I’ve been seeing this meme floating around a lot, and a friend actually tagged me on Facebook, so I thought I would go ahead and give it a spin, especially since I love talking about books so much. I’ve been putting this off, though, because this is a big one, asking me to pick 10 books that have been the most influential in my life. Oof. No small task, there, especially because books in general have shaped my life so incredibly. But I’ll give it the ol’ college try all the same, highlighting ten particular ones, while feeling bad about all the books such a restrictive number leaves behind.
Here goes nothing.
1. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. This book is without a doubt, no holds barred, absolutely-needs-to-be-on-this-list the first thing to pop into my head. I wish I could truly explain how influential this book as been in my life, but I never feel I do it justice. I was introduced to it in forth grade, where so many wonderful books came into my life, and I think that was the moment I consciously realized how much I love reading. I’ve read it nearly every year since, and it never ceases to surprise me and move me at the end. Turtle Wexler was the first fictional character with which I felt such a powerful bond; I would hop on my bike and ride around my farm pretending to be her, and even eventually pretended to be her for Fandom High, where she still stands as one of my most iconic characters. It opened my mind to critical thinking, diverse characters, real life situations and issues, and inspired me in so many ways. It’s an incredible book that has helped make me the incredible person I am today.
2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Another book that’s so influential to me that it’s really difficult to explain just how. Some things are so ingrained into our psyche that you can’t really separate from it. Alice, to me, is the perfect example of the fantastic and the crazy and wandering through a mystical world and feeling the pull of becoming a part of it or putting it to order, which is what I constantly feel as an author. My boyfriend started reading it lately and has been reading some passages out loud and I realize how freaking brilliant it is, especially for someone who has never quite viewed the world in the same way as anyone else. I recently has a bit of a crisis regarding maturity, which lead me to almost get rid of my extensive collection of Alice books and memorabilia, and it helped me to realize that it’s okay to need those flights of fancy and those playful needs on occasion. Alice keeps me young and weird and imaginative and reminds me that there’s nothing wrong with that.
3. DragonLance Chronicles Volume 1: Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. There are a lot of things that influenced me in my love of fantasy, but I don’t think any of them truly cemented it into my brain as effectively as the discovery of the DragonLance series of books in the sixth grade. I was no stranger to the genre, especially since my house growing up was littered with my dad’s books of the same type, but DragonLance was the first one that was truly mine. As far as I knew, he’d never read them, and it opened up a whole new world of imagining that kickstarted my Aryneth series so long ago. It’s gone through a lot of changes since those first inklings of an epic tale, but it might not have developed at all if it weren’t for this iconic series. I recently unearthed a few of the books; I should really revisit them and see if they recharge my grand world again.
4. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie. Reading this book wakened an entire part of my writerly soul that I wasn’t even aware existed, spurning a new love for the sparse style of modern Chinese fiction and memoirs, as well as an incredibly powerful interest in Mao Tse-tung’s Communist China as a historical point and literary muse. I remember being so incredibly moved by it and thirsty for more, and I still love to occasionally revisit it.
5. The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. A lot of these books, I’m noticing, are books that awakened certain aspects of my creativity and The Witching Hour, along with the Roberta Williams game Phantasmagoria and R.L. Stine’s Fear Street Saga books, truly sparked my love of creepy old houses, the supernatural, and disturbing paranormal encounters (dare I say sexual ones, too?). I was a bit of a punk-goth type in high school, and my love of this book might have been part of the reason. It’s also the first book I encountered with very graphic sex scenes, and I have a feeling everyone remembers their first literary intimacy (I have very vivid memories of being huddled with my teammates on the bleachers at track meets, giggling and reading these passages and gawking at them). Lasher still stands out in my memory as the perfect charming demon, much more than Rice’s other notable vampiric dandy Lestat, inspiring many of my own mysterious, supernatural strangers.
6. Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman. Keeping with the so-far theme of inspiring the things I love, Catherine, Called Birdy was a great introduction into medieval history that sticks with me to this day. Not only did this book offer me a very cool look at a period of history that fascinated me, but it also presented me with a wonderful quirky heroine that I could relate to and fall in love with. It didn’t matter that Birdy lived her life hundreds of years ago, she worried about the same things I did, though with a little bit of a different twist. She loved to paint a mural on her wall, just as I did. She got crushes on boys but for the most part thought they were strange and kind of stupid and a nuisance. She liked learning about things, so long as they were interesting ,and abhorred things that were dull. She sparked my interest in the lives of saints, too, though I’ve always been a little disappointed that March 24th’s saints were a little dull. So much inspiration from this book. So much love.
7. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Expert storytelling. Intriguing and varied female lead characters. Random little slice of history and a vivid landscape. The Poisonwood Bible has all the ingredients to make a fantastic book that pack a heck of a wallop. And while this book has one of my favorite and inspiring fictional characters in Adah Price, I find almost all the Price women inspiring for many different reasons, especially since they’re all so different themselves. A powerful, moving story, and the Adah chapters alone make this more than just a book. It’s fucking poetry.
8. The Amber Gods and Other Stories by Harriet Prescott Spofford. I would have never known of Harriet Prescott Spofford if it wasn’t for the luck in getting a professor who wanted to focus on women writers of the 19th century and brought this incredible and little known writer into my life. This was at the start of my love of 19th century literature, and there are plenty of well-known names I could cite, but Spofford holds a special place in my heart, because she was writing like Poe…only better. This collection of her stories is a rich and vibrant look at all the things I love about this era of literary history, from the incredibly powerful sexuality imbued in her title tale to the quintessential Arctic exploration, this catapulted me into wanting to read more of the lesser known work of the era and discover all sorts of wonderful new things. “The Amber Gods” still sticks with me, just a little bit more than all the other iconic stories I love from this period.
9. The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone. The first book I can recall loving to the point of it nearly falling apart. This is the first book I will read to my children should I ever get to that point. I have incredibly vivid memories of being in the back of our mini-van (the one with the big mark on the side from where there was a gasoline fire), flipping through this book and reading it with my brother way too loudly and going into peals of laughter and screams at the end, despite knowing what waited for me. It’s marvelously interactive for a time way before multimedia and things like that, and it’s absolutely brilliant. You know a book is good when it stick with you from pretty much age three and you never forget it.
10. Bowlful of Bunnies by L.S. Engler. Your own books count, right? Why wouldn’t they? I think the first book I ever published is a pretty influential book. This changed my life in ways I’ve always dreamed of, but might not have ever really ever achieved if my life hadn’t gone the route that is has. Maybe egotistical of me, but, let’s face it. This definitely fits the bill, doesn’t it?
How about you? What would be on your list of influential books? Have you had similar experiences with any of the ones on my list? Let’s chat.