Complicated Emotion

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“How are you?” she asked. It was a question that would’ve required some college-level math and about an hour of discussion to answer. I felt a hundred conflicting things, the great bulk of which canceled out to equal cold and tired and not particularly interested in talking. So I said, “I’m fine, just trying to dry off,” and flapped the front of my soggy sweater to demonstrate.

Hollow City: The Second Novel in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Dying Alive

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If they killed him tonight, at least he would die alive.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Note: This book is narrated by Death. The plot occurs during WWII. It is a very good book, with both humorous and serious aspects.

Clumsy Inspector of Shadows

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Walking down to the water’s edge, I tried to picture myself the way my new friends saw me, or wanted to: not as Jacob, the kid who once broke his ankle running after an ice cream truck, or who reluctantly and at the behest of his dad tried and failed three times to get onto his school’s noncompetitive track team, but as Jacob, inspector of shadows, miraculous interpreter of squirmy gut feelings, seer and slayer of real and actual monsters—and all that might stand between life and death for our merry band of peculiars. How could I ever live up to my grandfather’s legacy?

Hollow City: The Second Novel in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Triumphant Suffering

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The mayor’s wife was just one of a worldwide brigade. You have seen her before, I’m certain. In your stories, your poems, the screens you like to watch. They’re everywhere, so why not here? Why not on a shapely hill in a small German town? It’s as good a place to suffer as any…The point is, Ilsa Hermann had decided to make suffering her triumph. When it refused to let go of her, she succumbed to it. She embraced it.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Note: This book is narrated by Death. The plot occurs during WWII. It is a very good book, with both humorous and serious aspects.

Brash Confidence

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I’d never met anyone with Emma’s brash confidence. Everything about her exuded it: the way she carried herself, with shoulders thrown back; the hard set of her teeth when she made up her mind about something; the way she ended every sentence with a declarative period, never a question mark. It was infectious and I loved it, and I had to fight a sudden urge to kiss her, right there in front of everyone.

Hugh coughed, and bees tumbled out of his mouth to form a question mark that shivered in the air. “How can you be so bloody sure?” he asked.

Because I am, that’s all.” And she brushed her hands as if that were that.

 

-Hollow City: The Second Novel in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

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Tween Love

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“Saukerl,” she laughed, and as she held up her hand, she knew completely that he was simultaneously calling her a Saumensch. I think that’s as close to love as eleven-year-olds can get.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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Don’t Be The Rabbit

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“Mary, listen. The way the owl hunts, he sits in a piñon and he hoots. He can’t see the rabbits, and they can’t see him. And that’s the problem for the rabbits. He hoots. And he waits a little to let them think about it, and he hoots again. And the rabbits think. And one of them will think too much. He thinks the owl is getting closer and closer. He thinks the owl has found him. So he makes a run for it, and the owl has her meal for the night.”

Mary moved his hand from her leg. “Okay, wise guy,” she whispered. “I get your point.”

People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman

Change Memory and Fog

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…a silent goodbye, to a place that had changed me forever—and the place that, more than any graveyard, would forever contain the memory, and the mystery, of my grandfather. They were linked inextricably, he and that island, and I wondered, now that both were gone, if I would ever really understand what had happened to me: what I had become; was becoming. I had come to the island to solve my grandfather’s mystery, and in doing so I had discovered my own. Watching Cairnholm disappear felt like watching the only remaining key to that mystery sink beneath the dark waves. And then the island was simply gone, swallowed up by a mountain of fog.

Hollow City: The Second Novel in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

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Snowballs and Friendship

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Insane or not, Rudy was always destined to be Liesel’s best friend. A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Note: This book is narrated by Death. The plot occurs during WWII. It is a very good book, with both humorous and serious aspects.

Evaluating a Favorite Fiction List

What does a favorites list say about a specific individual?

When a college recruiter, potential employer, first date or an acquaintance inquires about a favorite book, they are usually trying to get a sense of who the other person is on a more personal level.

I love the discussions that can develop out of this sort of question. I also remain extremely cautious about using the list itself as proof of personality, ethics or beliefs.

Beware! You have entered the land of dangerous assumptions.

There is no ‘should’ in a favorites list. It doesn’t matter what a person’s inner circle or society as a whole thinks; each person chooses according to their own private, gut reaction. The books placed on that very special shelf within my house are not the same as the books proudly displayed on the favorites shelf in your house. Every list is different. Every. Single. One.

It is impossible to evaluate an individual, based on a list of books, titles without knowing why those titles were selected.

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My Favorites List

As an example, here is a selection of titles from my own favorites list (roughly in order according to publication date):

Just glancing over this list, what jumps out at you? When this list is evaluated without discussion, the following details are usually the center of focus…

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Common literary cannons utilized by most universities:

  • Women’s literature: 3
  • Multi-cultural literature: 3
  • Native American literature: 1
  • African American literature: 1
  • Fantasy and Science Fiction: 1
  • LGBT literature: 1
  • Pulitzer prize winners: 1
  • Not recognized by academic circles: 2

The authors:

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  • 5 women
  • 2 Men
  • 4 Americans
    • 1 African American
    • 1 Native American
    • 2 White
  • 1 Czechoslovakian
  • 2 British

While this numeric evaluation is interesting and easy to identify, it is most important to remember that it has little to nothing to do with the process of selecting a favorite.

Favorites Selection Process

To understand the selection process we must examine an individual’s primary categories. For example, my definitions are as follows (links are to my in-progress book lists on GoodReads.com):

  • Favorite: Any combination of the following:
      • Highly memorable books that provide a strong positive feeling.
      • Books that are re-read or referenced regularly.
      • A person can’t imagine life without a copy of that text.
      • Useful to the point of being necessary for day-to-day living.

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  • Impact : Titles that significantly changed perspective or left a strong impression.
  • Enjoy: Fun to read. Highly forgettable pulp fiction that is perfect for a few hours of mindless relaxation.
  • Enjoy Plus: Somewhere between Enjoy and Favorite.

My definition of Favorite allows for the inclusion of any genre of text, not just novels. This is important to know because, under these circumstances, the question “what is your favorite book” could be answered with a cookbook, auto-maintenance manual, reference manual or anything else that happens to be particularly useful at that moment.

Reasons Behind Fiction Selections

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Because favorite novels are so intimately personal, the only possible way to truly understand the ‘meaning’ provided by a favorites list is by delving into the reasons why the individual made those selections.

In my case, every one of the novels in my list has one or more female characters who defies society’s norms to carve out a self-determined life for herself.

Sometimes the life-path resulted in catastrophe (e.g.: Wuthering Heights)  and other times it provided the best possible outcome a character could have hoped for (e.g.: Their Eyes Were Watching God). In some cases she was sexually free and aggressively confident (e.g.: Rubyfruit Jungle) and in others she was a virgin who refused to give in to peer pressure (e.g.: Voices of Dragons).

They are warriors (e.g.: Lord of The Rings), cautiously defiant and politically subversive teenagers (e.g.: Truckstop Rainbows) and strong young women who choose to live according to traditions and culture of their people (e.g.: The Ancient Child).

Whatever the circumstances, dangers or personal objectives, every one of these stories describes at least one woman who took life head-on and blazed a trail of her own making. This is a specific scenario that I am drawn to on a deep level, so the titles are placed on my favorites list.

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Properly Using a Favorites List

If you ask a potential employee, new friend or long-standing acquaintance for their favorite books list, remember that the list is the beginning of the conversation and not the end of the analysis.

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