Friday, April 22, 2011

Books That Influenced My Reading And Life

I had an interesting conversation with a student the other day, and it really made me think about those books that really influenced my reading over the years. It all started innocently enough when one of my students, who is an avid reader herself, and I, got into a conversation about our reading habits.  Eventually, the conversation turned to those books that really had an impact on our lives and not unexpectedly, I was asked about those books that I have found to be unforgettable for me over the years.  I've always found that question to be quite difficult to answer as I've never been drawn to books because of their popularity, but because I had to be interested in the subject.  And they had to connect to what I was currently interested and involved in researching in the 'real' world. I also went through definite phases as a younger reader with an absolute ferocity that just stymies me to this day.  

Naturally, once the idea got in my head, I thought about it all day, even writing on my sticky notes the titles of all sorts of books I could think of that I thought had an influence on my life.  Anyone who knows me well knows about my addiction to post-it notes and I even carry them in my purse and my coat pockets for emergencies.  It's an on-going joke in my family and at school.  Anyways, I've come up with a partial list of books that I know for sure had an impact on my life for various reasons.  Hope you enjoy. It also looks like there will a part 2 to this post as I am amazed at how many books really had an impact on my life.

Anne of Green Gables
by L.M. Montgomery

I can't think of any other book that had such an impact on a young Canadian girl.  Anne, an 11-year-old orphan girl is mistakenly sent to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, elderly sibilings who had been expecting a boy.  Her bright, overactive imagination gets her into a lot of trouble initially and drives the austere Marilla into total distraction, but her loyalty and love break down Marilla's stiff reserve in the end.  I can't tell you how many times I've read this book and all the sequels over the years.  I even own the made-for-television movies.  I have now introduced my daughter to 'Anne' and the fanaticism is continuing to the next generation.  Visiting Cavendish, PEI where Montgomery drew her inspiration is still on my Bucket List of to-do items.

The Chronicles of Narnia
C.S. Lewis

Anyone else try to get to Narnia through their own wardrobes when they were young?  I know I did every time I opened a closet door.  These books just fueled my belief in the fantasy and boy, did I believe.   I wanted to go there so badly and have adventures just like Lucy.  I see these books as being the first books that drove my interest in reading Fantasy Fiction as a child.  There isn't a time when I walk in a closet, even today, and wonder "What if?"

The Nancy Drew Mysteries
by Carolyn Keene

I know today that these books were written by a variety of authors under the pseydonym "Carolyn Keene", created by Edward Stratemeyer.  When I was young, I didn't care about all of that.  I was in awe of Nancy and wanted to grow up to be like her and have all of these adventures.  It didn't matter to me that she never grew older or that she never went to college, not when I was 7-years-old.  I still have the set sitting on my shelf and I will never sell them.  Every once in a while, I pick up a book and read it, remembering the child I used to be, with the whole world in front of her.  The Hidden Staircase was my favourite book in the series.

Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott

This book has the unsual impact on me by being the first book I read (I was seven years old), where I realized that tragic moments can happen.  I remember crying after finishing the book and I barely slept that night because I kept thinking about poor Beth.  I slept with the book under my pillow.  I realized for the first time that books can have a huge impact on your emotions and really affect you.  I still have the version on the right on my shelf, and will never get rid of it.  I also spent the next six months reading whatever I could find on the American Civil War, which, at seven years old, wasn't much.  Libraries didn't carry a lot of non-fiction things for children at that time.

Little House on the Prairie
by Laura Ingalls Wilder

These novels developed a lifelong interest in learning about the history of the Pioneers as well as the Native Americans.  Until I read this series, I didn't know a lot about them and wanted to learn more.  Luckily, the libraries stocked a lot of non-fiction books for children about the various groups in North American and I got my fill of details, at times gory and grusome, about life as a native.  I still have the entire series on my shelf, but have not as yet been able to develop an interest in my children. 

The Giver
by Lois Lowry

This one ranks as one of my favourite dystopian novels ever.  The scene with the twins still haunts me today and boy, did this one have a huge impact on me.  I couldn't stop thinking about it for days after reading it.  Despite the literary criticism, I still admire this novel if entirely for the message it sent to my soul.

Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth's Children, Book 1)
by Jean M. Auel

I have always claimed this to be one of my favourite books ever written, not just for the amazing story, but also for the amount of research involved.  This first came out when I was in grade 10, and it developed a lifelong interest in things archaeological and anthropological.  If I was not doing what I was doing, I have always said I would have become either an anthropologist or an archaeologist.  This book first developed that interest as I was fascinated by the research in this novel.  I have since spent many hours reading books about both archaeology and anthropology, even going so far as to take courses in both subjects.

The Chrysalids & The Day of the Triffids
by John Wyndham

This book was required reading in grade 9 English and I was completely against it at first.  Dystopian literature was foreign to me at the time and totally against form, I wasn't interested.  Guess what?  Loved it, and I credit it for developing my interest in science-fiction and dystopian literature.  Read The Day of the Triffids right after and probably never should have as to this day I refuse to watch a meteor shower.  Anyone who has read this book will totally understand my completele unreasonabless for this rationality. 

Agatha Christie Mysteries

And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express are two of my favourites mysteries from this collection, but I went through a phase where I had to read every single one of her mysteries back to back when I was in high school.   I also credit this series for developing a taste for good mystery stories as well as gothic literature such as Rebecca, which is what I read after these. 

A Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens

While this isn't my favourites Charles Dickens novel, I still enjoyed the story in this classic tale set during the French Revolution.  What this novel did do what influence my historical research and I developed an obsession with the French Revolution.  I remember doing my grade 13 research paper on the topic as well as studying it in university.  I'm quite passionate about it and read about it whenever I can.  There was a question last week about what would someone tell about you if they looked at your bookshelves.  They would definitely notice my interest in the French Revolution as I have at least two shelves full of non-fiction books on the subject and at least that many shelves full of fiction novels.  And those are just the ones I've purchased. 

The Bourne Identity (Book 1)
by Robert Ludlum

This may seem like an odd choice to put on this list, but I chose it for a specific reason.  I absolutely loved this series, yet this reminds me constantly how how much a movie can totally wreck a really good book.  While the movie is good for those who have never read the book, for someone like me who loved the novels, and adored Jason Bourne, the movies were downright awful.  It just reminds me to maybe watch the movie first, then read the book, especially if I really loved the book.  Or else, just stay away from the movie. 

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

I have chosen this poem by Frost as the last item on this list as this has always been one of the most influential poems of my life.  I still have it posted on practically everything, and I have lines from the poem everywhere as they remind me constantly not to take the safe road whenever it's time to make a decision in my life.  The last five years, my husband and I have had to make some fairly large decisions in our life, have uprooted our family and moved them to another city, I've had to quit my job and find another, and it hasn't always been an easy transition.  But the rewards have been great!!!!  I live my life by this poem and I would like to teach my children to do so as well.  Thank you to that very influential grade 9 teacher who introduced me to dystopian literature as well as this poem.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


  1. What a fun post! I love love love Anne of Green Gables! I live about 2 hours away from PEI so I always loved her story because I envisioned myself there!

  2. Great list! I'd love to make one of my own. I'd put "And Then There Were None" on mine too. I love that you included a Robert Frost poem. Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" would be my pick...I had to memorize it for a high school English class and I can still recite it to this day.