So my dear friend Narelle included me in a Facebook challenge to list the top 10 books “that have made a lasting impression.” I have to say, had one heckuva time narrowing it down to ten but I tried to concentrate on the challenge as specified. So, here they are, in the approximate order that they were introduced to me. Enjoy the walk down memory lane!
Dandelion, by Don Freeman- This book was my first love. I checked it out from the John Steinbeck Library nearly every single week for three years straight and when I was a teen my mother gifted me a copy. I think of Dandelion as I would and old friend, now, having read it hundreds of times in my youth and dozens of times to my own kids. It sparked a love of books that has lasted a lifetime, and so I was compelled to include it here.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain- I know, I know, you’re all thinking but… Huckleberry Finn! I agree. However, Tom Sawyer was my first Twain and it made quite an impression on me (plus, the Tom and Becky in the cave just scared my ten-year-old self to pieces!). It was because of this book that I went on to read all the Twain I could get my hands on (and probably set me up for the love affair I would later have with all things Vonnegut.) So thank you, Mrs. Casarez, wherever you are, for putting this on our fifth-grade reading list. Well done.
The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien- Sixth grade was tumultuous. I was a pre-teen at a new school and, for some reason that still remains a mystery, had revolving teachers that year. Three, to be exact. The only constant was The Hobbit, which I devoured. The language challenged me, and up until that point I had no idea books could be that elaborate (he wrote an entire language for heaven’s sake!). I was completely enthralled with Tolkien’s universe. It was a thrilling story and a wonderful escape.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee- Maybe my favorite book of all time (as is reflected in the naming of my eldest child). From the storytelling to the subject matter; it is tragic and triumphant, sad and hopeful all at once. This story could never be effectively told if not through the eyes of a child. It is just perfect.
The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck- Of course this is a classic, but this book really stuck with me. It still sticks with me. I find myself thinking about passages throughout my day on a fairly regular basis, even though I haven’t read it in probably 20 years. THAT’S the tell-tale sign of a good read.
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut- My mom was assigned this book for a college class she was taking, and so she read it to my brothers and me on the road from California to Utah over the summer of 1985. Of course, she skipped all the parts she thought were inappropriate for kids, which only ensured I would steal it as soon as the coast was clear and reread everything she had censored. I was sucked in by Vonnegut’s melancholy/satirical/subversively brilliant storytelling. To this day I am intrigued by how you always know how a Vonnegut is going to end in the first few pages; it’s how you get there that is the mystery.
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck- Of course I had to include a Steinbeck in my list. I was, after all, born in his backyard. At the time, I had a big fascination with the Great Depression, so the plight of the Joad family really resonated with me. I also loved the poetic language of non-Joad chapters. The stark contrast in writing styles inspired me to start writing.
Spoon River Anthology, by Edgar Lee Masters- Another terrific book I discovered through another terrific teacher (thank you, Ms. Jacobsen!). I love the prose and the greater story being told. But even more, this book takes me back to a certain time and place in my life. I am immediately nostalgic every time I read it.
Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe- More than any other book I have ever read, Things Fall Apart transported me to more than a different world, it made me feel like I was a part of a completely different culture. I truly empathized with Okonkwo, despite the horrific things he does. I read it from cover to cover in literally one setting and then immediately read it again. It inspired me to read up about the Igbo, the history of Nigeria and sparked an interest in African authors. I was saddened when Dr. Achebe passed away last year.
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth, by Henci Goer- This book changed the way I thought about childbirth. Before reading it I thought I’d have an Well-I’d-Like-To-Go-Natural-But-I’m-Not-Going-To-Be-A-Hero kind-of birth. After reading it I was a converted Of-COURSE-I’m-Going-Natural (!!!) kind-of gal. It is not an easy read (dense and tedious at times, especially if you read all the indexes as I did) but I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who is even considering getting pregnant.