Holly Lisle requests three favorites each, novels and nonfiction

Holly Lisle has a great site for her own work that also includes generous resources for other writers. She’s just started a newsletter that people interested in writing will likely find worth signing up for.

The newsletter that dropped into my e-mail box not long ago contained a request: "Today or tomorrow, send me a list of your three favorite novels (any genre, any time period), and three nonfiction books you’ve found  indispensable in your own writing." She’s going to compile what will undoubtedly be an idiosyncratic list from the suggestions of her newsletter’s readers (I suspect we’re a varied crew) and will send it out on Friday.

My first response: **ONLY THREE OF EACH???**

And then I realized the only way I could manage to respond was by not thinking about it for more than ten seconds.

Here’s the quick list I came up with, top of the head, no sustained thought:


  1. Clementine
    , by Sara Pennypacker: I read this short book this weekend. My daughter handed it to me. It’s utterly wonderful. Clementine (third grade) has difficulty not paying attention to things, and this keeps her running at cross purposes to what other people think she should be doing.

  2. The Song of
    the Lark
    , by Willa Cather: A long-time favorite that I need to re-read before too long . . . along with all three volumes of Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset (I have a different translation than I read the first time; Priscilla Gibson-Roberts recommended this more recent English setting of the epic and it’s on the shelf but I haven’t had an opportunity yet to fall into its world; originally published 1920 to 1922).

  3. Pocketful of Names
    , by Joe Coomer: One of those novels that started well and continued to grow on me as I progressed through it. I think I’ve already posted about it here.

  4. Animal Dreams
    , by Barbara Kingsolver: My favorite Kingsolver novel. The political and ecological strands seem to be handled more gently than in some of her other works: it seems to me to be more of a personal narrative ("personal" meaning "to the characters," not necessarily to the novelist . . . I judge novels on their own terms, not as reflections of their writers). I’m also very fond of her book of essays, High Tide in Tucson. I’m looking forward to reading Small Wonder, and her new title, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I’m always behind on my reading, even when I limit my survey to the most appealing books.

When I went to the bookshelves in the garage to pull out Cather and Undset (both sets), I see that another book followed me in and insisted on being in the photo: The Silver Cloud Cafe, by Alfredo Vea, Jr.



  1. The Man Who Walked through Time
    , by Colin Fletcher: Fletcher walked through the Grand Canyon, observing and thinking as he went.

  2. Streets for People: A Primer for Americans
    , by Bernard Rudofsky: My large-format paperback copy . . . not mass market . . . cost $4.95 NEW. Rudofsky’s Architecture without Architects is another favorite, but it’s in the garage and Streets for People happened to be on a shelf in the house.

  3. Japanese Pilgrimage
    , by Oliver Statler: I detect a walking theme in the selections so far. This is about the Shikoku Pilgrimage in Japan. Statler’s book came off the shelf from its position next to Ian Reader’s Making Pilgrimages: Meaning and Practice in Shikoku.

  4. Sheep and Man
    , by M. L. Ryder: Admittedly, I haven’t read this whole book yet because it’s more than 800 pages and I’ve been limited to interlibrary loan access until very recently, when it was finally brought back into print . . . not cheap, but it was completely unaffordable when it was out of print and I’ve been following the work around for several decades so I am delighted to finally have my own copy. Sample sentence-and-a-half: "My own view is that, though Colchis was known for gold and linen and not for wool, the two theories are not mutually exclusive. A fine-woolled fleece would be more efficient at collecting gold particles than a coarse one. . . . " (p. 147).
  5. The Ashley Book of Knots, by Clifford Ashley. . . .
  6. Looking for America: A Writer’s Odyssey, by Richard Rhodes: This one jumped off the shelf while I was looking for Fletcher. . . .


Okay, so I overshot. But considering the narrowness of the target, not by much! There are so many more. And there’s no way to put them in order, these or the others who would be clamoring for inclusion if I’d let myself think about this question for an instant longer.

I only wish I had enough bookshelves. I have quite a few, but nowhere near enough to keep my books in the order that I’d like to have them in.

Here’s a few of the knitting and spinning books. These are handy because I use them a lot in the publishing work. My textile library took a beating in the 1997 flood we had here, in which I lost a thousand books . . . all topics, but the textile sections were especially hard hit. Having lost so many makes me even more grateful when I pull an old friend like Rudofsky or the old Cather shown above from a shelf.


I wish everything else in my library was set up like this: organized by topic and then alphabetically by author! And I wish all my books were in the house, where I could use them easily, in warmth, light, and convenience. I know it’s possible to have my books that way, because in most of my past homes I’ve figured out how to arrange them. Not yet in this house, though.

It’s good to have dreams. It’s even better to have some time for reading.


3 thoughts on “Holly Lisle requests three favorites each, novels and nonfiction”

  1. One can never have enough books. I think limiting a favorites list to three is ridiculous. I wouldn’t even bother trying to respond. Honestly, doesn’t that depend on the day!? We are trying to weed out books we don’t need and it is difficult. That said, so far we have filled most of a large cardboard box. Considering the rate at which we buy books? We need the overflow to go back into circulation, too!

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