I’m a little under the weather, readers, so I may serve you “Content-Lite” again tomorrow. Happily, today I’ll be providing you with a list of wonderful books you can read in my absence. These are all books that shaped my reading and writing life from its inception. I know we all have books like these, so please smile and remember your own list as you read mine: maybe we even have some overlap!
1. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series
If you don’t know, Anne McCaffrey died just two weeks ago. I was absolutely devastated. I remember buying a copy of Dragonsong at my gifted program’s library for fifty cents, reading it, and having my world changed around me. No other books would satisfy after I finished that one. I wandered downstairs to borrow something from my older brother’s book collection, and what did I find? The Harper Hall trilogy. Our grandmother had given it to him, but he never read any of the books, so they were just waiting for me on his shelf. Over the next couple of years, I read every Pern book. One summer, I used my weekly pool-cleaning money to buy one Pern book a week. I still have them all.
I loved these books. LOVED them. I wanted to be a pioneer. I even had a sunbonnet. I’ve been to almost all of the “Little Houses” around the country, even the one in South Dakota. One summer of my youth in Springfield, Missouri, my best friend and I took a Little House summer school class. We ate popcorn in milk, discussed the books, and took a trip to Laura’s final home in Mansfield, Missouri. The trip I took to De Smet, South Dakota was as an adult. Yes, I dragged my mother with me on a six-hour drive from Wisconsin to go stay at a B&B in the old bank. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
I rode horses as a kid. I had stuffed horses, toy horses, horse posters, horse jewelry… You get the idea. These books gave me a world where I could ride every day, one where I could even be a horse. I read every single one of Marguerite Henry’s books, and I still have all my nasty, beat-up paperbacks. The first “book” I wrote was heavily influenced by Marguerite Henry. It was about a wild colt named Midnight. I even added my own illustrations. If my parents ever find it, they’ll have serious blackmail material.
I lived and breathed Taran for a few months, and Eilonwy was my hero. I wanted to have biting retorts to everything, I wanted red hair, I wanted to be her. I loved all Prydain books, but this one stuck with me the most.
Now that I’m grown up, I appreciate just how steeped in Welsh mythology these books really are.
Another one I have my brother to thank for. This book launched me on a lifelong love of fantasy, even though it’s… well… it’s Dragonlance! It’s D&D! It’s so… well. It just is. But I really fell in love with fantasy as a genre because of these books. The Dragonlance series turned me into a fantasy writer.
These books do have a fascinatingly dark and strong female character named Kitiara. She was another of my heroes, even though she’s of dubious moral character.
It looks like this book is on lots of people’s lists, and for very good reason. I read it when it came out in 1993, when I was eight. It was the first dystopian novel I ever read, and it shaped the way I would look at dystopian literature for the rest of my life. When Jonas first sees color, I nearly wept, and I wasn’t a cryer, even at eight.
When I was a senior in high school, an amazing teacher gave us a final essay project in which we were to write about the best novel of a topic we drew out of a hat. I chose “psychological,” and I did no research on other critics’ opinions about psychological novels: I chose The Giver. Honestly, if you haven’t read it, go get it now. Right now. GO.
You probably haven’t heard of this one. It’s another dystopian novel, this time about a young woman living in a society of “Chosen” and “Quelled.” Elsha is a member of the Quelled class and doomed to a life working in the coal mines until she is chosen to be Handmaiden to the Firelord.
Looking back at it, it’s a pretty flimsy early commentary on our society’s addiction to fossil fuels, etc. Still, Elsha’s adventures are inspiring and uplifting. She’s an amazing role model for young girls — too bad this book is out of print. I wish I’d snagged a copy once upon a time.
You may find this one odd on a list of books I read as a kid. Know this: I skipped kids books, going straight from Marguerite Henry to Dragonlance and Michael Crighton, and others.
This book is the first book that really made me think about religion. It upended my notions of divinity, and made me consider things I had never considered before. It also turned my expectations of roles in Arthurian literature inside out. It’s a stridently feminist book, but that’s not a bad thing for a 12-year-old girl to read.
Speaking of Arthurian myth, this is the book that introduced me to King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot when I was about ten. I was obsessed. I still plan to write a King Arthur story one day.
I haven’t read this book in a few years and I’m tempted to get it out again to see what it’s like. Guinevere is our feisty heroine, but the Arthurian myth is pretty chauvinistic just by its nature. I’m curious to see just how Ms. McKenzie portrays women, now that I’m a grown up and aware of things like feminism.
My mom bought me a copy of this book when I was… well, I can’t remember how old. She loved it when she was a girl, and she wanted to share the love. I was dubious about the title and the plot, so it took me awhile to read it.
Once I did, I was in love. I started it over from the beginning after I finished it. It’s a love story, but it’s also a story about a smart, feisty young woman learns to live in a society that will never quite accept her as she is. She learns that she can’t always have her way, but she can still be herself.