Friday, August 16, 2013

Top Ten Life-Changing Books

I woke up this morning with a top ten list of books in my head. Not just any books, but books that changed my life.

1 - "Children's Story Hour" - I don't know who published it or when. My mother would read to me every night from this book because my favorite story was "Dory and the Weather Box". There was a story about cats and paint right after Dory that I also loved. I would imagine pink snow falling in the living room and cats painting the snowflakes different colors. I still have this book packed away in a box somewhere. It's old, it's falling apart, and I would love to read these stories to my kids. However, one of my little brothers ripped the page out of the book right at the end of Dory's story and the beginning of the cat story. That's what little brothers do, I suppose, right? *sigh*

2 - "Dune" by Frank L. Herbert. - I was 11 years old, and my dad trusted me with one of his big books, Dune, for a book report in school as a challenge. Could I read it? Could I understand it? If I could read and write the report, then I could read his books. My dad had a huge library of paperback sci-fi and fantasy novels in his room. This book granted me access to those shelves of wonder and delight. I've never re-read the book since then, but I still remember the voice, the secret messages of bumps on leaves, and being so immersed that I could taste the recycled water they were drinking in the desert. I used to imagine I was a desert princess every time I took a bath because of this book.

3 - "A Rustle In The Grass" by Robin Hawden - I was twelve? Thirteen? Somewhere in there, I'd checked this book out from the school library. It made me cry. It was the first book that I remember making me feel so attached to the characters. Was it because they were ants? I don't know, but because of this book, I read Watership Down and several other 'classics' that I wouldn't have touched otherwise, thus opening my mind in new ways. It also changed the way I viewed ants as creatures.

4 - "Outlaws of Sherwood" by Robin McKinley - I was fourteen? Fifteen? My best friend Maria loved books even more than I did, and one night during a sleepover, she read this book out loud. OUT LOUD. No one but my mom and a couple of teachers had ever read out loud, and I was amazed. Finally a Lady Marion that I could get behind and cheer for. And a Robin Hood that felt real. This book represented the epitome of friends sharing awesome things and that it was ok and fun to read out loud even as teenagers. I really wasn't too big to enjoy a book read to me. Imagine that. This changed my relationship with my mom, in that I didn't resent her trying to read to me anymore.

4.5 - "The Iron Tower Trilogy" by Dennis L. McKiernan - Another set of books introduced by my friend Maria. I'd never read Tolkien to this point, except for The Hobbit, so I had no idea this was a re-telling of Lord of the Rings. What I did know was that the warrows and their sufferings and trials and sheer determination to succeed inspired me to get through some really hard times of my adolescence. After I got married, I bought these books and read them out loud to my husband. He is the one who said, "It's Lord of the Rings!" When we finished these books, he handed me the three Tolkien books and insisted I read them. More doors opened, more elves and dwarves for me to love. Hobbits and Warrows are not the same, and I have a distinct love for both of them.

(side note: Where Tolkien would spend pages upon pages describing the plants and scenery, McKiernan would spend pages upon pages philosophizing about marriage and relationships. They both have parts where I just tell the listeners, "I'm skipping this bit, it's more of the same".)

5 - "For Those I Loved" by Martin Gray -  My 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Twiss, lent me this book to read, and then when I moved, she gave me a copy to take with me. She also gave me tattered copies of The Grapes of Wrath (which never could make myself read past chapter one) and a third book that I probably did read but can't remember. But this book... this book I felt a connection with on a level that to this day I cannot describe. He lost so much and he kept going. At that point in my life my parents had divorced, my grandmother (dad's side) had died, a boyfriend had frozen to death on a lake, and I didn't fit in the small little farming community social circles. It was no holocaust, but Martin was talking to me in some way that gave me hope. No matter how bad things got, there was hope.

6 - Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling - Life became hectic for a while. My kids were growing, I was working nights while my husband worked days. I slept a lot, and we were essentially a bunch of strangers co-existing in the same place. When my daughter came home from school with a book that I'd been refusing to read because "everyone and their dog" was reading it, I felt more annoyed than anything. But she wanted me to read it to her, so I did. The whole family gathered around for bedtime story once we started. Even my husband would take a turn reading the books aloud to the kids. (At that point it was just five of us.) I was actually interested in the story, and was growing to love Harry. Then some crazy lady wanted to ban the books because they had magic in them. I immediately had to go buy all of them (which at that point was up to book four.) As a family we dressed up for book releases (I was Professor Trelawney) not because we're crazy fans, but because it was something fun to do as a family. These books brought our family back together, and for that, I thank J.K. Rowling.

7 - "The Guardian" by Anita Stansfield - My husband was in the hospital for a month trying not to die. I'd miscarried twins at 16 weeks. We were living with my in-laws. Anita lived down the street from me and became one of the best friends I've ever had. She gave me this book, and it spoke to me. It brought some things to light that I'd 'known' but not understood. Her reaching out to help lift me through the grief and despair meant so much. Somehow I found the inner strength to keep fighting and keep going on.

8 - "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak - We had a house of our own. We'd just had baby five and I was trying to finish my Illustration and Graphic Design degrees. Life could be quite overwhelming at moments with kids and their homework, my homework, and keeping things running on a very teensy budget made up mostly by my husband's disability check. Seeing things through the eyes of Death brought life into a completely different perspective for me. I sobbed. There's no way I could read this book aloud to someone, even now. I began noticing the ripple effect that people had on those around them. I thought maybe I did, too. That cover photo of dominoes is right; every single one of us is a domino that acts on those around us, whether we know it or not, whether it's on purpose or not.

9 - "New Moon" by Stephanie Meyer - Yeah, yeah, I know there are hordes of haters out there, but whatever. I completely related to Bella in this book. In fact, I related to her in all of them, but that chapter where Edward leaves, and then you turn the page and it's a month. Then another month. Then another month. That's how I felt about my life then. I was struggling through post-partum depression that was so bad I'm still not sure how I survived. The change from getting off the computer to reading a book was momentous. I'd relocated from my back-room chair to the front room. It was a change in my habits, a change in my thinking. Someone else knew how I felt and reading about it didn't make me feel guilty. Talking about it always felt like I was bringing people down under my black cloud that I couldn't escape from, but reading about it, knowing that I wasn't the only one who felt catatonic, I wasn't the only one getting through the days and surviving for the sake of someone else... that somehow made things more survivable.

10 - "Princess Mia" - Meg Cabot - I know it sounds silly that a book about a 16 year old girl struggling with a mild depression changed my life. And while I normally don't read 'real life fiction' I love Princess Mia and her sense of humor. This particular book in the series hit home for me. I was 38 years old and reading this and sobbing. Mia had to do hard things, even though she didn't want to. She wanted the meds and the doctor wanted her to try living through the hard times. I didn't have health insurance and couldn't afford the meds I knew would help. So I decided to do what Mia had to do and try facing life anyway.

Now, I'm not saying that was a magical change. It didn't make the black clouds go away, but they got a little lighter. I began searching out ways to fix the problem alternatively to meds. Juices, drinks, vitamins, exercise, anything I could get my hands on that let the sunshine in. Getting out into the sunshine helped, too. And it was hard. It still is. My son is four years old now, and I still have days that I struggle with that pit of despair. I don't care if Mia is a fictional character, she was real enough to me that her story affected me. I wanted to laugh and find the quirky and crazy in the world around me even though I was sad a lot for no reason. I think it's the wanting that counts, because I find the happy and silly a lot more often now.


There are probably a thousand other books that I could put on this list or that have impacted me in ways that changed my direction, my attitudes, and my choices. I could put the scriptures up there. The Littles, To Kill A Mockingbird, Stephen King's "Pet Cemetary", "The Last Unicorn", anything by Andre Norton, "Dragonriders of Pern", and Dan Wells' John Cleaver series.

I love books. And I bet I'm not the only one whose been touched and impacted by a good book.

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