My Favorite Things


I'm going to try to keep this short, because I could go on and on. I make no apologies for any of these books. I like them because I like them. They each speak to me in some way and I make no guarantees they'll speak to anyone else the same way. That's the terrific thing about books. I'm also not going to separate children's books from adult books because there's little distinction for me as a reader. I look for the same things, feel the same kind of enjoyment, regardless: A Little Princess

1. A LITTLE PRINCESS by Frances Hodgson Burnette: This is my favorite book in the whole wide world. It's a comfort read. I usually pull it out and reread it when I'm sick in bed. I was never able to warm to Mary Lennox, but I love Sarah.
2. THE PRINCESS BRIDE by William Goldman: I know, I know. You've seen the movie. But if you liked the movie, you'll be head-over-heels in love with the book. Not convinced? Read this.
3. COLLECTED LYRICS by Edna St. Vincent Millay: Exquisite lyric poetry. I've read two copies of this book to tatters. I need a hardcover copy.
4. MANSFIELD PARK by Jane Austen: In spite of what I consider a seriously flawed ending, this is my favorite Austen novel. But I always rewrite the ending in my head, with Fanny accepting Henry Crawford. Feel free to e-mail me for lively debate.
5. THE KING OF ATTOLIA by Megan Whalen Turner, a masterpiece of political machinations, POV usage, and a master trickster playing long-form four dimensional chess with the fates of countries on the line.
6. PENNINGTON'S HEIR by K. M. Peyton: K. M. Peyton is my favorite YA author. She's English, best known for her FLAMBARDS series, which was made into a television miniseries in the early eighties. This is the third book about Patrick Pennington, a hulking "bloody-minded" brute who is also a gifted pianist. One of the best endings ever.
7. BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON by Dorothy L. Sayers: Peter finally marries Harriet! 
8. THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND by Elizabeth George Speare: Probably one of my favorite scenes in all the world is when John Holbrook bursts through the door, covered in snow, and falls to his knees with his head in Mercy's lap.
9. MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien: In middle school, I wrote a sequel to this book where Martin, Timothy and a group of rats set out to rescue Justin from NIMH. (Because I refused to accept that he was dead. Oops. Spoiler alert.)
10. ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and RILLA OF INGLESIDE by L. M. Montgomery: The first and last are my favorites of the "Anne Cycle." RILLA presents a beautiful picture of the strength required of women on the home front during WWI. And plus, Rilla is a kick, sort of what Anne would have been had she had loving and indulgent parents.
11. (That's right, this list goes to eleven.) THE EDWARDIANS by Vita Sackville-West: Liked Downton Abbey? Well, this is the real deal written by a woman who lived it. There are moments that are so lovingly and delicately drawn, they actually make me weepy just thinking about them. Sylvia...on her round of morning calls...sniff sniff.

Other favorites: mostly everything else by Jane Austen (although EMMA's class snobbery worries me somewhat and Marianne Dashwood needs slapped,) THURSDAY'S CHILDREN by Rumer Godden, NICHOLAS NICKLEBY by Charles Dickens, I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith, THE RIGHT HAND MAN by K. M. Peyton, THE SWING IN THE SUMMERHOUSE by Jane Langton, WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams, THE DOOR IN THE WALL by Marguerite deAngeli, BRAT FARRAR by Josephine Tey, A RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT by Madeline L'Engle, the rest of Megan Whalen Turner's QUEEN'S THIEF books, COURT DUEL by Sherwood Smith, etc. etc.


I told you I like old movies. Seriously old. I think I've learned as much about storytelling from movies as I have from reading. Different things, but important just the same. This list of favorites shifts occasionally and it's so hard to stop at ten because I can think of twenty other movies right now that I love just as much as these, but this is my current top ten:

Mr. Smith


The FallBut I have to talk for a minute about a more recent film that is quite possibly my favorite movie of all and that is  THE FALL (2006) by director Tarsem Singh starring Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru. It's funny because it's a film about the very early days of film making and so it ties in with my love of old movies. But it is chiefly a film about the redemptive power of story, the importance of storytelling, how we connect to each other through story and the very great responsibility that carries. It is such a powerful film that it has changed the way I view my role as a writer. Visually dazzling (no CGI effects!) and rich in symbolism, it is at heart an intimate story of human connections and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The film was unfairly dismissed by mainstream critics. I mount a spirited defense of it here.

The Fall Lee Pace

The Fall

The Fall

I also love movies that are...hmm, how shall I put this...not exactly fine cinema. I don't mean movies that are just plain awful or movies that are deliberately bad or campy. I mean movies that were originally a very earnest attempt at quality film making but that failed utterly or have not stood up to the test of time. Call them guilty pleasures. My favorite bad movies (and boy, do I apologize if any of your favorites are on this list):Atahualpa

1. AIRPORT (There's a reason this movie spawned a series of spoofs. Except now the original is funnier than the spoofs.)
2. THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (A movie with a literal and figurative train-wreck of an ending!)
3. JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959-You've got to love a movie that starts with Pat Boone in a kilt and ends with him wearing a sheep. That's right, a live sheep and nothing but a sheep, so help me God.)
4. THE JOURNEY (Yul Brynner eats a shot glass in an attempt to turn on Deborah Kerr.)
5. THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN (Positively illuminated by blue-eyed Christopher Plummer in a long black wig and a loincloth as Atahualpa, the last Inca Emperor. A double-dip treat of gooey guilty pleasure.)


My iPod has a serious identity crisis because my musical tastes are all over the place. I think it's beyond the point where I can claim it as brilliantly eclectic. A musical mess is more like it but I'm happy. Here's what I like:

1. Vitali: Chaccone in G (The saddest, most emotionally over-the-top piece of music ever. If you are moved to find it, try to get the Jascha Heifetz version with the organ accompaniment. Sometimes this is done with piano or no accompaniment and it doesn't have near the impact.)
2. The last twenty minutes of Act 1, Puccini's LA BOHEME
3. The Te Deum from Puccini's TOSCA (Call me a sicko, but I find Scarpia rather exciting. Yeah, baby,mi fai dimenticar Ideo to you, too.)
4. "Thunder Road" Bruce Springsteen (Yes, I am that old.)
5. The Allegretto, the second movement from Beethoven's Seventh Symphony
6. "Young Americans" David Bowie
7. The Great Fugue by Bach (For some reason, this piece of music makes me feel like my problems are very small. I should listen to it more often.)
8. "All the Things You Are" Rogers and Hart (Currently have four versions and counting of this song on my iPod. It's a disease.)
9. "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" performed by Doris Day (Okay, so I like Doris Day. Is that so wrong?)
10. "Something's Gotta Give" sung by Frank Sinatra (even though my son objects to the line about how somewhere, somehow, someone's gonna get kissed as a form of sexual harassment. I raised him right, what can I say.)


Maxwell SmartThese are my favorite quotes. When things are going well, I like this one:

"Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Abraham Lincoln

When things are not going well, I try to like this one:

"Dig, dig--And if I come to ledges, blast." Edna St. Vincent Millay

And pretty much all of the time, I like this one:

"Give a man an inch and right away, he thinks he's a ruler." Maxwell Smart

And as a writer, you gotta live the immortal Luther Heggs, who said: "When you work with words, words are your work."



These are my favorite paintings. (Oh come on. Everyone has a favorite painting, right? If you don't have one, GET ONE!) This is St. Sebastian Tended by St. Irene by Georges de la Tour







And this is Philip, Lord Wharton by Anthony Van Dyck.Philip, Lord Wharton

Philip was nineteen when this portrait was painted, the spoiled darling of London society. (He's much better looking in person, if you get the chance to see him hanging in the National Art Gallery in Washington D.C. I visit him every chance I get. He was purchased from the Hermitage museum back in the thirties when the Soviets were secretly selling off scores of Russian art treasures to buy bread for their people. Andrew Mellon purchased Philip and many other famous paintings that now make up the core of the collection in the National Gallery. There was a national outcry in Russia when it was discovered that Philip was one of the paintings sold. Can you blame them???)



My favorite things to eat are
1. Wilbur Buds (what the Hershey Kiss wishes it was)
2. Lindor Balls, dark (yes, I have many cavities)
3. Black raspberries (I weep for those of you who live in regions where there are no black raspberries.)
4. Rice Krispies Treats
5. Amish sugar cakes (these are actually big cookies)
6. Maryland crab cakes 
7. Roast turkey with all the trimmings
8. Really good celery
9. Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets
10. Potato chips

Things I hate:
1. Green vegetables (celery doesn't count)
2. Ticks
3. Not having 20/20 vision
4. Computer glitches
5. The current trend in women's clothing

I wish I looked like this:

Miss Lana Turner

Okay, this is getting silly now. I'll stop.