Books that made me who I am


I’ve been thinking about books lately. I guess it’s not surprising!

I’ve always had trouble picking a favorite movie, but I’ve never had trouble pinpointing which books are my favorites, and that’s because there’s a simple test: If I truly love a book, I re-read it. Many times.

In fact, I often re-read them every couple of years, or sometimes I’ll even re-read favorite passages from them. (Yes, I was the girl in the corner in the library. Every weekend.)

Given the amazing response to thelinster’s post What book got you hooked? last summer, I’m guessing that many of you might be just as bookish as I am. So I thought I’d share a few of the books that made deep, lifelong impressions on me. They shaped me as a human being and as a writer, and every time I read one of them, I feel like I’ve come home.

A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle

L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time is more famous, but A Ring of Endless Light will always win out for me. It’s the third book in a series about Vicky Austin, a girl who writes. She’s 15 years in old in this one, and spending the summer with her grandfather, who is dying of leukemia. Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? Well, the book is a lyrical exploration of faith (in God and other things), mortality and love. Plus, Vicky goes swimming with dolphins, thereby launching my brief but intense desire to become a marine biologist. Number of times re-read: at least five.

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

McKinley has become quite well-known for her retellings of fairy tales (and they’ve influenced me a lot as a writer), but my favorite book of hers is this somewhat dramatic adventure about Harry Crewe (she’s about 18, I think) who is essentially kidnapped by a desert chieftain, given a magical sword, fights evil and saves the world. Along the way she rides a lot of amazingly beautiful horses (thereby launching my continuing desire to, um, learn how to ride horses) and has visions. Yes, it’s romantic, and yes, it rocks. Number of times re-read: on average, every three years.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Obviously, I loved Jo March; when she left home to pursue her dream of being a writer in Big Bad New York City, I listened, and did the same later on in my real life. But my favorite passages of Little Women involve little sister Amy in Europe. I remember vividly the scene where she’s sitting in that garden after hearing the news that Beth had died, and Laurie comes over to comfort her. My girlish heart leapt at that moment, and I have to say, I think I started searching for a female version of Laurie (at least subconsciously) beginning right then. Number of times re-read: countless.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I first read this in my high school English class when I was 14, and every time I re-read it, I find something new. Austen’s wit is just incredible, and I can only sit there in slack-jawed admiration at the way she structured this classic love story. Sure, I loved the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth version (I felt a bit meh about the Keira Knightley one), but there’s no comparison to Miss Austen’s original. Number of times re-read: at least five.

Stay by Nicola Griffith

This isn’t a book I read as a child, but it is actually one of the few books I’ve read and re-read as an adult. It’s about lesbian private eye/ass-kicker extraordinaire Aud Torvingen and the way she deals with the grief of losing her lover. Yes, it starts out in a dark place, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and following Aud on that twisting journey is what makes this book so memorable. My favorite scene is quite a simple one: It involves Aud building a chair. Griffith’s descriptions of the wood peeling off as Aud planes the arms of the chair put me there, viscerally, and I felt it. Number of times re-read: three.

So there you have some of my classics. What are yours? Which books helped make you the person you are today?

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