10 Books that Affected Me

The Asian Pear recently tagged me to participate in 10 Books That Affected Me. I am happy to join in! Books that had a big impact on me are not necessarily the same as my favourite books – that would be a whole other post. I liked thinking about this topic. Books have had a huge influence on me! I’m sure I’ve forgotten some, but here are 10 that mattered (in roughly chronological order):

I think my family had this Wonder Book edition

I think my family had this Wonder Book edition

Mother Goose. Through sing-song rhymes told over and over, I learned about rhythm and rhyme, and developed a love of language. I also learned that all of humanity is a foolish, pitiful, laughable lot – no matter who you are or what your station. Not a bad lesson to learn at age 2!

Cute new book jacket

Cute new book jacket

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I skipped picture books and borrowed this from the library when I was 6. I loved it until The Tragic Event happened and I ran crying to my mother: why did the author write it that way? I re-read it when I was 11 and understood the plot better, but I came away thinking that authors are wily creatures who have our lives in their hands.

I haven't read the newer "uncensored" version

I haven’t read the newer “uncensored” version

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I knew nothing about this book when I picked it up at age 12. I was floored by the ending. This time it wasn’t the author I was questioning, it was the universe and God. How could such things be allowed to happen?  It was the beginning of my education about injustice in the world.

Book_Margaret

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. Very popular in its day, it was a reassuring novel about puberty for girls. Religious questioning also featured heavily, which was right up my alley.

1973 edition

1973 edition

Girls Are Equal, Too by Dale Carlson. This book introduced me to feminism when I was 10. When I was growing up, only boys were newspaper carriers or altar servers, which seemed like important jobs to me at the time. Girls babysat. Boy Scouts made lean-tos and went winter camping; Girl Guides stayed in a summer lodge. Men and boys watched sports after holiday dinners while women did the dishes. This book raised my consciousness and literally changed my life. I am sure it is laughably dated now, but I just saw it was rewritten in 1998 and is available full-text on Google Books. I read the first 4 pages and shouted, “Yes!”

Book_Camus

The Outsider (L’Etranger) by Albert Camus. The amorality of the character in this book made me squeamish, and it spurred me on to be a better person. Even if life had no intrinsic meaning, there was no justification for a self-centred existence. You had to make your own meaning. A good lesson for age 17.

Book_Babel

Babel (a poetry/lyric collection) by Patti Smith. Patti Smith’s voice came roaring into my life that same year. She blurred stomped all over the line between the sacred and the profane. I posted her lines on my wall:

don’t you see when you’re looking at me that i’ll never end/transcend transcend

What more perfect words for timeless youth! And I am sure I researched every literary and historical figure she ever mentioned.

Book_Road

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. This was my self-help Bible for about 10 years. It stated that the point of life was personal growth. You should always strive to be your best self, and attract others who support you on that journey (while you respect and support theirs). When I re-read the book now, I find it trite. But I can’t underestimate what a source of strength it was for me then.

Book_Material World

Material World by Peter Menzel. This is the big photo book that depicted families from around the world in front of their homes, surrounded by everything they owned. It drew attention to materialism 15 years before minimalism enjoyed a resurgence (after the latest recession). It opened my eyes to the accumulation of Stuff.

Book_Food Rules

Food Rules by Michael Pollan. I am not a food purist. My own rules are pretty liberal. But I just love how Michael Pollan distilled Real Food and Clean Eating into a series of little axioms for living: “Eat food. Mostly plants.” “Do all your eating at a table.” “Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not.” “Sweeten and salt your food yourself.” He writes about food as if it is healthy and meant to nourish you. What?!

I could go on and on…I could list The Complete Works of Shakespeare and The Bible and The Oxford English Dictionary. But I’ll stop now. You know that books open minds and change lives!

27 comments

  1. I too remember crying over Beth in Little Women. It’s still a book I enjoy. Did you read March by Geraldine Brooks? It took me a while to get into it, but once I’d read a few chapters, I really enjoyed it.

  2. I love this list. What a great thing to be awoken to feminism at 10 years old!

    • Sorry I missed this comment when you sent it! It really was life changing to hear the message at that age. It was the mid 70s and the “feminist revolution” was still immediate and ongoing.

  3. Interesting selections. I need to check some of these out. I have only read a couple. Thanks for sharing your favorites that impacted you.

  4. Gam kau

    What a nice list you’ve come up with. This hurts my brain to even contemplate it. 🙂

  5. Great list. I think mine would include:

    Now We Are Six (A. A. Milne)
    From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
    Elements of Style
    The Well of Loneliness
    Our Bodies Ourselves
    Maus (Art Spiegelman)
    Italian Home Cooking (Marcella Hazan)
    Stone Butch Blues
    Move Your Shadow (Joseph Lelyveld)
    The Riddle of Gender (Deborah Rudacille)

    Not the most literary list, but each book changed my life.

  6. Lots of good ones here! Judy Blume is one of my favorite authors. I listened to her speak about 5 years ago and adored her even more afterwards.

    I had to look up the Camus because I knew it sounded familiar – in the version I read, the title was translated as “The Stranger” rather than “Outsider.” I wrote an essay about how that book helped me through a break up, though I forget the connection between the two now. Probably deserves a reread.

  7. Holly

    Oh what a difficult task! But if you don’t mind, I’ll give it a go right here:

    Heidi (Johanna Spyri)
    Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
    Anne Frank (Anne Frank)
    Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë)
    Scaramouche (Rafael Sabatini)
    1984 (George Orwell)
    Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York (Gail Parent)
    Because it is Bitter and Because it is my Heart (Joyce Carol Oates)
    The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
    The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)

    I keep wanting to swap out one or two, but I won’t. This is my list.

    • Thanks for your list, Holly! I have read 5 of those. I have to ask what about Wuthering Heights appealed to you? I read it fairly recently and found it unrelentingly bleak. I think I read Sheila Levine when I was much too young to appreciate it!

      • Holly

        Aha, I am not sure Wuthering Heights appealed to me as much as it affected me! Yes, it is unrelentingly bleak, and very sad; I felt cold the whole time I read it, and it instilled in me a sense for romantic tragedy which I had not encountered in literature I’d read before. I was probably in 7th or 8th grade when I read it, so guess that explains some of why it affected me so.

        I was late teens when I read Sheila Levine. A friend and I read and reread it and could even quote parts of it to each other! In hindsight I am thinking I should have included Sophie’s Choice on the list instead of either Wuthering Heights or 1984. Such a difficult task.

      • I am glad I didn’t develop a taste for romantic tragedy when I was in grade 7 or 8, ha! Although it might have fulfilled my need for melodrama at that age. I should have read Les Miserables 🙂

  8. Little Women! I loved that book when I was little. I should reread it one day too. I can’t believe you picked that up at age 6 though. Wow.

    I love the photography by Peter Menzel. I haven’t read/flipped through the book though. I’ve seen only his work online. Wonderful work. I also particularly like his work on what people eat around the world.

    • Well, I’m sure I didn’t grasp much of Little Women, even though I could read the words. In fact I would do well to read it again now! I like Peter Menzel’s other stuff, too. He seemed so far ahead of his time.

  9. Fiona

    Anne Frank had the same impact on me at the same age, as did L’Etranger. I have to get hold of that Material World book. I’ve seen many excerpts on the internet but would love to read the full version. I’ve never read Little Women – people keep telling me I have missed out! I can’t believe you read it at 6!

    • I’m glad I read Little Women when I was a child and when roles for women still seemed constricted. It gave me the feeling that home life was important and to be treasured, but you might also have another path in life to explore (such as art or writing). I doubt the book would have the same impact on me now that those things are assumed. The Material World book doesn’t have a lot of text, but it makes more of an impact when you can see a wider range of photos.

      Hope all is well with you, Fiona. When is term break?

  10. Fiona

    Term break starts today 🙂 I am planning a pyjama day reading!!

  11. I’ve read all of those books–definitely great choices! (Of course it wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that some of those Mother Goose rhymes were quite tragic and macabre http://mentalfloss.com/article/55035/dark-origins-11-classic-nursery-rhymes).

  12. I loved Little Women books but I couldn’t believe Jo rejected Her neighbour. The feminist novel that affected me was The Handmaid’s Tale. I was brought up in Grimm tales, and even more grim, Strewwlpeter. Definitely affected by the horror of both set of tales. Judy Blume’s Forever was a changing book of my early teens. One story that truely affected me – showed me the power of words, I cried and flooded so many tissues – was A a Dog of Flanders. Read it at about 8. My, it is sad. And Anne Frank and All a Quiet on the Western Front both left their mark. And lastly short stories by early Australian author, Henry Lawson, developed my sense of being Australian, raised as I was by immigrants, and highlighted the inherent sexism of Australian mateship.

    I’ve still got three more. Mmmm. More recent readings that have affected me include The Poisonwood Bible and The True Cost of Fashion (forget the actual title but there’s been an impact on my spending.) And Deer Hunting With Jesus for giving me a different view of the US.

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