I really can’t remember when my love for reading began, exactly. So for now, let’s just say it was some time in Grade School. Although, it’s always possible it was before then. So, let’s just state that I’ve been an avid reader for my whole life. That works.

What Do I Like To Read

One of the constant questions I tend to get is: What do you like to read? That’s not always an easy question to answer.

Mostly, I like to read books, although I have been known to pick up a magazine or two as well. Rarer still are pamphlets and fliers, although it depends on the subject matter. In a pinch, I’ll read a telephone book or a dictionary or the back side of a sugar packet.

All jokes aside, I’ve been known to read just about everything. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what I am going to like and what I’ll take a pass on.

I would have to say that the greatest number of books I read tend to be mysteries (or thrillers). I love a good whodunit. Or, any kind of mystery for that matter. But not everything I read is a mystery. Sometimes, I prefer a good Science Fiction or Fantasy story. Sometimes, I’m in the mood for a funny memoir. I tend to get into historical books, as well … occasionally a piece of historical literature, or a historical account of something … and some of these recent “alternative history” books have been entertaining as well. Some Horror books have kept me up late at night, too.

Come to think of it, I am probably one of those annoying people where it’s much easier to say what I don’t tend to enjoy rather than what I do. (The big ones on that list would be military or war books, westerns, bodice ripping romances and The Tax Code of Whatever Year It Is.)

What Are My Favorite Books?

The other, similar, question I get is: What are your favorite books?

I hate that question. I’ve enjoyed so many great books – how can I (or, anybody for that matter) select just one? Or, three?

If I absolutely had to come up with an answer…

The Mists of Avalon

The Mists of Avalon (Marian Zimmer Bradley)

As a kid, who wasn’t thrilled by the story of Arthur, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table? The story has been told so many times, and in so many different ways, I got to a point where I just couldn’t stand to think there’s one more book out there about it that I haven’t read yet. And then I ran across The Mists of Avalon.

Unlike nearly every other version of the popular story, King Arthur, Merlin, and those Round Table knights aren’t the main characters. Sure, they show up, they do their thing, and then they’re off again. But the story never really focuses on them. Instead, this book tells the story of the women in the story. in particular Morgan le Fay,

If you’ve ever seen this book, you’ll notice it’s not a quick read. At 876 pages, when I started reading, I thought I would never reach the end. By the time I got there, I wish it were longer.

The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum (Umberto Eco)

When people talk about Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose is probably the book most people think of. It’s a great book, truly. On the surface, it’s a murder mystery set in a twelfth century Italian monastery. But the book is much more than that – it blends history and philosophy and theology along with the mystery – and the result is a sum that’s much greater than its parts.

Yet, it’s another of Eco’s books, Foucault’s Pendulum that I actually liked a bit more. This one takes place in more modern times (when I read it, it was modern, now it’s a slight bit dated). The story centers around a group of people who publish books on conspiracy theories. When one of them invents a computer program (based, somehow on the Caballah) that seemingly finds links between two things. They think the results are bull, but they publish anyway. But, what if they were right? Perhaps that’s why they’re being pursued by shadowy figures?

The thing I tend to like about Eco’s novels are that they deal with complex subjects. Those subjects are explained, but the author doesn’t hold your hand and tell you what to make of it. He makes his point and moves on, so you’d better be paying attention.

Foucault’s Pendulum

Steig Larson The Millennium Trilogy

The Millenium Trilogy (Stieg Larsson)

When The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo first hit American shelves (and caused quite a bit of stir) I tried to read it. I just couldn’t get very far. The biggest reason was all the words (mostly the names of people and places) that were in Swedish. I spent so long trying to figure out how something was pronounced that by the time I had it, I’d forgotten what the heck I was reading. Then I watched the movie … the original with Noomi Rapace (in Swedish). I got about halfway through the movie and had to stop that, too. Because now, I just HAD to read the book. And I did. Then I had to run out and get the two sequels: The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest.

This book thrilled me for two reasons. First, it was a great mystery. There are no shortages of locked-room mysteries (nearly a genre onto itself). It’s rare for a book to come up with something new, and this book did exactly that in a fairly major way. Secondly, it caused me to expand my geographic (or linguistic) based reading list. Most of what I had read (with the obvious exception being the above named Umberto Eco novels) had been written in English, taking place either somewhere in America or Great Britten.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (Gregory Maguire)

When I was in school (sorry, don’t remember which grade) we were given an assignment to write a theme paper about a popular story, but told from the villain’s point of view. I chose The Wizard of Oz. The way I saw it, The Wicked Witch of the West was the true victim in the story. There she is, living her life, doing whatever, then suddenly her sister dies and this girl Dorothy runs off with her shoes. In the story, that’s all she really wants. When she first encounters Dorothy, she asks (quite nicely, I might add) for her sister’s shoes back since they are rightfully hers. It isn’t until Dorothy refuses that she meets the ire of the witch. My argument was that had little miss Kansas just given the shoes back, there wouldn’t have been any animosity and Dorothy could have peacefully made her way to see The Wizard without all the drama and flying monkeys. Who knows, maybe Dorothy could have befriended the Witch, thus uniting Oz and all its people (and animals and scarecrows and tin men and clock dudes, and … okay.)

When I ran across Gregory Maguire’s novel it reminded me so of this assignment. His version of the story is so much more thought out and presented (but let’s get real, I only had one or two days to come up with my theme paper).

I really like books about familiar stories (or periods of history) and told from a different perspective or connecting the dots in alternative ways. (In a way, both Foucault’s Pendulum and The Mists of Avalon do this brilliantly.) This book tells the story from The Wizard of Oz (although most of it happens way before Dorothy drops in) from the two Witches perspectives (The Wicked Witch and The Good Witch). However, it expands the story into such new territory that it becomes its own story.

Just on a side note here, I read the book before I saw the Broadway musical. There are some real major differences between the two …. but that’s okay. They’re all good.


Devil in the White City

Devil in the White City (Eric Larson)

I moved to Chicago in January, 2013. The following month, while I was trying to learn as much as I could about Chicago, Devil in the White City was released. This book tells two vastly different, yet connected, stories profiling the city at its best and at its worst.

First, we have a glimpse into World’s Columbian Exposition (otherwise known as The Chicago World’s Fair) in 1893. And then we have one of the more prolific serial killers in US History, H.H. Holmes who built a murder hotel not all that far from the fair grounds. The book is about these two topics, but somehow when put together, they become something much more than a sum of its parts.

What Are Your Favorite Books?

The above named books are the ones I think about when I think about which books I would have to classify as my favorites. I’ve tried to limit them to non-series books (I easily could have included The Harry Potter books, for example, but I am not sure it’s fair to compare them to single novels … nor could I find a way to choose one over all the others as saying it’s a favorite).

So, now perhaps I’ll ask this … what are your favorite books? If you want to, you can leave me a comment below.

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