Ten Important (to me) Books

The author of Mental Multivitamin is not a fan of memes, yet she put out a very meme-like challenge.

But a list of ten books that reveals something about you… that’s a challenge.

Ten books above all others that have shaped or even defined you.

I especially applaud her note that naming one’s ten favorite books is rather silly, if not impossible. In the spirit of taking up the gauntlet, and striving hard to pick ten and only ten, here are my picks in chronological order.

1. Trixie Belden #1: Secret of the Mansion by Julie Campbell. My mom gave this to me for Christmas when I was in third grade, and I was an immediate fan. I liked Trixie more than Nancy Drew because she seemed like a real person with a real family. I read both series, as well as the Hardy Boys, but my loyalty to Trixie never wavered, and my love for girl detectives was begun.

2. The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart. My first Merlin book, which I read in fourth or fifth grade. Completely mesmerized me, and started a penchant for seeking out books before I was probably old enough to really “get” them.

3. Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. My cousin lent this to me when I was in seventh grade, and it was probably my first favorite fantasy novel. A girl and her very own telepathic dragon–what could be better than that? I read all the sequels, but stopped eventually when I got older and they got more terrible.

4. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon, which I read the summer after my sophomore year in college, is the book I credit with pulling me out of the non-literary diaspora. I read a lot, but it was almost all crap–bodice rippers, Steven King, bestsellers, stuff that I haven’t bothered to keep on my shelf. Chabon’s first novel was clever, funny, sad and human, and it made me want to be a better reader.

5. Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block. I read this based on a recommendation in the late, lamented Sassy magazine. It showed me that young-adult books could be smart and beautifully written. I still love reading young adult novels and I’m getting my own young-adult manuscript ready to submit for publication.

6. Sandman #1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman. One of several graphic novels and comics that my then-boyfriend gave me as an introduction to comics, and one of my lasting favorites. It’s proof that Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, while both are excellent, aren’t for everybody; different gateway comics will attract different readers. Sandman’s 75 issues worked well as individual stories and as a whole. Literary, beautiful, mythical, with characters that live on in the mind and heart.

7. House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. This was the book being read by a not-yet-then-close-friend’s book club. I saw a flyer for it on her fridge when I attended a party at her house. “Can I come, too?” I asked, and then was echoed by the English woman beside me, who would also become a close friend. I didn’t finish the book in time for the meeting, and didn’t love it even when I did, but becoming part of that book group was one of the most important intellectual and individual growth periods of my life. Yes, there are a lot of cliches about book clubs, but this was a group of smart, eclectic women who got together for food and we truly discussed the books. I taught myself to be a reader in that group. It also was the site of one of my proudest accomplishments–I got all of us to stop prefacing comments with “This may be stupid, but…” or “I’m sorry, but…” and to acknowledge that as intelligent women we shouldn’t be apologizing for what we had to say.

8. Possession by A. S. Byatt. One of the selections for book group that I did love, and the one that helped me realize I needed to quit my job and go back to grad school to study religion. It is poetry, prose, mystery, romance, and literature. It is a feast of a book.

9. I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson
10. The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (published by the wonderful and lovely Persephone Books).

Reading these, one after the other, helped me make another big life change. Pearson’s book is a funny yet wrenching story of a mother who tries and fails to have a successful business career and be the mother she wants to be. The Home-Maker is about a family whose parents switch roles when the mother has to become the breadwinner, and how that changes them all. The books were written decades apart, but the themes and difficulties are similar. Both helped me realize that Drake was not thriving in day care, and that I wanted to be home with him full time to see if it made a difference. It has, for both of us. Drake is happier and healthier, and I’ve found it easier to focus on my writing and mothering, priorities that were muddled when mixed in with my job.

I think you can tell by the list that I’ve been honest. I could’ve picked a lot more erudite books than the ones I’ve listed. I was also torn–there are a handful of books I had to leave off that also had special places in my life: Henry V, Flux by Peggy Orenstein, The World of Pooh, Bread and Jam for Frances, and Anne of Green Gables all were nearly on the list. But the ten above are the ones about which I felt most strongly, even if I didn’t like them or don’t think they’re good anymore, so they’re the ones that are there.

So, how about it? What ten books reveal something about you, and have shaped YOUR life?

One Response to “Ten Important (to me) Books”

  1. MFS Says:

    Wonderful stuff here! Thanks for the link this morning. BTW, I hope you and yours are feeling healthy.