Five Books

Posts about influential books are pretty common. Writers discuss stories that inspired them, helped them work through dry spells, challenged them to become better. Some lists are chock-full of literary classics. Others are whimsical, with favorite books featuring dogs, or cake baking, or cake-baking dogs.

My list is in-between, five books that are the equivalent of comfort food, or favorite recipes. These are the books I revisit consistently. Sometimes I reread from the beginning; other times, just a favorite scene or story. I want them with me on that desert island, that journey to Mars.

Naked Once More is the 4th and final book in Elizabeth Peter’s series featuring librarian-turned-romance author Jacquelyn Kirby. In this entry, Kirby competes with other authors for the chance to finish a manuscript started by Kathleen Darcy, a young woman who wrote one mega-bestseller and then vanished, an apparent suicide.

I still have the paperback I bought in the early 1990s, around the time I started writing for publication. Because I knew next to nothing about the publishing world, I found Kirby’s observations informative, daunting, amusing. Later, I developed quite a bit of sympathy for Darcy, the character around whom the story revolves. I recalled sensing a little of the resentment she experienced as she sought to juggle family life and writing life, the desire for that “room of one’s own.” In short, I found this book at a time when I kinda needed it.

Since then, I’ve tried to read the other Kirby stories, but have yet to finish them. None of them hooked me as did Naked. But I like Jacqueline Kirby, so I will keep trying.


Good Omens. What can I say? Gaiman and Pratchett, a perfect melding. I enjoy all the characters, but my favorite
sections are the ones featuring Aziraphale and Crowley. I can hear them bicker. I adore their bickering. My internal casting director long ago cast Ian Richardson as Aziraphale and a twenty-something Rupert Everett as Crowley, but now I think Peter Capaldi and Benedict Cumberbatch would also fill the bill.

Here’s a link to a BBC interview with Gaiman about how Good Omens came about.




Danse Macabre. Stephen King is almost as well known for his books on writing as he is for his horror and fantasy. Danse was his first excursion, published in 1979. Like his other nonfiction books, it’s part autobiography, part horror discussion and critique. What scared him. Which films, television series, and stories inspired or, in a few cases, disappointed him. His extended discussions of books such as The House Next Door and Ghost Story, both the film and written versions of works such as The Haunting of Hill House, provide valuable insight into scary story construction. The autobiographical sections about his youth, his absent father, the struggles and the success, offered inspiration, a case study of writer development.





The Dark Descent, edited by David Hartwell, came out in the 1980s. A history of the dark suspense and horror genres, it contains stories from the 1800s to the 1980s, some of which are among my favorite short stories. These include “Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner, which I believe was one of the inspirations for the film “The Blair Witch Project,” and “The Autopsy” by Michael Shea. “Crouch End” and “The Reach,” both by Stephen King. “Vandy, Vandy” by Manly Wade Wellman. When I yearn for a comfort scare, I reach for this book.

Yes, there are such things as comfort scares.



Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy/Smiley’s People by John Le Carré. I know, two books. But to me, they’re a single work, a tight weaving that I can’t tease apart. My Lord of the Rings. As I was writing the Jani Kilian books, I reread sections over and over, soaking up Le Carré’s descriptions of the spy’s life and the types of personalities it attracts, the intelligence bureaucracy and infighting. He also writes marvelous, moody descriptions of settings. There’s an extended scene at the end of Smiley’s People in which George Smiley and others wait at one end of a Cold War Berlin bridge for a defector that I think is a perfect combination of setting, mood, and action.


So, those are my indispensable books. What are yours?


About Kristine Smith

Kristine Smith is the author of the Jani Kilian series and a number of SF and fantasy short stories, and is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She worked as a pharmaceutical process development scientist for 26 years, but now writes full-time. She also writes supernatural thrillers under the name Alex Gordon. Check out her BVC bookshelf


Five Books — 3 Comments

  1. I might have to try that Elizabeth Peters. I slid off the others ones, in spite of repeated tries over the years. Not sure why.

    Good Omens was my gateway to Pratchett.

    I should probably try Le Carre again. I ruined myself for Le Carre trying to read him when I was too young to deal. I recognized the brilliant writing, but the reading experience was so overwhelmingly depressing and I couldn’t make anything of anyone’s inward life. Mentally adding these two to my ‘try again’ list.

    My five always change. Today, maybe Lord of the Rings, H.M.S. Surprise, A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor (not just his experiences, which are remarkable, and his insight, with its humor, compassion, and gravitas, but his incandescent style), Montaigne’s essays, and Pride and Prejudice, from which I learn something new on every reading, though I’ve reread it countless times over fifty years.

  2. I understand about Le Carré’s unrelenting grim. Two books by him that you might consider–assuming you haven’t already–are his earliest works, A Murder of Quality and Call for the Dead. Both feature Smiley, but they are more straightforward mysteries. Rather short–almost novellas more than full-blown novels.

    He’s not perfect. I can’t stand his women for the most part–they’re either neuter hypercompetents or emotionally inaccessible bitch goddesses. IIRC, there’s also a manic pixie dream girl in there somewhere. I haven’t read his latest works, so I don’t know if that has changed.