What books have stayed with you? My list.

These Books Are Hot
For a while the question of “What books have stayed with you?” was floating around on Facebook. Many of my both reader and writer friends indulged and it was fascinating to see what books from both childhood and adulthood resonated with them.  We all have those books we read that stick with us.  They aren’t necessarily our favorites; some of them we may not even like, but there was something in them, some truth that the author was saying that captured us, marked us, and left us subtly different than before. The books we write say much about authors.  I would argue the books we read say much much more.

And so, in no particular order, I give you my list:

1. Lord of the Flies – William Golding

I raged against the inequity the raw emotional stupidity of the boys and the helpless feeling of watching the characters I connected with (Piggy and Simon), succumb to the madness and violence. Even as an adult, thinking about the book makes me angry.

2. Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys

Who doesn’t love a good mystery with tenacious teens?  :)  I started as a very little girl with Scooby-Doo, moved to Nancy Drew as I grew older, and today have graduated to Veronica Mars.  It’s a clear line, I swear.

3. The White Dragon – Anne McCaffrey

The first fantasy book that I read as a child.  I LOVED it and dreamed of one day having my own Ruth to ride.

4. Candle in the Window – Christina Dodd

A capable, but not super-powered blind protagonist!  On my list for the obvious reason AND it’s a great read too!

5. A Rose in Winter – Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

Classic beauty-and-the-beast style romance.  One of my first historical romances.  I’ve been an avid reader of them ever since.

6. The Greek Myths – Robert Graves

I was far far far too young when I read this.  I adored the stories but didn’t quite understand everything that was going on.  If you ever meet me at a convention, ask me to tell you about “ravished.”

7. Tales from Shakespeare – Charles and Mary Lamb

My first introduction to Shakespeare ever. I fell in love with their book of retelling of the stories for children. When the time came and I actually was reading Shakespeare in class, it made it easier for me to really get into the plays.  Charles and Mary Lamb “cast themselves as messengers, almost evangelists, for the bard; they were translating the national genius for a new audience and bringing his message to a new generation.” In 1806.  The fact that it had such an impact on me says much about how well they did their job.

8. Uncanny X-Men during the Chris Claremont & John Byrne era (Phoenix Saga, Days of Future Past)

My first comic book and I stumbled into probably one of the greatest story arcs ever!  Small wonder that I have been a fan ever since.

9. Mules and Men – Zora Neale Hurston

I think like many young folks, we meet Zora Neale Hurston in class.  I couldn’t get enough. 🙂

10. Hoodoo–Conjuration–Witchcraft–Rootwork. 5 vols. – Harry Middleton Hyatt

Believe it or not, I found these volumes by accident!  I had just finished a course on folklore and been reading a lot by Hurston and other similar writers/collectors.  I was in that section of the University library and found these massive tomes.  Upon opening them, I found a treasure of oral narrative.

11. Belonging to Taylor – Kay Robbins (who writes as Kay Hooper)

I’ve read a lot of romance novels.  They’re like potato chips for me.  Light, entertaining, fun, and I can’t have just one.  This is the first one that I ever read that made me laugh out loud. It was wacky and zany and I fell in love with the characters.  The highest praise I can give this is that one day, I hope they make a movie from this book.

12. Nursery Rhymes and Tales, Their Origin and History- by Henry Bett

I don’t remember reading Dr. Seuss as a kid, or The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  What I remember, is nursery rhymes.  Lots of nursery rhymes and fairy tales. I still know the original melodies to many of them.

13. Arab Folktales – Inea Bushnaq

My very first introduction to printed Arab folktales.  The cadence and rhythm of the narration is well captured in the book.  I’ve lost 3 copies from loaning it to people.

14. A Darkness at Sethanon – Raymond E. Feist

My first epic fantasy as an “adult.” This is Book 3 in the Riftwar Saga.  I picked it up at an airport because of the cover.  The first time I tried to read it, I was too young and didn’t understand fully what was going on.  I went back to it later and was enraptured with the battles and warriors, with the magic and with the politics. Later on, I acquired Book 2 (Silverthorn) and Book 1 ( Magician) – in that order.  🙂

15. Birds of Prey – Gail Simone’s initial run

This is the first comic book series that I HAD TO OWN.  A trio of superheroes led by a woman in a wheelchair.  They love each other, eat good Chinese food, and battle their inner demons as well as the bad guys. I have hunted down every last issue.

Short Stories

When putting together this list, I found that there were almost as many short stories that stuck with me.  I remember unique details from them or they moved me emotionally.  Some are from childhood and some are more recent.  BUT, I had to share.  AND, more importantly, all of these are available for free so there is no excuse.  Take a look at them yourself:

  1. Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
  2. The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County – Mark Twain
  3. Spar – Kij Johnson
  4. Incident at Owl Creek Bridge – Ambrose Bierce
  5. Single White Farmhouse – Heather Shaw
  6. Cask of Amontillado – Edgar Allen Poe
  7. The Monkey’s Paw – W.W. Jacobs
  8. Pip and the Fairies – Theodora Goss

Books and Shell by Mauro Moroni

Photo by Mauro Moroni

Baba Ali Research (Book Secrets): Open Sesame

Sesame PlantNotes from my time writing “Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn” and fun tidbits.

This is definitely a “Book Secret.”  :)  Most people know “Open Sesame” from their own experiences or childhood familiarity with the 1001 Nights (or Arabian Nights) tale Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. They are the magic words to open the treasure cave.  What is interesting is that those words, as a magical means to open the cave, first appeared in Antoine Galland’s 1700s translation of the 1001 Nights. They didn’t exist in any earlier oral or written variants of the tale.


Baba Ali Research (Book Secrets): Translations of 1001 Nights

Notes from my time writing “Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn” and fun tidbits.

Okay, I saved this in my “Notes” while doing research last year but I cannot find the original source. This is more than a little upsetting considering how awesome the short snippet I saved is. In January, I wrote a “Book Secrets” about which 1001 Nights to read and highlighted that the translations had all come from one of two sources.  What I didn’t get in to was the difference between the translations.

The text below shows a few lines taken from the different translations of 1001 Nights.  It is eye-opening to see the difference, not just in text, but in the context it gives.  I knew the Burton version was misogynistic, racist, and colonialist but I never realized exactly how horrible it was prior to seeing it laid out for me line by damning line.

Arabic original (Calcutta II manuscript):  فلما كان في نصف الليل تذكر حاجة نسيها في قصره فرجع ودخل قصره فوجد زوجته راقدة في فراشها معانقة عبداً أسود من بعض  لعبيد فلما رأى لهذا الأمر أسودت الدنيا في وجهه

Gloss translation of Arabic: ‘When it was in the middle of the night he remembered something he had forgotten in his palace, so he returned and entered his palace finding his wife laying in her bed embracing one of the black slaves, and seeing this, the world became black in his face.’

Edward William Lane (1838-1840): ‘At midnight, however, he remembered that he had left in his palace an article which he should have brought with him; and having returned to the palace to fetch it, he there beheld his wife sleeping in his bed, and attended by a male negro slave, who had fallen asleep by her side. On beholding this scene, the world became black before his eyes.’

John Payne (1882–4): ‘In the middle of the night, it chanced that he bethought him of some-what he had forgotten in his palace; so he returned thither privily and entered his apartments, where he found his wife asleep in his own bed, in the arms of one of his black slaves. When he saw this, the world grew black in his sight …’

Richard Burton (1885-1888): ‘But when the night was half spent he bethought him that he had forgotten in his palace somewhat which he should have brought with him, so he returned privily and entered his apartments, where he found the Queen, his wife, asleep on his own carpet-bed, embracing with both arms a black cook of loathsome aspect and foul with kitchen grease and grime. When he saw this the world waxed black before his sight . . .’ (2001: 5)

“of loathsome aspect and foul with kitchen grease and grime” ???  Where the **** did that come from? One could even have assumed, from the earlier translations, that she was sleeping with the slave because he was a comely youth.  Why would she sleep with someone loathsome and foul?!

Baba Ali Research (Book Secrets): Tahtib – Egyptian Stick Fighting

In the draft “Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn,” Baba Ali carries a carved wooden stick from his grandfather. We were looking to have Ali to have a means to protect him and although he did have a khanjar, using a blade seemed too violent for the character. I didn’t want readers to fall into the assumption that he would know and use staff fighting. In part, because most people would think of Robin Hood and Little John’s staff fight on the log over the river (or at least that’s what I thought of). So instead, I brought in the idea of tahtib. It seemed like a natural fit. His father was a travelling merchant and Ali having an *uncle from Egypt from whom he could learn Tahtib would not be out of place.

Tahtib is…unusual and very awesome. It is a very old style of stick fighting and dance from the Middle East, more specifically, Egypt. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Brazilian Capoiera in its connection to music and dance. It is both self-defense, combat, sport, martial art, and folk dance. It dates back to ancient Egypt where images show it as a set of fighting and combat techniques.  Modern Tahtib seems split between the more dance-oriented, sport or competition oriented, and combat/martial art styled.

Tahtib Movements in ancient Egypt

Tahtib from the Abusir Necropolis more than 5000 years old

The stick, or Naboot is about four feet long. It is held, usually single handed, from the end and flailed in large figure-8 patterns across the body.

The demonstration below is from 2010 at the International Martial Arts Festival in Paris.  The first time (I believe) Tahtib was shown broadly to an international audience.

Adel Paul Boulad, a martial art expert and big proponent of Tahtib, has worked to develop and codify five forms or katas. Below is a video of the most basic form – “NAKHLA: The Palm Tree.”

Research Sources:



And Youtube has several wonderful videos of a variety of forms of Tahtib – https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=tahtib


*Growing up I had many uncles and aunties, none of whom were blood relations, and yet were as close.  They were family.  So Ali, I decided could just as easily have uncles and aunties.  🙂