Top 10 Influential Books

Disclaimer: this is not a list of my top 10 favorites, perse. For one thing, I’m not capable of making a list of my top 10 favorite books. I’ve tried. That said, I’ve made a top 25 list before, and I’m pretty sure that most of these ended up on there.

Another disclaimer: I sort of divided this up into life lessons, and so there are some of them that do have two books with them. Sorry not sorry I can’t make a 10 book list…

Another disclaimer: these are books that have influenced me and my life as of RIGHT NOW. TODAY. It is a constantly changing list which will probably be very different than it is today. But here goes:

Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson.

I can receive all the judgement in the world for this being at the top of this list, but hey: it’s a book about creativity, and the power of the… not pencil. Crayon. Writing instrument. Well, now the alliteration’s gone. Oh well.
Harold and the Purple Crayon taught me a surprising lot of lessons about creativity and the ability to dream big– lessons that still apply today.

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

If you know me, then you know that this book had to be on this list. I still relate to Anne on so many levels. This was not the first book with a main character who I could look up to, but it was the first book that I could look at the main character and say “Oh, hey, that’s basically me and she’s reacting in these situations the way that I would.”
This book taught me so much about adversity and dealing with it, and also about the power of patience, and the power of words. It’s a story where hard work usually pays off and sometimes doesn’t, and where it’s okay to outgrow grudges and to forgive people.

The School Story, by Andrew Clements

Okay, I know this one is pretty predictable. If you know my reading habits, you knew Andrew Clements would be on here. If you know anything about my writing habits, you probably knew that it would be this one.Most people, in second or third grade, read books as adventure stories, or as ways to find information. Given a story about a girl who writes a book and then gets it professionally published with the help of her best friend, my guess is that they would read it, write a quick book report for a smiley-face sticker on the classroom “reading wall” (was my school the only one that had these?) and then forget about it.I, on the other hand, took it as a how-to manual.

The Foretelling, by Alice Hoffman

I’ve never met anyone else who has even heard of this book.  It deals a lot with the idea of “people against nature” vs. the idea of “people with nature,” and definitely taught me a lot of lessons along that front. But the main lesson fro this book is rooted in gender identity, and in challenging or reversing gender roles.

I read this book when I was almost certainly too young for it, but it’s stuck with me ever since. It taught me to challenge difficulties thrown in my way, and these are the books that taught me to challenge gender roles and societal norms in a way that I never had before

Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine

Like Andrew Clements, Gail Carson Levine’s work defined an awful lot of my childhood. Her books were my first experience with retelling fairy tales, and with beautiful writing, where the prose is there not just for telling the story, but also to be beautiful in and of itself.

I was tempted to put Dave at Night on this list, instead, just on the basis of the above.
But I didn’t. Because Fairest taught me so much about myself and about other people, about how looks only really matter as much as we think they do, and about how you can fight your internal demons, and about how strengths can sing out way louder and stronger than insecurities. This book has so many positive messages, especially for younger girls who are just entering the realm of “girl drama.” 

Pictures of Hollis Woods

This book… I don’t have a lot of words to describe this book. It was my first-ever experience with nontraditional storytelling, and with a jumpy timeline, which is probably a large part of what led to my current adoration of books like

I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson, or Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. This book may have also been my first experience with a bildungsroman. It taught me that people make mistakes, and that sometimes, crap happens and you just have to deal with it, and it’s hard but it’s not impossible, as long as you turn around and face it head-on. More than anything, it taught me the importance of retaining creativity, and of trusting the heart.

The Golden Compasses trilogy (YES THAT IS ITS ORIGINAL TITLE) aka His Dark Materials

This trilogy was without a doubt my first experience with existentialism.
The first book, I read like a story. It was just a story. It was a story that made me think a lot, and I liked that, and it was a smart story. But it was just a story.
the second book… I got confused several times. I started to realize that some things were allegories for other things. I started to understand literary parallels.
The third book was the most intense reading experience I had ever had.
These books made me question a lot of things about the world we live in, things that I had never had reason to question before. They also put a lot of things in perspective– I might have ten hours’ worth of homework, but hey, at least I’m not dealing with the world-in-peril-and-no-one-knows-about-it issues that these characters are.
This series made me stretch my brain in ways I never had before, and I’m thankful for that. In a lot of ways, this was the first series that helped me envision multiple worlds, coexisting, which probably led to my writing about several of those worlds that I then envisioned.

The Chosen, by Chaim Potok
I read this book in middle school, because I needed to read something Jewish. I was reluctant to even start it, and I dawdled my way through several chapters, annoyed that I had to do extra work for a Hebrew School that I’d only spent one year at, anyway. And then I finished the book, and I was left staring at my empty hands, wishing I could keep going. This book is still one of my all-time favorites, and I still go back and reread it probably about five times a year. This book was one of the first to make me think about religion at all, and it was absolutely the first to ever make me think about what Judaism means to me– not what it means to the rest of the world, not what it means to celebrate holidays, not what it means to be a part of that global community. What it means to me, on a basic, “what-do-I-believe” level. I still struggle with understanding what I believe, and with understanding how that gels with the people I’m friends with and what they believe.

I think I encountered this book at the exact right time in my life to be able to appreciate it in full, and I hope I never let go of that– I don’t mind the idea that I’m always questioning, as long as I have some basic central knowledge to go back to. This book solidified so much of that basic central knowledge, at a time when I didn’t even know I needed or wanted to be thinking about it.

La Sombra del Viento, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If you’ve taken a Spanish class with me in the last four years, or if you’ve talked with me about international literature, or about books in general, then you probably knew this one was coming.
This was not the first book I had ever read in a foreign language, but it is certainly my favorite of those I have read. I LOVE THIS STORY, in English and in Spanish. It was my first experience with grown-up parallel plots, and also one of my first encounters with romance stories. I fell in love with the city, with the characters, with the story… and of course, I fell even more in love with the books.
I fell in love with a city by proxy. Powerful writing? I think this book defines it.
I taught myself extra Spanish just so that I could read this book in its original language. There’s a sort of dualism inherent there that I’m not sure I would have– or even could have– understood without doing that.

And finally, book 10. The book that I rant and rave about and push into everyone else’s hands because it’s so freaking good. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

This book has probably influenced my own writing more than any other book ever has. This remains one of the most poignant love stories I’ve ever read– not just love for another person, but love for a place, love for experience. This book helped me to understand how shared experience really can change a life, can tie people together forever without those people even realizing it’s happening.
This book taught me about nontraditional endings, and the idea of creating your own destiny; the idea of changing fate.
I adore this book.
(I suspect it also contributed to a factor that some love and some hate about my writing– the food descriptions. oh well)

Many of you are probably surprised at the books that did not make their way onto this list. I really wanted to include several that did not get on here– there are many, many books that have influenced me in a lot of ways, and there’s no way that I can really narrow it down to only ten. or eleven, which is what it actually is.

You may notice that there is no Twilight. There is nothing written by John Green. There is no Junie B. Jones, and there is no Diary of a Wimpy Kid. This is important. In fact, the absence of these titles matters almost more than the titles themselves would if they were on the list at all. These are the books that forced me to defend my own opinions, even when everyone else LOVED them. I learned, through my unpopular opinions on these books, to stand by my stance on a subject, and that’s something that I’m proud of to this day.


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