Books that have stuck with me


Eight years ago, there was a Facebook thing going around about 15 Books in 15 Minutes – write down within 15 minutes 15 books that have stuck with you. I saw it pass through my Memories and started thinking (I didn’t look at what I wrote back then…perhaps I’ll visit after I write this and see…) about what books I would choose, 2017 version. But I’m not playing the time limit, nor, apparently, the 15 limit. Here are books that have stuck with me – mostly fiction, and some background as to why. The first five are in preference order, the rest are sort of fungible…and this has been a chore to format…Wordpress seems to have a hard time with a lot of images, links and whatever…


The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. This one is easy. Set me on a path to fantasy, and in the right way. I first read it in the middle-early 1970s and re-read it year after year for the next ten years, about every 10-15 years after that. I devoured Tolkien, deciphering his appendices, transliterating his elvish and dwarvish scripts on the plates in my well-worn paperback. I read The Silmarillion once, and could never get into the lost books collections his son Christopher edited and published, but these were the books that I connected with as an adolescent.lotr1973a

DuneDune by Frank Herbert. Also easy. When I first read it more than 40 years ago, I had no clue about any of the Arabic references. And every time I reread it, I had different experiences and different perspectives – it was an engaging science fiction opera; a political analysis; a human commentary. Each time I saw it as something so familiar and yet new things could always be gleaned. That is such a rarity with me, and I do reread favorites a lot (see below…).

Fads and FallaciesFads and Fallacies in the Name of Science by Martin Gardner. This is the bible of skepticism by the grandmaster himself. Martin Gardner. He was so skilled at deconstructing nonsense and yet never coming off as superior. And I will never be able to understand how he, in the pre-internet days, had so much access to so many obscure sources. If I ever decide to admit to heroes, he is one. (I also liked a lot of his Mathematical Diversions…)

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen. Lies My Teacher Told Me.jpgI read this in the late 1990s when we decided to home educate our children. I was not a history fan but this opened my eyes. Really. By showing me how much I knew was so, so wrong. That subtitle is spot on – check on references…you’ll see what I mean. And the previous book (Fads and Fallacies, along with Dr. Will Sutton at the University of Oklahoma in 1989) helped me start to realize I had to pull the threads on sources. Warning to prospective authors I might read: if you don’t cite, be ready for me to not believe you.

Magician by Raymond Feist, Magicianand the entire Midkemia series. This has a special place in my heart. I had first editions of nearly every Feist book – a couple of paperbacks were the exceptions. I lost them all to smoke damage from a fire in 2013. My son, in the days just following the fire, reached out to Mr. Feist through Facebook messenger, told him of my story, and Mr. Feist sent me one of his few remaining publisher’s copies of his first book, inscribed with wishes that it would be a start on me getting my library restored. I’m not replacing the books – too hard to track down – but this is special.

Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. This series taught me that young fiction need not be only for the young. I decided after finishing them that I would someday go back and dedicate a reading year to nostalgic rereads…and was delighted when I did – I found some in used book stores, even a few 45 year old memories on Open Library.  Rowling amazed me when I reread the entire series a few years after the last was completed…wonderful vision, and quite literary. Who said fantasy couldn’t be literature? (I don’t know who…probably troglodytes…)636061921312837337-1308853977_harry-potter-series

Four LordsFour Lords of the Diamond series by Jack Chalker. Even more than the Well World series, I ate this up when I got a Science Fiction Book Club rollup back in the early 1980s. It qualifies as great by my measure, if not the sci-fi audience (I actually don’t know) because I keep coming back to it. I loved the imagination he wove into the concept. And I love the four different perspectives. Great stuff.

LRDFLSBNCC1978In 1977, Stephen Donaldson blew the doors off of high fantasy for me with Lord Foul’s Bane the first book in (what would later be The First)  The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever trilogy. Anti-hero, very different world, disconcerting…it broke from Tolkien (something that Terry Brooks and others couldn’t do until much later – my blog, my opinion) in a big way. And Donaldson used some really obscure, if precisely correct vernacular that challenged me. I did grow tired of his writing – I haven’t yet finished the Final Chronicles – but this has long stuck with me.

Midnight at the Well of Souls, Midnight Welland the rest of the series, also by Jack Chalker. I invariably come back to this. Years may pass in between, but the original five are among the favorites I profess to not have. So, so, imaginative. And engaging. I thought it interesting that he had forgotten his own world/universe when encouraged to return to his creation not once, but twice. I guess that I don’t understand the life of a prolific author. As it is not my world, I have a hard time wrapping my head around not remembering my own work!

Only Begotten Daughter by James K. Morrow. Only Begotten daughterTechnically, only one exchange stuck with me, but this book is the source:

“Science does have all the answers,” said Howard, withdrawing. “The problem is that we don’t have all the science.”

Simon Hawke wrote three series – Time Wars, Wizard of 4th Street, and the Reluctant Sorceror – that I turn to whenever I get reader’s block. They are lighthearted fun, and the Time Wars series even touched on elements of literature.

Dumbing Us DownDumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto. This book validated my thoughts on compulsory, public education. We met Gatto in California and talked to him for a long time – more than an hour – quite a colorful figure. I’ve read a few other of his books and he seems to be on more of a manic edge of late, but he’s spot on with this. A wake up called that has been long ignored.

The Martian by Andy Weir. MartianRare is the book that has me wanting to turn the page (electronic or not) to find out what happens next. Rarer still is the book that my entire family devoured (Ms. Rowling’s series was another.) That opening line certainly grabs one’s attention.  Any book that grabs me – and keeps me – at this point in my life must have a place on my list. Sure, he got deep into the geek with his calculations (and sure, the entire premise of a sandstorm was hokum) but I liked it and it’s here because it was a page-turner.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov. FoundationGreat classic science fiction and one I still quote from: “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” Asimov was not a “hard” science fiction writer, and of the Big Three (Clarke and … {sigh} … Heinlein being the other two), his were the most fun.

The Warlock in Spite of Himself by Christopher Stasheff. WarlockThis spawned a looonng series – with spinoffs featuring the offspring of the main characters of this book – and I never made it through more than six or seven, but Stasheff created a world I liked. And came back to now and then. I keep trying to pick up – well, not in many years – but still don’t make it beyond five or six books. Regardless, it’s still good.

Turn the Ship Around by CAPT David Marquet. Turn the Ship AroundThis couldn’t have been on my list eight years ago because I just read it last year and it is here because it is the best book I have read to date on empowerment. Read it if you  are in a position of leadership. Seriously. Read it. As with any book, not everything works, or applies, but you should be able to take away more than not.

The Quality Instinct by Maxwell Anderson. quality instinctWith an artist wife, I’ve found myself in situations (art openings, gallery exhibits) at a total loss of understanding – how, just how, did anyone think that was something that should be shown? …let alone receive an award? Max (we met him) taught me a different perspective. He didn’t say what to think, feel, see,…. rather what and how he saw, and he explained it well. I also liked the behind-the-scenes glimpse into what a curator has access to and what we rarely get to see.

Thin Air and Ghost Boat Ghost Boatby Neil Burger and George Simpson. Thin AirWhy? My father had these when I was a teen and I loved reading them. I found copies for myself years later, only to lose them to smoke damage from a fire. They were a couple I chose to replace after the fire (though, sadly, the replacement Ghost Boat was a later printing).

Runaway Robot by Lester del Rey. Runaway RobotWhy? This was the first science fiction book I read.  I was maybe 9 or 10 when I declared unequivocally to any and all that would hear that Lester del Rey was the “best science fiction writer ever!” Yeah, he wasn’t…but del Rey was a pretty savvy editor and publisher, created an imprint, and imprinted indelibly for my particular eternity his legacy.

So that’s my July 2017 version. There are always edits and shuffles, but these have stuck with me…for 45 years, or just one.

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