I was thinking this morning about how much I love books, reading them, writing them, teaching them – and I’m not what I would call a ‘well-read’ individual. There’s so much in the world to read, one could read 24/7/365 and never find all the gems that are out there.
I don’t remember learning to read. My mother says I asked her to teach me when I was three, but she was afraid she’d teach me ‘wrong’. By the time I was five, she realized I was reading anyway. I was a voracious reader through middle school, but then social obligations took priority after that (i.e., friends and boyfriends) and even through college and grad school I rarely read for fun, because I read so much for school. Being a mother of young children also put constraints on my reading time, so it’s just been in the last five years or so that I’ve really been able to indulge in reading the way I did as a child. Now that I’m exploring the joys of writing, I feel like I’ve come full circle; I haven’t felt this much like myself in many years.
With that in mind, I began to think what books influenced me or affected me the most as a writer, and this is the resulting list, composed without too much thought and certainly not exhaustive:
1. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen: the MacDaddy of the romance novel, and so much more—social commentary, character study, snarky fun. I bow to the genius of Jane Austen on a regular basis.
2. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare: I read this when I was ten or eleven. I loved the people in this book -to me, they were multi-faceted and interesting. It is truly a character-driven story, and it influenced my writing profoundly.
3. Dracula by Bram Stoker: Read this one in college – hated the first 2/3 of it, but then I started to realize how all the discordant, seemingly irrelevant pieces fit together, and that fascinated me.
4. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: Lordy, the angst in this one broke my heart. I aspire to write something that emotionally engaging at some time in my life.
5. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum: Loved the hero’s journey in this story. And the hero was a girl, which was very appealing to the feminist in my little girl self.
6. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: In James Frasier, she created a male character who acted like a man, not a woman’s ideal of a man – and somehow, that made him an ideal man. He is flawed, but IMO, she never sacrificed his time and place, or how he would behave in his historical context to make him more appealing to 20th century Westerners. I gotta respect that. Plus, Jamie Frasier is wicked hot.
7. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder: One of my favorite books as a child. Laura Ingalls was the first character I really cared about. I was thrilled that she was a real person.
8. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: One of my favorite books as a middle schooler. I always empathized more with Melanie Wilkes than with Scarlett though. This was the first time I was engaged by a character I didn’t really like. Something about this book makes me think I’m watching it from the outside, but it’s interesting all the same.
9. The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe: This is the only nonfiction book on my list. It proposes a theory about the cycles of history and various generational archetypes’ role in said history. It influenced me because it bridged a gap between the microcosm of individual lives and the macrocosm of society. I used many of the ideas about generations and turnings discussed in this book to help me create historically valid 1932 characters that hopefully, rang true.
10. Time at the Top by Edward Ormondroyd: Gave me my love of time-travel stories. And just fun to read.
I like to have fun.