My favorite? Are you kidding me? I average about three new books a week and at least one re-read. I have a new “favorite” every few days based on the current climate of my mental and emotional systems. Just like anything in life, reading tastes vary and some days I’m looking for something to help me escape to the clouds and other times I want a book to ground me to the earth.
So forget favorites. I can’t answer that question anymore than I can tell you what outfit I’ll feel like wearing two Tuesdays from now. But I can do one better. I can tell you the five books that changed my life.
I know, I know. Changed my life. That sounds epic. Well, reading is epic.
1. Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls
I’ve always loved books. As a kid I was total crap at video games and talking to boys, but I could read the shit out of anything I could get my hands on. Even though I always led the class book caterpillar and earned the most coupons for pizza and ice cream cones, I can’t say that anything really stood out for me before the fourth grade. Then (drumroll), I chose Where the Red Fern Grows to read during our daily “in class” book time. If you’ve read this book and if you’re a dog lover (or even have a sliver of a beating heart), you’ve probably guessed where this is headed… I lost it. I mean, I cried so much and so hard that my teacher got completely flustered and had to send me to the nurse’s office to recover. And the life changing part? Well, I discovered that books are POWERFUL. Books can make us FEEL something huge, and if we connect with the story, the words stay with us long after we close the pages. “You were worth it, old friend, and a thousand times over.”
2. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
Okay, so this is another odd choice and your forehead might be wrinkling right now as you read this. I decided to put this on the list because it is the book that introduced me to science fiction. Before Ender’s Game, I never in a million squillion years would have thought that reading about a bunch of kids playing futuristic video game battles against each other and a race of space bugs could be so wonderful. This book changed all that. It taught me that good writing is good writing and sometimes a story can transcend the plot and the genre. It was the book that made me think outside the box when it came to my reading choices.
3. The Sandman, Neil Gaiman
This serves two purposes in the life changing category. 1)Since this is the first graphic novel that I ever read, and I can honestly say that it opened up an entire galaxy to me. Before this, I was confident that all comics were a joke and only morons with rotted-out brains would waste their time on them. I was wrong. 2)The Sandman brought me to Neil Gaiman. Neil fucking Gaiman. He is, in a word, AMAZING. I can’t name my favorite book, but I can tell you who my favorite author/all-around person is. Neil Gaiman. I love everything he does—from novels, to comics, to penned episodes of Dr. Who, to his boring blog posts. You know how people ask who you would invite to your dinner party if you could have anyone there? Neil Gaiman. Without pause.
4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling
This seems simultaneously an obvious choice and a strange one. Of course I love Harry Potter. The world loves Harry Potter. There are eight movies and a theme park to prove it. But that’s not why I have it on my list. I chose this book because I picked it up during a time when I had stopped reading for fun. I was in college and text books and the labels of beer bottles were about the only things that I read for almost an entire year. Then I discovered Harry. I started the book in the hallway before one of my afternoon classes and ended up skipping the class and not moving from my spot on the floor until after dark. I was almost feverish describing the book to my best friend and I think she thought that I had lost my mind (this was before anyone that I knew had heard about Harry Potter or Hogwarts). Whatever. I felt reborn. I felt more “myself” than I had felt in nearly a year and I never forgot how important reading is again. All because of one book.
5. A Room with a View, E.M. Forster
If you nailed me down and made me think of the book that I’ve read the most over my whole life I’m pretty sure that this would be it. I’ve been reading it every six months or so since I was about sixteen. Each time it’s a different experience. Each time it’s a new book. How strange is that? The story and the words certainly don’t change. It’s me and the place where I’m at that are the difference. Sometimes this is a love story. Sometimes it’s a novel about pushing social norms. Other times when I read it, I think it’s an ode to staying true to oneself. And most of the time it’s a mixture of all of these things. It is the book that made me want to travel. The book that made me desperate to fall in love for the first time in my life. The book that meant so much to me that I named my daughter after Lucy Honeychurch.
So these are my choices. My life changing, cataclysmic book choices. They are a bizarre mix of genres, I know. Looking back over the list it’s hard to see how they all tie together and that is the beauty of it—only I know the answer (well, pretty soon you will too). The single thread that runs through all of them is not how well-written they are, or whether they made me laugh or cry. It’s that they have all shown me something incredibly important about myself. Carlos Ruiz Zafon said, “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.” I’ve always thought that was remarkably profound and true. That is the beauty of a single book. That is the epic power of reading.
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