My sister and I have alot of things in common. Our taste in books is not one of them. Recently, she was telling me that she wanted to read alot in 2022 and asked for my recommendations. Knowing that she liked historical fiction, I asked her if she would read a book set in historical England about witches and animals turned to humans called “Beasties”, which conveniently was the book I was reading at the time. She threw up a little in her mouth and said, “No, thank you” and then I went on my diatribe about horse books and she told me that I should write all of my hard and fast book recommendations down.
So, here we are. None of these are hard and fast but that’s the wonderful thing about books, right? I could say that I would never, under any circumstances, read a book that features a horse as a predominant character but then I might find a book that has horses and sassy fairies that is just too good to put down. One never knows…
Anyway, here is my list of rules by which I evaluate books before I read them.
- No horses. I mean…there can be some horses as modes of transportation but if you were to list ole Thunder as a main character in the book, that’s a hard no from me, dawg. I just cannot understand or empathize with horse people. When I read passages about how a character felt at one with their horse and felt their powerful muscles thundering underneath them, I want to throw up. I rode horses when I was younger and most of my memories are of my backside hurting and trying to keep the horse from veering off the trail to eat a weed while gagging on the smell of horse shit. Once, a horse walked under a mesquite tree, with all of its evil thorns, with my friend Emily on the back of it and that was horrifying. Usually books that have horse-lovers feature some sort of plot twist where the horse is grievously injured or dies and the main character spends pages and pages crestfallen about the state of the horse. Or, the main character puts themselves in mortal danger to protect their horse. Yawn. Move on, sister. Time to get a Razr scooter or some other form of transportation that doesn’t leave you completely despondent when it bites the bullet.
- No dragons. I’m a little looser on this one, but I must assess whether the person who rides the dragon is actually a horse-person who is using a reptile as a substitute for their equestrian obsession. If the person riding the dragon drones on and on about the wind in their hair and the feel of the scales beneath their hands, then I throw the book across the room. If the dragon is basically a flying car that can crisp up an enemy, then the book is probably okay.
- Sassy, talking dragons and/or horses are okay. If the horse or dragon can talk, that’s much better, as they are more like a person than animal at that point. Even better if they are sassy. If they are wise or noble, then there is still the potential for a horse/dragon-loving character to wax poetic about them. One must be careful to appraise the level of creature-worship in the book.
- Space operas are usually a YES. Do space operas almost always feature some sort of outsider finding a ragtag team of other outsiders and fighting against an evil nation/corporation/alien race? Yes. Do I still love this genre? Yes. Bring all of your creative alien forms and worlds and I will gladly read about spaceships and laser guns and how the small can fall the mighty.
- Many books about fairies are great and should be open to consideration. When I discovered Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series, I loved it. It’s sassy(!) militant fairies who solve crimes and fight bad guys and I learned then that fairies can be badass. Since then, I’ve been wide open to books about fairies because they’re usually grumpy and mischevious and I can identify. Same with almost any kind of mythical creature- goblins, ogres, leprechauns, etc. EXCEPT unicorns (see: 1. No horses).
- Must be light on scenery and heavy on plot. When assessing a book, I might glance through it and see how much dialogue there is. If there are large sections that are just describing things, I’ll usually pass. Occassionally, if the plot is good enough, I’ll read the book but flip past the long scenery descriptions. While we’re laying in bed, Alex will listen to me shuffle past several pages and then ask me how the book’s going because a sassy fairy would play him in a movie JUST FINE.
- If I have to learn a new language to read the book, I’mma pass. One issue in the sci-fi/fantasy genre world is that authors love to create new worlds, which can often mean there’s lots of new vocabulary and names to learn. If I have to remember the difference between Lat Tsao’s Hundrun and the Shickel Rappen’s Sgrogdongen to understand the story, then I probably won’t understand the story. If your book needs a family tree at the beginning to explain all the characters, you are starting with a mark against you. There are exceptions to this rule. I’ve sought out authors who are not white Americans and I’ll endeavor to remember names or things that are important to the plot. I will mispronounce the hell out of those names in my head, but I’ll try. I’ll try.
- But, what kind of dystopia is it? I love dystopian books. There’s something about imagining myself in a world that could happen that I love. However, I have two rigid rules about these kinds of books. If the dystopia was created by something that killed all the adults and only kids are left, then I put it on my DO NOT READ shelf. Every once and a while, The Kid will say, “I wish all adults would go to sleep for a week” and then I ask him what he would do and he says things like order pizza and watch TV the whole time. When I ask him who would make the pizza, he acts as if pizza makes itself. I do not want to pretend to be in a world where there are no adults because kids are ding dongs. Secondly, if the dystopia was caused by a pandemic and has created some sort of Zombie class of person, that’s dumb and I don’t want to read about it. PS- I had this rule before the current pandemic so I’m not jumping on the “hyuck, hyuck too real for me” bandwagon. I was DRIVING THE WAGON before you even knew there was a wagon so put that in your pipe and smoke it.
- I have to read about 20% of the book before I know if I really like it or not. At the onset of the pandemic, I begrudgingly switched to reading on my Kindle instead of holding an actual book and turning actual pages. There’s alot to like about ebooks so I’ve adjusted. One of the interesting data points that an ebook gives me is how far along I am in the book. I’ve started to realize consistently that I can get to about 20% of almost every book before deciding if I care enough to continue. I know some people are ride or die “I started this book and I’m gonna finish it” but I’ve stopped that nonsense. If I get to a point where I don’t care what happens, I abandon the book ruthlessly and now it sits in the “Currently Reading” graveyard of my GoodReads bookshelf.
A random assortment of my most recommended books:
- Rick Riordan- The Percy Jackson series is his most famous but I actually like his Magnus Chase series the best. It’s about Norse mythology. I do not like his series on Egyptian gods. I don’t know why so don’t ask me.
- “Presented by Rick Riordan”- Riordan’s publisher has started to publish authors who write books kind of like Riordan (books set in modern times featuring folklore or mythology) from indigenous backgrounds. So, The Kid really likes JC Cervantes Storm Runner series, which is about the Mayan/Mexica pantheon of gods. The Tristan Strong series is about Black American mythology (Bre’er Rabbit) and I learned alot. I’ve read the Dragon Pearl series by Yoon Ha Le and liked it. I appreciate that the authors are actually from the cultures they’re writing about.
- The Scythe Trilogy by Neal Shusterman features no fairies, hobgoblins, or starships that go pew-pew so it was a little outside my wheelhouse but it was deeply philosophical while also having a really good plot. It asks alot of questions about death and society’s role in it and I found it riveting.
- The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. This was one of the series that I read when I really got into YA fiction and it still slaps. It’s a dystopian book about body image and rebellion and…love. The plot and character development is really good.
- Inkheart by Cornelia Funke is a masterful story about storybook characters that come to life and the line between reality and fantasy blurs. It is so creative and beautifully written that it’s one of the series I pick up every few years to read again.
- In a rare breach of my strictly child/teen fiction protocol, I read anything and everything by David Sedaris. His writing is hilarious and jaw-droppingly beautiful. I wish I could write like David Sedaris.