Recently my blog-crush Dominika shared her list of life-changing books and inspired me to do the same. It was hard to differentiate favorites from the ones that really rearranged my mental furniture, but here’s my attempt:
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: I remember trying to read this a couple of times before I could get through it, totally in love with the movie (was Dickon my first crush?), but totally stymied by the Yorkshire accents. I think it was the first book to touch (or inspire?) my love of deep history, of stories in which layer upon layer of human generation has touched a place, leaving it shadowy with memory and mystery. It is also probably most directly responsible for the Anglophile tendencies that led me to Oxford for study abroad in 2007.
- Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: Later this book was other things to me — the foundation for a dream-come-true trip to Prince Edward Island when I was 9 or 10, the subject of my undergrad honors thesis — but first Anne Shirley was an inspiration to me for how one should live. She balances a dreamy romantic spirit with a sense of duty to the people around her. (Also, every bouquet I’ve ever picked has been inspired at least a little by Anne.)
- Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank: I’m not really sure why I’ve always loved post apocalyptic stories, but I am sure that this was the first I read, plucked from a shelf of my parents’ books sometime in grade school. I think stories of worldwide calamity satisfy some conviction in my anxious heart of the brokenness of our world, and the best ones, like this one, show us a way to rebuild it.
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling: I was born in 1985, at just the perfect time for Harry P. — right at the generational hinge of people young enough to read the books just as they were coming out, so that the first debuted when I was about Harry’s age, and I awaited the last one as an old engaged lady. The books in themselves are a world to inhabit, but what was probably most important to me about them was how they made reading a communal thing. Harry Potter was and remains a secret language for discovering kindred spirits.
- Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis: I want to list Orthodoxy or Lost In the Cosmos: A Last Self-Help Book — something to give me hipster Catholic cred — but Mere Christianity was the first book to really suggest to me that smart people could be Christians, and that Christianity could be understood (to an extent) rationally.
- What Mothers Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing by Naomi Stadlen: Ok, I’m going to tell you a librarian secret now: we scam from the holds shelf. I saw this one come through when Pippin was a baby and I was working circ, and I immediately added it to my holds, because I was a mother who felt like she was doing nothing. It was unbelievably affirming and fascinating and you should really read it, too, if you’ve ever felt like motherhood was killing you.
I am not sure about this list. It’s like nothing notable happened to me in college, despite being an English major and Great Books student. Hmm. But it’s hard to select just one formative thing (King Lear! Pascal’s Pensees! Digging deep into Austen! You know, finally reading the Bible!), so I will offer a jumble of other stuff, college and not, below.
Honorable mentions: anything Jane Austen, because her prose is just the absolute best; Paradise Lost because it is so big and hard and beautiful; The Four Quartets which I wrestled over in a book club one summer in college; Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year because Anne Lamott can make me tear up and cackle in the same paragraph, and believe everything will be ok…