10 books that most influenced me, authors, Barbara Samuel, books, Carolyn Keene, David Eddings, F. Scott Fitzgerald, feminism, historical fiction, inspiration, Ivan S. Turgenev, J.K. Rowling, Julie Pearson, Katarina von Bredow, literature, Meg Waite Clayton, Robert Louis Stevenson, self-empowerment, writer
More accurately, the title should say, “The 10 books that most influenced me both as a person and a writer.” Two weeks ago, my cousin back in Sweden challenged me to pick ten books that have influenced me. I, of course, take that very seriously and coming up with a short lost of the worthy ten has been excruciating. I will go as far back as post-puberty till the present. Additionally, I will make some honorable mentions.
1. The Clue on the Crystal Dove by Carolyn Keene
This novella was part of a very long series of short stories and novels about the young detective Nancy Drew. She is the daughter of a prominent lawyer and already as a little girl, she shows a marvelous talent at picking up hints, gathering information and putting puzzle pieces together. When the series begins, she solves disputes among the people in the neighborhood, but as she gets older, her adventures become more adult-related and more dangerous. It’s been a long time since I read this story, but what stood out to me was how cleverly she outsmarted the bad guys and how brave she was.
2. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Definitely contributes to igniting my flaming passion for adventure.
3. The Diamond Throne by David Eddings
A fantasy novel that the very same cousin I mentioned earlier gave me for my birthday. I think I must have been 11 at least, maybe younger; well, at any rate, I probably was too young to read a story with all those political elements, the issues in the church, and the sexual themes as well as the slight pedophilia. It was an amazing book, though. I was really intrigued by the sly battles between the opposing sides (one plotted to have the queen die under mysterious circumstances while the other one did everything they could to assure she remained on the throne), the tricks – magical and otherwise – the fascinating characters, women’s roles and how the religious force gradually grew like a threat in the country rather than enlightenment.
4. Hur kär får man bli? by Katarina von Bredow (roughly translated from Swedish as How in love can you be?)
It’s a beautifully written and vivid story about a young woman named Katrin who deals with a lot more than a person at the age of 17 should have to go through: estranged mother, little brother who is bullied but won’t tell anyone, being in love with a guy whom her best friend has a crush on, being jealous of her best friend who is more privileged, going through ups-and-downs with her father, dating a guy she likes but not as much as the other guy and experimenting with sex… There are a few other big things going on in the story, but those are ones that stick with me. I really admired Katrin, with her wonders and flaws and all. I read this when I was 13, 14 years old and even though it took me two read-throughs to truly understand everything that happened, I felt a strong connection with Katrin and her story helped me during my own worst of times.
5. The Guilty Heart by Julie Pearson
Yet another novel I read when I was too young to really understand it. (Hm, I sense a theme here.) I was 12 when I read it the first time, then I re-read it when I was 16. What I really love about this novel is how it shows that when someone is murdered, solving the mystery is only part of the problem and the author does a great job at weaving out the various relationships in the story. It also portrays that things are rarely as obvious as they seem.
6. The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue by Barbara Samuel
A book about self-empowerment, sisterhood, love, grief and family obligations. If you’re thinking “chick-flick,” please knock that nonsense out of your brain. I just said things are rarely as obvious as they seem, correct? (Side note here: they shouldn’t have made the cover this way, because the four women in this story are two white women and two black ones, one of which is elderly. These chicks here are all white and young.)
7. The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
Five stay-at-home mothers and wives, five passionate writers and readers, five women who bond while their children play in the park and who eventually sit down at a picnic table every Wednesday to write, talk, share, et cetera. This story takes place in the late 60s, early 70s and raises several problems women had to face, at home, in public, as females, as human beings, as individuals with dreams. I think too often women of today take our independence for granted. Every woman should read at least some historical accounts on how our fore-mothers fought to give us that independence. I read this in 12th grade and it gave me something to think about (and I haven’t stopped thinking since).
8. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This story influenced more as a writer. For those who have read the book, you must have surely noticed how damn beautiful the language is, and if not, you must have heard how Fitzgerald captures each essential moment like a photographer takes the perfect shot in the perfect moment. The way he tells the story shows the restlessness from that era, their desperation to feel alive and happy yet some of them were also striving for a purpose or something similar to the sublime. I could go on and on about this so I’m just going to leave this here (for now)(?).
9. Fathers and Sons by Ivan S. Turgenev
It also had a large impact on me as a writer. While the romanticism, the characters and the overall plot are profound, they got nothing on the story-telling itself. I’ve noticed how some of the mood, ideas and style have sneaked inside my own writing, especially within my novel. For instance, Turgenev’s novel talks about the importance of family and shows how generations may clash, regardless how much a father and son might love one another. I think it’s funny how that comes up in my story; it wasn’t like I was trying to copy Turgenev, because I was speaking from experience, both mine and some of my father’s. Turgenev seems to point out that yes, blood is thicker than water, but you have to work to maintain the relationships just like with anyone else.
10. Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
I know that nearly everyone in my generation raves about Rowling, but let me talk this one out: By the time my grandparents gave me this book, I was already reading and writing a lot. During those days, I would make my own magazines, piece together book covers for some of my stories, re-tell fairy tales like “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Snow White” in my own words, and sneak off to a quiet corner in the school yard during recess and read till the bell rang. When I finished reading Harry Potter for the first time, I immediately flipped back to the beginning and began re-reading the book. I can’t remember what exactly made me love it so much, but I recall feeling so engulfed by the mystery. After I got to the end once again, I hugged the book and I consciously thought to myself, “This is what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. I’m going to write books for a living. This is it.” And then I proceeded to tell my parents about it. I think I was nine years old; certainly no older than ten.
Honorable mentions: The rest of the Harry Potter series; Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen; Trojan Odyssey by Clive Cussler; The Silence & The Roar by Nihad Sirees; Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert; Trumpet by Jackie Kay; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows; Time is a River by Mary Alice Monroe; Middle Sex by Jeffrey Eugenides; The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky; The Writing Circle by Corinne Demas; The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick; A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; The Help by Kathryn Stockett; and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.