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Disturbing the Universe

The musings of author Christina Knowles

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Must-Read Books by Christina Knowles

Snagged from freecomputersonline,com
Snagged from freecomputersonline.com

As a teacher, my students often ask me what my favorite book is, and I easily reply, “Winter Garden by Kristen Hannah,” but after that, it gets tough to narrow it down to a list of essentials. I would love to just list ten, but I find it impossible to limit it that much when I begin to write. Here are my absolute must-reads:

  1. Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah: I love this book because it is the most beautiful novel I have ever read. It’s about regrets, misunderstandings, and relationships—relationships between sisters, mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters, and husbands and wives. It is thought-provoking, poignant, and reads like poetry. Within the contemporary story, lives a fairytale, so sweet and tragic that it captured my inner child, and I fell in love with this book. Hannah understands the dynamics of our closest relationships and how the ones we love most, have the most power to wound us, but also have the power to heal. I could read this book a thousand times, and I just might.
  2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Ray Bradbury is a genius of the written word. This book is probably my favorite science fiction novel because the dystopian world Bradbury creates is startling real, dark, and symbolic, and yet it is written like poetry, each word carefully crafted with the next; its evocative beauty remains with the reader long after the cover is closed.
  3. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut: This strange and tragic novel blew my mind. It is weirdly surreal and unique in its delivery of the horrors of war and their effect on the human psyche.
  4. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: This was my favorite book for many, many years because its dystopian world is not only filled with scientific and sociological predictions (two of my favorite subjects), but it is also filled with Shakespeare (another favorite subject). One of the novel’s main characters constantly quotes Shakespeare, and the book parallels one of my favorite plays, The Tempest. Incredibly deep, insightful, and startlingly accurate in many of its predictions.
  5. The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King: This is my favorite of the Dark Tower series. Stephen King always amazes me, but this novel (and the series) transports me to a surrealistic world filled with danger, magic, and loyalty, an epic quest on the scale of The Lord of the Rings, but modernized and on steroids!
  6. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: This book is heartbreakingly beautiful, about pain, suffering, mercy, and forgiveness. This book contains the secrets of life.
  7. East of Eden by John Steinbeck: This book was my first experience with real literature. I first read it in middle school, and I was enchanted with the discovery that a novel could be so filled with symbolism, allegory, epiphany, imagery, and the meaning of life. I think this book is quite possibly the reason why I became a literature major, and it began a life-long love of John Steinbeck novels.
  8. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: This book is not just another angsty teen novel. It is a masterpiece of Existentialism, and like Brave New World, it is filled with allusions to my favorite literary works. This book is intellectual and emotional, and it had me hooked when the main character, Hazel Grace, started quoting from my favorite poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by TS Eliot. See my full review at: https://disturbingtheuniverseblog.com/2014/06/06/book-review-the-fault-in-our-stars-by-john-green/
  9. The Complete Poems of TS Eliot: His modernist outlook is deeply cynical, anti-traditional, heartbreakingly poignant, and most of all, lyrically beautiful. My favorite poet. Dare he disturb the universe? Oh yes, please.
  10. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: Not just a Christmas classic, this story is symbolic and meaningful, and in Dickens’ style, blunt in its message of charity to the poor and the necessity of prioritizing in life. It never ceases to amaze me that even the most staunchly anti-Socialist people love this work, even while they continue to hoard their riches and look down upon the poor.
  11. The Pigman by Paul Zindel: I love just about any story concerning a friendship between teenagers and the elderly, but this one is the cream of the crop. I think I love this book so much because I lived this experience when I was young. Two teenagers accidentally befriend an elderly widower when they make a prank phone call to his house one day. They never imagine that he will mean so much to them or change their lives forever.
  12. The Crucible by Arthur Miller: Every time I read this play, I am hanging on every word of John Proctor. Miller creates a protagonist that grows from a selfish, lying adulterer to a heroic, self-sacrificing man of integrity in four dramatic and realistic acts, and manages to make a political statement at the same time. Brilliant.
  13. Walden by Henry David Thoreau: Elegant and Transcendent words of wisdom to live by. Enough said.
  14. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: Haunting, creepy, and beautiful written.
  15. Lord of the Flies by William Golding: Horrifyingly realistic. This book takes a look at the horrifying social behavior of children left to their own devices on an island, which is a microcosm of all of humanity, and it isn’t a pretty sight.
  16. 1984 by George Orwell: A quintessential sci-fi novel at its best. Full of dark warnings against Totalitarianism and the importance of words to thought.
  17. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer: These are moral tales that accurately cover just about every type of personality, virtue, and vice with both humor and severity.
  18. For One More Day by Mitch Albom: This book is a magically transcendent exploration of a mother’s love through a bizarrely surreal visit with the other side. I love all his books, but this one is definitely my favorite.
  19. On Writing by Stephen King: I love everything about this book. It’s not only sage advice given openly from the guru of suspense, but packed with personality and real life stories along with the lessons on writing.
  20. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Lee has wonderful voice, creates characters you won’t be able to forget, and addresses issues of racial prejudice, justice, and moral integrity.
  21. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: I love this tragic tale of friendship, fate, and the harsh realities of life.
  22. The Black Stallion by Walter Farley: I never had a horse, but I could relate to this story of a boy and his horse, their love, and their loyalty because it reminds me of having a wonderful dog. I love books about the love between humans and animals, and this one is one of the best. Full of action and adventure too. I read the whole series.
  23. Strangers by Dean Koontz: Koontz expertly weaves the lives and experiences of several seemingly unrelated characters into one crazy and unexpected plot. You’ll never believe that it could be rationally explained in the end, but it is! My favorite Koontz novel.
  24. Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory: The one that started it all. This is considered the definitive King Arthur story. I love the Knight life.
  25. Paradise Lost by John Milton: Milton makes Lucifer shockingly relatable, or maybe it’s just me. I think I’ve said too much.
  26. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes: Chivalry, knights, quests, love, and friendship. I love this tale of knightly adventure.
  27. The Shining by Stephen King: King at his best. This novel masterfully uses a malevolent ghost-filled hotel as a metaphor for the almost demonic hold of alcoholism. If you’ve only seen the movie, you are seriously missing out. For more check out: https://disturbingtheuniverseblog.com/2013/10/21/review-the-shining-by-stephen-king/
  28. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult: An engrossing story-within-a-story combining the strange but brilliant combination of the Nazi holocaust, a bakery, and a vampire in small village. Heart-wrenching, realistic, and superbly symbolic. Read the entire review here: https://disturbingtheuniverseblog.com/2013/11/23/review-the-storyteller-by-jodi-picoult-2/
  29. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: Dark, poignant, and unique. Death is the narrator, a neutral observer, telling the story of a young German girl who loves to read as things fall apart around her in Nazi Germany.
  30. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier: Creepy, gothic, and suspenseful with a scary head housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who tries to sabotage the happiness of a young bride. Who can Mrs. DeWinter trust? Certainly not her husband, a widower whose wife, Rebecca, died under suspicious circumstances.
  31. The Island of Dr. Moreau by HG Wells: I love everything by HG Wells, but this one is particularly good. It’s science fiction, bordering on horror, and makes us question all kinds of scientific ethics.
  32. The Complete Works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Observation, logic, and reasoning are paramount to a very flawed, ego-maniacal protagonist, Sherlock Holmes.
  33. Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes: Mind-blowing philosophical theory, questioning the very essence of reality.
  34. Beyond Good & Evil by Friedrich Nietzche: Brilliant thoughts on mankind, the origin of evil, and the purpose of life.
  35. The Giver by Lois Lowry: A classic dystopian novel, written for children, but with such depth, and done so well, everyone loves it. Many layers of meaning and unforgettable characters.
  36. Bag of Bones by Stephen King: Haunting, mysteriously beautiful, romantic, and creepy. I love this book. Again, don’t judge it by the movie.
  37. Duma Key by Stephen King: I loved this book because it combines three things I find interesting— a haunted house, a stormy ocean setting, and an artist. I couldn’t put this one down.
  38. The Street Lawyer by John Grisham: This book will renew your belief in the goodness of people. It’s quite different from Grisham’s other legal thrillers, but still a page-turner.
  39. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: This book is hard to read. A difficult look at the oppression of women in a dark sci-fi story in a not-too far-fetched Totalitarian and faux-religious future. Definitely worth a trip to the dark side.
  40. The Angry Woman Suite by Lee Fullbright: Fullbright hooked me on the first page with her intricately woven plot and complex characters. The novel is a combination of historical fiction and mystery, wherein, Fullbright manages to use multiple first person narrators and jumps around in time without losing the reader, connecting all the times and characters seamlessly and hurtling them to the insanely climactic ending. Love this book.
  41. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: Shocking and powerful, this book will open your eyes to another culture and draw you in. This book touched me in its gripping portrayal of tortured minds, one by guilt, and another by tragedy, cruelty, and betrayal.
  42. Game of Thrones by George RR Martin: Graphic, complicated, shocking, and pure bliss! Martin is a master of complexity in both character and plot. One minute I despise a character, and the next I am masterfully manipulated into sympathizing with him.
  43. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke: This book about an alien race helping the human race evolve, unbeknownst to them, is magnificent! Clarke explores numerous themes such as history, art, and what gives life meaning, just to name a few.
  44. The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar: This book is lovely and poignant from beginning to end. It’s a beautiful and heart-rending look at friendship and love in a world of inequality, addressing the issues of religious difference, poverty, and caste systems in modern Bombay.
  45. A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron: See life through a dog’s eyes. It’s a tear-jerker, but you’ll never look at your dog without imagining what he’s thinking again.
  46. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman: Beautiful, poetic, and profound. “Song of Myself” and “O Me! O Life” are some of the most quoted lines of wisdom still today, and it is no wonder. He could be writing about the world right now. Like Walden, these are words to live by.
  47. Symposium by Plato: Wisdom from the ancients. I always love Plato, including The Allegory of the Cave.
  48. Metaphysics by Aristotle: I really like Aristotle’s reasoning about learning through experience and the physical world. He could be a modern-day scientist.
  49. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. An intellectual argument on why there is probably no god and how the major religions of the world are flawed. Dawkins breaks down the basics of evolution and punches undeniable holes in theology and philosophy.
  50. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan: Sagan convincingly destroys all illusions about the supernatural world in this book. It’s fabulously done, but at the same time, being disillusioned is kind of depressing.

So that’s where I will stop. I could literally continue writing about my favorite books all night, but I won’t put you through that. If you read all the way to the end, I wish I could give you some kind of reward, but why not pick up one of these fabulous books and enjoy? That will be a reward in itself.—Christina Knowles

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Books, Wine, and Friendship by Christina Knowles

Snagged from writers win.com
Snagged from writers win.com

Last night was my monthly book club meeting. And by meeting, I mean getting together with great friends, sampling delicious cheeses and different kinds of wine, sitting down to a beautiful meal, catching up on our personal lives, teasing, laughing, participating in a deep philosophical conversation, and oh yeah, discussing the book we read. I love my book club. We meet once a month and sometimes in between club meetings to go to a movie, attend a lecture, go out for tea, or even spend a day at the hot springs or a weekend in a mountain resort. I have come to love my book club ladies. I look forward to seeing them, and I never miss a meeting, even if I didn’t finish the book. We are all teachers, or former teachers. My book club ladies are very intellectual and wise, and I have gained a lot of insight about life from them, but most of all, they have become the best kind of friends anyone could have. We all fit together so well even though we are quite diverse in many ways. We range from various denominations of Christian to Atheist to New-Ager, and we encompass all the political parties, including Socialist. I’ve often wondered why we work so well as friends, and I figured out we share some very important qualities besides a love of books. Here’s what I came up with:

  • We are open-minded. We not only listen, but we consider each other’s opinions and value our differences. We respect each other’s thoughts.
  • We share ourselves. We don’t just share the flattering things that most people would want others to know about themselves, but we really let each other see our true personalities—our quirks, our insecurities, our flaws, our confusion. We really know who each one of us is. I can tell my friends anything, and I do.
  • Quotation-Oliver-Goldsmith-love-friends-manners-wine-Meetville-Quotes-58480We like each other anyway. The more I know about my friends, the more I respect them and care about them. Knowing their problems, insecurities, their frustrations, and the mistakes they make, allows me to see things through their eyes and not get upset at them when we have disagreements or don’t see eye to eye—and we don’t. As I said, we have varying political, religious, and philosophical ideologies, but we completely accept each other anyway.DinnerBookClub
  • We can trust each other. This is a rare gift. We have been through a lot together and have been friends for many years. We’ve shared secrets, and our confidences have never been betrayed. Our friendship has been tested and passed with flying colors.
  • We listen to each other. Not only do we share ourselves, we are interested in what’s going on in the lives of each one of us. We take turns talking and make sure we all get a chance to tell about what is going on in our lives. We may offer advice, but we don’t judge. I always leave book club feeling completely accepted and listened to. In the past, I’ve had many friends who only want to talk and never listen. Even if I am having a serious problem, they turn it around and make it about them. Not these ladies. My book club friends are sensitive to knowing when someone needs a friendly ear.
  • We can count on each other. I know if I had a problem, they are only a phone call away—a ride to the airport, help moving, a place to stay; we aren’t fair-weather friends.
  • We are honest. We tell each other how it is and call each other out when necessary. I think I have been told, to my face, that I am full of shit by these ladies more than by any other people I have ever known. But that’s okay because we can say that to each other without getting angry, and then go on having a lovely evening. But we take each other seriously as well, so if one of us says we are full of shit, we take the time to consider whether or not they are right.
  • We challenge each other. Like I said, we are very different people. We have different views, different ways of looking at things, and different ways of doing things. We give advice and kick each other in the butt when necessary.
  • We encourage each other. Even though we call each other out when necessary, we are the first to offer words of encouragement, truthful compliments, and uplifting advice right along with our criticisms. Besides my husband, I feel like they are my most enthusiastic cheerleaders.BookSigning
  • We inspire each other. I have often heard horror stories of women who constantly fight, are jealous, or in competition with each other. I am lucky to never have experienced this in my friendships (I’ve had many wonderful girl-friends throughout my life and am still friends with them today), and it couldn’t be further from the truth with these ladies. We support each other in every endeavor, share ideas, and help each other succeed. When I published my book, they were right there to share in my joy. They read it, helped me with editing, came to my book signing, and helped me promote it. Two of the women in my book club are writers as well. We read each other’s writing and do whatever we can to promote the success of all of us, whether it is a new job, a new relationship, or a writing project. We share genuinely in the joy of each other’s success.
  • We don’t have to be perfect for each other. We welcome each other into our homes even when they aren’t clean or we haven’t showered. We walk in without knocking. We are the kind of friends who have keys or garage codes to each other’s houses in case we show up before the owner arrives. We’ve stripped naked to change or take a dip in the hot springs without worrying about cellulite or being judged. We are comfortable with each other, and that is nice.
  • BookClubWe don’t have to feel bad when we don’t see each other for a while. Many of my book club friends travel frequently. We may go a couple of months without seeing each other certain times of the year, but nothing changes. Whenever we get back together, it’s like we never left. We pick up right where we left off. We are not needy or demanding with each other. If we can make it to something, we do. If we can’t, we understand. No pressure.
  • But we are thoughtful. We bring each other thoughtful gifts for no reason sometimes. The other day, one of my friends brought me a vegan cookbook because she knows I am interested in changing my diet along those lines. When one of us goes on vacation, we often bring back a souvenir for the rest of us. We may show up at each other’s house with a bottle of wine or a homemade loaf of bread just because.
  • MichelleandMeWe make each other laugh. We always have the best time when we’re together, often giggling uncontrollably. Once two of us went to the movies and had no idea what we were seeing. It turned out to be a very stupid and vulgar teenage boy-type thing. Being teachers, we slid down in our seats, unable to control our laughter while trying desperately not to be seen by any of our students. We’ve laughed at each other and with each other, but I would feel equally comfortable crying with them. In fact we have while attending too many funerals of former students who died way too soon.

I am a little bit of an introvert. I’m somewhat of an intellectual, I’m a bookworm, and I’m way too serious. But this group of friends brings me out in a way for which I am so grateful. We never need to make meaningless small talk, which I despise. For an introvert, it is highly important to feel comfortable and accepted in order for me to be my natural self. I think this is why I never miss an opportunity to hang out with them if possible, while I turn down other social engagements all the time. The best kinds of friends are the kind that let you be completely you without worrying about it. And more than just putting up with you, they actually enjoy being with you. We should all have friends that make us more of who we really are instead of less, and I am so grateful for mine. And the books and wine are bonuses.—Christina KnowlesBookClub

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