If you follow my other blog, then you know that I’m taking part in National Novel Writing Month this month. That may also explain why posts here have been far fewer than normal. However, in an effort to celebrate NaNoWriMo across all of my social media arenas, I’m listing here another meme of sorts. At “The Writer’s Dig”, the regular blogging site of the Writer’s Digest Online Editor, Brian A. Klems, he’s asked his readers to make a list of the 10 Books That Never Left You. Those 10 stories that left an indelible mark on you. I’m going to do my best to get all 10 in this post–so that tomorrow I can get back to bringing you the funny!
Again, these are in no particular order except for that in which I remembered them, which may say something more about them than an intentional ordered list would:
1) IT, Stephen King
This was the first adult book I ever read, and at the age of 12 it certainly left its mark. Especially since I would probably go on to re-read this about 10-20 more times in the time I spent waiting for high school to happen. Back then, it was the character of Beverly who intrigued me. Being the only girl among a circle of boys, creating “The Loser’s Club”, I felt like I could relate to her more than the other characters–even though Ben and I shared weight issues and bullies who insisted on pointing it out. Even if it meant my fighting Pennywise along with them, I desperately wanted a Loser’s Club branch at my high school. It’s still one of my favorite novels of all time, and the story of perseverance and facing your demons is relatable for anyone who picks it up.
2) Invisible Monsters, Chuck Palahniuk
The first Palahniuk characters I was introduced to were those from the film Fight Club. No, I haven’t read that yet, and I know I should–because I loved the movie. However, I was kind of hoping that one day dear old Chuck would write a similar story about a female character. Though Invisible Monsters is no Fight Club, for me, it was even better. It looked at issues of beauty and identity. Living up to the expectations of others while trying to pursue your own ideals. And what it really means to live the life you choose, even if that means totally forgetting where you came from. Brandy Alexander and Shannon McFarland make us look at what it means to be a woman in today’s world–biologically or constructed.
3) The Gunslinger, Stephen King
The first in his iconic 8-part series (with the introduction of Wind Through the Keyhole) easily made me hungry for the rest. The compelling chase and familial discord is yet another arena for a head-strong and developed character to face his own demons. The Man in Black proves to be a worth adversary, causing havoc in more stories than just The Dark Tower series, but no matter what he sends out Roland doesn’t stop. Time is merely a face on the water; the wheel of ka turns, and you have your place along the beam if you’d like to take it up. Doing so will alter your imagination in ways you never imagined.
4) Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
The story of a young woman making her own way in the world after basically growing up an orphan. This classic love story does so much more than present a stage where boy meets girl. Jane is complicated, as are her feelings for the men in her life. Even when she’s at her lowest point, sleeping in a field under a tree when she has nowhere else to go, she finds solace in her connection to the world. But, she is the epitome of unconditional love. Though Rochester does little to garner her affections–especially considering how he’s handled treatment of his current wife–Jane does not give up on her man–caring most for him when he cannot seem to care about himself. Her determined loyalty and unconditional affections reflect my own actions in a romantic arrangement, even to my own detriment. Even though the overall theme of the book is to criticize the social situation of women, I feel like it is truly about a woman’s ability to overcome all those expectations and achieve the happiness she truly wants, even from the heart of a boorish brute of an employer.
5) White Oleander, Janet Fitch
Exploring the vital intricacies of the mother/daughter relationship, I felt like this book called to me. Though my relationship with my own mother wasn’t nearly as toxic, I felt like I could understand Astrid’s loyalty and desire to connect to others when her mother was locked up. My mother could only provide me with so much in life, and trying to make up for that is where Astrid and I cross paths. We are both overcompensating for a maternal connection that simply didn’t provide a strong enough foundation of self-esteem, functionality, and capability to connect to others and seek out what we need. We try our best not to need the affections of others, but we quickly realize that though isolation may keep our hearts intact, it does not a happy life make.
6) The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
Exploring one woman’s psyche from the 1950s resonated more with me than I thought I would. I didn’t get the chance to read this book until later on in my college career, and it left a mark on me that could never be wiped away. Esther is a very talented girl, but that doesn’t seem enough to keep her happy. She questions, she wonders at her purpose, she squirrels herself away in a vain attempt to hide the fact that she just can’t get happy. Even with a New York City opportunity, even with the potential for love, poor Esther just can’t find her joy. When she begins seeking treatment after a particularly awful breakdown where she hides herself in the family basement, I sobbed for her first attempts at shock treatment, and my heart broke for her when it seemed like no one would listen. Sylvia’s words of discovery upon interrogating Esther’s issues will forever speak to me in a way no other book ever has.
7) Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel
That is, until I read Prozac Nation. However, the funny thing is, is that I read PN first. Just a year before I read The Bell Jar. Though Elizabeth’s version of depression recalled more of my own life than The Bell Jar did, I wasn’t as self-destructive as Elizabeth. Even though I always wanted to be. I longed for the downward spiral, for all of its confusion, for all of its glamour, because then I might have a reason for feeling as badly as I did. Speaking more to my own generation’s issues than The Bell Jar could, PN would not be here without Plath’s path to come before it. Wurtzel’s depression felt like my depression, but Plath’s breakdown for Esther was more of an emotional journey for me.
8) Hatchet, Gary Paulsen
A novel I read in middle school, Hatchet made me realize that I had power of my own. Even though I was viewed as a child by the rest of the world, Gary Paulsen made me feel like with the right tools in hand I could conquer the world which underestimated me. Though hanging out in the wilderness isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, connecting with nature can call up a kind of clarity and strength within us that we might not have been aware we had before. Brian’s adventure was one that I wouldn’t wish on myself in a literal sense, but the discoveries Brian made about himself on that journey are goal-worthy, post-adventure or not. And I just learned recently that there are four other novels in this series. After NaNo and finishing the books I’m in the middle of now, I may just have to visit my local library and check them out for myself. I would love to see what else Mother Nature brought out of my old friend Brian on his return treks into the wild.
9) My Favorite Book, Good Will, Inc.
This is the very first book I ever remember reading, and that was sometime before kindergarten–easily between the ages of 2 and 4 (and I say that because I don’t remember learning how to read at all, but I remember my baby sister being born just before I turned 4). It talks about gratitude, positivity, and being generally kind and thoughtful. It talks about appreciating the sunrise and bedtime. Apparently, there was an earlier edition (this is from 1980) that had religious/Christian references in it. And, I have to say that I’m glad I didn’t get that one. My grandmother went a long way to putting Jesus in my head, but this book taught me to appreciate good things for their own sake, on their own merit. Appreciate the good because it is good–not necessarily because it came from a good God. That is a trait I carry to this day, along with having mad respect for Jesus (while some of his followers worry me). I believe in being good for the sake of putting good things out in the world, not necessarily because an omnipotent father-figure thinks I should. I think I can have this book to thank for that.
10) The Dancing Man, Ruth Bornstein
I freaking love this story, and I can’t believe it wasn’t the first one I thought of. (P.S. I had a chance to re-read this just this morning; so it’s very fresh in mind.) Though, whenever I think of my favorite novel IT is the first one that always comes to mind. But, when it comes to pure story, Ruth Bornstein brought it back in 1978. The Dancing Man may appear to be about a dancing man on the surface (the very cover, no less!), it is really about the passing along and sharing of dreams. Every writer should read this story, because dreams are made real only after they are shared. That is the moral of this beautiful, simple story. Is time glossed over? Yes. Do we ever find out what happens to Joseph’s village (*SPOILER ALERT*)? No. Are we ever told how Joseph is always able to fit in the same outfit for the entirety of his life (*SPOILER ALERT*)? No. But does it matter what you wear when you share dreams? No. Does it matter how we got to the southernmost sea? No. What matters is that a new reader, a new author, a new book fiend could be there at the end of our road, with new dreams of their own, just waiting to carry on the torch your dreams ignited.