BOOKS! My very favorites have certain commonalities. They can be simple or complex; classed as Adult, YA or Children’s; as Literature, Fiction, Sci-Fi, Mystery, Nonfiction or Fantasy. But most share these things:

First, a game, a maze, a challenge: a schematic of the universe to be traversed and—not conquered exactly, but solved in some satisfying way, though perhaps never fully understood. Ideally the heroine/hero/merry band of friends win through to a resolution, or at least to a joyful and successful breathing space.

Second, the book’s world(s) and its travelers should be worthy. The goal must be more than treasure, pleasure, or power. ‘They took what they wanted! Greed, lust, dominion, they wanted it all!‘ Nope, not interested. My favorite books aren’t simplistic, and the characters can be confused, morally ambiguous, or even apparently bad guys, but they must have more than this inside them, and they must learn and grow. (Except I do love James M. Cain, for instance, where nobody learns anything till it’s too late and everything always ends badly. So much for making rules, then!)

The sky should be high enough, the world big enough to contain clashing or harmonizing identities and perspectives, different characters’ meanings woven into a greater whole. And it can’t be a dissertation on meaninglessness or an exercise in self-pity. ‘She sat on an empty beach considering the pointlessness of her life.’ Nope, not unless she really hauls up her socks and does something interesting.

Finally, there’s that taste of something from outside the ordinary, from far above or deep within. It’s hard to define, but easily felt. The book’s universe can be explicitly spiritual or not — I don’t mind at all either way — but there must be transcendence, and there must be hope. Though again, James M. Cain. I suppose a certain depth of understanding can be transcendent in itself, even without the hope. But mostly I prefer a happy ending.

For me, humor is a huge plus, but not an absolute necessity.

The Games House (2019), by Claire North, is a complex maze where the stakes can be anything. It meets most of these criteria, but I’m waiting to see whether it turns out to be too cold. Brilliant, but a bit ruthless. On the other hand, Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera (2018), a hilarious and pyrotechnicly-written inter-galactic Eurovision, is supremely lovable. Where else could you meet Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros, Mr. Elmer of the Fudd, or such a charming assortment of aliens and alien cultures?

If any of the above reminds you of other books, please recommend them here or on my Goodreads author page. And may all your stories be wondrous!