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Hard to Choose – My Favorite Books

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Welcome to Book Week! It seems as if we’ve had two theme weeks in a row, but that’s what happens when bros have like-minds. This theme week is special. I love books. I love to read. Plays, non-fiction, short stories, fiction, children’s books, adult books, how-to books, the back of the shampoo bottle. Seriously. I will read it all, and I will enjoy it. When I have time, that is. Recently, the only books I’ve been “reading” are my Praxis study guides. Yikes.

I struggled with my post for this week. Why is that so, if I love reading so much? I just couldn’t nail what I wanted to write about. There are too many feelings in my soul to accurately put it all down in arbitrary words on our little blog. I thought I knew which book I wanted to write about, but it turns out that I’m not ready to spill my soul about my favorite, favorite, singular (that is, not a book in a series) book yet. The time will come, but not yet.

My bookshelves, complete with all of my spooky and random knick knacks. Not my only bookshelves, though, mind you. I have more.

My bookshelves, complete with all of my spooky and random knick knacks, and cat stuff. Not my only bookshelves, though, mind you. I have more.

So, instead, here is a (very abbreviated) list of my all time favorites, from children’s books, to non-fiction. This is by no means a complete list, either. But I can’t list every book that I’ve loved, now can I? We’d be here for a long time. It’s kind of in “favorite” order, but it’s too hard to rank some of these.

 

With all of my other education/work books. Check out my Backstage Handbook, too!

With all of my other education/work books. Check out my Backstage Handbook, too!

6/7. Fashions in Makeup and Stage Makeup, by Richard Corson

I’m starting off the list with two non-fiction books, which get precedence on my shelf and in my life. I’m putting two in one here because I tend to use these books together. In being a costume designer, it is also usually my job to do hair and makeup for my shows, or at least help student designers understand the proper technical and historical considerations for their makeup designs.

These are like my bibles. Fashions in Makeup is a large, complete history of makeup design, techniques, and cosmetic products from ancient to modern times. You can see why this may come in handy for a designer who loves historical research, yes? It’s also just fascinating to read and understand where makeup artistry came from, especially since it is a large part of my career path.

Stage Makeup is the bible of techniques and tips for creating the makeups necessary for stage. It includes everything from a basic stage face to prosthetics. It’s a must have. It came with me to college, it came with me to my apartment, and now it sits proudly on my bookshelf. They are both very pricey, and Fashions in Makeup was hard to find at the time, but for anyone who is serious about makeup, they are worth it.

 

IMG_41415. How I Learned to Drive, by Paula Vogel

In college, How I Learned to Drive absolutely changed how I read and envisioned plays. It’s not the world’s happiest play. L’il Bit is sexually abused by her uncle for the majority of the play, until she finally is able to take control and sever all ties between them, ending their faux relationship.

How could I possibly like this? Well, I’m not the only one. Vogel won a Pulitzer for her work.

I often have trouble reading plays, as I have an easier time understanding the nuances when I’m watching the play up on its feet. This is probably because when I read I have so many images forming in my head, and the nature of plays doesn’t always allow for detailed images in one’s mind. However, the stage directions and narrations included in Vogel’s writing, as well as the whole learning to drive metaphor, have turned it into not only a play, but a piece of literature. However, it also appeals to my creative visions as a director. The props and set are spare, a lot is or can be mimed, and the actors do a lot of “facing out”, instead of interacting directly with each other. This sort of surreal feeling helps me not fall too deeply into the sadness and pain of L’il Bit’s family.

This is one that I frequently reach for when I want to reread something that is quick, but not devoid of content or emotion.

 

4. The Wicked series, by Gregory Maguire

Like most girls who are into musicals and tried to grow into their awkward skin around 2003, I fell in love with the musical Wicked. Of course, being a super-fan and a bookworm, I had to go pick up the novel, which inspired the Broadway phenomenon. Wicked opened the door to more of Maguire’s books, and inspired a new love affair for me. Wicked is a parallel-novel, or a story that is retold from a different perspective. In this case, the story of The Wizard of Oz is smartly told from the perspective of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, long before Dorothy and Toto make an appearance. Maguire has both enhanced and created a much deeper world than the one most fans of The Wizard of Oz have come to know. It’s genius.

My Gregory Maguire books. Lahv

My Gregory Maguire books. Lahv

When I was younger, my mother would read fairy tales and fables to me almost every night. I still love those tales and I even have lesson plans about fairy tales. As an adult, since reading Wicked, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (Maguire’s Cinderella story), and Mirror Mirror (Snow White), I have been very keen on retellings and parallel-novels. I even took a class on fairy tale retellings when I was in college! I love to see stories from a new perspective, and The Wizard of Oz will definitely never be the same to me, thanks to Maguire.

I definitely connected with Elphaba back then, being super awk and all, but I connect with her even more as an adult. Sometimes, you want to stand up for what you believe is right, and in the process, everything backfires. I get that, Fabala, I get it. Been there. Sometimes, even though you’ve grown up and become wiser, you still feel like you stick out for all of the wrong reasons, just like the green girl.

 

Bonus Points because the cover of A Dirty Job is glow in the dark. That's B.A.

Bonus Points because the cover of A Dirty Job is glow in the dark. That’s B.A.

3. Anything by Christopher Moore

Nope, I can’t even choose just one book by this hilarious author to put on the list. Moore’s novels are clever, fantasyish, other-worldly novels that are always hilarious. I have never read books before that practically give me broken blood vessels on my face because I’m trying so damn hard not to burst out laughing in the random places where I read my books. Seriously. I just can’t start cackling in the car, the library, or the doctor’s office like I want to when I read his books. Yes I bring books to the doctor’s office. Sometimes there is a very long wait. Judge me.

My favorites include A Dirty Job, a fun way to look at being Death (Yes, the main character is essentially Death, and it’s hysterical), and the Bloodsucking Fiends trilogy, which is really how all of these stupid, recent vampire stories should be done.

I haven’t read it yet, but Fool is another parallel-novel, telling Shakespeare’s King Lear from the perspective of the Fool. I own it, I just haven’t gotten there yet.

 

Look at this lovely library copy of my favorite book. I let someone borrow my copy. My heart is broken.

Look at this lovely library copy of my favorite book. I let someone borrow my copy. My heart is broken.

2. Big Fish, by Daniel Wallace

Another novel that taps into my love of fairy tales, myths, and fables, Big Fish is the story of a man who became his own myth and his own fairy tale. The book is filled with tall tales about a named Edward Bloom. His son, William, tells the tales as he tries to both understand, and immortalize, his father’s life through the stories he was told as a child. How true are these tall tales? Who was his father really? His father was a big fish in a small pond, who needed to get out. His stories are just as big he is.

This is my favorite book, of all time. It has been translated to the screen to become one of my favorite movies of all time. And on October 5th, I will see the new Broadway musical, and I hope that it will also capture my heart and soul. I’m already planning on bringing tissues.

Sometime much closer to the show, I plan on writing about why I love this story so much. It’s hard for me to put into words, and I’ve been rereading the novel and watching the movie a lot lately, trying to understand what it is that has taken such hold of me. Sometimes there doesn’t need to be a reason, but I’m still trying to find one anyway.

 

1. The Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling

Now, now, you don’t think that I would forget about good ol’ Harry, did you? I said that Big Fish was my favorite singular book, but Harry Potter is my favorite series. If you don’t know yet, I love Harry Potter. I do. I just love these books, and of course the movies. I reread the entire series every other year or so, and I watch the movies a couple of times a week. Don’t judge. I’m unemployed and HBO is always playing movies 1-3 and 7 -8, on a seemingly endless loop, which I quite enjoy.

My Potter Tower. They get their own special place on my bookshelf.

My Potter Tower. They get their own special place on my bookshelf.

Much like my homegirl Fabala, Harry and his friends have to make the choice between doing what is right, and what is easy. Harry could sit idly by and die, or he could break all of the rules and save the wizarding world. Just an average day, you know?

I like to think that I grew up with Harry, which is why he has become such an important part of my life. The first book in the series came out in 1998, but it didn’t hit crazy popularity in my school until I was in 5th grade. When I finally read the first book in 2000, I was the same age as Sorcerer’s Stone Harry. When the last book was released in 2007, we were the same age. It’s just fate. We were meant to be bffls.

Inherently, a large part of the series is about growing up and learning. Any pre-teen and teen can identify with that aspect of the novel. It’s about friendship and family, it’s about good and evil (and you know, my tales and I, I love that theme), it’s about taking a stand, and it’s even about death.

I remember reading Order of the Phoenix in the car when my family was driving back from vacation in Canada. I had to try so hard not to openly weep in the backseat, next to my brother, as JK Rowling let Sirius Black die. Oh God, why. Why? Why? Finally, Harry has someone to call “family” and… he’s gone. Just like that. JK Rowling really made me weep. I am not ashamed. I also cry like a baby throughout most of the 8th movie. Still no shame. This series was a massive part of my adolescent life, and thus, with all of its characters and magic in tow, has become part of my soul.

 

Runners Up

I told you, I love books. I have too many favorites. Here are books that almost made the top list.

It, by Stephen King

I’ll tell you why this didn’t make the top list: nightmares. Nightmares on nightmares on nightmares. Legit. Between the movie and actually reading this book, I had nightmares from middle school well up until my college years. They’re gone now, but those were a rough few years.

AHEM. ANYWAY. Stephen King destroys childhood and makes even balloons terrifying. But I still loved reading it. Don’t know why.

 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

Part of the reason why this is close to my top list is… just look at it. Look at how pretty my copy of this book is. I think I read this when I was in 2nd grade? My teacher was kind of amazed that I even tried, but again, my tales and I. I love them. If I can use my imagination, and be transported to another world, I am a happy camper. I don’t think I’ve ever actually read Through The Looking Glass, though, or at least not in it’s entirety. So that’s why this doesn’t actually make the top list.

 

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

What? I said there might be a children’s book on here. I really love everything by Dr. Seuss, but especially Cat in the Hat. Love of books and reading has to start somewhere, and I’m pretty sure mine started with Dr. Seuss. The books aren’t hard to read, they tap into the reader’s imagination, and they can also be quite poignant (hello, The Lorax??). These books are also outrageously fun to use for teaching. Yes, I taught Cat in the Hat to my preschoolers and kindergarten kids last summer. It was amazing. We promoted phonemic awareness and literacy by playing rhyming games and talking about other games the cat might have played. BUT, I would also use this with older kids. Theatre games are all about having childlike fun, so we could do scenes, machines, and improvisation. Or designs. Whatever. Dr. Seuss belongs everywhere.

 

So there it is. A short list of some of my favorite books. A deeper peek inside of my brain. My happy place.

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Author: Allyssa Ellen

A costumer, a makeup artist, an educator, and a librarian, all rolled up into one convenient, fun-sized package.

8 thoughts on “Hard to Choose – My Favorite Books

  1. I should probably read the Gregory Maguire stuff considering I am obsessed with Wicked too.

  2. I think this list came out of my brain…almost. I’ve never read Christopher Moore and I HATED Wicked the one time I read it when I was 14. Don’t get me wrong, I adored the show, which is why I tried to read the book. But I did not like the book at all. It’s been 10 years though, so I suppose I could try again.

    • You would like Christopher Moore if you’re in the mood for something not deep and funny. I think the problem with Wicked the book is that it’s really grown up and a lot of politics, which was weird at first for me to get into. The later books are really political too. Oz politics.

  3. I tried reading ‘It’ but somehow I just couldnt. Not because it was creepy, being that I kind of like Stephen King creepy, but because the style of writing feels too heavy. I did watch the movie though.. did you?

    • I watch the movie every year on Halloween! It’s so campy, especially the big monster reveal at the end. However, Tim Curry really makes the film into all kinds of wonderful. He is also the reason for most of my previously mentioned nightmares.

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