Sunday, August 16, 2009


I think the books we love say something about who we are as well as what we like to read. I play a game with student groups called "Keepers" where the kids write down the titles of three of their keepers on a piece of paper and then drop them in a hat. I draw the slips and try to guess which keepers belong to which kid (which is harder than it sounds.) If I guess correctly, the hat goes to the kid whose keepers I guessed, and they start guessing until they match someone with their keepers. This is a lot of fun to do with fellow writers, too, if you're looking for an idea for your next chapter meeting.

Today I'd like to do a spin on this game, and invite everyone to list in comments three keepers in your collection that you think illustrate something about who you are as a writer or a reader (and you don't have to explain them if you'd rather not.)

I'll go first:

1. e.e. cummings Complete Poems 1904-1962 edited by George J. Firmage

e.e. cummings and I have a very weird artistic connection; his poetry bailed me out of a couple thousand bad moments in my writing life. I think he's the only poet I've ever read who writes as contrary and subversive as I feel.

2. Life in Biblical Israel by Philip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager

My wubby book; the one I read when I want to remind myself of where I've been/where I am/where I'm going. A brilliant, flawless, compassionate, detailed, accurate history of people living in interesting times -- all the good things I love and love to write are wrapped up in this one.

3. Genetics manual ~ Current Theory, Concepts, Terms by George P. Rédei

This one is more of a textbook, and an outdated one at that, but meticulously written and organized, and utterly ruthless about the topic. This book illustrates the great extremes of our species' character, and how easy it can be to let your focus blind you. Like me, kind of a cautionary tale.

So what are your three keepers?


  1. Only three?! Lessee...

    Jane Eyre.
    Edith Hamilton's Mythology.
    The Complete Collection of "The Far Side".

  2. 1. The Alchemist-Paulo Coelho

    To me, this book taught me to enjoy the journey rather than the destination. Every choice and decision you make leads you down a path that will take you where you are meant to go. Sometimes, it takes you back to where you started and ultimately that becomes your destination but it does not mean that the journey was for naught.

    2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

    I am a hopeless romantic.

    3. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

    A book that helps me regain focus on my writing when I run into the wall that tells me I am going the wrong way. Reading this helps me to walk around, dig under and climb over the wall when I need to in a language that I can appreciate.

  3. Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" was the first book that I wished I'd written.

    Terry Pratchett and Neil Gainam's "Good Omens" was the book I could have written

    The King Jame's Bible (the edition with the Apocrypha) means I will never run out of plot ideas

  4. TS Elliot's Book of Practical Cats. It's sheer fun with words (and cats). Sometimes I forget to let myself have fun with words and it's a good reminder.

    The Way Things Work, David Macaulay. Basic engineering principles behind all technology demonstrated by the woolly mammoth. Again with the "it should be fun" approach.

    A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L'Engle, because sometimes it doesn't seem like enough to love. But maybe that's all we really have to do.

  5. 1. The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch

    This is a big story, and it had a big effect on me. It opened my mind to new subjects, and introduced me to hitherto unknown links between subjects familar to me, and blew me away with the beauty of writing time after time. It widened my horizons as a writer.

    2. I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven

    This novel, about a terminally ill young priest who goes to work out his remaining days among the people of an isolated tribe in British Columbia, had the opposite effect on me. As a reader, my horizons shrunk until the world of this tribe filled my mind and emotions, as they fill the priest's mind and emotions. And by focusing on such a small world, we lived deeper within it. This story left me with an extraordinary peace.

    3. Song of Songs allegedly by King Solomon

    The most sublime love story I've ever read.

  6. Anonymous7:09 AM

    1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    My mother gave it to me as a Christmas present when I was around 11. I read it soon afterwards. It touched me in ways that I don't think I can begin to articulate. I recommend it to everyone and made my boyfriend (now my husband) read it when I found out he hadn't. I even gave our daughter the middle name Harper.

    2. The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop

    I discovered these books at a point in my life where I didn't read fantasy as much. I was looking for something different. I usually never buy a trilogy all at once, trying the first one and then go back for the rest. But my gut said buy them all so I did. I read them all in a matter of days. I reread them periodically (at least once a year) usually when I need comfort from something emotional.

    3. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

    I read this book a few years ago and reread it regularly as well. I lost my father at the age of 25. The main character loses her around 16 and how it changes her. I also can't explain in words how much this book means to me.

  7. Hi,
    I confess that when I looked at your list of 'keepers' I felt a little overwhelmed by your impressive collection. But, I have plucked up the courage to post my keepers anyway.
    - The Naughtiest Girl In School, Enid Blyton. (I read this series as a child and now 30 years on am reading it to my children. What better kudos for a book is that?)
    - Marching Powder, by Rusty Young. (Just, quite simply, wow.)
    - Eats,Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss. (She'd be a scary grammar teacher... wish she had been mine!).

  8. Anonymous8:18 AM

    1. The Heart of Devin McKade by Nora Roberts

    Okay, it's a Romance and a Harlequin, at that. It's also one of the most emotional books I've ever read – at least it connected to me. It reminds me that emotion is at the heart of fiction and should be in every. Single. Scene. Sadly, I have yet to completely learn this lesson.

    2. Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge

    This was the first book that ever became "real" for me, where I lost myself in the story. It's a melodramatic story, set during a Holland Winter. There's a contest (for those Silver Skates), an injured and ill Father and it's riddled with clichés. But I'll probably be buried with this book. I will not give it up.

    3. It's Okay if You Sit on My Quilt by Mary Ellen Hopkins

    I think I loaned this one out, so technically, I didn't keep it. But I'll keep the philosophy. This book taught me that crafts and arts are to be enjoyed and used on a daily basis. There's a quilt on my bed, handmade art on my wall, hand-thrown pottery holding flowers on my coffee table. Art is for life and this book helped me understand this simple truth.

    Runner's up were A Wrinkle In Time and The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil. E. Frankweiler.

  9. Ooo, this is hard. Only three books? Well, the three that seem to follow me everywhere - and the ones that if I lost I'd end up rebuying - are:

    Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (I could actually just list three of her four novels, but I won't.)

    The Stand by Stephen King (Whatever else I think of King, this book is so rich with... well, everything, I can't help myself.)

    The World According to Garp by John Irving (A horrible, strange, heart-wrenching book that is so true that it's stuck with me since I first read it in high school.)

  10. 1. Bag of Bones by Stephen King. About a novelist who has severe writer's block after the death of his wife. In the end he even gives up writing novels because he finds there are more important things in life.

    2. To The Hilt by Dick Francis. A painter who lives off in a hut in Scotland by himself, but is dragged back into the world by family. (Well, that's one interpretation, anyway).

    3. The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman. I don't write the types of things Bowerman suggests, or even use his approach, but his attitude wore off on me and allowed me to make a living at writing.

  11. Only three. geez. I

    Endurance by SL Viehl, because I flat out love that series, by that one most of all.

    Little House in the Big Woods-Laura Ingalls Wilder-first book I really remember reading. Got me started on a love affair with books.

    The Complete Brothers Grimm. All those ideas...
    Son of the Morning by Linda Howard

  12. 1. Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar- It's my wubby. Truth be told, I haven't finished it yet. My husband bought it two years ago for me when I was home sick from cancer stuff and it's presence in my bookshelf makes me happy. So far, it's a great read.

    2. Any comic strip book of Get Fuzzy, Pearls Before Swine or Dilbert.

    3. Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs - I love this book so much that I have read it four times. The reality, grit and heart in it get to me every time.

  13. 1. The Prohpesy of the Stones, by Flavia Bujour

    I re-read this book every few months. It's a great read, but it also has a lot of themes and ideas that I like, primarily the thought that belief (in God, legends, yourself, whatever) is an extremely powerful force.

    2. The School Story, by Andrew Clements

    I keep this book by my desk. I first read it in fifth grade, and it totally inspired me to not only write, but to try and get published.

    3. Harry Potter

    I LOVE the Harry Potter books. I started reading them when I was, like, six. They didn't really "get me into reading," since I alread read a lot, but they really turned me on to fantasy and started me reading things above my grade level. I remember how everybody used to tell my mother how funny it was to see me carrying around books that were almost bigger than I was. :D

  14. Three… Three?! OK, a set of three, in no particular order:

    Isabel Allende: The House of the Spirits.
    Ah, magical realism, or, as Picasso put it: Everything you can imagine is real. A personal history, a family history, a nation’s history linked with the larger world coming back to the personal, this tale has everything.

    Margaret Atwood: Curious Pursuits: Occasional Writing, 1970-2005.
    A horn of plenty on writing and life.

    Paulo Coelho: O manual do guerreiro da luz. (Manual of the Warrior of Light; I have no idea whether the English translation is any good, though.)
    Nothing new under the Sun, I thought, and then found myself going back to it. Coelho’s Hero’s Journey to realize his dream (of becoming a writer) and the basic teachings of religions Western and Eastern all in one, it’s inspirational and spiritual without being religious or finger-wagging.

  15. Meleeta11:21 AM

    Tailchaser's Song By Tad Williams
    (Just love this book we have worn out five copies in my house.)

    Pride of Chanur By C.J. Cherryh
    (This book teaches me to look beyond my own prejudices for the good in someone.)

    Tea Leaves for Every Day (My mother-in-law purchase this for me because she thought it would help me spiritually and it does.)

  16. I suspect that if you picked the first three without thinking that it could reveal quite a lot about yourself:

    Let's see:

    1. The complete Mad magazine.

    2. The complete Sherlock Holmes.

    3. Terry Pratchett's "Guards! Guards!" if only because they don't have the complete Terry Pratchett.

    Yep, that pretty much sums me up.

  17. Little Women, it was my mother's book given to her by her father.

    The Wonderful Isle of Isla Gapoo, it is the first book I can remember being read to me by my Grandfather.

    Best - Loved Poems, a collection of poetry. DH bought this as a gift in a low point in my life.

  18. 1. Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison

    Ellison was the first "literary" writer I got into... the guy who dragged me from comics and whiz-bang science fiction toward books with serious things to say. I'll love him forever for that.

    2. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

    The closest I've ever come to giving up on writing completely was when I finished this book, sat very quietly for several minutes, and realized I'd never write anything as good as that no matter how long I tried.

    3. Gandhi Versus the Empire by Haridas T. Muzumdar

    This book was published in 1932, when a free India was still more than a decade away and many English-speaking people were afraid Gandhi was some sort of dangerous cult leader. It explains his philosophies and methods along with collecting and translating lots of his speeches. My copy is yellowed and falling apart. It feels like a real piece of history more than just an account of it.

  19. Tammy1:25 PM

    My list of keepers is possibly a little different from those listed here, but here are three.

    1. Summer Sunrise by Lee Damon
    2. Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon
    3. The Drake Sisters series by Christine Feehan

  20. Just three, huh?

    The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, because that was the first "first edition" I ever owned.

    Gone With the Wind by Mitchell, because it sparked a life long love of history nothing else ever has.

    Immortal Highlander by Moning, because it is, for me, the most perfect example of just what love is willing to sacrifice and faith is able to conquer.

  21. The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. In very plain language, she takes you into the heart of Chinese culture of the time.

    Peeper by Loren Estleman. I rarely re-read books because I read very slowly. But I read this one four times and it's fall-on-the-floor funny every single time.

    Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I was halfway there on my own, but "the Donald" articulated exactly which elements a good novel needs, and he did it in a way I could understand.

  22. How fun!

    Watership Down - Richard Adams
    The Deed of Paksennarion - Elizabeth Moon
    The Callahan Touch - Spider Robinson

    May I repost this exercise?

  23. Charles De Lint: the newford and tamson house collections...because he gave me Jack, the Trickster.

    David Eddings: Bellgariad

    And a recent addition (this series pushed others down the list):

    Lilith SaintCrow's Dante Valentine Series - her urban fantasy world building is amazing and her characters are so broken - i cry every time.

  24. 1)Little Women
    I read it when I was about 9 and proceeded to read it over & over again, as well as the books that follow in the series.

    2)Charlie & the Chocolate Factory
    same as above

    3)Farenheit 451
    A book I had to read in high school English, and it remains my favorite book to this day

  25. Oh my, this is so very hard. Okay, I will give 3 favorites from the thousands I have kept. *L* And no, I won't say why as they all mean something special to me. *G*

    1. In Death Series by J. D. Robb
    2. The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights
    3. Cry No More by Linda Howard

  26. Tami wrote: May I repost this exercise?

    Absolutely -- have fun with it. :)

  27. Ok I'm going to cheat and call a series one book!
    1)S.L.Viehl's Stardoc series
    Taught me that space opera can be EXCELLENT. I have read this series over and over again. It is the perfect mixture of science fiction and romance.
    2)Julia Czeranada's (hope i spelled that right!) Trade pact cycle. She has an incredible depth to her writing that I haven't seen elsewhere. I would love to be able to emulate her seamless style and excellent character building in my own writing, but so far have had no luck!
    3)Ariel by Steven Boyet. I read this book as a teenager and have worn it down to a nub with so many readings. The story was so very unique for the time. An urban fantasy when nothing like that had been written. Filled with mythological creatures and amazing characterization. He made the idea of a unicorn falling in love with a boy seem entirely logical. I was at Barnes and Noble the other day and saw that it had been reprinted. I bought three of them so I can keep one and share my love of this book with others.

  28. This is...difficult. I have two bookcases filled with 'keepers', but if I had to say which ones I'll never ever get rid of, they'd be:

    1. Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon
    I fell in love with Acheron as a character with the first of the DH books and reading about his early life and how he found love is just...thrilling. It makes me laugh, makes me's one of my absolute favorites.

    2. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
    I love this book because it's just so ridiculous yet sharp at the same time. I can't even explain why I love it so much, but I'll read it over and over again.

    3. Dark Lover by J.R. Ward
    This is the first book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series and it's the book that made me fall in love with every single brother (some more than others). Well written, action-packed, and filled with emotion stirring scenes, this book kicked off my determination to write.

  29. 1. The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien

    An old battered copy, missing both front and back covers, that is at least a decade older than I am. One day in 3rd grade, when I was tired of my Clifford the Big Red Dog books, I stole this one out of my mom's room and decided to try and read it.

    2. The Ship Who Sang, by Anne McCaffrey

    Another "first" book. This was the first sci-fi book I read. It opened up a whole new section of the library that I gradually consumed.

    3. Poems, by Emma Mayhew Whiting

    A small book of poetry published after her death by her husband. She grew up on the same island I did, and many of her poems focused on aspects of life still very important to all the grown-up women that my child-self knew and admired. Gardening, canning, sheep, the ocean, love, loss, sense of self.

  30. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons.

    So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore by ake Coleson, Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman

    Fox in Socks

  31. The Collected Works of Edgar Allen Poe, The Collected Works of William Shakespeare, and Hans Christian Anderson's Fairy Tales.

    What? I like collections. Same concept of a buffet -- not quantity but variety.

  32. Oooh, am I too late? Just got back from vacation and now catching up. My top three keepers:

    1) The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. This is the first book I ever read that took my breath away, that I thought about for days, weeks after finishing it.

    2) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin. IMO, one of the best romance novels ever written. It's the standard I use to judge other romances and the best example of how to make an unappealing character into a true hero over the course of a story.

    3) Lover Awakened by J.R. Ward. Kind of a guilty pleasure compared to all of the classics, but I think this book is the Black Dagger Brotherhood series working at it peak. Zsadist is one of the most compelling, tortured characters I've ever read, and I love his story. I can read this book over and over again and never grow tired of it.


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