Recently I was challenged by a friend to list the top 10 books that have had a major impact on my life. Because I’m a verbose person and take challenges seriously, I couldn’t just answer his request with a few blanketed answers. Here they are in no particular order with their explanations:
The Outsiders is a book you get something out of at different stages of your life. Recently for a class we re-read the classic, it was mind blowing to find out it was written by a 16 year old.
Eat Pray Love. This is a great book for any one who has ever experienced divorce and tried to make sense of it. This book made me want to travel, get lost, make new friends and then write about it. It taught me how to put some of my past behind me and work though some life lessons.
If you ever want to impress a literature professor, drop the name Rex Stout. When I finally resided alone in my apartment in St. Louis I knew I would be restless at night. The answer to listlessness was found in a fabulous mystery The Sound of Murder. It was originally written in the early 40’s at the dawn of industrial espionage. With quirky characters and a foresight of an upcoming industry in a new material called plastic, the setting Mr. Stout paints in so surreal yet believable.
The first book I remember falling in love with is, I Mean It Stanley. This is the book my parents started reading to me and by the age of two, I had it memorized page for page. Every night I asked them to read it to me before bed, each word drilling it’s way into my brain. When my Grandparents came down for a visit, my Parents suggested to my Grandma she should read me a book that night. So I retrieved this book, sat in her lap and as she turned the pages I started reciting the text. My Grandmother was a lot like me, she was a former teacher and had a sense of wonder. She thought I was reading the book. She didn’t know my parents tirelessly read this to get me in the habit of a sleep routine. She looked in amazement at my parents thinking I might be a genius. Then my Dad cracked a smile and the gig was up.
Everyone needs a good Doctor in their life. Mine had the last name of Seuss. My first grade teacher asked everyone in class to pick their favorite book to bring to class and read. I poured over my selection at home. It was between Fox in Socks and 101 Dalmatians. In the end I chose Fox in Socks, mainly because in the beginning of the book, Dr. Seuss goads the reader with this graphic: How could you resist? At the young age of six I wasn’t willing to back down from a challenge and for once settled who won the tweedle beetle battle with paddles on poodles eating noodles.
If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I doing in the Pits? This book I read because it had been sitting in the drawer of my Parents’ end tables and was begging to be read. The cover wreaked of late 70’s artwork and humor. I was 17 when I first picked it up, read it on a Journalism class trip to Chicago and for the first time in a long time was caught laughing out loud to a joke no one could hear. This book appealed to me because I felt displaced, and Erma Bombeck made sense of everything.
Batman a Death in the Family was my first experience with a gritty plot only capable of taking place in between the pages of (at the time) my favorite Super Hero’s life. Little did I know in comic books characters can perish at the hand of a madman armed with a crow bar. Until then I was only exposed to characters who died of natural causes. This may have been when I learned the word bludgeoned.
Any Archie comic EVER. In the 80‘s and early 90‘s Archie was all I ever read during the summer, sometimes in between Garfield books I checked out at the library. I devoured these wishing I could be Betty Cooper. Unfortunately, one of my best friends growing up had blonde hair, where I learned the ugly truth, only she could be Betty because she had the correct hair color. These books taught me blondes had more fun and brunettes were snooty, confusing my idea of what a woman should be. Eventually along the way I realized these were just characters and nobody should have to be compartmentalized into either image. Instead I developed a crush on Jughead and a love for art by trying to re-draw the images. Archie comics also helped to forge the way for me in a literary sense. The featured cover below is the one they published an interview I did of my Aunt.
When my parents realized comic books were no longer just a hobby but something that could cause my two loves to collide they wanted to help. They purchased two books by Will Eisner in which he states the best scenario for comic book writing is when the artist and the writer are the same person. If this isn’t the case, he goes on to illustrate what can happen when people get their ideas mixed up. Even if you aren’t into comics, it’s a wonderful book explaining the process with beautiful illustrations.
The next book is something everyone needs to read to understand how to become a better writer, even if it only pertains to correspondence. The Groucho Letters is a book of letters exchanged between Groucho Marx, some of his colleagues and son. This was a gem I discovered at my parents house. It probably belonged to my Grandma and one of my Aunts at one point. One specific part in the book stuck out to me. Groucho had built a rapport with a fellow funny person who was at the time living in Maine. By the third letter of catching up, the friend wrote to Groucho, “The town is so boring the tide went out and never came back.” This book goes to show how friendship can bring you unexpected things, like the gift of laughter or witty writing.
To my friend, hopefully this answers your challenge. To my readers…what are some of your favorite books and which ones have influenced you the most?