There was a challenge going around Facebook the other week. I wanted to do it but of course nobody tagged and asked me to do it, so I thought that might seem weird to just do it all on my own.
The challenge was to list 10 books that inspired your life, or something like that. Books that have stayed with you throughout the years, books you could never shake off, that had a profound effect upon you and perhaps changed you in some way. It got me thinking about books. I rarely read any more for pleasure, which is kind of sad and pathetic and definitely something I need to actively work on to change. But I have read …
So here’s my list, in random order:
- Blubber by Judy Blume; first published in 1974 when I was just a wee lass. It seems to me that when I started school I could already read, or more likely I picked it up really quickly. I remember that first reader, A Duck is a Duck, and thinking how silly it was because there wasn’t really any story to it, nothing happened … yes, a duck is a duck, so what?! I wanted the duck to have a harrowing chase and escape with hungry hunters. Anyway, it did not take me long to discover the writings of Judy Blume. I was probably 7 or maybe 8 years old when I read Blubber. Being a fat girl myself, I could relate big time. It was as if she wrote the book about me, or I wrote it. One time on a forum or her website or some place online I left a comment for Judy Blume telling her what she meant to me as a child and she sent me a lovely email. I kept it saved in my inbox for years but that was many computers ago, before I started keeping everything in the cloud so it doesn’t get lost. Still, it was something I won’t forget.
- That was Then, This is Now by S.E. Hinton; most people cite The Outsiders as their favourite but there was something about this one for me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved everything she wrote, completely devoured all of it in grade five or six, but this one was my favourite. Something about the choice of which road to choose when you reach a fork, the sadness of the inevitable growing apart with the people you love most, struck a chord with me. I remember thinking that no matter what happened, me and Stacy would always be solid. I was right about that.
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis; okay, yes, I know it’s a series and not one single book. I could have just said The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe but that wouldn’t be the truth. I read the complete series from beginning to end like it was one book. I loved every moment! My aunt Valerie gave me the boxed set, I don’t know if there was an occasion like my birthday or whether they were even new or used, none of that mattered. The children were British! And I loved everything British! And from the moment they stepped through the wardrobe and into the magical kingdom of Narnia I was hooked. This was the series that opened my mind all the way to fantasy and science fiction. There’s a saying, “It blew my mind!” Well, this really did … blew my mind wide open!
- The Diviners by Margaret Laurence; this was required reading in my Canadian literature class at university. You know, I really didn’t know Canadian literature existed before that class. But that’s an aside, neither here nor there. Oh Morag Gunn! She was (and is) a character who I relate to on every level. I have read and reread this novel so much that the pages have disconnected from the book’s spine and I have to be careful in case I lose a page and the book is ruined. I should probably buy another copy.
- Fault Lines by Nancy Huston; I don’t read much any more and when I do it tends to take me a long time to finish a book. I allow myself a couple of pages each day or maybe a chapter before bedtime. And that’s enough for me, usually. Nancy Huston was at Frye Festival one year that I attended. I saw her in a panel discussion with other authors and thought she was completely arrogant and rude. I dismissed her work as something I wouldn’t be interested in reading. Then I saw her perform … and it was definitely a performance … reading parts from her book with live jazz music from a band and a light technician changing hues and her becoming each character. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. I rushed to the lobby after and bought the book. When I started reading the book, I couldn’t stop. It is the only book I have read cover to cover in a single sitting since … I can’t even remember when, high school maybe? If you read nothing else in your life, read this book.
- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank; did my obsession with the war and Nazi Germany begin with Anne Frank or did it lead me to her? I can’t recall. I know I was pretty young when I read this and it effected me profoundly. Because it was true. I spent a lot of time in my early years trying to figure out how that was possible. How was it that a whole country could be turned into racists hell bent on genocide? Why do people hate people they don’t even know? It was weighty stuff for a 6, 7, or 8 year old. I suppose I understand it better now, maybe. Or at least I understand how really complex of an issue it all is.
- The Stand by Stephen King; no list of mine would be complete without some mention of Mr. King. I was tempted to put Salem’s Lot instead, because it was the first novel of his that I ever read. I think it was the summer between grade 4 and grade 5 when I saw the book in the camp at the shore and sneaked it away. I wasn’t old enough to read it, I knew, so I had to hide it and read in secret, hope nobody noticed it missing before I returned it. Vampires! I loved it. I was completely hooked on all things Stephen King after that. But The Stand is his greatest work and by far my favourite. It is huge! Filled with different characters and different plot lines that all criss cross and intersect, coming together for the end. It’s the end of the world and people are travelling. It’s so complex and simple all at the same time. I’ve read it more than once.
- The Queen of Peace Room by Magie Dominic; this powerful little memoir is easily read in one sitting. I met Magie years ago and she is one of those special people. There is an inner … I don’t know what word I’m looking for … she emanates a sense of … peace, love, harmony, zen, spirit … I’m not doing very well with this, but you would immediately understand if you ever met her. And when you read this book you wonder how someone who went through all that she has can get to that place where her spirit just shines and reaches out from her little body touching people. It’s an amazing book and she’s an amazing woman that I feel blessed to have met and known in person. Recently she emailed me about a second book. I can’t wait to read it.
- Spadework by Timothy Findley; you might think this is an odd choice, and it might be. This book came to me at a time when I needed something. I was searching for a direction, a path to take in my life. And then came this book and the world of Stratford, Ontario. Art, artists, the theatre, Wolf Blass Yellow Label red wine … this book made red wine sound so delicious, so very delicious that I bought a bottle. I remember me and Stacy at the liquor store in Chatham and I had no idea what one should buy when buying a “real” wine. I believe I got the Turning Leaf merlot. Later at home, I realized I had nothing to open it with, no corkscrew. Uncle Terry was there and somehow he got it open for me with a knife or a screwdriver. It smelled bloody awful and I hated the taste, but I choked back a glass. And the next day or so I had another. This one didn’t taste half bad. And then I accidentally had a glass while I happened to be eating something terribly hot and spicy and the result in my mouth was heaven. Poof! Red wine was my favourite thing! Thanks Timothy Findley. I wanted so badly to be involved in an artistic community like the one in his book that I decided it was time to move … to Stratford, Ontario! That plan eventually evolved into Sackville, NB. And that I followed through on. Thanks Timothy Findley! So, you see this novel is not that odd of a choice after all.
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck; oh, the injustice of it all! This novel enraged me when I thought about John Steinbeck travelling America and then writing this. What a terrible, terrible thing and so close to home. But to be fair I only liked half this book. Steinbeck is known for his descriptions. They are detailed. So detailed that every second chapter in this novel is just a description, a segue to the real story. Those descriptions weighed me down. I had to read them the first time I read the novel because I was reading it for an American literature class, but since then I’ve reread it a few times and I skip every second chapter. The editor in me says he didn’t need them, although maybe that was just the way of the day. The story is powerful, and it sticks with you.