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As a life-long escapist, one of the main requirements I have in a book is that it create a world different from the one I live in. Different than the cautious and safe world I lived in as a child, different than the pseudo-blasé  angst-ridden world I lived in as a teenager, different than the lonely and driven world I lived in as a young adult, and different than the laundry-strewn exhausting world I inhabit now.

The desire to be elsewhere without leaving the safe confines of my laptop bubble is also one of my main inspirations for writing. With a keyboard at my fingertips, I can make things happen. Finally, a world where I get to make the rules! (Ignore that odd breeze you just felt–it is merely the result of introverted control freaks everywhere whispering Amen.)

I was watching the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets recently and was mesmerized by the scene where Harry gets sucked in to Tom Riddle’s diary. He follows Riddle’s image to see precisely the part of a story that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named wants him to see before he is forcibly ejected. Isn’t this what all authors do? I would be honored to leave a reader lying on the floor next to an overturned chair at the end of a scene.

When my writing stalls, I find a turn to my bookshelves can help refuel the engines. Here is a run-down of some of my go-to books for setting:


Kraken (China Mieville): A fantastical romp by one of my current favorite authors. Really, anyone who is part of a genre described as New Weird is okay by me. Kraken starts innocently enough, following a museum tour given by the protagonist, a regular guy named Billy. Things get stranger (and more awesome) by the page, as a giant squid specimen disappears and Billy is drawn into the search, finding himself heralded as a prophet of the Kraken. Sound strange? The book is actually much stranger. The world Mieville creates is also incredibly familiar, although I will never look at a tattoo the same way again. (I also can’t mention Mieville without urging you to read Un Lun Dun, his YA romp into the otherworld.)


Wonder (R.J. Palacio): A middle-level children’s book written from the point-of-view of a kid with a messed up face. I know that sounds like a harsh description, but read this book and you will be drawn into the world of someone that everyone always stares at but few people make eye contact with. Although the fifth-graders in this book are accepting and kind in a way that made me wonder if I misunderstood my entire elementary school experience, it is a fun world to visit.

Anything by Haruki Mirukami: Cats, mouth-watering descriptions of food, shadows that move independently of bodies, underground chambers, time-shifting libraries, and girls with pigtails. Reading these books is like traveling to a foreign land–I don’t always know what is going on, but I’m left with strings of memorable images and new insight into the human condition.

What is your favorite literary other-world?