The tag game on Facebook these days is to name the top ten books you’d grab if your house caught fire. Grabbing your Bible is a given, thank heavens, but what would you want to take with you besides that?
If we were just talking about pleasure reading, I’d have a hard time. Aside from my absolute favorite authors of Nicolas Sparks, Lisa Gardner, Katie Weiland, I’ve picked up some new faves: Donn Taylor’s mysteries and Lorena McCourtney’s cozy mysteries would rank up top. Brandilyn Collins is definitely a new love of mine. Since Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn are both gone now, I don’t know who I’d get to replace them, perhaps Brad Thor or David Baldacci.
But the books I’d grab when the first flames started licking the house have to do with more than just pleasure reading. Here’s the list and the whys behind it (in no particular order):
Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham. I love most of the books Grisham writes, and particularly the ones outside his genre of Legal Thriller. Although I like Playing for Pizza better, the reason I’d grab this one is because it’s a splendid example of a farce. A farce is crazy humor that makes everyone giggle but the main characters–to them, the situation portrayed is quite serious. The fact that they take every silly curve ball as a life-or-death matter is what makes a farce fun.
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy’s writing in this is just astounding–and totally different from what you’d find in other novels. His use of pace and sentence structure to present tension and fear in this post-apocalyptic is exceptional.
Defending Jacob, by William Landay. This legal mind-challenger is the best exemplification of the necessity of outlining I’ve ever read (sorry, Katie). There is no way Landay could’ve written this without outlining it to within an inch of its life. It’s far too intricate. And, as I learned in my interview of him, he did indeed outline.
The Survivor’s Club, by Lisa Gardner. Characterization is Lisa’s specialty. The “club” in this novel is made up of several women, and each–along with the main characters–have their own personalities and are substantially different from each other. I recognize the prototypes she uses, but if I want to move from a dry personality chart to characterization in action, this is the book I grab.
The Black Dahlia, by James Ellroy. I have a love/hate relationship with this book. As I said when I reviewed it, it’s a hard read. It portrays the ugliest of human ugliness. But it’s valuable as a writing tool in so many respects, that I can’t imagine letting it burn in my imaginary house fire. I can’t recommend this one to others, but I’d save it from the flames. This one presents the concept of making a character “special.” Even though the Dahlia was killed before the book even started–even though she’s not a primary character–she manages to influence everyone in the book. I want to do this too, but from the direction of light, not darkness.
The Notebook, by Nicolas Sparks. Or any of the Sparks books. Sounds frivolous, doesn’t it? Well, here’s the reason: Sparks presents romance from the man’s perspective. Even among avid romance readers, his works aren’t called “romance” because they lack the “happily ever after” endings, but I consider his books to be among the best love stories ever written. If I write another romance, I want to portray the man’s emotions as accurately as I hope I do the woman’s.
Showboat, by Edna Ferber. Lotsa purple prose in this one–it’s an old novel, when that was allowed. But I love the setting descriptions in Ferber’s book. Her depiction of the Mississippi was downright innovative.
The Mark of the Lion Series, by Francine Rivers. Okay, that’s cheating a little because it’s a trilogy, but I’d grab all three. Francine is simply the best at weaving the Christian message into her stories, and the reason I’d grab these is because she’s also the best in Biblical historicals. Since I’m writing one, I’d need the guidance I could glean from rereading her novels.
The Soul Saver, by Dineen Miller. Dineen successfully combined three genres into one remarkable book: Christian, Women’s Fiction, and Supernatural. The WF aspect of it is one of the reasons I’d grab it before I ran. Learning the genre can be challenging, but despite the supernatural content, Dineen has a good format for me to follow.
Demon: A Memoir, by Tosca Lee. Although this one is mentioned last, it’s the one I’d grab first, after my Bible and reference books. Everything about this book fascinates me. The very idea of presenting Biblical history through a demon’s eyes is astounding in itself. Tosca did it convincingly, with Biblical soundness and feasibility. And the final challenge is issued to everyone who reads the novel, not just the main character. What a delicate high-wire Tosca tread in this book.
So, there you have it. Next year, if the question arises again, my answers may be different. But these are the ones that have best influenced both my writing and my heart so far.