Ellen DeGeneres recently linked to a great site called You Are What You Read, where everyone can share the five books that shaped their lives. Some celebrities, like Daniel Radcliffe, have accounts – of course he lists “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” but his explanation is very sweet: “I think it would be pretty churlish of me not to say Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for giving me everything that I have and everything that I will have.”
(Dan, can we be friends? I think you’re an awesome guy. This interview convinced me.)
Anyway, in lieu of making an account, I thought we could all have a nice chat about the books that have most influenced us. Fun, right? I thought so.
Here are mine!
1. “Illustrated Man” by Ray Bradbury. I’ve gone on tangents about Ray Bradbury before, so I’ll just say that this fanastic, indescribable, mind-bending collection of stories blew me away and inspired me more than anything else to become a writer.
2. “Arrows of the Queen” by Mercedes Lackey. I sometimes wonder what would have happened to me in high school if I hadn’t gotten my first fantasy novel for my 14th birthday. What kind of books would I have been interested in? Would I have seen “Lord of the Rings?” Would I have read for fun at all? Mercedes Lackey is still the only fantasy author I’ve read to great extent, and her books are now a deliciously guilty pleasure, but “Arrows of the Queen” introduced me to an entire genre, one that captured my poor angsty melodramatic teenage brain and never really let go.
3. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s an excellent book, plain and simple, and every time I read it, I uncover new details. This one makes the list, though, simply because I keep going back to read it. Most school required-reading books are hated by default. Some of them deserve it (ahem, “Heart of Darkness,” “Mumbo Jumbo”); others don’t. This one definitely doesn’t, and I’m glad I gave it a second (and third and fourth) chance.
4. “Animal Farm” by George Orwell. Books can have secret messages? What? What is this allegory of which you speak? It means a book can make a point about something without ever talking about your real subject? And a gazillion other books like “Chronicles of Narnia” and “Lord of the Rings” use it as well? And I’ll try to write my own thinly-veiled allegorical stories in high school and beyond about World War II and religion? Inconceivable!
5. The “American Girl” books. I read a lot of series growing up – Animorphs, Goosebumps, and Star Wars books stand out in my memory. I don’t think any impacted my worldview as much as the American Girl stories. They didn’t shy away from the scary, terrible things in life, and the characters suffered. In the very first story about nine-year-old Kirsten (the first AG book I ever read), she survives a long, hard journey to the USA, only to see her best friend die from cholera. In the first story about Addy, a slave girl, she’s beaten, forced to eat worms, and runs away with her mother, leaving her baby sister and grandparents behind. Other characters’ grandparents die. They lose their homes. They witness cruelty and grief, but they deal with it – and best of all, they provide a mirror for all the other little girls out there who felt sad or alone and didn’t know what to do about it. These books taught history in a deeply personal way, and laid out the foundations of an important concept for young minds: all the big wars and political events you learned about affected people who were just like you.
So what books impacted your life the most?