Five Life-Changing Reads

Every avid reader has a favorite book or two… or seventy-six. But some of those notable or obscure titles can be life-changing. So, here’s a list of some of the books that have changed my life – not only as a reader, but as a person!

1.) Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – Most folks probably think of the classic Disney movie when they hear the name ‘Peter Pan,’  but my first thought is always the book. This book was my first foray into a magical, multi-faceted fantasy world that explores joy and sorrow, light and shadow, happiness and fear. It captures both the wonder – and terror – of eternal childhood, of being terrified of losing something, and the bittersweet nature of fleeting youth against the inevitability of growing up. I realized, the first time reading this book, that the “never” in “Neverland” can be interpreted either as wondrous and whimsical, or grim and dour – or maybe a mix of both. I love a fairytale-esque story with a twist of something dark, and Peter Pan was the gateway book for me. The dual-nature of this book is encompassed in one of its most iconic lines, as said by the titular character himself: “To die would be an awfully big adventure.”

20190121_104043.jpg2.) Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman – I’ve never been a poetry person… rather, I wasn’t until I took a Major Authors course on Walt Whitman my second year of college. I immediately connected with his poems, especially the titular “Leaves of Grass,” “O Captain! My Captain!,” and “Great are the Myths.” Whitman’s poetry, though written in the mid-late 1800’s, has a universality to it, a timeless quality that can be applied to scenarios and events throughout history and around the world, not only those that occurred in his lifetime.. His poems and the themes he presents are personal and profound, passionate and playful, perceptive and piercing. His poems make me think and feel, to apply his words to my own experiences, and I could pore over this book for hours pondering the meanings of his poems and imagining what his life was like. I recently bought a beautiful copy of this collection (pictured) and it’s got a place of honor on my shelf.

3.) The Jungle by Upton Sinclair – I’ve mentioned this one before, but I’m going more in-depth this time around. This is the first book I ever read (followed a few years later by Native Son by Richard Wright) that made me realize why people were drawn to communism/socialism/unions during the Industrial Revolution in America. It was jarring to read about what conditions were like for workers, especially immigrant workers, in the meatpacking industry in the early 20th century, as researched by muckraker author Sinclair. If you have a rosy view of what America was like during that time, building itself up from fields to cities and growing into the capital giant we are today, prepare to have your image shattered by The Jungle. I was assigned to read it for a class and put it off until the last minute, then plowed through the whole thing in one sitting because I was so engrossed. This was my first real wake-up call that American History wasn’t always blue skies and valiant victories… there are plenty of dark clouds and shameful secrets that, though hard to acknowledge, are important to our nation’s identity.

4.) Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid – I read this book for my senior seminar class in college, which focused on Caribbean literature. The entire class was an eye-opening experience, but I had to do a presentation on this novel, so I got to dive a bit deeper into it than the others we read. This book was my first time reading a coming-of-age novel about a girl from a background/life/place so completely different from my own. Growing up on Antigua is nothing like growing up in a rural town in Pennsylvania. And yet, it’s still possible to find universal threads woven into the unique, deftly-told narrative. At times, my heart swelled for Annie – and, at times, my heart shattered for her. Themes of depression, separation, mother/daughter relationships, growing up, and colonization are all expressed in a timeless and powerful fashion, centered around Annie, a complex and beautiful character. If you’ve never read a book like this, I HIGHLY recommend it.

5.) The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – I mean… this book/series has probably changed every fantasy writer’s life, right? It’s THE pinnacle of high fantasy, and will never be topped. It’s just so, so… brilliant. Sure, the language and descriptions can be burdensome, at times… but it’s worth the journey, all the way from Bilbo’s first fateful meeting with Gollum in the bowels of the Misty Mountain to Galdalf’s epic “You cannot pass,” to Sam’s final line of “Well, I’m back,” as he greets his daughter and wife. LotR is the reason I want to write fantasy, and so, it has changed my life for the better.

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How I Learned to Love to Read

I’ve already told the horrible story of Lucille, but before that dastardly purple horse, I was brought into the wonderful world of reading with a series about a character known as Little Critter, created by Mercer Mayer.

If you are unfamiliar with Little Critter, this is what he looks like:

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A bit frightening, but he sure as heck rocks those overalls. I loved these books as a child. The first one I read unassisted was called I Am Sharing. I plucked it off the shelf one day, sat down, and read through it all on my own. From that moment on, I was a reader.

Other than Little Critter, I also devoured the Berenstain Bears, by Jan and Stan Berenstain, the Eric Carle books, and a lot of Doctor Seuss… my favorites being And To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, Yertle the Turtle, and The Lorax. I was also a big fan of Owen by Kevin Henkes, Corduroy by Don Freeman, and Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. I even had several books on tape (Yes, tape – I am old enough to remember using tapes), which I listened to over and over again to fall asleep at night. These types of stories are the ones I hope still appeal to young readers, a couple of decades later.

220px-The_Tower_Treasure_(Hardy_Boys_no._1,_revised_edition_-_front_cover)After, I worked my way into more difficult series – two of the big ones were The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mystery books, written by a variety of ghostwriters under the same pseudonyms while working for the Stratemeyer Syndicate. My dad is responsible for influencing my love of mysteries and suspense stories, as he also introduced me to old radio detectives like Sam Spade and Richard Diamond. To this day I can’t resist a good mind-bending mystery. I was also drawn to The Babysitter’s Club stories by Ann M. Martin and The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. My shelves were full of these books, and I even read some of the adventures multiple times in order to recapture the magic.

Call of the Wild GIC.jpgAfter that, I had classics like fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and abridged and illustrated versions of stories like Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, The Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London, and The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. I used to try to recreate the drawings in these books, which also helped foster my love for drawing. I enjoyed these sort of “watered down” versions of the classics because I got to experience them at a young age, and when I grew older, I could read the “real” versions and feel nostalgic about the editions I read in the past, and appreciate that those stories are made accessible to younger readers. I don’t think I’d be as much of an avid reader if not for any of these books, way back to that first Little Critter book.

These books made me love reading. These titles and series are the cornerstones of my love for reading, and the foundation of my reading habits – and I’m curious to know what sparked your love for reading!

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

I’M WITH YOU on the road…

I’m taking my YA novel I’m With You on a virtual book tour starting TOMORROW!

Here’s the LINK for the tour, if you’d like to keep up with the stops! I wrote up some fun guest posts and there are a couple of interviews, which I hope folks will look forward to reading. And in conjunction with the tour, I’ve got some additional news…

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I’m With You is now only $1.99 in ebook format (down from $4.99) and $9.99 in paperback (down from $12.99)! Check it out if you haven’t yet!

Here’s the Amazon LINK if you’d like to take advantage of the deal!

Summary: When fifteen-year-old Ciarán Morrigan eavesdrops on a conversation between his father and two mysterious strangers, his life–and the life of his little sister, Remiel–is changed forever. After their father makes a startling decision, the Morrigan siblings are forced to flee the only life they’ve ever known and embark on a dangerous adventure across the nation of Empirya. With the help of a disinherited vagabond, a cynical violinist, a fire-juggler with a fierce temper, an aspiring mechanic, and a cheerful librarian, Ciarán and Remiel must fight to escape those who have been hired to hunt them. But will Remiel’s dark secret prevent the Morrigan children from finding a place they can truly call home?

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