“You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug.” – Sara Bareilles, “Brave”
The first time I heard this song, I’ll admit to tearing up, because as a writer, it meant that I have tremendous power to influence others, for good or for ill. I hope my own writing someday makes someone’s life a little better.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much certain books changed my life and shaped me i. Here’s a small sampling of the books/series that made me who I am today:
- The Little Engine that Could – I have a scrap of memory of sitting with my mom while she read me this book. I also remember one night “reading” it back to her (I memorized it) and telling her when she missed/skipped parts (I’m sure she loved that.) To me, this book symbolizes the time and care my mom took to instill a life-long love of reading into me. Plus, as I’m navigating the world of becoming a published author, I still repeat, “I think I can, I think I can,” to myself every step of the way. (I think that’s the 80s version of “just keep swimming.”)
- The Bernstein Bears series – This may sound silly, but I’m an only child, so books were my best friends growing up. A recent Huffington Post article reminded me what an effect these books had on my formative years. I have to say I learned quite a few life lessons from them, and I hope they made me a better person.
- The Sweet Valley Twins/High series – As I said, I didn’t have siblings, so for me, Jessica and Elizabeth were the sisters I never had. I always wanted to be Jessica, the popular, fun, cool twin. I decided my favorite color was purple because it was Jessica’s (it’s still my favorite color today). In high school, I took French because that was what Jessica studied (it probably would have been wiser to take Spanish, not that I remember any of it anyway). In reality, I was definitely Elizabeth, the bookish, do-gooder twin. I didn’t like the New Adult reboot that came out a few years ago, but the twins live on in my imagination, growing as I do. And yes, I still want to be Jessica.
- Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph and Frances Gies – This is the first history book I remember buying. I was in fifth grade and obviously a strange child, if I bought history books for fun. But I was born with a love for castles and the Middle Ages in general. (It was only in college that my studies turned toward the Celts.) I devoured this book and the other books in the series (life in a village, life in a town). It gave me my first sense of how different daily life was in other times, and I began to imagine the people’s stories. I should have known then and there that I’d write historical fiction some 25 years later. (By the way, I still have this book.)
- The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila – I’ve been fascinated with religion since I was little. I got a hold of this classic of mystical literature when I was a sophomore in high school. I’ve been a Teresa fan ever since. I like her intimate, personal relationship with God (she goes so far as to describe the union of the soul with God as a “mystical marriage”). I continue studying her and other mystic saints to this day. You’ll see my fascination with mysticism reflected in my writing.
- Silverthorn by Raymond Feist – I actually came to Feist’s work through the computer game Betrayal at Kronor, which will always hold a special place in my heart (even though the later novelization didn’t do it justice). I was in love with the characters of Jimmy the Hand, Owyn, and Gorath (*sigh*), so I sought out other books with them and found Silverthorn. It was my first adult-level fantasy and is the book I credit for hooking me on the genre.
- The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley – I’ve mentioned this before, but this book is the reason I write Arthurian legend. Besides wanting to make me write a strong Guinevere, it also opened my mind to the possibilities of the old faith and coincided well with the beginning of my studies of Druidism and other neo-pagan paths when I started researching for Guinevere. This book is part of a very personal change in my life and is one that I will always treasure.
- Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe – Okay, so I saw the BBC miniseries starring Alex Kingston before I read the book, but I did read it. Moll showed me a side of a historical (albeit fictional) woman that I’d never seen before, one who defied all the conventions of her time, grabbed life by the horns and did what she willed. I think she influenced some of my characters even though I didn’t realize it as I was writing them.
- Twilight by Stephenie Meyer – Laugh all you want. Yes, I was a Twihard. I think the reason this book qualifies for me is that I read it around the same time I started taking my own writing seriously. Stephenie was the first author I knew of with a web site and she just seemed more accessible than those I’d heard of growing up. I loved the book (shut up, I did) and when I read her story, I thought to myself, “well, if she, as an ordinary person, can get published, so can I.” Hence, an author was born.
- A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness – I reviewed this book here, back in 2012 when I first read it. Since then, I’ve read it several more times, each time finding new nuances to the language, new layers of meaning and plot. Her character of Diana still speaks to me in ways no other character has. While I may not be a witch or be able to walk through time (that I know of…), I share Diana’s dedication to history and unfortunate suffering with anxiety. I even took rowing lessons because of this book. Maybe someday I’ll find my Matthew, too. Plus, next month I get to live with and learn from the author for a week. That will make it all the more life-changing!
What are your life-changing books? Which ones had the most effect on you throughout your life? Have you read any of these? Please share your stories with me in the comments.