May, 2022

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25 Influential Books & The Authors Who Wrote Them, Part One

Today’s post was inspired by awesome author Chrys Fey’s post, which was inspired by a certain recent (recent-ish, at least? Dunno exactly. I started writing this post a while ago and only just recently finished it, so the inspiration behind the post is likely not recent at all anymore) post by the New York Times in which I’m pretty sure they just said, “Hey, how can we make the most people angry about books with the smallest amount of effort possible?”

This will be a very bad and possibly not completely accurate recap, but basically they decided to publish a list of the 25 best books of the past 125 years. Or maybe they just wanted to know what the best book of all-time was, but ended up sharing a list of the top 25? And they asked for reader nominations and then just pulled this list out of their ass or whatever that they then published on all the social media platform things. Controversy ensured because, well, because people were involved, and wherever people go, controversy follows.

Chrys then published a list of her personal top 25 reads of the past 125 years. Her list contained some of my favorite books, and quite a few titles that have been hanging out on my TBR list.

Anyway, all this made me wonder which books I would include on such a list. Then I immediately panicked because I have not read all the books in all the world, which is, obviously, a silly thing over which to worry because of course I haven’t, but anxiety is a bitch that doesn’t often give a shit about that kind of thing.

But I decided to try it anyway.

Here are the parameters/disclaimers/whatevers for my list:

—Inclusion on this list does not mean a particular book is particularly good or has some universal appeal that makes it the best book of all time. It just holds some deep(er) meaning to me.

—I may or may not disclose that meaning to you. Some things are private and will stay that way.

—This will not be the most diverse list of books to ever exist on the face of the earth. I fully admit I have not been the most diverse reader out there. I definitely could—and should—do better.

—Some of these listings include an entire series or two, which may seem like cheating, but I did it anyway. So there.

—This list will not be in any particular order.

—This list contains both fiction and non-fiction titles, but mostly fiction because, as I stated earlier, I have not been the most diverse reader ever.

—This list, as suggested by the title of this post, may, in fact, focus more on the authors themselves rather than individual books. It’s a mixture.

—This list is, and always will be, subject to change. In theory, I will keep reading new books, and some of those new books may warrant a spot on this list. I won’t know until I’ve read them.

Today’s post includes the first half of my list. In theory, I will eventually finish and publish the second half. In theory. I mean, I know how long it took me to write this post, so that second half may never see the light of day. But at any rate, the first half is here now for your reading (and judging) pleasure.

Are we ready?

The President’s Daughter series by Ellen Emerson White

This is certainly not the first time I’ve talked about this four-book series on this blog. These books were HUGELY influential to me. When I was in middle school, I was reading a lot of Sweet Valley High books, so many that both my mother and my teacher begged me to read something else. Anything else. I went to my school library to wander the stacks and I came across The President’s Daughter, a novel about a 16-year-old girl whose mother is elected president of the United States. I quickly fell in love and became totally obsessed with the main character—a love and obsession which continues on to this day. My sisters also love these books, which is, quite possibly, the only thing on earth on which we all agree.

From a writing standpoint, these books showed me how to write better. They really crystallized what a distinct character voice should sound like.

Plus, one time, I totally was privileged enough to have a multi-day conversation with the author herself about Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica, thereby fulfilling a life goal I didn’t realize I had until it happened.

It was awesome. She is awesome. And so is her writing.

The Secret of the Unicorn Queen series by Josepha Sherman, Gwen Hansen, Dory Perlman, and Suzanne Weyn

My mother found these MG fantasy novels for me at our local bookstore 100,000 years ago (I look really good for my age). They tell the story of a ordinary American teenage girl who accidentally ends up trapped in a parallel universe filled with unicorn-riding rebels battling an evil tyrant guy. For some reason, my mother thought I might like them.

She was right.

These books inspired me to write my own fantasy novels. Thanks, Mom!

The Tillerman books and the Kingdom novels by Cynthia Voigt

Yep. She gets two series. I just love how she crafts characters and settings and just all the things. The Tillerman books tell the story of four kids who are abandoned by their mother and their journey to find a new home and expands beyond the Tillerman children to tell some of the supporting characters’ tales. The Kingdom novels are fantasy and are all connected but each book focuses on a different character.

Philippa Gregory

Historical fiction. She can write some really lovely, poetic prose that just leaves me breathless. The Boleyn Inheritance is just gorgeous. Also, her novel Wideacre has an ending that has long struck me as a damn perfect ending for its story.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I wish everyone would read this book.

Maggie Stiefvater

Again, gorgeous poetic prose. I’m a fan of many of her books, but The Scorpio Races took my breath away.

Robert B. Parker

My sister and I started reading his Spenser series when I was in high school. Love the dialogue. Hate Susan Silverman. I have read his other series as well and most of his standalone titles, but Spenser was always the best, IMHO.

My favorite Spenser novels are probably Early Autumn and Small Vices.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

She’s written a lot of wonderful novels, but Speak is the one which had the biggest impact on me.

March by John Lewis

A series of three graphic novels I would most definitely have in my classroom if I were still teaching. Another series I wish everyone would read.

The Queen’s Man series by Sharon Kay Penman

Prone to info dumps (Well, random person living in the Middle Ages and therefore already well aware of how the Middle Ages work, here’s how the Middle Ages work…), this series is definitely not the best written, but I made an instant connection with the main character that has me returning to these books time and time again. My mom’s also a big fan of these books and this author. We were devastated when it was announced that Penman had passed away in 2021.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

A master class in how to write a story with multiple narrators and making their voices sound different. This book inspired one of my long-time unfinished WIPs that I still hope to finish one day.

E.E. Cummings

I love the way he manipulated language and used the page to create poems meant to be experienced and not just read. If that makes sense. He also wrote a autobiographical novel called The Enormous Room as well as four plays. In case you were interested and didn’t already know.

Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer

So, when I was in college, I took a medieval lit class and we read a 15th-century poem called The Testament of Cresseid, which was a response to Troilus and Criseyde, which I hadn’t read. But the poem made me mad on Cresseid’s behalf and I wrote a paper about how unfairly she was being treated. My professor was all, “Hey, have you ever read Troilus and Criseyde?” And I was all, “No.” And he said, “Well, maybe you should read it.” And I said, “Fine. I will.” So, I did. And when I finished it, I was like, “Damn. That’s a good story.” Which was followed by, “Okay. Maybe I was wrong.”

For the first and only time in my life, of course.

All right, we’re going to stop here for today. Tune in next time (if there should be a next time…) when I unveil the rest of this list (if I should actually get around to making it).

What books/authors have had the greatest impact on you? Why?

Editing Update: Home From Camp

Note: this post is part of an on-going (and possibly never-ending…) series. To read the earlier installments, click on the following links: Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that last month, I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo and set myself a goal of editing 50,000 words. I had never set an editing goal before, so I wasn’t sure how it would all work out.

If you follow me on various forms of social media, you may have already seen this:

and this:

So, I mean, yes, there was some success to be had. However, I feel like the 70,030 words edited there looks and sounds waaaaaaaay more impressive than it actually is. Some of that feeling can probably be attributed to the fact that I am a gigantic hot mess—so much so that I’m pretty sure I can be seen from space. Like, there are astronauts at the ISS right now, looking down and going, “OMG! What the hell is that—Oh. It’s just MJ. Never mind.”—who would feel that way regardless of the actual results.

But here’s the thing…it doesn’t feel like I’m making much meaningful progress. I’m going through the pages, correcting errors, and culling dialogue (just…so much dialogue) and adjusting the narrative to tighten and strengthen it or whatever, but I think the book still has the same fundamental issues it had when I began.

I just have no idea what those issues are.

I cannot shake the feeling that I am writing (now editing) this book wrong. That I’m rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic or something. And I can’t even explain it to anyone without saying something like, “I think there’s something wrong with this book, but I don’t know what, and I’m worried I’m not smart enough to fix it.”

Because how can I be smart enough to fix a problem I can’t even diagnose?

So, I’m starting off May not quite sure what to do or where to go from here. I’m trying not to force things, to give my brain the space it apparently needs to get its shit together or whatever, and to trust that I will eventually figure things out because even though I don’t remember it, I most likely felt the same damn way while editing the three books that came before this one.

But I’ve never done well with inactivity.

And…during my family and friends visits last month, I was reminded (more than once) that there are three people waiting to read this book, who have already been waiting years to read this book, and who will have to keep waiting probably more years to read the book because I am taking so damn long to finish it. Which makes me feel bad because I am extremely blessed to have any people interested in reading anything I write, and who continue to be interested in reading anything I write even though it takes me so damn long to actually write anything, and it sucks that I can’t do a better job for them.

Which adds to the pressure and compounds with the inactivity and my already terrible levels of anxiety or something science-y sounding, which all means that this gigantic hot mess is just getting bigger and messier.

Which is why, despite the fact that I left Camp with a winner’s badge (and a really cute mug. I ordered a mug that, if my significant other asks, I desperately needed…) and an impressive-looking word count, I’m not feeling particularly impressed.

But at least I have a mug.

Stay safe and well, all.