Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Visiting Past Work: 10 Books That Have Had an Impact on My Life

So all of you know I'm a book nerd. In reviewing some past writing, I discovered this list that I wrote for an undergraduate senior writing seminar. So here you have a list. Parts may look familiar, but other parts...

Muggie Maggie: It was the first book I ever owned, and the first chapter book I read. This clever little book by Beverly Cleary detailed the struggles of a girl trying desperately hard to learn to write cursive. I identified with the protagonist. She was the first character in a book who seemed real to me.

The Babysitters Club: Some of us may be ashamed to admit it now, but all of my friends and I were attached to these books in elementary school. It took me two years of reading to realize how formulaic and generic they were--and yet how successful. They gave me hope. (To clarify: I thought, "If stuff like this gets published, surely I can successfully publish something I write.")

The Chronicles of Narnia: Since the last two selections are series, I apologize if I am going beyond my limit. But I have read many books. These fantasy stories inspired me to write things that were pure imagination. I didn't know then that the Narnia books had deeper elements, but I still love them for just that reason.

Number the Stars: This Newbery award winner by Lois Lowry introduced me to historical fiction and led me to discover just how fascinating historical fiction can be. It started me on an almost yearlong stint of reading books about World War II and the Holocaust.

Bridge to Terabithia: I did not fully comprehend it the first time I read it. But the second time, the tears would not stop pouring. It was the first book (one of a select few) that elicited an intense, visible emotional reaction from me. 1984 was one of the other select few books that created such a response. It actually motivated me to act. Granted, my action was throwing the book across the room in a fit of anger. But it was an action nonetheless.

Harry Potter riveted me to my seat in a time when books were starting to bore me. I thought I had read them all, had seen them all, and that there was nothing new out there. And then this series fell into my hands. I hated eating, going to the bathroom, blowing my nose, and doing all sorts of necessary things because they pulled me away from my book.

I used to think that no book had it all. No book had managed to encompass all of the elements I liked: adventure, romance, good characters. It seemed to be a one-or-the-other type of choice--until I read The Princess Bride. What a lovely surprise! (Besides, I could not resist reading it after seeing the words "son of a bitch" on the back of the cover--words my mother gasped at when she saw it. Shortly thereafter, the library began taping over the blurb on the back cover.)

Wicked completely blew my mind. I have never read anything quite so inventive in my life (which may mean I need to read more*...not that I truly need any incentive.) Gregory Maguire took a well-known story and turned it on its head, making an already-used idea completely fresh, new, and his own. It is a book infused with commentary--while still being entertaining.

Finally, the one work of non-fiction to make the list: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, a memoir about a mother who provided for her family by entering writing contests. It was a well-presented memoir that led me to realize how interesting real life can be. I forget sometimes.

*Three years later, I can definitely say that I've read things as inventive--or more inventive--than Wicked. Thank you, graduate school.