Eeek! I am SO late in posting and I have yet to publish my top ten books as promised. So – very short update today, and then onto the top 10 book challenge – thanks Janella for nominating me!
Quick life/reading/writing update: Summer in Chicago is still glorious (if cooling down a little – which does NOT mean summer is over – denialdenialdenial no shame), I went to Ch1Con two weeks ago (which was amazing! lots of cool authors and young writers and readers, discussing being a young author of YA, and met some more local Chicago writers!), read some awesome Christina Lauren (NA romance about a dancer and a charming french boy), and am still in round 2 of revisions (haha, big surprise – but I have made some progress). And that, friends, is what we call a speed update, as well as a heck of a run on sentence. You’re welcome. Now onto some of my favorite books!
So the point of the challenge is to come up with the 10 books (or series) that have most influenced you. I will shamelessly steal Janella’s idea and add a few bonus books at the end, but keeping the more detailed explanations for top 10. Also shamelessly stealing Janella’s rules:
1. No two books by the same author!
2. But, you can count a series as one book!
3. Also, this isn’t really a rule, but we’re listing our books in chronologically order, which I think is super cool! 😀 <<< Sorry, I am definitely going to bend this rule! I read these series so spread out over years of childhood, I can’t even try to tell you which came first. Ah well.
Ready, set, GO!
1. Nancy Drew – I loved this series! I knew it was a bit dated even at the time… but the wit, the puzzle-solving, and the thrill of figuring out a mystery for yourself as you’re reading hooked me to this series at a young age. For a while, I thought mystery was my main genre, all because of Nancy Drew. Fierce females taking charge and taking dow bad guys? Thank you, early intro to strong heroines!
2. Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles) – Intro to badass heroines, part 2. I loved these four books, and wish there had been more. They basically start as every classic fairytale turned on its head, thanks to a willful princess who wants no part of tedious court life and absconds to live with dragons, then her story takes on a life of its own. Magic, living within dragon politics, adventure, dry, witty humor… Patricia Wrede turned me on to the idea of making your own style and creating the new normal within a genre you already love.
3. Ella Enchanted – So I’m pretty sure this was one of the first books I read, and reread, and reread, probably at least five times. It’s also a twisted fairytale (loosely based on Cinderella) but also definitely takes its own life. The big twist – Ella’s fairy godmother is not all she’s cracked up to be, and ends up cursing her at birth. This story takes you so deep into Ella’s mind, her heart, her inner struggle against her curse of obedience, all woven into a fairytale, fantasy setting, filled with ogres and palaces and evil stepmothers. This book definitely helped turn me on to fantasy, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.
4. Cry, the Beloved Country – Read this book in middle school, and it is still one of my favorites. Fun fact – my poor copy is falling apart, and I’ve taped the last 50 pages back into the book several times, probably because they contain one of my favorite/most reread passages of all time. It deals with apartheid in South Africa, and more particularly, two fathers who grapple with loss and the disparate poverty and racism that affects them on deeply personal levels, relating to their sons. This book challenged my perception of right and wrong, and even more so, forgiveness and healing – both relationships and an entire nation. Since I’m being incredibly vague here to not ruin the book for anyone who hasn’t read it (DO!) here’s a snippet of said favorite passage.
“For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emanciptation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.”
5. Inkheart – First of all, Cornelia Funke is an incredible writer, and I would probably read anything by her just for her prose that flows like a painting – and that’s after it’s been translated from her first language, German! But this book (and the Inkheart Trilogy) in particular had a big effect on me – sparking my imagination, my taste in books, and ultimately, my writing. The book is about a girl and her father who can read characters out of books – and read people of our world into them. For a book nerd, this book is paradise. Each chapter starts with a great book quote, we delve into the possibility of being thrown into our fantasy worlds, and we also visit an amazing castle (library castle) in northern Italy. Seriously, I come back to this book a lot – it has sparked many of my own ideas, and influenced my current WIP considerably.
6. The Outsiders – Another middle school read, and another long time favorite of mine. S.E. Hinton follows the story of a group of boys growing up on the fringes of society in a large city in the 60s. There was so much about this story that stuck with me, and a few images from the novel hit me so vividly, 10+ years later I still can’t get them out of my head. S.E. Hinton taught me poignancy and vivid, heart-achingly relatable characters are possible to achieve in very few words – and that they make a story stick with you, long after you put it down.
7. Dragon Riders of Pern – I also read these books in middle school, even though they definitely have adult elements (oops)… but I couldn’t put them down. So often I am writing, and I think of Anne McCaffrey and send a silent thank you for the example she gave me of incredible world-building and balancing a huge range of characters, storylines, and often multi-generational timelines. I won’t even try to explain the series here, it is so vast and complex, but suffice it to say she is regarded as the “Mother of Science Fiction” – and she really did create a society on an alternate planet, with dragons, in a believable, incredibly well-explained way. I love these characters, I love the series… and I know I have been so influenced by these books as well. I would pick up any of them for a reread any day (and probably lose the day to a whirlwind reading frenzy), and I regularly do – they never get old to me!
8. Lord of the Rings – Speaking of world-building… I’m not sure there’s much I can say about Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit that isn’t already known. World-building? Let’s talk about 10+ years of writing a series, using the history and language knowledge of one’s Oxford professor brain, and creating multiple languages, as well as additional books on myth and legend and background story to supplement your book. That level of dedication to one’s story, one’s world, inspires me daily to keep going deeper. Aside from that, I’m in love with so many parts of this story, and probably half of the characters. For my current WIP in particular, I’ve gone back to LOTR to study the masterful way Tolkien weaves many characters and their diverging storylines together, managing their separate paths and their ultimate convergence.
9. Circle of Magic – Tamora Pierce was a gateway for me in more than one way. First, she got me hooked on fantasy. Second, she got me started on dreaming up my own stories. I think I had vaguely inserted myself into books before reading Circle of Magic (a key trademark of early writers, I’ve come to learn), but I’d never created my own part and storyline within those books. Something about Circle of Magic sparked that story-creating urge within me, and I would literally spend hours dreaming up my own stories within her world – aka, my earlier fan-fiction! Also, I got to meet Tammy in person this May at the RT convention… and I think my heart stopped a little/I stammered something incoherent about how her books helped get me through middle school, and she was amazing and… fangirl moment to the extreme!! She is incredible. And a legend. Enough said.
10. Harry Potter – There’s a reason I saved this for last. It probably had something to do with hoping I’d have talked myself silly by now and wouldn’t have enough energy left to embarrassingly sobfest/fangirl myself all over the screen about what Harry Potter meant to me. Ha. Ha. #wishfulthinking. So here we go (note: skip the following if you’re happier under the delusion that I’m not a total nerd/Potterhead/gushing fan over HP. Otherwise, sob along with me).
Harry Potter really did get me through the precarious, painful ages of 8-15. In fact it got me through a lot of bumps long after that, and still gets me through life. Shameless confessions time: I was, and still am, that kid. The one who waited at midnight every year for the new one and ignored the world until she’d finished reading the book, no matter what vacation/camp/life tried to get in the way (1-3 days of nose-to-book, usually). The one who read each book at least seven times, because each time a new one came out, she read them all once or twice (usually twice) in the months preceding the new release. The one who could tell you the latest theories about the initials R.A.B. (post book 6 release and speed read) and discuss the significance of anyone from Harry to Dumbledore to Arabella Fig.
I was the kid who wrote Harry Potter fan-fiction (literally before I knew fan fiction existed, it’s apparently just a gut reaction for certain nerd type, writing inclined, kids to do this as soon as they read Harry Potter 17 times and still need more). And years later, when I was dreaming of careers/future life plans (read: desperately searching for a life calling as my graduation date crept closer and closer), I turned to my oldest source of center. I reread all seven books, and then reread my fan fiction. And you know what? I remembered. I remembered why I’d fallen in love with writing all those years ago, and I realized that fire had never died. It was just waiting, a glowing ember, for me to come back and rekindle it. I did. Thank you, J.K. Rowling, for all you’ve given me, and dreamers everywhere. You’ve made all the difference for me.