Monday, September 08, 2014

Wait, I only get to pick 10??

You've probably noticed  a recent trend on Facebook these days of people posting lists of 10 books that have influenced their lives and then nominating certain friends to make their own lists. I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone tagged me, and it was my friend Sarah from my work book club who got me a couple days ago.

There's a couple rules associated with this. "Don't take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They do not have to be the "right" books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way."

Pish, rules are for losers. If I want to over think something (and I always want to over think things) I'm going to go ahead and do it. So why make a simple list in a status update when I can instead write lots and lots of words about one of my favorite topics? Books, that is. So in a loose chronological order, here are 10 books that have affected me and are pretty much responsible for the current course of my life.

1.  The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room by Stan and Jan Berenstain

2.  Kristy's Great Idea (The Babysitters Club #1) by Ann M. Martin

3.  From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L Konigsburg

4.  D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths by Ingri d'Aulaire and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire

5.  The Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragonlance Chronicles #1) by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman

6.  The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time #1) by Robert Jordan

7.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter #1) by J.K. Rowling

8.  Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

9.  World War Z by Max Brooks

10.  Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

1.  The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room.: The first books I remember actively and independently reading were The Berenstain Bear books. I loved the pictures, the stories, the lessons, and how all the characters (including the parents) weren't perfect and often messed up. Sister Bear could be an insufferable know-it-all, Brother Bear acted like a jerk to his little sister, Papa Bear couldn't stay away from the treats...even the mom had some issues (and obviously questionable fashion sense). The Messy Room was always my favorite...mostly because I loved seeing how they organized everything at the end in different labeled containers. I guess it was the beginning of my OCD.

2.  Kristy's Great Idea: Oh, god, the Babysitters Club. It was my gateway drug to Scholastic books. Every month I would get myself to the bookstore for the latest book in the series and I even ordered a bunch from the forms in the back of the books. When that box from Scholastic arrived in the mail it was like Christmas Day. And after I outgrew the Babysitters Club...Sweet Valley High was right there waiting for me.

3.  From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: This book hit so many of my tween fantasy buttons. Kids run away from their boring suburban existence and live in a MUSEUM. And! Solve a mystery about a beautiful statute, basically saving the day. But saving the day because of their smarts. Guess how they were able to make money? By taking baths in the museum fountain and scooping up all the change people threw in the water. Of course, this was back when a cup of coffee was like 10 cents, but still. How cool is that??

4.  D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths: I went through a HUGE Greek myth phase around middle school. I wanted to read every Greek myth I could get my hands on and this book was my favorite. The stories were well told and the pictures were awesome. Nowadays we have Myths Retold, but circa 1992? This book was my jam. In fact, it's still sitting on my bookshelf (I actually own physical copies of all these books listed here, in the editions pictured).

5.  Dragons of Autumn Twilight: Talk about your gateway drugs...this was my first real fantasy book. We're talking dragons, wizards, elves, dwarves, all your basic Dungeons and Dragons style fantasy elements are in this book. And I loved it. I remember the guy who lent it to me in 8th grade literally saying, "this book will change your life" and me stroking the cover reverently in response. You would think it was the freaking holy grail or something. But you know what? He was right. It did change my life; I loved it and have been a solid fantasy nerd ever since. 

6.  The Eye of the World: And then we come to Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. The Eye of the World was gifted to me at Christmas by my stepmother, probably around 1994. By New Years I had devoured it and the next two in the series. I spent the next....oh, say 18 years reading this series. Jordan died before he finished, but Brandon Sanderson took up the reins and crafted a brilliant ending (basically achieving the impossible). Despite a loss of momentum in the later books as the characters and subplots moved further and farther away from one another, this fantasy series has been a HUGE part of life. The release of the last book was kind of a big deal for me.

7:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: I got on the Harry Potter train kind of late. I was already in college (I think the Christmas of my freshman year in 1998) when I read the first three books. I remember the son of my William and Mary Women's Chorus director (Jamie B. shout out!) went as Harry for Halloween that year, and while his costume was adorable...I had no idea what the hell he was supposed to be. A wizard? With glasses? And a weird scar who chased after a gold ball called the snitch? Um, ok. Sure. Sounds kind of lame.

Look, I'm not right all the time, ok? Of course once I read the books I was instantly hooked, am now a superfan, and have many fond Harry Potter-related memories. Like when I worked the release party of the 5th book at the college bookstore in law school. Or when I took off one day studying for the bar to binge-read the 6th book. And how a group of friends and I drove down to Richmond for the midnight release of Deathly Hallows....and I stayed up until 4 in the morning reading. Harry, man. What can you really say?

8.  Neverwhere: It was a rainy day in St. Andrews, Scotland. I was studying abroad the Spring semester of my junior year in 2001, and needed to kill some time. So I popped into the Waterstones bookshop on Market Street. I was browsing through the Fantasy/Sci-Fi shelves...and came across this book. I had never heard of Neil Gaiman before and didn't have any real experience with urban fantasy.

It is now my #1 favorite book of all time and Mr. Gaiman is my favorite author. The first time I met him, I took my original copy of Neverwhere (from that rainy Scottish day) and had him sign the inside cover. Sometimes life is really good, you guys.

9.  I didn't expect for World War Z to be amazing. I expected to be funny, a joke, something to read on the Metro while on the way to work. Instead it BLEW MY MIND. This book is brilliant. All the different stories, the different points of view, the way it moves around the world...amazing. As soon as people hear zombies they tend to tune out, but this book is the real deal. If you can't get past the zombie aspect, just think of it as any global viral pandemic. It will affect you.

As for the's a solid zombie flick. It doesn't have anything to do with the book, but it's an entertaining film.

10. Fangirl: Here we are at the most recent book on the list. I read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell last year (or, to be precise, I listened to the audiobook) and was immediately bewitched. The main character, who is herself obsessed with a fantasy book series, felt so real to me I just couldn't. stop. listening. I could sit here and go on and on with my glowing review of the book, but that's probably boring. So I'll just say that it is one of my favorite books of all time, I now read anything by Rainbow Rowell, and I can't remember the last time I related so immediately to a fictional person. Read it. Seriously. 

So there we are! 10 books that impacted my life in some way. I swear I didn't put too much thought into compiling the list--all I had to do was walk over to my bookshelves and let the memories pour over me. These books are like members of my family. I mean, it's probably pretty obvious how important they are to me, considering I can pretty much remember the exact circumstances I first found them. Or should I say, the exact circumstances where they first found me.