Marcia's Suggested Reading List

  • "Miss Manners' Guide To Excruciatingly Correct Behavior", Judith Martin

    This book should have been subtitled "Everything you ever wanted to know about etiquette but were too afraid of being bored by to ask". For those of you who are not familiar with Miss Manners, her real name is Judith Martin, and she writes a syndicated column on manners, etiquette, and correct behavior. However, she doesn't focus exclusively on the "what to do" aspect, but also the "why".

    In this book, she mixes both essay and "question and answer" format to answer many of the most common etiquette questions, including the classic "What fork do I use?". Her dry wit and down to earth, practical approach to most problems makes the book a delightful read, and you'll learn more about why you should bother to acquire some manners than you ever thought possible.

    The size of the book may be daunting at first, but it is designed so that you can sit down and read a few pages or several chapters at a time. This book should be required reading of every human being, if for no other reason than it's a guide to the unspoken mores of the culture we live in.

  • The Pern Series of Books, Anne McCaffrey

    Dragonflight, Dragonquest, The White Dragon, (The Dragonriders of Pern series) Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums (The Harper Hall Trilogy)
    other books as follows

    I have to recommend these books because they were, directly, what brought me to TIM and indirectly, changed my life forever. I'm focusing only on the first two trilogies because they are, in my opinion, the very best of the lot.

    Pern is a low tech world, to which humans migrated after a great war. Once there, they discovered two important things: a life form that looked like a little dragon could communicate empathically, and thread, which fell from the sky and devoured anything organic. They bred the dragonets into huge, fire breathing dragons to battle the thread before it could get to the ground.

    Dragonflight starts 400 years after the last thread fell, when most Pernese had begun to believe that thread no longer existed. It tells the tale of Lessa and F'lar, dragonriders who believed that the thread was coming again, and of their quest to protect their planet. The other books deal with the social fall out of saving the planet.

    Ms. McCaffrey recommends that you read the books in the order they were written, rather than the chronological order in which they occur, and I concur wholeheartedly. Many of the events in the books written later just don't hold the same significance if you haven't read the earlier books.

    There is also a more fundamental reason to read the books in the order written: the earlier books are FAR superior to the later ones. If you read them in chronological order, you might give up on the series before you get to the engrossing ones. This is why I have only listed the first 6 books in this review; after these, you read at your own risk.

  • An Incomplete Education, Judy Jones and William Wilson

    So you say you never took Art History in College? You forgot the difference between Keats and Shelley? You're not sure where they're going when they go for a walk on the fen along the rill? Fear not! An Incomplete Education will complete your education quickly and painlessly, and soon you'll be able to chat at cocktail parties with the best of them.

    The authors devote a chapter to each of number of major areas, including Art History, Philosophy, English Literature, Film and World Cultures. Each chapter is further broken down into short sections, covering the highlights, pinpointing major differences between movements, and using humor and dry wit liberally. The book is richly illustrated, with pictures of people, places, and things.

    One of my favorite chapters is the one on World Cultures, where information on most of the world's most populous countries is written as a guide of "what you need to know if you were to date someone from this country".

    If I could recommend one book that would help you with Friday Night Trivia, this is it. Again, it's also organized so you don't have to sit down and plow through a chapter - you can read short sections, or enjoy it at length. I've given this book as a gift more than any other, and everyone I know has enjoyed it thoroughly. And who knows - if you're not careful, you might learn something.

  • The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, Good Housekeeping

    If you've never cooked before, this book is the place to start. Not only is it a good basic cookbook, with most of the most common recipes, it is *illustrated*. This means you don't have to guess how the dish is supposed to look; there's a color picture of what you're supposed to end up with. You don't have to guess what "dice" looks like - they have a picture. It's so much easier to do the right thing when you know what the right thing is.

    Others have faulted this book for not being as "complete" as "The Joy of Cooking", or as heavy on the technique as say, "Larousse Gastronomique". But a beginning cook doesn't need 12 recipes for fudge sauce or need to know the chemistry behind the sauces. They need straightforward recipes and instructions that taste good, and enough support so they have a chance of making the dish. The Illustrated Cookbook provides that.

    This is the book I started cooking from. The first thing I made from it was the cream puffs, because I had been told that they were difficult and impossible. All I did was follow the instructions in the book, and the results looked as if they were purchased from the bakery. (And they tasted marvelous.) I still use their potato pancake recipe, among others.

  • The Phony Gourmet, Pam Young and Peggy Jones

    OK, so you don't have the time to read The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, and you want quick and impressive food, and you don't care what shortcuts you take. Here's the book for you.

    The Phony Gourmet is all about using convenience foods, take out, and other products to create impressive dishes with a minimum of effort. For example, several dishes call for a frozen pizza turned upside down to make a top crust for a dish. There are instructions for pounding veal scallops by running over them with a car.

    It's a funny, fast read, and the recipes I've tried are remarkably good. It's not a basic cookbook, but if you collect odd cookbooks, or just like to laugh while you cook, it's recommended.

  • The First Wives Club, Olivia Goldsmith

    When I'm on airplanes, I like to read books that are engrossing enough to make me forget how terminally dull flying really is, but not requiring the kind of concentration that I am simply not capable of on a flight. Olivia Goldsmith's books fit the bill admirably.

    If you've seen the movie of The First Wives Club, you may still want to read the book, because as far as I can tell, the only things that the movie and the book have in common are the title and the names of the main characters. The plot is completely different, including the motivation for the action and the results.

    The unexpected suicide of Cynthia Griffin spurs her friends into examining their lives, and taking action against the men who discarded them. The layers of their plan for justice, the characters, the unexpected setbacks, all make for a page turner, with a very satisfying conclusion.

    Also recommended are several other of Olivia Goldsmith's novels: "Flavor of the Month" and "The Bestseller". Again, these books are not timeless literature, but good, fun, entertaining novels that make you feel like you got your money's worth out of them. Sometimes, that's exactly what you're in the mood for.

  • Why Don't You Have Kids? - Leslie Lafayette

    Leslie Lafayette tackles one of the most socially unacceptable topics in today's society: the choice and the desire NOT to have children. For many people, having children isn't a choice, it's a given, and this book not only seeks to dispel that myth, but also examines why people make this choice.

    Using many survey results and personal stories, including some from those who did choose to become parents, Ms. Lafayette covers the benefits and potential drawbacks of childfreeness, examines the reactions to such choices, and makes a number of recommendations to those who will make such a choice.

    I strongly recommend this book to those who have chosen to have children and to those who have chosen to remain childfree. It is a look at a growing minority, and is sure to provide some new data.

  • The Fionavar Tapestry - Guy Gavriel Kay

    The Summer Tree
    The Wandering Fire
    The Darkest Road

    The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy is high fantasy of the highest order. The tapestry, which affects all worlds, is being unraveled by the purest evil, which must be stopped by the forces of good. Five college students from our own universe are transported to theirs, to wage battle alongside the mages and warriors and kings and peasants in a pseudo-medieval setting.

    Guy Gavriel Kay borrows from various mythologies, including heavily from Arthurian, but puts it together in an original and engrossing form. The characters are rich and multi-layered, grow as they encounter difficulties, and as it is in real life, not everyone has a happy ending.

    These books are definitely aimed at adults - there are a few very disturbing scenes involving rape and murder. However, they are not gratuitous, since the outcomes of these events directly influences the direction of the plot.

  • The Forever War, Joe Haldeman

    The Forever War addresses one of the nagging questions of physics vs. science fiction: how can you effectively fight an interstellar war given the effects of time dilation near the speed of light? What happens to soldiers who were transported out to face the alien enemy, only to return home to a planet which has aged far rapidly than they have?

    The story takes place over several thousand years "normal time", which is only several tours of duty for William Mandella. You see the bits and pieces of society through this stranger's eyes, and follow his reactions and his carrying out of his duty, especially through the changes in warfare technology over the centuries.

  • Keeper of the Light, Diane Chamberlain

    This is an odd little book. Technically, it's a romance, and can be found in that section of the bookstore. But surprisingly, it went far deeper than that, with fascinating characters that were not stereotypes, and an actual plot :-).

    Four people are part of a committee trying to save a fictional lighthouse on North Carolina's outer banks which is threatened by erosion from the sea. Olivia, a doctor, her husband, and Annie, a local volunteer/housewife, and her husband Paul, a veterinarian. When Annie is unexpectedly killed, her death sparks a series of events which surround the others and the lighthouse and its keeper. The book explores how they come to terms with Annie's death, the secrets it reveals, and their own lives. When all is said and done, there are no good guys, or bad guys, just simply people doing the best they can with what they know.

    There is romance in the book, but more than that, there are four fascinating characters. Watching them interact is what hooks you on this book, and draws you into their lives and their world. It's not a book just for women - one man I know who thinks romances stink started reading it, and could not put it down. As he put it: "This is supposed to be a tawdry romance! What are they doing with real characters and plot?!?"

  • Finder - Emma Bull

    Finder is set against the Bordertown world, the city that arose along the border of Faerie and human lands. Populated by both Faerie and humans, it tends to attract the disaffected of both societies. Magic meets reality there, and technology doesn't quite work as expected.

    Finder is about Orient, a young human male who dropped out of human society, and who was born with a nagging ability to find lost things. He is drawn into what passes for law enforcement in Bordertown when a new and extremely dangerous drug surfaces among the inhabitants, and they need to find where and what it is before there are more deaths.

    As expected, the world of Bordertown is rough, dark, and angst-filled. It's an underground world where there is no hope for advancement. Even though angst makes me itch, Emma Bull writes a wonderful story filled with real people (and real elves and werewolves), and I enjoyed it a great deal.

    There are a number of other books written in this setting, including Elsewhere by Will Shetterly, and several collections of short stories edited by Terri Windling. The other books and stories vary in quality, but Emma Bull is one of the better writers of modern fantasy. Also, if you like Emma Bull's writing, you'll probably enjoy " War for the Oaks", another contemporary fantasy set in the rock clubs of Minneapolis.

  • Bimbos of the Death Sun - Sharyn McCrumb.

    If you're looking for timeless literature with universal themes and a meaning which will resonate in your soul, this ain't it. If, however, you've ever been to a science fiction convention, and enjoy satire and parody, this is your book.

    The plot is very simplistic: at Rubicon, a fictional science fiction and fantasy convention, a famous author is murdered. Whodunit? However, the plot is not the reason to read this book - the fun is in poking fun at big name fans, the costume contest where the prize goes to the contestant with the biggest cleavage, the dead on characterization (and characters) of role playing gamers, and all the typical goings on at a typical science fiction convention. These are all viewed through the eyes of Jay Omega, a first time science fiction novelist and con newbie.

    When I started to read this book, I laughed so hard I cried. Ms. McCrumb has obviously been to a number of science fiction conventions, and knows the people who habituate them. There is a sequel to this book, "Zombies of the Gene Pool", but it's nowhere near as good or as funny.

  • Love Ain't Nothing But Sex Misspelled - Harlan Ellison

    Harlan Ellison is science fiction's original angry young man (never mind that he's well over 50 by now). He's written novels, short stories, essays, reviews, and movie and television scripts. He knows pain and he knows hate, and he writes about them so that you know, too.

    Love Ain't Nothing But Sex Misspelled is my favorite collection of his short stories. Ellison explores the theme of love, but not just romantic love - love in all its forms. But if you're expecting sweet romance, well, you haven't read Harlan Ellison stories before.

    These stories are definitely for adults - not so much because of the language or the scenes written into them, but because of the way the strip away the surface and get to the meat of things, even when it's not pretty. Especially when it's not pretty. If you're having a poor ego day, it's not the time to read Harlan Ellison - these stories will kick you where it hurts most and keep kicking, all the while grabbing your attention so that you can't stop reading, and making you think about things you'd rather not. Call them tough love.

    My favorite story of the lot is "Mona at her Windows". It's one of the shortest of the lot, but paints a clear picture in garish shades of what it's like to retreat from the world.

  • Time Enough For Love - Robert Heinlein

    I recommend this book with mixed emotions - on the one hand, I basically disagree with Heinlein's politics, and find him tedious at best when he starts talking about them. On the other hand, when he shuts up about politics and starts telling stories, there is no one better. Fortunately, this book is longer on the stories than the politics.

    Lazarus Long is the oldest man alive; he's come home to die, choosing not to be rejuvenated again. The powers that be decide that he and his wisdom are too valuable to lose, and bring him back from the edge of death. Most of the book concerns the stories he tells of his past lives during his recovery, then goes on to depict how he regains his interest in life.

    It's the stories that are the strongest part of the book - each one could be a book itself, or be told around a campfire at night. The Notebooks of Lazarus Long are eminently quotable, found in .signatures all over the net. It's clear, entertaining writing, wonderful for people who believe that plot and story are not optional in a novel.