Monday, March 24, 2014

Choosing Favorites

Today I got blind-sided by a two-sentence Facebook post. It said, "Shannon Cooley I know you must be a reader since you are a writer. And I'd love to hear more about your favorite books and what drives you to write."

My responses are a little long for Facebook, so I'm putting them here instead, as two separate posts. First, the books.

I've always struggled with choosing favorites, and not just with books--if you ask me who my best friend is, my brain will start asking, "Best friend from growing up? Best friend from [insert state here]? Best friend from college? Best writer friend? Best friend at church? Best friend when I need a laugh? Best friend to cry with?" and on, and on. (Yes, I just gave you all license to consider yourselves my best friend. Just don't be offended that you share the title.)

Choosing favorite books also seems to fall into categories for me. There are books that are my favorites because they've profoundly changed my view of the world. There are books that I love because they're so darn re-readable. There are books that just make me happy, even if others wouldn't see them as anything amazing. There are books where just the words and cadences seem to fill me up and make me glow. There are books that have taught me about a specific aspect of writing, that I re-read just to be reminded of that thing. Then there are my favorites from this year, or since I graduated college, or from high school... you get the point.

I guess that's a long way of saying that the list you're about to get might not make sense--you may look at the list and see one book you read and loved, but three that you hated, and you wonder how I could possibly group them together.

That's why it's my list. ;-)

So, ordered simply by which came to mind first, here are some of my favorite books.

"Till We Have Faces" by C. S. Lewis. I read this book for the first time when I was 15, and I've read it many times since. I chose it for a book project in high school, and as inspiration for my most complex paper in college. No matter how many times I read it, I always feel like I'm scratching the surface. Lewis considered this his best work of fiction, and it's one that always leaves me amazed.

"The Blue Castle" by L. M. Montgomery. Though not as well-known as the "Anne" books, this one has moved and taught and entertained me nearly once a year since my early teens. The writing is lyrical, the characters are fantastic (Montgomery caricatures family relationships and small-town people better than anyone I've ever read--both their flaws and their virtues), and it's a sweet love story that actually feels real (no love-at-first-sight or he/she-is-so-gorgeous-I-can't-breathe here). She also excels at writing about nature--thanks to this and the Anne of Green Gables books, I really want to visit eastern Canada someday.

"Four Seasons in Rome" by Anthony Doerr. This one is creative non-fiction, and it's prose that reads like poetry. I pick this book up and read a single page, and my day is better. It's some of the most beautiful writing I've ever read.

"A Ring of Endless Light" by Madeleine L'Engle. Really, this book could be right at the top of this list. This book has changed my world-view in several ways over the years, influenced me for good, made me want to be a better writer, always keeps me pulled in from the first page, and just makes my heart sing. I love everything I've read by L'Engle, whether it be fiction or creative non-fiction ("A Circle of Quiet" is my favorite of her non-fiction). She was a person whose thoughts dwelt on things of cosmic significance, and so her writing, though often brushed aside as "children's books" or "just fantasy/sci-fi", is full of deep truths and beautiful insights. If I could pick one person to write like, it would be Madeleine L'Engle.

Other favorites:
  • "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making" by Cathrynne M. Valente -- Yes, this actually lives up to its name. It's billed as YA fantasy, but the style is somewhat like George MacDonald, mixed with Lewis Carroll, and then a little L. Frank Baum thrown in for good measure. It has the narration style of a fairy tale from another century, with wisdom for our age and enough of the madcap to make it all thoroughly enjoyable.
  • "The Thin Woman" by Dorothy Cannell -- Cozy mystery, very funny.
  • "Merlin's Keep" by Madeleine Brent -- Adventure/romance/historical/a bit of paranormal? I'm not even sure how to categorize this one, but it's fun.
  • The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede -- YA fantasy, makes fun of a lot of the classic fairy tale stereotypes. Easy, funny reads.
  • "Arabella" by Georgette Heyer -- Regency romance. Really, most of Georgette Heyer's romances could make this list, this is just the one that comes to mind first.
  • "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte -- Do I really need to define this one?
  • The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander -- Most people have heard of "The Black Cauldron", but the entire series is wonderful. These are some of the first novels I remember my parents reading to us when I was a kid, and they're still wonderful when I read them as an adult.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis -- Another series I was read as a child, and have read again many times as I've grown up.
  • Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling -- Again, I doubt I need to say much about these. I love the world, I love the writing, and they're great re-reads.

So, so many wonderful books left unlisted. Really, you ought to be amazed I managed to contain myself to this many.

What are some of your favorite books? Can you pick just one very favorite?


  1. I love your list! I haven't read a number you listed so I'll have to check them out :). My list is also varied and long, but without checking my shelves for help, I'll list what comes to mind. Maniac Magee, The Screwtape Letters, Anne of Green Gables, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Crocodile on the Sandbank, Jane Austen anything, Frindle, and so many more :).

    1. Oh, I still haven't read The Witch of Blackbird Pond! It's one of my mom's favorites, but I keep forgetting to find a copy. Thanks for the reminder. I also haven't read Crocodile on the Sandbank or Frindle, so I'll have to check those out as well. Love your others, though. :-) Thanks!

  2. There is a REASON we are friends!

    1. More than that, there's a reason we read each others' writing! ;-)

  3. You already listed many of my favorites. Some of mine that aren't up there are The Man Who Was Thursday, Heaney's translation of Beowulf, The Faerie Queene, the Redwall series, Summer of the Monkeys, Moonfleet, and anything by Robert Louis Stevenson.

    1. There are several of those that I haven't read; I'll have to give them a try. Thanks!

  4. Thanks, Shannon! I love that it's "all over the place". I finally decided I need more fiction in my life and put some on hold at the library, btu I need to by the fairyland one. I think the kids will want to tread that one, too! I also like to buy books with really meaty writing where I am inspired by the words and want to (and will) underline lots of it.

  5. ok. obviously I did not edit...but when I said "all over the place" i hope you understood I meant, in style. Like not a big list of fantasy books.

    1. Haha, totally understand. And I still need to buy the fairyland one; I realized the other day that I don't own it yet, which is really sad, because I've read it twice and absolutely love it.


Please leave a comment; knowing people are reading encourages me to keep writing.