Book Brahmins Questionnaire

[From the 2009 vaults.]

Shelf AwarenessA while back I was asked to answer the Book Brahmins Questionnaire on Shelf Awareness. Never hard to get me talking about books I love, so I did, and here are their questions and my answers:

On your nightstand now:

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. I was raised in Alaska in a coastal village you could only get to by boat or plane, and we didn’t have television, so I lose a lot when playing the Baby Boomer edition of Trivial Pursuit. This book is going to change all that. For example, I now know who Sky and his niece Penny are from Jimmy Buffet’s “Pencil Thin Mustache.” It’s like Bryson is holding up a fun house mirror in front of the entire Me Generation. Very funny and at times just a little edgy, too.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Lion’s Paw by Robb White. In WWII Florida, Ben, Penny and Nick run away on a sloop called the Hard-A-Lee, and they’re not coming back until they find a rare shell called a lion’s paw and Ben’s father comes back from the South Pacific. After living five years off and on a fish tender, I was always looking for stories about kids on boats, but this would have been worth reading if I’d been raised in the 13th Arrondissment in Paris, France.

Your top five authors:

Nevil Shute, one of the best story-tellers ever. He is best remembered for On the Beach and A Town Like Alice, but you have not experienced storytelling the way its meant to be until you’ve read Trustee from the Toolroom or Round the Bend.

Betty MacDonald. Known for the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle children’s books, she also wrote The Egg and I, an hilarious account of a city girl marrying a chicken farmer in the Pacific Northwest in the years between world wars. She wrote three other books about her life, as well as a wonderful little juvenile gem called Nancy and Plum.

Georgette Heyer. Mistakenly labeled a romance author, her books are individual time travel machines straight back to Regency England, and no one has ever written better dialogue.

Robert Heinlein. He invented nuts-and-bolts science fiction and his work has yet to be bettered. His young adult novels are his best work; they’re dated, of course, by science as well as society, but they are still the best in the sf genre.

I’m having trouble with the fifth, mostly because I’m worried you won’t believe me when I say Barbara Tuchman. Probably you’d rather hear me say Jane Austen. Well, I love Jane, too, but. A Distant Mirror was my first Tuchman, in which she writes about the 14th century in Europe using a minor French nobleman’s life as her lens. It was a revelation. I didn’t know learning about history could be this interesting, this riveting, this enjoyable! Why, these are people just like us, although with their tech 700 years out of date, and they’re facing a lot of the same kinds of problems we do. Who knew? Her prose is witty, acerbic, at times even downright exasperated (‘Lord, what fools these mortals be!’), and always a delight to read.

Book you’ve faked reading:

This is going to sound oh so precious and I apologize, but I’ve never faked it. I generally do say right out loud in front of God and everybody if I can’t get into a book. I even say so on my Goodreads page.

Book you are an evangelist for:

The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri Tepper. A post-apocolyptic society reinvents itself so as to study war no more. I’m being as obscure as I possibly can because I don’t want to ruin the “Gotcha!” moment for you. I have made book clubs I don’t even belong to read this book, and my science fiction-hating friend Janice now teaches it in her college-level English lit classes. The reactions this story provokes in group settings will surprise you.

Book you’ve bought for the cover:

In my life I have never bought a book for its cover.

Book that changed your life:

The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman. She posits the existence of folly, defined as the pursuit of public policy contrary to self-interest. Freely translated, she explains how and why nations keep shooting themselves in the foot. She takes the Trojans bringing the horse inside the walls of Troy as her template, and goes on to talk about the Renaissance popes causing the Reformation, England losing the American colonies, and the U.S. losing in Vietnam. When I looked up from the end of this book, I never saw the world, read the news, or listened to the radio in the same way again. To this day I can successfully apply her definition of “folly” to current events.

Favorite line from a book:

“What did I want? I wanted a Roc’s egg…I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be what they had promised me it was going to be–instead of the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is.”

Robert Heinlein, Glory Road

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Glenn Winklebleck, my freshman English teacher, gave me these books in high school. I was up until 2am and 3am every night, under the proverbial blankets with the proverbial flashlight, until I’d finished them. I reread it every couple of years just so I can read parts of it out loud. God, what fabulous stuff! The work of epic fantasy to which all other fantasy novelists can only dream to aspire.


Dana View All →

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21 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I appear to have discovered a kindred spirit. What are the odds of finding someone else with Jack Finney, Paul Fleischman, Bill Bryson, and (yikes!)Betty MacDonald on the same list? Now just tell me that you used to read Edward Eager as a child… I’m looking forward to dipping into a number of your recommendations.

  2. Dip away! Alas, although Edward Eager sounds familiar, I am unacquainted with his works. However, anyone who reads AoB (all of the above) has to have great taste in literature, so off to look for him now…

  3. Georgette Heyer. Mistakenly labeled a romance author

    Ah, but if only more romance books were written like hers.

    (Did you ever read Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men? she asked curiously.)

  4. Have you a favorite title? Here is mine, which might be of regional interest only: “Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca” by G. M. Ford.

  5. OMG! Barbara Tuchman rocks! Some current medieval historians claim that some of her theories have been “debunked”, but from my independent Czech sources I’d say the plague was a huge formative event and she is absolutely on point there. So there. (I dabble in things medieval).

    I faked reading Anna Karenina. It was a bad translation. After finishing Volume I I skipped to the end of the volume II, and, satisfied with the ending, I returned the books to the library.

    As to LOTR by Tolkien, we are reading it to our 7-year old now. She reads some parts just for practice, stumbling over the big words and the complex syntax. But, it’s great. I read that book every 5 years or so, and every time I find something new in it.

    Be well,

    Kate in Pittsburgh

  6. It’s been years since I read A Gate to Women’s Country, and I still vividly remember the gotcha moment. It’s a powerful book.

    Thanks for recommending Georgette Heyer – I’ve tried a few, and love them, especially A Civil Contract.

  7. I just want to beg for more of Silk and Song. What I really love is for you to get it published, so I could buy it. But, until that happens, could you put a chapter on-line every so often? I absolutely love historical fiction–it’s my favorite genre–and I love your stuff, all of it, and I really, really like what I’ve read of Silk and Song so far (actually I love it, too, but I was repeating myself). I keep looking for some more of it every month…. If you can’t get your publisher to agree to publish it, you could self-publish. I’d sign up to buy and send the money ahead of time, to help defray publishing costs. I’d bet others would, too.

    Anyway, more of it any way I could get it would be sooooo welcome.


  8. Ya got me, Janet. No title leaps readily to mind. If one does, I’ll post it on the website.

    For the moment, Patti, economics dictate that I concentrate of writing the stuff I get paid for. There is more coming, I promise. You won’t believe some of the characters Johanna picks up along her way, and she and Jaufre are both lying to each other about Very Important Things that are going to get them all into a whole lot of trouble. I’m really having a ball with this book. And thanks, I’m so glad you’re enjoying it!

  9. Maybe if enough of us pitched in, we could PAY Dana an advance to write Silk and Song (wow, numerous business nightmares keep running through my head, leaving nasty hoof prints!) I guess this isn’t done in publishing…is it?

  10. I think my grandfather would have been very proud of you. I’d like to talk to you about your experiences with him if and when you get a chance.

  11. I hope he would be, Aaron. I didn’t know him long, but he was an important person in my life. I was just talking about him recently, telling a teacher friend of mine about something Mr. Winklebleck did at Thanksgiving one year in Seldovia. He used duct tape to mark out the size of the Mayflower on the gym floor and then made all the kids from kindergarten to high school senior to come and stand inside it so we’d have some idea of how cramped the Pilgrims were on their way over. For a bunch of kids who grew up on and around fishing boats, it was a lesson in perspective that really stuck. I’ve never forgotten it.

  12. I had grown up reading Betty MacDonald, laughed out loud, and loved the movies…but the. I reread The Egg and I and was embarrassed by the stereotypes! Fortunately, that has not happened to me often!!!
    Right now I am enjoying the Donna Leon books while waiting for more STABENOW…hint

  13. I knew I loved your books and by extension you, but to mention both Georgette Heyer and Robert Heinlein and J.R.R. Tolkien in the same page…..utter and complete heaven, not to mention vindication for my tastes!!

    Keep writing!! I wish you could write as fast as I read!

  14. mmmm, Betty MacDonald. Also John D., though!

    I had a similar response to the Tepper book but ended up going with “The Female Man” by Joanna Russ to proselytize.

    Also, wanna put E.B. White in there somewhere, not sure just where. Mostly for the animals in The Once And Future King.

  15. Oh Wow – My Freshman English teacher (Mrs. Parr, god bless her) turned me on to Tolkien, and I’ve been reading LOTR on average twice a year since 1966. I own almost all Heyer’s book, and am as we speak in the middle of Devil’s Cub. My favorite Heinlein is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I own Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and read The Egg & I many times as a child. Love Nevil Shute. Well I knew we were reading compatible, Dana, I’ve met so many wonderful authors through your recommendations. You’ll love Edward Eager – try Half Magic. I hope you’ve read E. Nesbitt, who I think inspired him. Speaking of Fantasy/SciFi, you must read Anne MacCaffery, especially her Pern books. And have you read the Lucia books by E.F. Benson. You would adore them. And let’s not forget Dorothy Sayers & Lord Peter. Good writing gets you, every time. Aren’t books wonderful? I’ll look for Barbara Tuchman next time I go to the library, thanks in advance for the tip, Dana.

  16. I agree that Nevil Shute was one of the best. His books are classics. I have some of the hardbacks. Wouldn’t part with them.

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