I’m a lifelong resident of Seattle. I married my Russia-born-America-raised high school sweetheart, and we have two daughters, ages 4 and 1.
I like coffee shops, bookstores, dancing in my living room and singing in my car. The opening scene of Up always makes me cry. The Three Amigos always makes me laugh. Fashion magazines, croissants, and long, long baths are my guilty pleasures. They might occur separately or together. I prefer boxing classes to yoga, and I get some of my best ideas when I’m running. I loved school and spent more time than one really should getting a business degree in marketing and a master’s in art history. In an ideal world I’d go to bed at 2am and wake up at 10am. I’ve never been an early bird, and I feel strongly that alarm clocks kill dreams.
All that said, one of the best ways to get to know someone is to take a glimpse at their bookshelf. If they don’t have one, proceed with caution. Here are some of the books that have earned a permanent spot on mine.
The book that started it all. This tale of a bored young boy who uses his imagination to escape into a world of fantasy first sparked my love of the genre. And Norton Juster’s clever use of common idioms as names for places and characters fueled an early love of the power and potential of language. Simple, powerful, perfect; it’s a book that’s just as relevant to me now as it was the day I first read it.
Halloween is my favorite day of the year. I think it’s my love of fantasy and of the interplay between the magical and the real. There is perhaps no other book that captures the spirit of the day better than Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree. His talent for setting a mood, evoking a place and time, is clearly on display. In the slim novel the promise and the threat of Halloween is brought to life in words and phrases so carefully chosen you can feel the story in your bones as it dredges up recollections of autumns long since passed. I reread it every October 31st.
Neil Gaiman is my favorite author, and this is my favorite book. To me, Neverwhere is a bit like a grown-up version of The Phantom Tollbooth. A young man sleepwalking through a humdrum existence is suddenly thrust into the dangerous and dazzling world of London below. I first came across Gaiman and the book in college at a time when it was good to know that you could be an adult but still maintain your sense of wonder about the world. And Gaiman is the quintessential storyteller, the kind of person you’d want around a campfire, late at night and deep in the woods.
My tastes skew a little towards the romantic and a little towards the gothic. I like beautifully dark things, things with deep souls that have sparkling heights and spooky little nooks and crannies begging to be explored. I think that’s why I love Paris. Montmartre in particular. There’s something about the city that speaks to me, and I’m obviously not alone. I love Hemingway’s portrait of the city in this book. A Moveable Feast is essentially a memoir, but the thing in it that feels most alive to me is the city itself, carefully rendered in the author’s spare style that I so greatly admire.
Paris isn’t the only city I love. New York is another one of those places that feels good for my soul too. There’s no other place that radiates with quite the same energy and possibility. Helene Wecker’s book The Golem and the Jinni takes three of my favorite things, New York City, the turn of the twentieth century, and fantastical creatures, and crafts a masterful story around them. Her writing is an inspiration. Clear yet colorful, she doesn’t get bogged down in descriptions or exposition. Her characters are alive in their complexities, and 1899 New York fascinates with its vibrant highs and squalid lows. I want more.
Art history is one of those degrees that gets made fun of a lot. People imagine it to be hopelessly academic, and rather snobbish. And maybe it is, but I love it anyway. I quit a job in advertising to go back to school in art history because it felt like a missed opportunity. Writing about art is the best. You’re looking at a beautiful object, and you’re free to be descriptive, and the gods know I have an unhealthy passion for adjectives. The Judgment of Paris is a fabulous book about an incomparable time in art history. The end of the 19th century in the City of Lights was my focus in school and this book explains why.
I am an introvert. For awhile I thought this also made me a misanthrope, but turns out I like people fine I just have a finite amount of energy to spend on them. I have a rich interior life and have absolutely no problem being by myself. In fact I actually need to spend time alone to recharge. Our society tends to disparage introverts labeling them as shy, neurotic and antisocial. But Susan Cain’s book Quiet does away with all that. It’s an ode to the introverted, revealing our strengths and making a case, by means of thorough research and anecdotal evidence that quiet people matter.
“You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.” That’s the central message in Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity. It’s also a sentiment that speaks to me as someone who holds autonomy to be one of my core personal values. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a contrarian. I like to go my own way. Guillebeau’s book reveals why that’s a good thing. It’s a manifesto for a different more authentic way of life.
I struggle with perfectionism. It’s a fruitless quest, to want everything I do or write to be flawless. That’s not how creativity works. I know this but still it haunts my work occasionally. A large part of striving to be perfect is a fear of being vulnerable. Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly is a game changer for people like me. She reminds us, by means of thorough research and clear prose, that being vulnerable is not a weakness but an important means of embracing life whole-heartedly. It’s profound encouragement to live and create not with the burden of expectations, but by staying true to oneself.
When an author like Stephen King writes a book about writing, those interested in perfecting the craft should sit up and listen. This book is a memoir and workshop in one, concisely and conversationally written, it doesn’t make the art of storytelling some complicated process or metaphysical exercise. Not the least bit didactic, King conveys his message with the same unaffected candor that make his works of fiction so compelling. In a word, it’s inspirational.