I clearly love to write. Like, LOVE to write. If I am not writing, then I'm thinking about it. I've wandered through years of life thinking that something is weird about me because I'm making constant observations, then, in my head, trying to describe them. Putting together how I would write them down to get someone to understand that exact moment, or feeling. I thought that was just a quirk, thought that it was part of being an introvert; I was never uncomfortable being alone, because I either had a book with me or was thinking about stories. Then I read On Writing, by Stephen King. And suddenly I realized I was part of a club of introverts! A club of talented, story brewing people with an overactive creative dialogue on the inside. Maybe I didn't have the talent that most did, but someone out there UNDERSTOOD my inner self.
It was, at that moment, that I realized that though I could study writing, learn how to improve it, read diverse authors to discover my own flow and voice, I couldn't just MAKE myself have the gift.
The compulsion to write, to describe experience, to story-tell is a gift that has been given to me. I can't deny it, I can't lay it aside because it will terrorize me. It will be my first and my last thoughts of a day. It will shake me in the middle of the workday and demand my attention. It will not be ignored.
Where did it come from? God? Being a book lover since childhood? I have no idea, though I strongly suspect God pointed to me at birth and said, "That one shall write". I know that is just is, and I will write until my last day or until my mind is a puddle of dementia, whichever comes first.
There are so many books I call to mind when I think of inspiration. I have a love of words. When I hear a new word or a way of describing something, I end up repeating it and fitting it into my own sentences. I even have a folder on my phone that is just entitled "Words". Words I want to use someday. Words that were handed to me on a platter by writers who inspire me with their stories.
So today, I wanted to share the books that I have loved over the years, the ones that intrigued me or touched me and spurred me on to becoming a better writer myself. Or just gave me cool new words to use. The only way I know to describe my favorite books is that they are "gritty". They are usually very raw, very real, the dank, dark corners of life. Just how I like it.
And so I bring you:
Top Ten "Perfect 10" Kick Ass Book Recommendations
1. Bastard out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison
I read this book in college, for an assignment. This was the book that awakened me. It's a hard story to stomach, from the perspective of an abused and molested girl living in poverty and struggling to survive. It was this book that first connected with me, that there were stories out there that would punch you in the gut and almost make you have to put it down, like looking away from a serious accident.
2. East of Eden, John Steinbeck
“I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. I guess a loving woman is indestructible.”
―John Steinbeck, East of Eden
―John Steinbeck, East of Eden
Set in the late 19th century, it is a fictionalized, loosely based version of the biblical Cain and Abel account. It recounts the complexity of family relationships, one thing that never changes, though years and centuries go by.
3. Stiff, by Mary Roach
"They are the same sort of company as people across from you on subways or in airport lounges, there but not there. Your eyes keep going back to them, for lack of anything more interesting to look at, and then you feel bad for staring.”
― Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
I LOVE this book. With my autopsy assistant and nursing background and an admitted fascination of forensics and criminology, this is a darkly humorous non-fiction book on the curious lives of cadavers. READ IT.
4. Good In Bed, Jennifer Weiner
“I didn’t feel anything but a bone-deep weariness. Like I was suddenly a hundred years old, and I knew at that moment I would have to live a hundred more years, carrying my grief around like a backpack full of stones.” -Jennifer Weiner, Good In Bed
Jennifer Weiner is probably my favorite writer, because I have connected to her characters more so than any others. She is active with her readers on social media, and has even read this blog and commented on my work! (And it was POSITIVE!). This was her first big book, and the first one of hers that I read. The main character, Cannie, could have been me. Her thoughts, the way she feels about herself, all of it. And for the quote above, having gone through divorce and the fallout from someone else's bad choices, I have felt that more than once. I read this book and said, "I get it".
5. She's Come Undone, Wally Lamb
“I think... the secret is to just settle for the shape of your life takes...Instead of you know, always waiting and wishing for what might make you happy.”
This book is so, so good! It is another character whose heartache and sense of self I could connect to. I was even more impressed with the way a male author captured the female being and psyche in such a powerful way. I have read this book at least three times, and for years, this was my very favorite novel.
6. Cane River, Lalita Tademy
“Reaching too deep into something not meant for you is full of pain. Figure out what you can have and work on that”
― Lalita Tademy, Cane River
This book is incredibly powerful and heart-wrenching. It is the author's family saga, stories of four generations of her female ancestors, from the 1830's to the 1930's, who were born into slavery. Just read it. Understand it.
7. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
“He could cheat on me and he would never tell me, and he would think less and less of me for not figuring it out. He would see me across the breakfast table, innocently slurping cereal, and know that I am a fool, and how can anyone respect a fool?”
― Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Who DIDN'T love Gone Girl? A story of a sadistic woman, hell bent on her husband's destruction, but also quite possibly dead? You loathe her. You want to hunt her down yourself. Except--especially concerning the quote above--you get it, a little. And for those who have been the cereal-slurping one in a marriage, you're a little sad you didn't think of this first. It's ok, you can admit it. And, as always, the book far outperforms the movie.
8. When Breath Becomes Air, Dr. Paul Kalanithi
“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?" she asked. "Don't you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?"
"Wouldn't it be great if it did?" I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn't about avoiding suffering.”
― Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
This book will plunge a knife into your chest, then leave you to bleed on the floor. A talented, brilliant neurosurgeon and writer writes concerning his own impending death from cancer. The hardest part? Having known him in our tiny Arizona town in high school. Working with his Dad. Going to church with his Mom. He is now a posthumous best seller, and he will break your heart. But oh, what a stunningly beautiful read. I have never cried so much reading a book.
9. Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
“Use the word “y’all,” and before you knew it, you’d find yourself in a haystack French-kissing an underage goat. Along with grits and hush puppies, the abbreviated form of you all was a dangerous step on an insidious path leading straight to the doors of the Baptist church.” --David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day
So, my sister-in-law gets full credit for turning me on to David Sedaris. After reading When Breath Becomes Air, follow it up with this one. Or any of Sedaris' work, for that matter. HE IS BRILLIANTLY HILARIOUS. He is the only author who has caused me to repeatedly laugh out loud until I cry, just by READING. His books are all personal essays of his life, and he is the master. Read everything he has. Just read the quote above and you'll get it.
10. 11/22/63, Stephen King
“The past is obdurate.” ― Stephen King, 11/22/63
You guys. This is my VERY favorite book in the history of ever. I had the pleasure of reading this book while living in Bangor, Maine, (Stephen King's hometown). I had so much fun walking around town, seeing places from the book (set in fictionalized Bangor) in real life. Also, the historical details fascinated me. In this book, a man in present day ends up discovering a time portal that takes him back to the 1960's. He has the opportunity to potentially stop the Kennedy assassination. I love the detail about living in those times, about the history of the Kennedy assassination, the brilliant love story, and the thought-provoking overall story. IF we could go back and change things, WHAT would come of present day? What would be set in motion, for better or worse? Not only that, but it shows, as the quote says, that the past is obdurate and becomes REALLY pissed if you try and tinker with it. I didn't want this book to end. It is perfection.
And that, my friends, is your new, highly recommended reading list. Maybe you'll learn new words, too! (Like obdurate, right? How GREAT is that word?).
Read. Read lots. It makes you smarter.
AND ESPECIALLY READ MINE WHEN IT COMES OUT.
When She's Done, by C.J. Ventry, COMING SOON!!!