be epic, y’all.) The same wanderlust that led me to starting a “resource-driven parenting” blog, working for two politicians, starting a company, attempting bad novels, trying to get a professional photographer accreditation, appearing in two documentaries, writing opinion pieces on the cultural issues of the day… All of which led me back full circle to, “I’m not cut out for this. Time to go back to full time momhood”.

Yeah, now this. Yet another blog, yet another project just to give momma an outlet. One more thing the lady won’t stick with, just like her Scentsy business from 2013 (nb: that’s not true. I can say I’ve never sold Scentsy, essential oils, or it works! But you get the point. And more on that in another post).

Another mom trying to combat the general malaise and a directionless life surrounded by young children.

And forever and ever, the echoes of conservative female writers ping in my brain. Rants about how sick they are of mom martyr complaining culture and how much people whine about something so wonderful.   About how we devalue motherhood and that’s why young mothers are so dissatisfied. I’m sure there are a lot of theses I can put in there about millennials and how we need to feel “fulfilled” in an external way and how we can’t find worth in a day’s hard work.

Something something participation trophies.

Let’s ignore the fact that those writers are writers and are on CNN and Fox News and obviously have more time to work than I do, despite their ostensible stay at home status, which means they are getting fulfillment in other ways.

Oh, by the way? All those other well known homemaker bloggers and influencers? The ones we might hold up as paragons of motherhood as they blog about homeschooling their 18 children and making vegan, cruelty-free baby papooses? The lactivists who are proud of their breasts being tied to their 9 year old? That whacked out “Transformed Wife” who writes pseudo diary entries about how the only calling for women is wifehood and motherhood? (Look her up. I’m not linking her).

You do realize they are writers. And activists. And photographers. And everything else that goes into being recognized enough to earn a spot on Pinterest.By the very action of proclaiming their awesome momhood and their sole vocation being thus, they are actually creating a job beyond motherhood.

Just sayin.

We are far from the first generation of mothers staring into the abyss of the rest of their lives. We just feel more free to give voice to it.

I’ll give some credence to the conservative theory here and say something has changed. Sure, let’s blame the 1980s myth of having it all. For that matter, let’s blame Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In ethos. We can’t deny that we have created a culture that glamorizes equality, praises female strength and intelligence, glorifies the super mom who is a high powered lawyer by day and tucks her children in at night, and we didn’t actually change the culture to make it possible.

Like, F me, y’all. I loved my job, but I can’t be the mom I want to be and the awesome analyst I want to be and yes, there are many kick-ass women who can do that but I can’t and there are many others who can’t either.

(Please ignore the fact that I still can’t be the mom I want to be — even though I stay at home –because I’m not really cut out for this shit, but imagine how much worse I’d be if I worked full time too)

(disclaimer #2: I know many women are better moms because they work but seriously, I’d be worse).

I wrote an article that never got published (which means I can share it here one day at least!) about the concept of the “flex mom” who stays at home but also has her own thing going on. At the time, I mentioned how this was working for me (and it absolutely was). I have now quit my flex writing job — mostly because I’ve lost all respect for them– but also I have a toddler and I’m tired, y’all, and even though he goes to Mother’s Day Out, I spend those precious few hours either productively cleaning or zoning off into the distance, so there is no way I would have been able to keep up with a real job with real deadlines. Yes, ADD and extreme sleep deprivation is a bitch.

But anyway, for now, here’s a blog. That no one is going to read. Or if they do, they’ll go, “Man, she really needs an editor. She curses too much and has way too many run-on sentences.”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.