Category Archives: favourites

Ten Favourite Novels

My friend the Outdoor Voice recently asked for a list of my ten favourite books. Similar requests have been made by other friends via various social media at various times. This is a hard question. To make it easier, I decided to produce both a fiction and non-fiction list, thus (sneakily) doubling my choices.

These are my favourite novels. The first 9 are in alphabetical order by title (excluding “the” of course), and the tenth is my favourite book. Please note that Possession tops anything non-fictional I’ve read, so it would be my number 1 whether or not I made two lists.

  • The Children of Men by P.D. James
  • Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher
  • Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
  • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Killing the Shadows by Val McDermid
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen
  • The Runaway Jury by John Grisham
  • Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

And the top of my list:

  1. Possession by A.S. Byatt

I sat with this list for a couple of weeks. A few books almost made it, but then were cut in favour of others. I frequently consulted my database of books I have read (records kept since July 1993) in making the list. I excluded two series from consideration: The Chronicles of Narnia and the Potter books. Both of those are favourites, but in both cases the series must be taken as a whole, not split apart. I realize that you can get Narnia all in one volume, but the order is wrong in that volume (in my humble opinion of course).

Which of your favourites are missing from my list?

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Funniest Book

Here’s the answer Publisher’s Weekly staff gave to the question “What’s the funniest book you’ve ever read?

The criteria for the PW list seems to be LOL funny. This is not mild amusement, this is LOL at least, if not ROTFL.

Turns out this is a hard question. I started thinking about it as a distraction from what I should actually be doing right now (sermon prep: it’s Thursday, but Sunday’s comin!) and I found a lot of books that I thought were amusing (Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman; Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen; Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding) but while those evoked smiles and a few chuckles, they weren’t really Laugh Out Loud funny. I am pretty sure I did LOL for Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops (Jen Campbell) because I work in a bookshop and I recognize those customers. But not everyone will find Weird Things as funny as bookshop staff do. I think the answer to this question is “It depends.” When I was small, Amelia Bedelia and her tribe were the funniest thing ever. Now, it takes more. It also depends on the timing of the read. Another time I might not find any of the books listed here very funny at all. Things shift and change.

How about you? Funniest book ever? or even lately? Books are never funny?


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XYZ, Now I know my ABCs

OK, I’ve been trying to work out how to do X, which might explain why I’ve taken so long to post. The other reason for the posting delay is the decision I made to update my operating system. That always takes way more time than you think it will, then you have to get new muscle memory on where things are and which way to swipe and all that stuff. It is a process and a half.

Enough about operating systems and on to the matter at hand: concluding the alphabet.

X – I have no authors at all in my database under X. None. Zero. Zilch. There aren’t even a whole lot of words beginning with X. The Constant Reader may here remind me of xylophones, but I’ve little to say about xylophones. Do YOU know any X-authors? Do let me know if you have encountered any. I’m curious.

Y, I’ve got no problem with Y, so on we go to Y, the problem-free letter, the letter with an embarrassment of riches, where I have to choose between two worthy women authors. Wait. I don’t have to chose, I’ll have one of the Y-authors stand in for the lack of an X author. Yes. Sometimes I’m brilliant. (Also humble. And, I hope you realize, not very serious.)

Yfloralis for Yonge, Charlotte M. Yonge, author of The Heir of Redcliffe. I read The Heir of Redcliffe because someone recommended it to me. It was the first of the nineteenth-century women writers on specifically religious subjects that I read. This was, however, before I began my research on 19th-century women who interpreted the Bible. Yonge is one of those women, but I read this book before all that really started. Also, after I read Yonge, I re-read Little Women, and behold! Jo reads The Heir of Redcliffe in Little Women! Literary referencing in the nineteenth century! Excitement! Connections! Hurrah! I like connections. You should read The Heir of Redcliffe for insight into the century. I should revisit it as I’m sure I will understand it differently now.

Y is also for Yust, Karen Marie Yust, author of Taught By God, a book that does a great job helping people think through how the history of Christian education can inform current practice. I sort of fan-girled Dr. Yust at a Large Academic Conference last November. I think she was startled to have me rush up and enthuse about TBG. Oh well. I do like it. You should read it.

And so to Z. I’ve one author, J. Peter Zane, in my database in the Z-section. J. Peter doesn’t make the cut for this blog post because he’s a guy. There are women whose surnames begin with Z, but I’ve not read them. Have you? Any recommendations?


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P, poke, poke.

P is a cheeky kind of letter, always sticking its tongue out at someone. ;-P

Pis for Parish, Peggy Parish, author of the Amelia Bedelia books. You haven’t heard of these books? What kind of childhood did you have? Parish’s books were the first comedy I remember reading. They were funny in a silly way that kids and adults both enjoy, plus Parish plays with language. I liked the language play, the misunderstandings, and the hilarity that ensued when Amelia Bedelia got the wrong end of some instruction or other. Parish wins the cheeky-P author prize for giving me lots of laughs and lessons on playing with words.


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Narnia, the happy land of Narnia

I’ve spent many hours in the happy land of Narnia (as Bree, the horse calls his home). I’ve done a bit of a search around this blog and found that I’ve listed two different Narnia books as my favourite of the Chronicles of Narnia. Oops. In one place I said The Horse and His Boyand in another, The Silver Chair. Hmm. Guess I’d better make up my mind.

Here is the order in which I favour the Narnia books, with reasons:

  1. The Horse and His Boy. It was the first Narnia book I ever read. I was 7. It also appeals to me on many levels. As a friend of mine put it when I asked about favourite Chronicle of Narnia on facebook: “Talking horses, finding your real family and home, the glimpse of grownup golden age Pevensies.” What more could anyone ask for? Plus I was 7 and the whole finding one’s biological family without really looking appealed to me. I ended up having to look. Oh well.
  2. The Silver Chair. I love the quest in this book, plus Puddleglum. He’s my favourite character in the series. Plus there’s something about the signs, and the many ways Aslan shows up that I find appealing in this book.
  3. The Magician’s Nephew. It is the creation scene with the lion singing that gets me every time. I’ve grown in appreciation for this book over time. I also like the prequel aspect of the book, you get the deep background of the Lamp Post (for example) and other things.
  4. 5. and 6. I never read these ones separately so they all run together in my mind: The Lion, The Witch, and the WardrobePrince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Favourite scenes: Father Christmas; when Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy figure out where they are; Edmund the dragon.

And finally, 7. The Last Battle. I have grown in appreciation for this one over time, but I like it least because things end in it. But the last chapter with farther up and farther in is pretty awesome.

What about you? Which is your favourite? (Vote!)

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St. Jack?

Friday was All Saints’ Day. Many churches who follow the liturgical calendar celebrated All the Saints in the service today. I bet there were lots of people singing this hymn. All the Saints includes all Christians, not just those who are especially named as saints by particular churches. With that in mind, I’d suggest that November 2013 is a celebration of one particular saint — St. Jack, the author C.S. Lewis.

Lewis died 50 years ago, on November 22, 1963. On November 22, 2013, a memorial to Lewis will be dedicated in Westminster Abbey. Lots of people are taking notice of this Lewis jubilee year. Lewis’s parish church in Oxford held a celebration of his life in September. New books on the life and works of Lewis have been published in the last year. It seems an appropriate time to reflect on the influence of Lewis on me. Lewis has influenced a lot of people in a variety of ways, and lots of them have mentioned this in interviews and memoirs. But I’ve never written much about Lewis’s influence on me. So I’ll go there this month. Watch for it.

Top five Lewis books based on their influence on my academic thinking:

1. An Experiment in Criticism

2. Surprised by Joy

3. The Great Divorce

4. Of This and Other Worlds

5. Studies in Words.

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Reading Poetry, Part 2

When I wrote the poetry post yesterday, I managed to completely forget that I have a poetry book in my active reading pile. Oops. My Orthodox Colleague gave me a copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Cry Like a Bell, a collection of poems about Bible characters. L’Engle’s collection begins with Eve and wends its way to a poem about Nicolas (Acts 6:5-7). I’m in the middle of Moses at the moment. I read one poem a day and then let it sink in a little. Check out the collection. You might like it.

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Reading Poetry

I asked my reading friends on fb whether they read poetry. It was interesting that almost a completely different set of people jumped on this question. Do prose and poetry readers talk to each other? Hmm. A question for another day.

My fb friends have eclectic taste in poetry. I think that is pretty common. Poetry seems to be an eclectic thing. See my month of poetry if you doubt that. Or don’t if you are a poetry lover. I’m pretty sure it is all bad poetry. You see I don’t read poetry regularly, which is probably why I write bad poetry. Or why I can’t tell good from bad poetry. I’ve not had sufficient exposure to the mysteries of the pome. (Intentional misspelling by the way. Meant to be funny. If I have to explain it in more than three sentences, that means it probably isn’t funny.)

Poetry I remember reading — Robert Service “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” ridiculous clerihews about King George the Third (George the third/ought never to have occurred./One can only wonder/at such an enormous blunder.), A.A. Milne Now We Are SixI think my copy of Milne disintegrated. It was a paperback. Someone (my brother? me?) coloured in some of the line illustrations.

Wait! Stop press! I found it on my shelf. Whew. Yeah, someone used a crayon in all the pictures in “King John’s Christmas.” Now that I’ve got my copy in hand I can give you the first poem, which was my favourite, and explains why I’ve still got the book on my shelf.


I have a house where I go

When there’s too many people,

I have a house where I go

Where no one can be;

I have a house where I go,

Where nobody every says “No”

Where no one says anything — so

There is no one but me.

This is the illustration that goes with it:



So yeah. Milne is my favourite at the moment. I shall try to read more other poetry. I’ve got some sitting on my shelf. I’ll report back.

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Favoured Genres

The other day I asked my fb friends these questions: What is your preferred genre of books? Why do you like that genre? What is your favourite example of the genre?

I was rather surprised that fantasy came back as the number one answer. I knew some of my fb friends were fantasy readers, but was interested at how many people came back with that as their number one. Some people blended sci fi with fantasy (I don’t, reasons previously posted) and some people had sci fi coming a close second to fantasy. One person said mysteries were a guilty pleasure. I’m not sure why my dog-loving friend finds mysteries a guilty pleasure unless she has murdered someone?

While Fantasy was the overwhelming winner of my completely unscientific online poll, there were other genres mentioned — survival stories (non-fiction), travel, biography/memoir, and historical fiction.

Me? I am having a hard time with the question. I am prone to purchase/borrow and read mysteries by the ton because these have a predictable shape that I enjoy, and they make good brain candy reads. I am much more inclined to try a new mystery author than a new sci-fi or fantasy author without recommendation. BUT I do like sci-fi a lot. And I do like fantasy a lot. Those kinds of books tend to stick in my mind longer than formulaic mysteries. I am more likely to be completely blown away by a sci-fi or fantasy work than by a mystery novel. So what is my favourite genre? It depends what I’m looking for.

Some favourite examples of the genres I like? All these are 21st Century books, and they are pretty sweet examples of things that I like in each genre.

Mystery, Val McDermid, Killing the Shadows

Fantasy, Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion

Sci-Fi, Walter Jon Williams, Implied Spaces


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I’m working on two questions from the big book meme today:

  1. What is your favourite movie adaptation of a book?
  2. What was the most disappointing movie adaptation of a book you’ve encountered?

My favourite adaptations are not identical to the books they represent. They are, however, good adaptations of the books, and don’t alter the two books in ways that makes them unrecognizable. I like the movie “Hunt for Red October” and “Possession”. The books are better in both cases, but the movies are quite good.

(Here I note that in my movie-watching experience I’ve met two movies I liked better than the book: “Beaches” and “Everything is Illuminated”. Those two movies fall into the category watch the movie and don’t bother with the book. My opinion of course.)

The most disappointing movie adaptation is more difficult, mostly because I don’t watch many movies that are adaptations of books I love. I think that sets one up for disappointment. That being said, the two I’d pick are “Prince Caspian” and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. Both movies heavily altered the book and in the case of Voyage, ruined a key theological point in the book. My humble opinion again. Any further thoughts on books and movie adaptations?

Speaking of movies, I quite enjoyed “The Blind Side” this past weekend. Look for the misquotation of the Bible.


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