I was perpetually grief-stricken when I finished a book, and would slide down from my sitting position on the bed, put my cheek on the pillow and sigh for a long time. It seemed there would never be another book. It was all over, the book was dead. It lay in its bent cover by my hand. What was the use? Why bother dragging the weight of my small body down to dinner? Why move? Why breathe? The book had left me, and there was no reason to go on.― Marya Hornbacher, Wasted
Childhood is built through a series of unimportant moments. There were many books that I liked or loved but, this is not a list about them. This is a list of stories that affected me, deeply.Such books connected with me and shaped my worldview. These books became a part of me and set me on my path.
Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
While much of the Green Gables chatter focuses on the relationships of the stories, I was greatly affected by Anne’s inner growth. Her change from a “wicked” ex-orphan with a nasty temper, to a popular student, to a respected teacher, to a selfless caregiver affected my outlook on maturity. Anne is a romantic at heart, with a deep passion for literature which often expressed through both her speech and writing. She is extremely artsy, which makes her precocious as a child. This was a situation I could relate to. It alienates her from many children until she learns to turn it into part of her charm. By the end of this book, Anne has really turned into an interesting person. She is aware of her flaws and dedicated to improving herself as a means of expanding her horizons.
The Hobbit by J. R.R. Tolkien
When I remember scanning the first chapter, my mouth is immediately filled with the creamy taste of cheese and guacamole stacked on spicy beef as I devoured my lunch along with this book. To give you a reference for my experience, the “Lord of the Rings” moves had not been filmed yet. I had found a strange technicolored paperback with a sketch of hills on the cover. Each of the mounds had a little garden, picket fence and round door. There were winding paths between each mound, making a little village before my eyes. I enjoyed the peaceful, agrarian appearance, with chunky orange text faded from a glossy gold. The first chapter confused me because I had not the slightest idea of the story I had found. It was simply stacked with a bunch of castoffs from my mother’s childhood along with Erma Bombeck parenting books and Doonsbury comics. It took me a few pages to get a grip on Tolkien’s fantasy world leading me to utter shock when Bilbo decided to spend the rest of the story away from the shire. I had not expected such a grand and serious adventure within such a silly cover. There were dark creatures and rough dwarves although none quite so frightening as the Gollum whispering riddles underground.
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
Forever fascinated by the parenting style presented by Mr. and Mrs. Behr, I absorbed this story more deeply than Little Women. This story is not about becoming a woman in a singular developmental fashion. It’s about how to be a decent human by surrounding yourself with other decent humans. The relationships in the story reveal the positive and negative character traits of each boy, setting up the plot to show how they will right themselves. As I young person, the morals presented were so transcendent compared to what is revered in our current society.
Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis
Imagination, adventure and wonder make the most didactic book of the series also the most whimsical. While one could argue that there is a converted character in each installment, the dragon Eustace is definitely the most touching allegory. As a child, if you are not the bully, you tend to be surrounded by them. In the black-and-white vision of youth, pure hatred is held for these nasty kids. This story reminded me that mean people still have a chance, thus, turning the mirror on my own childish flaws.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Dafoe
Primitivism has always held a fascination for me, bringing nature into my core. I have always fantasized about the true freedom of living alone in the wilderness. It is actually a very spiritual story, as Crusoe has a great deal of time to think on the island. The story begins during his youth as a merchant, where he is quickly successful financially. However, he is living in a morally grey area, living for himself. During his time on the island, every one of his preconceptions is questioned as his new lifestyle of work and quiet compels him to live deliberately. After he is rescued, we see the contrast between his former life and his new soul.
The Book of Proverbs from the Bible
There are many stories in the Bible which are compelling and applicable however, the lessons in Proverbs resonated with me at an early age. Each couplet builds into a word picture that captures the true meaning of righteousness. It was a simple, quick way for a child to incorporate biblical doctrine into everyday life.
The Red-Headed League by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Understanding the development of mystery is a large part of discovering literature. Even if you don’t read crime novels, building suspense and withholding information is found within many types of literature. Doyle may be the father of the detective novel and at the very least, creator of one of the best literary heroes in the English language. Reading this story showed me how character development can lead a person to believe a story then, set them up for a twist.
A Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear
For a young person trying to study all kinds of writing styles, Edward Lear’s limericks taught me cadence in writing. Most people are familiar with the “There once was (person) from (place)” at the beginning of each of his rhymes. He used creative word pairings to force a smile out of each ridiculous scenario.
There was a Young Person of Smyrna,
Whose Grandmother threatened to burn her;
But she seized on the cat,
And said, ‘Granny, burn that!
You incongruous Old Woman of Smyrna!’
Reading his poems built up my vocabulary and made me appreciate vivid verbs. Also, the volume I possessed was filled with quirky sketches.
Fairy Tales by The Grimm Brothers
I still have the small leaflet of fairy tales sent to me from Germany by a friend whose parents moved to a foreign military base. It was filled with the more traditional interpretations of Snow White, Rapunzel and Cinderella. Also, there were stories that Disney never recreated, like the tragic Goose Girl. They all contain confusing elements and harsh endings. They don’t directly moralize but, instead, ramble the way you would expect from oral tradition.
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
While it was not the most difficult story I tried to absorb as a child, Green Eggs and Ham was influential from many standpoints. First, the visual impact of the book is one of its main features –bringing poetry to life for yet another generation. Second, the storytelling devices taught me about allegory and themes at an age when I was first learning to appreciate them. Third, Seuss was the master of mixing mediums, commercializing his message in a palatable form. I grew up to work in advertising (Geisel’s first job) so, one can definitely see how his work affected my choices.
What literary works influenced your childhood?