In the past month or so, there’s a been a “ten book challenge” going around Facebook asking participants to list ten books that have influenced them in any way. I avoided participating for a while, just because how am I supposed to only list ten books that have influenced me? Every book, every story, every poem we read has some sort of impact on us, after all. How can I just pick ten?
It took me a lot of thought, but it became easier when I stopped trying to justify why certain titles stuck out to me. I figured that the honest thing to do would be to list the books which stick out in general as influential, and not to overthink their value or influence. My list came up as follows, in no particular order:
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
Matilda, by Roald Dahl
Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls
Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell
Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry
Fleabrain Loves Franny, by Joanne Rocklin
The Last Book in the Universe, by Rodman Philbrick
all the Dear America books
all the Harry Potter books
A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron
Given my goal to work in children’s publishing, it was unsurprising to me that, except for A Dog’s Purpose, every title is a children’s book. It’s also unsurprising to me that, except for A Dog’s Purpose and Fleabrain Loves Franny, every title is one I first read in elementary or middle school. Those were the years I needed books the most, and those stories–stories of friendship, bravery, trust, and doing what is right against all odds–were the stories that stuck out to me as being very Important, with a capital I; stories I knew would matter to me ten years down the road.
What was surprising to me was seeing how different my friends’ lists were from my own. I assumed that books read in childhood would be just as formative for my friends as they were for me; I was mistaken. Jane Eyre (a book I have never read but probably should) was a popular mention, as were other classics like Pride and Prejudice (a book I’ve never pretended to like.) Most friends listed contemporary titles, YA and literary fiction; some listed plays… but none listed more than three children’s books as being among the ten most influential to them.
I believe these lists are hugely influenced by reading’s importance in the general context of a person’s life. Most of my friends posting the ten book challenge are pretty enthusiastic readers, or as much as we can afford to be with so many jobs, extracurriculars, homework assignments, etc. But I know that my list, and my general publishing interests, skew so heavily towards children’s books because I was (not to be a downer) completely miserable through elementary and middle school. I mean, with a face like this
how could I not have a MILLION friends? This, among other problems, made it nearly impossible for me to make and keep decent friends. All I had were the characters in my books, and what could Big Complicated Adult Literature do for me that’s more impressive than getting me through the fourth grade?
What about you, blog readers? Have you done the “ten book challenge?” What ten books, short stories, poems, or plays have influenced your life the most? What stories have made their mark on you forever? Let us know in the comments!
By Heather Job