Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Books that Mattered

Books have had a huge impact on who I am.  And, so I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you some of the books that mattered to me most in my life.

As most of my readers know, I am a Christian, so the Bible is big for me.  It is tempting to give you a list of all of the secular books that impacted me as a child and young adult and save the Bible for the end, highlighting how it's power is greater than all the others.  But, things like that, as least coming from me, always seem a bit self-serving and obnoxious.  Like when I say to Hubband, "I just want you to be happy."  So, I am going to mention the Bible up front.  The Bible matters, but in a way that is outside the scope of this list.

Hop On Pop by Dr. Seuss was the first book I ever read.  Well, sort of.  When I was three, I memorized all the words, and when to turn the pages.  I would "read" to anyone willing to sit still long enough.  When I had kids and got a copy for them, I was surprised at how long it is.  And boring.  So thank you, to any and all family members who sat through a 1972 reading of Hop on Pop.

The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, with pictures by Garth Williams were a pre-teen favorite.  The television show was on at the same time, so I really got carried away by the idea of wearing long skirts and riding in buggies.  I remember pulling my knee sock up as high as they would go so that they looked like Laura's stockings.

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl was haunting.  I can't quite put into words the way it changed me.  It was personal and historical and universal all at the same time, and I think it was the first time that I could imagine those things intersecting.  I guess, you could say, it gave me perspective.

The World Book Encyclopedia was the internet of 1976.  You can say what you want about the value of letting your kids watch television, but many was the night that I sat up late with a volume of the family's World Book Encyclopedia researching something I had seen on Fantasy Island.  Before the internet put a universe of knowledge at out finger tips, we had to look things up in books, and it was a true luxury to have a complete set of encyclopedias right there in the house.  I'm sure those books cost my mother a fortune, but they were worth every penny.

Some book by Jane Austen, probably Pride and Prejudice.  I can't actually remember which book of hers it was, but it used words like countenance and terms like three and twenty.  I found it very confusing, and I had to admit that, for the first time, I was out of my depth.  This was not Hop on Pop or Fantasy Island.  It was good for me.  Rather than give up, I learned that countenance means face and three and twenty means twenty three.

I read The Official Preppy Handbook by Lisa Birnbach hoping it would make me Jackie Kennedy or at least get me into a good school.  It did neither.  But I learned what a diaphragm was.

Seventeen Magazine, September 1984.  I read every inch of this issue of this magazine.  I have no idea why, but this back-to-school issue was like my life for six weeks in the late summer of 1984.  I still remember that the cover girl was named Gracie Santana.  I can conjure up a few of the photo lay outs.  Nuts!  But, for better or worse, this is what passed for influence on the fifteen year old me.

Fatal Vision by  Joe McGinniss is a true crime book about a Marine doctor who kills his family.  It was the first true crime book I ever read.  I was riveted.  This book probably played a roll in my future career in law enforcement.  Have I ever written about my police years?  I don't think I have.  Oh, well, I will let you imagine it for now.

Edie: American Girl by Jean Stein and George Plimpton was an oral biography of Edie Sedgewick.  She was a socialite, model, drug addict in the Warhol culture of New York in the sixties, and her story is told through interviews.  This was fascinating to me.  A world I had no idea existed, laid out in vibrant detail.  Drugs, orgies, electroshock therapy, the state mental hospital.  It was not pretty.  It satisfied a primal teenage need to dabble in counter culture, without straying too far from the safety and comfort of my pleated skirt life.

Those Who Love by Irving Stone, was assigned reading for my high school history class.  It is a biographical novel about John and Abigail Adams.  It was so rich and detailed.  I fell in love with John and Abigail, and it had a lasting impact.  My undergraduate degree is in Early American History, and no matter what the fashion of the day becomes, I will always prefer Adams to Jefferson.  So, there.

Well, that's it for now.  These are the books I can remember as really having an impact on me.
What about all of you?  
What books do you remember from your history?


  1. Oh, there are so many choices... I remember reading "Where the Red Fern Grows" in sixth grade. It was during our reading class, and I had freedom to read on the floor pillows by the bookshelves. I started to cry while reading the ending (this may have been the first time I cried while reading a book) and I went and sat under the teacher's desk to finish reading it. Looking back, it was nice of the teacher to let me be...

    Also, "Lovey" by Mary McCracken. It is about how the author, who is a teacher of emotionally disturbed and learning disabled children, has an eight year old girl that is just out of control assigned to her class. I would have to write my own post to tell about this book and some of the others, so I'll just recommend it and say thanks for bringing back some great memories!

  2. I never have been bitten by the reading bug. Well, the summer before 5th grade I was, when I discovered we had volumes of Nancy Drew mysteries. But it didn't go farther than that. Our family never went to the library, either. Strange. I've determined that I'm going to be a reader in my next life! I know I'm missing out on some wonderful adventures! Now if I stopped blogging.... haha! :)

  3. OH Tracey! RIGHT WITH YOU! I was an avid reader as a kid...still am but cannot devour books at the same rate...those kids of mine INSIST on eating! UGH!

    A favorite of mine was Bridge to Terabithia...that had a HUGE impact on me. I read it aloud to my kids and they loved it. (Movie - of course was not as good as the book)

    Great post!

  4. Books, books BOOKS! They were such a blessing in my life as a child. My parents' house was filled to the brim with them, my parents read aloud to us every night, and I got through my rough patches because of books. Let's see:

    Anything by P.D. Eastman
    The Quangle Wangle's Hat by Edward Lear
    Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield (and all of her books)
    Anne of Green Gables read over and over
    Little House
    The Borrowers
    Treasuries of Fairy Tales
    Amelia Bedelia
    Judy Bloom (for better or for worse)
    The Railway Children
    Ramona the Brave
    Swallows and Amazons
    Owl Magazine
    National Geographic World Magazine
    I also read the back to school editions of Seventeen Magazine - loved those outfits!
    etc. etc. etc.

  5. I am with you on Laura, and Edie, and Fatal Vision...I would add to my list Executioner's Song and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Carl Sandburg's Wedding of the Rag Doll and the Broom Handle. Rumer Godden's books. And The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter. Not given in chronological sequence. And yes, the Hebrew Bible.

  6. I would have to add
    The Outsiders by SE Hinton
    The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (most disturbing book,actually short story, that I have ever read. But I read it over and over)
    and my favorite, To Kill a Mockingbird.

  7. Laura Ingalls Wilder is a biggie for me too, athough only the books. I disliked the tv show cause they cried every week. Laura and her family never cried in the books, and they had a lot more reasons to cry than the tv family ever had. And Pa called his wife Carolyn on the tv show, her name was Caroline, I'm invested, go figure. I named my only daughter Laura Grace, after my dear friends from my childhood, Laura Ingalls and her baby sister, Grace.