I was challenged to share the 10 books that have most affected me as a reader on Facebook by my friends J and P. I then spent at least the last few weeks paralyzed every time I tried to compile the list because it’s SO hard to do.
Keep in mind that this list could change over the course of an hour, much less over a day or a week, but here we go–In no particular order, 10 books that profoundly changed my life. The links will take you the goodreads page for each book. I’m going to cheat and use a lot of series to count as a single book
#1–Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey
I have already done a blog post specifically about Magic’s Pawn and how profoundly it affected me. The short recap, though, is that Vanyel was the first gay person I ever met, and in knowing him I became a better person, and I was better equipped to deal come to terms with my own queerness (I’m bisexual). The importance of that can’t be overstated, and I only wish that I could tell Brian–the clerk at my local Waldenbook’s who handed it to me–how much I appreciate his bringing Vanyel into my life. I reread this (and then usually the other two Last Herald-Mage books) every year or two.
#2 Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Gone With the Wind makes this list because it was the first super long book I ever read. There are very valid critiques of the book, including a dangerous romanticizing of the antebellum South. When I think about Gone With the Wind, I think about how I have viewed Scarlett over the years each time I reread it. When I first read it, at 11-ish years old, I thought Scarlett at 16 was amazing and headstrong. I then reread it every 3-5 years. Most recently I read it around the age of 30, and I thought Scarlett was an idiot teenager and a pretty horrible adult. In rereading this book, I have watched myself grow up and mature. My understanding both of the actual setting of the book and the context of the time in which Mitchell wrote it have grown as well, and that allows me a more nuanced read of the book each time I’ve read it.
While I’m not sure I will read it again, or how many years will pass before I do, it stands as one of the important books from my transition from child to teen to adult.
#3–The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin (link is to book #1)
Considering I’m re-reading and snarking these books, I don’t their inclusion will come as any surprise. The BSC books were the first series I felt passionate about. They were the first books whose release I awaited with rabid desire, and that I devoured on the day I bought them because I HAD TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT. I’ve felt this way about many book series over the years since, but they were the first and while I mock them, I do so from a place of deep, deep love.
#5–The Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce (link is to book #1)
I’ve always been a fan of fantasy, but even as a young reader I noticed a certain lack of estrogen when it came to heroes and adventurers. Alanna changed all of that for me. A girl who disguised herself as a boy to earn her shield, does so, comes out as a woman and faces a lot of misogyny, AND who has sexual agency (having three sexual partners over 4 books–off screen because it’s YA, but still) was a revelation for me. Not only could women star in fantasy novels, they could do so as complex and rich characters.
Tamora Pierce is an amazing author. She’s also incredibly gracious–when a writer for XOJane wrote an article about (among other things) meeting Tamora Pierce, I had to comment on it. And Tamora Pierce commented back! (She actually engaged with almost everyone on the comment thread, which is just so awesome of her.
#6–Fraud by David Rakoff
My first acquaintance with David Rakoff wasn’t on paper, it was through the NPR show “This American Life,” to which he regularly contributed. I loved the stories he told there so much, I went out and bought Fraud (and eventually his other books). Rakoff is a masterful storyteller and his essays, whether on the page or the radio often made me think as well as laugh. Sometimes they made me sob, much as the last essay in Fraud does. Listening to him and reading his work has made me a better storyteller.
“I used to bank here, but that was long, long ago” is about Rakoff’s early battle with Hodgkin’s disease which, when it came back years later, killed him. You can here him tell that story here, or read a transcript of that episode of TAL, including the essay here. I strongly encourage you to listen to him tell it.
#7-Pandora’s Box 2 by Black Lace books
The was the first (second?) erotica title I ever read. It my introduction to any number of fetishes that helped me unlock my sexuality. Given that I’m now a professional erotica author, I’m sure it had some impact on me professionally as well, in setting the bar far above my crappy online erotic fanfic.
#8 Man from Mundania by Piers Anthony (and Xanth books 1-20)
The Xanth books by Piers Anthony make this list because of their bad puns. Anthony would have his characters walk by some seashells and the eyes of the shell would SEE them. I started reading these around 9/10 years old and the fact that I got the puns in an “adult” book–although really they’d be better classified as YA at best, they were shelved with the adult sci-fi/fantasy books. They made me feel smart because I got the puns, and in a way made me fall in love with words. I’d always loved reading, but the Xanth books with their puns and later the Cat Who series by Lilian Jackson Braun which used massive vocabulary words made me love words and language.
#9–Phantom by Susan Kay
I was already an Andrew Lloyd Webber Phantom of the Opera fangirl (or phangirl as we’re known) when I found this in my local library. Kay’s extension of the Phantom character to a full life story (and a far more satisfactory ending) is just awesome. This is one of my favorite books, period. It makes the list because it’s okay to be an obsessive nerdy fangirl.
10–Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz
This books looks at how the Civil War lives in on in the modern American South. My BA is in history, and the intersection of history and memory is very interesting to me. The reason it makes the list is that it highlights some fairly odd/disturbing aspects of this living history within Southern Culture but never makes it a cartoonish representation that you can then disregard. Horwitz brings humanity to his subjects and shows them as fairly complicated people, not caricatures. It’s also an incredibly readable book for a layperson. One of the reason I didn’t pursue history at the PhD level was that I hated the level of depersonalization I had to do to write about history. Horwitz isn’t a historian, he’s a journalist, and that impacts the flavor of the book in a positive way. (Which is not to say that historians don’t write good books, it’s just that it wasn’t how I wanted to spend the rest of my life.)
So there you have it…for this second anyway.
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