A few of my favorite things...
Well, it’s that time again - blog time! You don’t know me yet, but I am Adele Kong, and my contribution to our mission here is website maintenance and social media relations. Yeah, it’s been bumpy, and yeah I’m learning. We’re all learning new things right now. I am also working on a psychological thriller that does not have a release date yet. (Don’t worry, I’ll remind you when it’s close!)
Anyway, on to today’s topic, I want to address favorites. As a writer, and a voracious reader, I get asked all the time, “So who’s your favorite author?” or, “What is your favorite book?” I have to say this is a question that I hate to answer.
Don’t get me wrong, I love books, and I love the Authors that are so kind as to write them for me to consume. That said, I am a woman of a certain age, and I have been reading for a really long time. All these books and authors that I have loved, love now, and will love, are my friends. They are intimate companions of my quiet moments. When it is 3 AM, I can’t write, and I can’t sleep - these books comfort me and offer me a way out of my head, at least for a while.
Honestly, declaring a favorite book or a favorite author feels a bit like being a fair-weather friend. Like I’m being stingy with my affections and maybe petty. I don’t have 1 favorite, nor do I have 10, I might have hundreds, and I’ll show you why.
What follows is a list of my favorite books from my childhood. These are the books that got me to love reading and sparked my interest in writing. Whether the last time I read one of these titles was a week ago, or a decade ago, these are lifelong loves. Perhaps you will get a glimpse of who I am through them.
My first favorite book is Grimm’s Fairy Tales. This is the first book I ever remember receiving and reading as a child. I’m not saying that it is the first book I ever got - no, I’m sure my mother didn’t recite from Grimm’s Fairy Tales while I was in the crib. But it is the one I remember, and it is the only one that I’ve kept. There are several reasons why it means so much to me. First, it was a gift from my maternal grandparents, my Nana and my Gramps, both of whom are long gone and still missed. I’m amazed that they purchased this version of fairy tales for me, it was a bit dark for them. (Though it suits my personality perfectly!) Heck, I think this is the book that sparked my interest in the macabre and a dislike of happy endings. I also loved this book because I really didn’t have that many books as a child. I mean I think there were lots of those Golden Books around when I was in toddlerdom. But my mother struggled financially, and when I was school age and reading avidly, we did not buy books; we went to the library. So there weren’t very many books that were MINE, so I cherished this book full of sadistic little stories. (Even now, while I might use a library for research, I really prefer to buy all of my books and just sell back the ones I don’t want to keep to Half Price Books or donate them.) If you are wondering what my favorite story is of the lot, Hansel and Gretel of course! You’ve got to love the family dynamics!
Now this next fave, well I feel it’s kind of like every child’s favorite book at one point in time or another. I’m not sure how old I was when I found this one, I’m guessing around 9, in 4th grade. I know that I was into science fiction and darker themes by 6th grade. If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about Madeleine L’ Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. To be honest, my memory of this book is tainted by loss. It was a weird time in my life. I had a close friend pass away from cancer when I was nine. It was a shock, and I hadn’t conceived of a child dying that way until Trevor did. Talking about his death, or processing the loss was beyond my abilities at the time. Also, I had issues in school with a problematic teacher who didn’t seem to like me much and wasn’t interested in addressing some bullying I was experiencing.
On top of that, my mother was trying to get me into a gifted program that would necessitate me changing schools. Despite the absolute assholery of my teacher, I wasn’t sure that was something I wanted to do. This book was my first foray into fantasy, and it took me away from all the things I felt that I was losing in my life. All the things I didn’t have control of. I think this is the first time I read anything that felt immersive enough to allow escape. I probably reread this book the least simply because of what I associate it with. However, it is beloved by me and always will be.
So, just to make it clear, once I discovered fantasy and science fiction, I never looked back. My next great loves are a series. Specifically the original six books in the Dune series by Frank Herbert. Oh my God, in reading these books, I felt like I had been dying of thirst and just reached water. I found the thing I had always wanted and didn’t know was there. I think you can only love things with that kind of purity when you’re a child. Oh, how do I love Dune, let me count the ways! I really believe that it was the world-building that sucked me in. Earth wasn’t a part of the action, there was no ordinary human life to connect to. Everything was alien, and it mesmerized me. I’m also pretty sure that Paul Muad’Dib was my first fictional crush. As I got older, I alternated between wanting to be Chani and wanting to be a Bene Gesserit, but then occasionally, I also wanted to go to the Mentat school. The Dune series is a sheer joy for me. I have reread it numerous times, and my paperback copies are lovingly dog-eared and worn. I reach for these books during stressful periods in my life because they are oddly like home. And seriously, the series is so dense that you can’t help but get caught up in something new each time you read them.
My next favorite books are also a series, it is the Incarnations of Immortality series by Piers Anthony. I’m not sure how I stumbled across these, but I think I honestly went to the library to get one of the Xanth books and it was out, so I got one of these instead and got hooked. I know that I love these because they felt subversive when I first read them. Like a lot of kids, I grew up in a Christian household. Not necessarily profoundly religious, just religious enough that my parents always assumed I believed as they did. I’m pretty sure I knew from an early age that I didn’t, but I wasn’t foolish (or bold) enough to have that discussion. Anyway, I appreciated the authors take on God, gods, and basically how the world is run. It was awesome, fun, and messy, in a totally endearing way. His gods weren’t omniscient. They were usually knowledgeable, but they were also flawed and stumbling through trying to do the right things. Amazing! These novels have always been enjoyable, fast reads, and I reread them when I’ve been taking the world too seriously. (Um, I’ve only read the first 7, those were what was available prior to my graduating high school. It seems I need to buy the last one that I didn’t know existed! Where is my Kindle…)
My final entries on this list are two different novels by the same author, Ursula Le Guin. I’m speaking of The Left Hand of Darkness and The Lathe of Heaven. First, The Lathe of Heaven terrified me. I think children dream of power because they have none; however, this book disabused me of desiring any special abilities. It was sadly compelling, how someone could be both powerful in one sense and yet unable to change their own circumstances. It was also disturbing how bleak aspects of the novel were without being melodramatic. I mean the initial premise was dreary and utterly believable. For me, the Orr character was a realistic vision of a superhero. He had this “gift” that he could not wholly understand nor control, and it made him a pawn. And the world, because of his adversary’s constant meddling, just got worse. I think this helped develop my taste for dystopian fiction. And last, but certainly not least, there is The Left Hand of Darkness. I am pretty damn sure I did not completely understand the themes in this novel the first time I read it. Still, I found it incredibly exciting because it didn’t rely on the standard interactions between genders, or within genders. I’ve always returned to this novel, finding the concept of genderless beings somewhat comforting. Having been a young girl, and then a young woman, with typical experiences… I don’t know. This novel made me aware of just how much we base our daily interactions on gender and sex and how it might be helpful to have less of that.
Okay so this has been my nostalgic list from childhood, and I know it’s weird. There’s like one actual children’s book on the list. But that’s how I roll. My book choices were eclectic as a child, and they have remained so as an adult. But that is a conversation for another blog post!
What were your favorite books as a child? Were there genres you favored? Authors? Do you still have these books in your collection? Share your experiences in the comments!