My most influential reads, sorta


A Facebook friend and former classmate mentioned on his timeline that there’s “thing” going around around wherein folks list their 10 most influential books. He developed an interesting list, among them are Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird and Rabbit Run, the only three I’ve read, though I’ve heard of most of his others. I agree with his individual assessments of those.

As I began to think of my own, however, the ones that popped into my mind were not classics; they weren’t likely books anyone had even ever heard of. I began to comment on his thread this truth, when I realized I was doing that thing again – writing what should be a blog post on someone else’s thread.

So, here are some just as they come to me, likely kind of chronologically, and I don’t know how many I’ll end up with either. Here goes:

1. Shadow Castle, by Marian Cockrell. This one enraptured me around third grade. I read it over and over. I only know the author because I found a copy in a used bookstore one day a few years ago and snapped it up. Can’t wait to share it with a granddaughter some day. But not too soon, geez, the first kid is getting married in 6 months.

2. From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg. I was a little older and fascinated by kids living on their own in a public place such as a museum! Oh, the survival skills of such a young, but smart girl. I connected. And she solved a mystery while she was there anyway.

3. The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton. Good heavens, I almost left this one out. This book influenced me and my group at the time. Our 7th grade teacher read it to us and we decided to assume the roles of the characters for all of our note-passing and calling out to each other. We really got into the characters and thought our lives almost as dramatic as Ponyboy’s, Soda Pop’s, Derry’s, Johnny’s, Dally’s, well, you probably know them as well as I do … surely. Hey, my moniker? Ponygirl. That’s what’s up. Well, at the time.

4. Lisa Bright and Dark, by John Neufield. This felt like a grownup book about teens dealing with grownup issues. It was scary and educational and real. Nothing like living the scary stuff through literature instead of, you know, real life.

5. I have no idea the title or author of this next one that comes back to me often. In this YA novel, the protagonist is a young teen who is supposed to drive across the country to meet a relative during the holidays – I think maybe an aunt. Near the rendezvous point, she is supposed to tie a red scarf on her antenna to help the relative spot her car and lead her to wherever they are supposed to go. A glitch in the plan happens when she is carjacked. Eventually she decides to outwit her kidnapper and claiming he can’t ruin her Christmas, she ties a red bow on the antenna. If anyone can help me identify that book, I’d be really happy. I was a young teen reading that thing waaaay back in 197??, so it’s not exactly current. Again, I lived a scary adventure with a sharp heroine without the actual fear. I have a better idea of what to do if I’m ever carjacked during Christmas, though.

6. The Outlander series, by Diana Gabaldon. OK, this is a guilty pleasure, but I’m going to defend it. Gabaldon is a great storyteller. Yeah, there’s a little gratuitous, er, um, activity among the chapters, but that’s not the strength of the series. In this time travel piece, the protagonist, a WWII nurse in Scotland accidentally finds herself transported back in time 200 years, where she meets the ancestor of her 1943 husband – and he’s not a nice fella – as well as the man who will be her 1741 husband (I may be a couple years off here). Time travel is always fun to play with and I admire any writer who can pull it off. But one important thing I got from this series is a better understanding of history (and castles). Gabaldon weaves real history into her stories, from the Scottish Rising of 1745 to the 1776 Revolution in America, as well as lesser-known, but twice as interesting tidbits.

7. On Writing, by Stephen King. I have discovered that I truly love reading writers’ accounts of how they came to be who they are. And good writers are able to make you the fly on the proverbial wall during their formative years. King combines his history with writing instruction, not the dry stuff, but the practical stuff and in his unique voice. This one I’ve read three times and will revisit anytime I need that boost.

8. Possession, by A. S. Byatt. One of my favorite on the numerous required reading lists for an English major. Though it wasn’t time travel, the novel moved back and forth in time to help the reader make connections that the modern day researchers were trying to discover.

9. Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver. When I read the jacket flap, I kind of dreaded what seemed like an over abundance of nature description, but I fell in love with the book. It was another education (books do that – even fiction). While intertwining three stories in a rural community, it all tied to the cycle of nature. The reader comes away with a greater appreciation for how nature works, that great circle of life. When man steps in and messes with some aspect of nature’s great order – like killing coyote – things get out of balance. Kingsolver is a great writer. Besides an accurate view of nature (she has a biology degree), she’s good with human nature as well. So here, I’ll take advantage and mention another favorite, The Bean Trees and its follow-up, Pigs in Heaven. Goofy sounding titles, but good books.

10. Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen. A wonderful essayist as well as novelist, this book went where I haven’t had a book take me before. A couple chapters in, she had set the hook, and just like a panicked fish trying to get off the line, it was no use. I wanted to throw the book across the room – and maybe I did. But I had to pick it up again. It made me angry, it scared me. I went through so much emotion, but just like her protagonist, I had no choice but to move forward. I loaned it to a friend, but before I handed it off, I gave her a warning: It will make you mad and you may not want to finish, but you’ll have to.

11. My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult. Hey, this is my post, and I make the rules. I don’t have to stop at 10. This one is especially important to me because I wanted to see how Picoult portrayed events that me and my family had gone through. No, I didn’t have a daughter try to sue me for rights to make her own medical decisions. But my youngest son did have a medical condition that required a bone marrow transplant. I wanted to read about how the medical issues affected the family, how she wrote the sick daughter’s symptoms and reactions to treatments, the scenes in the hospital. Though our situations were not the same, there were enough similarities to intrigue me. But the book did more than that, as many do. It pulled me in, and I connected with yet another family, with each member of it. Picoult is talented that way. She’s also a die-hard researcher.

I know there are more. I’m always being affected by a book. I’m currently admiring the works of Richard Russo. Both Straight Man and Empire Falls have impressed me with the insight of human character and his writing, well, his writing. That’s what I want to be when I grow up, a mixture of Russo, Picoult, and Quinlen with the seasoning of many more. Is that too much to ask?


About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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