Category Archives: Books

Ten Books that Changed My Life

I was tagged on Facebook by my friend Andrea Stewart, a wicked talented writer, to participate in this meme. Ten books that changed your life. I decided I’d do a blog entry instead of a Facebook post on this topic, because hey, content.

Like many other people who’ve participated in this meme, I find it’s really hard to boil it down to just ten. But here goes.

  1. The World of Pooh by A. A. Milne. All of the Winnie-the-Pooh books in one volume. It’s the first book I remember reading on my own, and the book I most remember my Mom reading to me when I was a kid. I still have the copy I grew up with, though it’s a little water damaged now.
  2. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin. This mind-bender of a book really made me think about the fluid nature of reality and the role that dreams play in our lives.
  3. The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. I read this book for the first time when I was in sixth grade. While the sequels didn’t really speak to me, this book really made me think about writing. I think that’s partially because my sixth grade English teacher, Mr. Walsh, saw me reading it and said, “I bet you could write something just like that.” I haven’t tried my hand at epic fantasy outside of a Dungeons and Dragons game, but this was the book that really sparked my interest.
  4. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I had never really given much thought to comedic fantasy before in my life until I read this book. I’d go so far as to call this one my very favorite book of all time. I re-read it every year or so, or whenever I’m going through a bout of depression, because the humor in it always makes me laugh.
  5. Greek Myths by someone whose last name is Caldicott, I think. I can’t find this book anywhere online, but I know it existed. This book introduced me to Greek mythology, and to the notion of myths and legends in general. I still maintain a fascination for mythology and folklore, although I don’t read up as heavily as I used to.
  6. The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre by H. P. Lovecraft. This is the first collection of Lovecraft stories that I ever read, and his stories broke my little high junior brain. But they also inspired me to write horror, which I did a lot of in high school.
  7. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. I read this during my freshman year in college for a “Philosophy and the Biological Sciences” class, and it really changed my life. Up until then I’d been really struggling with my chemistry and math courses (biology courses were a snap), and thus my ambition of becoming a doctor. But then I took this class, and read this book, and realized that the history and philosophy of science were absolutely fascinating topics that I could build a college major — if not necessarily a career — out of. Side note: I knew many people in college who read this book and became atheists. I read it and found that it deepened my faith. Weird, huh?
  8. The Stand by Stephen King. My introduction of post-apocalyptic fiction, and my introduction to Stephen King. Though I thought at the time — and still do think — that King cheated at the end of this novel, it made me think more about the boundaries of horror fiction and what I could possibly do myself. Funny story: I have a distinct memory of being forbidden to read Stephen King until I was sixteen years old, because my parents knew what my imagination was like and what I was likely to inflict on my own brain. My parents deny this, but I remember it.
  9. Fred, Again by me. A controversial inclusion, I admit, because I wrote this one myself and it’s not available to anyone. I wrote it for National Novel Writing Month in 2005, and the exercise of writing this one opened my eyes to the different kinds of writing I could do. Up until then I’d only written straight horror and science fiction and fantasy. It had never occurred to me that I could include comedic elements and still write something of quality. So it’s totally fair to say that this one changed my life, or at least my writing path.
  10. Return of the Kings by Jennifer Crawford et. al. Perhaps another controversial one, because this one is less than a year old and not widely printed, but of all the ones listed here, this is perhaps the most life changing for me because it really made me aware of how much Jennifer loves me, and how many good friends I have, regardless of whether they participated in the making of this book or not (a couple of my best friends were not involved, but I don’t love them any less). I’ve had some dark moments since I got this book on my 45th birthday, but they’ve been lightened because I know now, for sure, that there are people I can go to when I need to.

And now I tag YOU! What are ten books that have changed your life?


‘Tis the season for (literary) Holidailies

You should read this book

Cover of 'Nobody Gets the Girl' by James Maxey


I’m just taking a brief break from work to recommend to you all, in the strongest possible terms, that you read Nobody Gets the Girl by James Maxey. It’s a fine little example of the superhero genre in novel form, with some brilliantly funny writing and some nicely poignant moments. While not the most "important" work of fiction out there, it’s definitely enjoyable, and well worth your time and attention.

Okay, now back to work for me.

Dirt in the Conversation Pit

I remember through many of my jobs with UC Davis, with Little Engine and with Benthic Creatures, fantasizing about having some sort of management position. Not that I really ever wanted one. I’ve always known that it would be way too much responsibility, and a level of technical and people skills that I don’t really have.

And yet, somehow, here I am, pretty much taking on the job of managing this transition from our department’s old platform to the new one. I hadn’t really planned on it working out this way, and I don’t think my boss was planning on it either. But apparently I’m the only one in the department with any sort of experience in doing a major platform upgrade like this — I was a small part of this sort of thing about three years ago, but I guess I did learn a few things. I find myself talking to the developers and coordinating with them on pieces of our software as they go up to the new production server; I talk to the network engineer to make sure our new servers are set for the task; I talk to the course developers to make sure the content is up to snuff; and I talk to the DBA to make sure the database is ready to go. And somehow it’s my job to coordinate all of these things and make it all happen. I think my boss likes it because I have been making recommendations that he knows make sense (because he’s been planning on some of them himself). I want a middle tier server for QA purposes, for example. I want a better process for coordinating software and content changes. And so on.

And moving the website to a new platform is just one step of the process. In a couple of weeks we’re going to change our entire database, and that will probably entail another round of coding changes, server setups, and so on. And I already have in mind a set of recommendations for changing the QA process for the next time around. But all in all, the weird thing is that I never planned on this. When I took this temp job, I had figured on yet another clerical job, where I’d take minutes at meetings and make appointments for managers. I wasn’t expecting something like this. And I’m not at all qualified for this job; if I had to apply for it, there’s no way I’d get it.

Life is weird.

Anyway, for library school, I’m now taking a class in resources for children ages 6 to 12. Part of the point of this class is learning how to write good book reviews which will server as solid purchasing recommendations for the children’s section of a library; and at this point I’ve read something like two dozen books for children. Because I’ve sped through them all so quickly, I haven’t bothered updating my library with the books as I read them, though I’m building a readers’ advisory notebook as part of this class — and when I’m done with that (which will end up being a pre-alpha version of Lucien), I’ll ost the URL publically for the world to peruse. For now, I’d recommend a few titles for your perusal:

The Ashwater Experiment
by Amy Goldman Koss: A neat story about a girl who decides that she really is the only real human being in the world, but who gradually learns that other people are real and not just stock characters in the drama of her life. A good book about loneliness, friendship, and saying goodbye.



The Giver
by Lois Lowry: A young boy takes on the most important role in his futuristic community: the Receiver of Memories. This book has been controversial for its examination of ethics and some issues that could be tough for younger children to come to terms with. While it may be challenging for some readers because of its philosophical bent, it certainly is not inappropriate for them.



by Lois Sachar: Against an almost surreal backdrop involving a bizarre penitentiary for boys and a complex history, a young boy comes to terms with himself and with his family’s past. Highly recommended.




This weekend Jennifer and I will be toting many, many pounds of dirt to fill up the conversation pit that we built a couple of weeks ago. For some strange reason, I’m not actually looking forward to this task all that much. Oh, sure, it will be nice to have it finished so we can plant things in the planter, but the idea of lugging many wheelbarrows full of dirt in the sun… strangely, that doesn’t hold a lot of appeal to me.

So much for the dirt from the conversation pit. Okay, it wasn’t that clever a title after all.

The Hardest Cut

Jennifer dared me to participate in National Novel Writing Month, and, so, of course I signed up. Producing fifty thousand words in thirty days? What the heck? I dug out some notes on an old novel that I was planning on writing about three years ago and began to outline, but at the last minute — about 11:45 on October 31, to be exact — I decided to write something completely different instead. So I’ll be writing the novel Unfallen, which is based on a role-playing game that I ran a couple of years ago. It was one of the players from that game who suggested it. "Because I really want to know if I was my own evil twin or not!" she said.

So on Thursday I sat down and started writing Chapter One. This morning I finished it and began writing Chapter Two. So far I have about 4,000 words written. I’m almost 10% done!

The scary thing, though, is going through my old notes from the game and realizing that there’s no way I can possibly include everything that I want to in just fifty thousand words. The plot that I had developed for the game is marvelously complex, spanning several centuries and continents and with as many twists and turns as I could possibly devise (of course, I was creating the plotline for five players, and I have always had a policy when running role-playing games that every player deserves to be screwed with as much as possible). Now that I’m writing the thing up as a novel, I’m discovering that I can’t make the plot nearly as complicated and intricate as I really want to. I have to cut a lot out, and while I know it will actually be a better novel for the reduced intricacy, it still hurts. It’s like giving up your children for medical experimentation or something.

Overall, though, NaNoWriMo has been a lot of fun. So far, at least. Now I have an excuse to actually stay up late, drinking coffee until almost midnight. And my wife — on the principle of "darers go first" — is doing it with me. I’ve read chapter one of her novel, and I think it’s quite good.

On another note, I just finished reading a horror novel called Black Dawn by D. W. Stern. My tastes in general do run towards the apocalyptic, and this novel is about as apocalyptic as they come. I admit that I was disappointed in the ending; there are times when I think a novelist just gets tired of writing something, and winds up rushing the ending. Loose ends get left untied, and the narrative pace gets choppy. There were about twenty pages left to the end, and none of the major plotlines had been resolved; I had determined that this book was part one of a series, even though there was no advertising to that effect on the cover or in the summary; and, yet, the author ended the novel with no room for sequel.

On the other hand, it was a pretty well-written novel, and I admire the author for having the guts to kill off major characters before the novel is even halfway done. Many writers are reluctant to do that.

I admit that I was reluctant to read an apocalyptic novel, with the world in the state that it is currently in. Of course, I know that we’re not facing the End of the World, but anyone who knows me will attest that I’ve been a worrier since childhood (in fact, I remember going into deep denial when I was ten or so, refusing to accept that there might be a black hole at the center of our galaxy — I actually had nightmares about that). But Black Dawn was just too intriguing for me to pass up. I’m glad I read it; it wasn’t a spectacular book, but it was decent enough.

Being unemployed is a nice feeling right now. I have plenty of productive things to do while I look for a new job: plenty of reading to catch up on, plenty of writing, plenty of learning. I’m enjoying participating in the stream sampling field research. I’ve got three major creative projects going on at the moment — Unfallen, my novel for NaNoWriMo; Worlds’ End, a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that I’ll eventually be running; and Outer Darkness, a science fiction/horror role-playing game that I’ve been developing with Evilpheemy for a couple of years now.

And, of course, when I get a new job, something will have to be dropped from my list of things to do. Will it be the writing? The reading? The field research? Just like the intricacies of my novel’s plot, something will have to be cut. I only hope that my new job will be worth it.


There are books, and then there are Books. This evening I pulled down the book of photographs I took while I was wandering around Ireland and the United Kingdom a few months ago, and felt nostalgic. I desperately want to go again, soon, see the sights, talk to the people, breathe in the air and enjoy the scenery. Fortunately, Jennifer and I are planning on going again in May 2002 for our "real" honeymoon, so I get to look forward to that. Because my photo album awakens these memories and feelings in me, I think of it as a Book.

I’ve been listening to Wuthering Heights on CD in my car during my 2 hour commute back and forth to work. Today, I asked my mom, a former English major, whether she had ever read that book. "Not recently," she replied. I asked her, "Is there any reason why Wuthering Heights shouldn’t be subtitled, ‘How a bunch of whining, self-centered drama queens screwed up their lives and refused to take responsibility for any of it’?" She said, "No." Because Wuthering Heights has been a source of irritation and not very enjoyable (I think that the only character I like is the narrator, Mr. Lockwood, and possibly the housekeeper Ellen Dean), I think of it as a book, not a Book. I know that Wuthering Heights has, for some reason, become widely known as a Powerful Work of Literature, but, God’s Truth, I have no idea why. I think that it hits pretty close to home for me: I know too many people who remind me of those self-centered, whining drama queens. Wuthering Heights is just a book.

Nothing very much of interest has been going on around here. Jennifer has her new job, which she starts in about ten days. I started up in the exercise program again and I can already see a difference in my blood pressure and my heart rate. Last weekend Jennifer and I spent the weekend at a ranch in Napa that we own a share in. I’ve been working on a pretty interesting project at work, studying math, getting ready to start taking math classes again at a community college in the area in a couple of months, and just generally living. We saw Hearts in Atlantis, which thoroughly emasculated the story as it was written by Stephen King (the film probably stood well enough on its own merits but I didn’t care for it). Today my parents came up to visit from the South Bay, since my little sister wanted to go to the Renaissance Faire, and my parents didn’t. So Jennifer and I had lunch with them and then we went and saw Serendipity, an old-style romantic comedy with John Cusack which I thought was funny and charming.

This evening Jennifer and I stopped at CompUSA and purchased a new scanner and dropped off her computer for upgrades and repairs. We also picked up some memory to install in Lucien, our server. I spent the evening installing the scanner on Mossroot (my own desktop computer) and scanning in pictures from my trip — soon I’ll put some of those pictures on line and maybe even make a special section on my website for the details of that trip. I’ve also begun an upgrade to a group of pages in the wesite that I share with Jennifer, and did some reading (Stone of Farewell, a Book by Tad Williams).

Life keeps on keeping on. While I spend a rather sedentary and happy afternoon and evening with my parents and my wife, the world continues to turn. While I was in Ireland I was constantly struck by the sense of history that permeates everything. Jennifer and I talked this evening about possibly going out to New York to see the devastation first hand and to somehow make it "real" instead of images we see on television and on our computer monitors, and I was struck by a sense of space. The Wondering Jew writes a poignant reflection of some of the contemporaries of his youth and I think about my own contemporaries, and about how, while I write software and read fantasy novels and plan for my return to graduate school, people clear rubble and search for remains in New York.

And then my mind wanders back to Wuthering Heights, and about how Heathcliff and Cathy, Edgar, Isabel, et. al., spent their lives isolated and removed from the world in Wuthering Heights, caught up in their own minor dramas and unable to expand their own vision to see the suffering that they were causing in others. I can only hope that my own perspective is a bit broader than that.

On another note, I’ve actually been asked for a notify list! I hadn’t pondered one before, figuring that the one or two of you who make up my regular reader base would just wander by whenever you felt the urge to do so. But I couldn’t resist to tug on my ego, so I’ve created a notify list. If you’d like to sign up, there’s a yellow box in the left column of this page where you can enter your e-mail address and click "Sign Up", and let Yahoo! take care of the rest.