I was first asked to list five books to read to keep me motivated during difficult times. What did I read during that awful first year of cancer, or when I was re-diagnosed five years later with Stage IV cancer, or when my husband became very ill, or when my dad’s heart needed to be fixed, or when I fretted over my daughters, or—you get the idea. Interesting. My libraries are absent of inspirational or motivational titles.
I do read. I find peace and satisfaction in getting lost in the words and the worlds the words create. In my work life, I read for information and professional development. In my home life, I love to read for entertainment and escape. I want books that are well written. The story must be compelling to hold my attention, consistent in its world, and move along at a steady pace. The characters must have depth in action and dialog and stand out from each other. Stories that stay with me beyond the pages are most revered and inspire me as a writer and human being.
Since the host, Louise, of 12 Books is flexible and kind, I will indulge you in the types of books I like to read—period.
Getting lost in a historical fiction’s far away time is my great escape. I am not partial to an era. Medieval tales, as in the Ken Follet’s Kingsbridge Series and Donna Woolfolk Cross’ Pope Joan, are just as fascinating as stories set in the turn of the century, as in Eliza Waite by Ashley Sweeney or a depression-era setting as in Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris.
I am never disappointed with any fiction by Jodi Piccolt and Ann Tyler. Their characters are always fresh and real, the settings feel authentic, and the plots are always riveting. Some fantasies can fit into this genre. Niel Gaimen is a favorite story weaver who can keep his worlds incredible and consistent. I come away from his books thinking, “Yeah, that could happen.”
Short stories fill the need to read, yet conclude in a reasonable time frame. I buy a copy of The Best American Short Stories each year.
Children’s literature is still on my reading lists. There are hundreds of picture books I had read to my children and students. My first published book, Famous Seaweed Soup, was a fun twist on the fable Little Red Hen. Since I am currently working on a middle-grade novel, I have been reading a good deal of the genre that addresses social issues this age group faces. Esperanza Rising (Pam Munoz Ryan ) and Wonder (R.J. Palacio ) immediately come to mind. The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt, is beautifully written in fantastic prose.
While pursuing my MFA in Creative Writing, I had taken memoir and biography classes and read many personal essays. The reading expanded my literacy and reintroduced me to talented writers. Jeanette Wells’ Glass Castles and Lou Ann Walker’s A Loss For Words: A Story of Deafness in a Family still stick in my mind years after I read them. I frequently go back to Tilly Olsen’s Silences and Ann Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From The Sea.
Oh, and there is one more title that took sweat, tears, and breath from me; Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. It is a memoir chronicling my first year battling breast cancer as a wimpy patient.