September 24, 2013

A Life of Books...My top ten most influential books

I've been thinking a lot about books lately.  Maybe it's because I can see the end of this degree approaching, and can imagine myself reading for pleasure (what an idea!). Maybe it's because I've found myself wanting to reread some old favorites frm my childhood, just for some nice, mindless entertainment.

Last week, a friend was talking about an assignment she gave to her students: Make a list of the 10 books that have most influenced your life. I started wondering what those books would be for me.  As a young bookworm, I read stacks of books, but which ones influenced or even changed me? In college, I took countless Literature classes, but which books from those classes stayed with me after the class had ended?

So, here is my list.  I'm including fiction only (all books except for one play), because nonfiction books (and the Bible, which I place in its own category) influenced me in different ways.

10. The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander

      I discovered this book at the local library after exhausting the suggestions of the children's library.  Lloyd Alexander is probably better know for his Black Cauldron series, but it was through this book that I was introduced to his works. The Arkadians tells the story of a group of rejected, strange wanderer who end up traveling together. The specific details of the book have been lost to me, but I remember falling in love with the journey story, and the strange yet lovable characters.

9. So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Warkins

    I don't remember how I got this book, but I remember reading it over and over again as a child. My copy is worn, the cover bent and the spine broken.  It must have been one of my first encounters with historical fiction (beyond the American Girl books), and was certainly the first time I'd heard about the Japanese experience in Korea following WWII. It seemed to be a very raw and real story, with no hesitation on the author's part to water it down. It tells the story of a young Japanese girl living in Korea with her family, and her journey toward Japan with her sister and mother. I was fascinated with her story and the life she led, which was so incredibly different from my own.

8. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

    I read this series in late elementary school. I had no comprehension of the underlying metaphors and analogies, but fell in love with this strange and beautiful world. I loved the idea that a secret world could be hidden in so ordinary a place as a wardrobe, and longed to visit that place myself.  I remember decorating my room like Narnia, then being completely devastated by the conclusion of the series. I haven't read it since, but I intend don't remind me what happens!

7. How Green was my Valley by Richard Llewellyn

    This book was part of my sophomore AP English curriculum, and was easily my favorite book read during the school year. It tells the story of Huw Morgan and his large Welsh family, and details their lives amidst the struggles of poverty in a coal mining town. It amazed me the joy that could be found even as coal blackened lungs, home, and valley. Life can be beautiful, even when things are most difficult.

6. The American Girl historical books by various

    I'm including these books because, even they aren't as literarily amazing as many of the books above and below, they were a huge part of my life from age 6-12. I loved Felicity, Molly, Kirsten, Samantha, and Addy. The books were written so I could see myself in their shoes - as a pioneer girl from Sweden, or an orphan with a strict grandmother in the 1910s. Having those stories so early on only made my love of history grow and grow.

5. The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston

    Looking back, I realize that this series was probably my first real experience of reading Magical Realism. Green Knowe is a centuries-old manor in England full of history and ghosts...but not in a scary, ghostly way. The main character, Tolly, moves to Green Knowe to live with his great-grandmother, who introduces him to Toby, Linnet, and Alexander, three children who died at Green Knowe of the plague centuries atom but whose spirits live on. There is no true time travel in this series, but time seems to be very fluid and moveable as Tolly learns and experiences the history of the old house.

4. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

    When I read The Sound and the Fury in high school, our teacher gave us a key to understanding the strange book that seemed to break every writing rule I'd ever learned. By the time I read the book a second time in a college class on Faulkner, I understood what I hadn't then - that a key couldn't help you understand the truly incredible genius of the book. Like the book above, time is in flux in many of these chapters, the ones told from the point of view of a mentally disabled man who has no concept of time. But when time is not an object, different things are connected, and the world is understood in a different way.

3. Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello

     When I saw this play on a visit to the University of Evansville my senior year of high school, my mind was blown. As a writer, I'd always felt that my characters had legs and minds of their own, and that I often didn't have control over their actions.  And here, in a stunning and genius play put on brilliantly by the UE Theater department, was that idea put to stage.  Six characters walking around a stage discussing their need for someone to tell their story. It was also my first foray into absurdist plays, which would be a later obsession of mine.

2. Time and Again by Jack Finney

    This book began my obsession with time travel.  Jack Finney tells the story of a government-led project in which people are immersed in an historical lifestyle (i.e. 1880s New York City).  When their minds forget that they are in the 20th century, they slip into the past.  I read this book as summer reading for my sophomore AP English class, and fell in love with the style.  There are no gadgets, no machines, no is time travel that happens because you believe in it.  Plus, it takes place in New York City in the 1880s, one of my favorite time periods.

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

    Yes, Harry Potter is #1.  I'll never be able to deny the fact that, of all the fiction books I've read, Harry Potter has had the biggest influence on my life.  Like Narnia, I was transported from the "real" world into an amazing, magical world.  By stepping through the brick wall behind the Leaky Cauldron, or through the barrier between platforms 9 and 10 in King's Cross Station, one could leave their boring life behind and become a part of the wizarding world.  From fifth grade through college, I read these books religiously, loving the fact that they took me somewhere different that existed in the world I already new.  Harry Potter helped support my love of writing - I wrote fanfiction stories about the characters that inhabited the world, and read the incredible fanfiction written by others.  I delved into the story and discussed the deeper aspects of it while eagerly anticipating the release of the next book.  I read the first book as a fifth grader, and the final book as a junior in college.  These books encompassed my adolescent years, and affect my life more than any other (fiction) book I've read.

What are your top 10 most influential books? 

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