Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Top 5 Most Influential Books of my Childhood

Every author hopes her book will have a major impact. When you’ve poured your heart and soul into your work you want it to resonate with someone--anyone--and maybe even change the way they see the world a little.  More than anything (movies, songs, historical events) books have shaped the way I view the world around me and the people in it, and I wanted to share a few titles I read as a kid that have stuck with me even into adulthood.      

5. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi—I read this in sixth grade at the urging of my reading teacher, and it’s been one of my favorites ever since.  It’s a historical fiction about a 13-year-old girl who finds herself crossing the Atlantic on a ship with a cruel and vindictive captain, and a crew bent on mutiny.  Charlotte begins the story as a naïve, sheltered girl who places a high value on propriety and social position, and ends up being "adopted" by the crew and playing an integral part in the aforementioned mutiny.  I found the diary format of the story really intriguing, especially since I was just about Charlotte’s age and big into journaling myself, and the ending was completely satisfying (if a bit unrealistic).  I’ve never met anyone else who’s read this book, but I definitely plan to share it with my own daughters.
Lowry took this photo herself

4. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry—This one was a Christmas gift when I was about 10 or 11 years old, and I remember it as equal parts exciting, inspiring, and heartbreaking.  Most people site Lowry’s The Giver as an influential book from their childhood, but I’ll confess I didn't read that one until just last year (I know, I know).  Number the stars, another historical fiction (I was drawn to those then as well as now), is the story of a Jewish family in Copenhagen during the Nazi occupation.  It’s beautifully written, and won the Newbery Medal in 1990 as “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”  I agree wholeheartedly.

3. The Terrorist by Caroline B. Cooney—This one was a title I found at the local library when I was about 14. It’s one of those books that I can’t say I remember fondly, exactly, but I definitely remember it.  It’s about an American ex-pat in London whose brother is killed in the London Underground when he’s handed a strange package that turns out to be a bomb.  It’s actually been challenged pretty frequently for it’s portrayal of Muslims, but it piqued an interest in world politics and the Middle East that I still have to this day. While I can’t say that Cooney handled the Iranian and Palestinian cultures represented in the book very delicately, I can tell you that the book hinted at the kind of oppression Muslim women face, even when living abroad, and I think that’s what really resonated with me.  
Mine no longer has a cover...

2. Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger—This was recommended by a friend when I was about 16.  He gave me his (very battered and dog-eared) copy, that I still have somewhere.  It’s a miracle it hasn’t fallen apart yet, to be honest.  This, along with To Kill A Mockingbird (which I read later, so it couldn't be on this list), is truly my favorite book in the world.  I know almost every story by heart, but none are as dear to me as “A Perfect Day for Banana Fish,” which served as inspiration for the first short story I ever had accepted for publication.  Really, Nine Stories was the reason I decided to start writing at all. 

1. The Handmaid’s Tale & Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood—I combined these into one because they’re both by Margaret Atwood and because I couldn’t imagine leaving either one off the list.  Atwood is an incredible storyteller, a dynamic writer, and just pretty damn cool.  The Handmaid’s Tale was my first experience with Atwood when I came across it on a ninth grade Honors English reading list.  Despite my teacher discouraging the choice (or maybe because of it?), I decided to read it and, boy, am I glad I did.  I’ve yet to find a book that has had quite the same impact on me as The Handmaid’s Tale, except for maybe Alias Grace.

When people think of Margaret Atwood, THT is probably what comes to mind, but Alias Grace was recommended to me by a very hip World Cultures teacher the same year, and will always be my favorite in Atwood's oeuvre.  It’s the first book that ever kept me reading all through the night, and I’m pretty sure my face looked like this the whole time: 

except, you know, less furry...
To this day, more than a dozen years later, I still haven't decided if I think Grace committed the crime for which she was in prison.  My opinion changes each time I read it.

If you haven’t read either of these, I suggest you get yourself to a library or bookstore post haste, because you’re seriously missing out.         

Honorable Mentions: There are (quite) a few titles I had to leave off the list for the sake of not making this an epic-length post that no one wants to read.  That being said, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Alexander Solzhenitsyn) and Notes From the Underground (Fyodor Dostoevsky), both of which taught me that sometimes life is irrational, uncooperative and uncontrollable, but you just have to keep living it anyway.

What books (or authors) have had the biggest impact on your life, whether you discovered them as a child or as an adult? 

Having trouble remembering a title?  Check out this handy website that can help you find “half-remembered” books from your childhood:     



  1. The sad thing is I've read only 1 of those and I read it last summer (Handmaid's Tale). Crazy.

    1. I feel like I've been bugging you to read Alias Grace and Nine Stories for the last 15 years or so. Infrequently, perhaps, but still. ;)

  2. I've only read one, too, but it was Charlotte Doyle and I LOVED it.

    1. Really?! That's so exciting! You're literally the first person I've encountered who's also read it. That's awesome!

  3. Perfect Day for Banana Fish=awesome.

    1. Have you read Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters? If you're a fan of Seymour, you should check it out. :)

  4. There must be something about young girls and books with pirates in them. When I was about the same age, I loved High Wind in Jamaica. Hmm. I wonder what I'd think of it now?

    1. I just checked out A High Wind in Jamaica on Goodreads--it looks great! I'll definitely be adding it to my reading list. Thanks! :)


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