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My Favorite Books - Child to Adult - and Why

Updated: May 6

I loved reading as a child. In fact, my mom tells the story about how at two years old, I would hold a book on my lap - sometimes upside down - and run my finger under the words saying, "dor,dor,dor", trying to mimic the intonation of words. All to feel like I was reading.

Later, I read through dictionaries, practicing words and learning meanings, phone books to practice pronouncing names and addresses, and encyclopedias, opening one of the volumes to a random page and read what I found. Then I hit the National Geographic magazines my father had started ordering, and later Scientific American.

When I was about ten or eleven, my mom handed me the book, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, by Maria A. Trapp, and said "You have to read this." Which I, of course did. At times the story was difficult read for me. I had little to no background knowledge on which to draw from about nuns, the abbey, and war. Other than the drills we did in school where we had to hide under our little wooden desks to save us from nuclear fallout. A presumably protective maneuver for which I honestly never understood the logic.

Then I found Tolkien's wild tales of Hobbit's, languages and lands (for which I spent hours studying the map of the Shire and its surrounding territories with names I could barely pronounce), that I did not understand but was a deep examination of character and motivation, and problems to solve. Don't we all wish we had a Gandalf in our lives to appear at our darkest moments and save the day with a lifetime of wisdom and a little bit of magic?

Jack London's The Call of the Wild introduced me to an animal with character and motivations too. And even more intriguing to me was My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, that led me to imagine all kinds of experiences and adventures, along with falcon training that created scenarios I had never considered. But that also injected my running away from home stint, at age five, with great new potential. I was enamored with Sam's amazing conviction and desire to be free of societal encumbrances, but also in his self-realization in the value of human relationships. Sam to me was self-actualization warrior.

Stuart Little by E.B. White (author of Charlotte's Web), blew my mind. Who knew a mouse could talk? Not only that, but that a rodent could have such an effect on humans? All I had ever known about mice was their endearing cuteness, seemingly incessant scratching in the walls, and they pooped everywhere they went. An unfortunate trait that ultimately led to forcing us set traps on their exact path of travel. Eventually leading to their death. But Stuart was resourceful and even in some ways smarter than the humans. I realized story writing had no bounds, and to me that equalled freedom. While I loved the endearing persistence of Charlotte and Wilbur's determination to understand the world, in Charlotte's Web. I found the metaphor in of how humans stand in the way of others progress poignant. I also came to understand they can care for and help each other. The most impressive element in the story, and something I hadn't known much about in my short 11 years.

The follow up to Stuart Little was Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a rather dreary and sometimes depressing look at the life of a seagull. The story often contains very exhilarating moments of flight, which quite likely started my lifetime of flying dreams (well that, and Superman movies cause in my dreams I could jump into flight just like Superman).

More importantly than flying, I found persistence and perseverance in one's goals. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull was nothing if not for his sheer determination to beat the odds and obtain an unreachable goal.

I loved the Mark Twain's adventure stories about Tom Sawyer and even better Huck Finn. The freedom those two kids experienced and yearned for felt familiar to me. Plus, as a bonus; Huck Finn exposed this New England girl to racism I had not had much experience with. And for that I developed a loathing for it. After all, we all have the same blood coursing our veins. I was able to profoundly see how it was the people that created the slave, then later condemned them for their slaveness. Not at all unlike today as our country, in its need to control, create injured vets and then treat them as a problem. Or how certain corners of society are unaccepting of people's differences, thereby providing lack of support those very people in need. But then, just when all hope is lost, people, characters and stories emerge that temporarily right all those wrongs.

But some stories were unable to hold my attention well, like the Little House on the Prairie series. Someone had given me the set. Having spent a third of my formative years in the west, this series deeply intrigued me. I found though, I had little patience for the girl so lovingly raised and emotionally close to her parents. An experience I shared little if any context or relevance with. It took on a rather sappy and over-reaching tone, that felt contrary to everything I had known in my life. Within its sicky-sweet genre, I could find no connection. Within my large family, my parents didn't care about our woes, struggles, or the litany of confusing messages they gave us. Hence, the Little House on the Prairie series, lost its effect on me in hypocrisy.

Nor did I care for Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mysteries, as they too contained too much perfection that did not mimic real life. Certainly not relating to anything I knew of life.

By reading a lot, I was finding my way through who the reader was I wanted to be. What types of stories intrigued me, and interestingly at that age, I was able to assess, why.

In a high school english class we studied mythology. A subsequent assignment was given to write our own mythological story. Mine was about The Human Beans. A view of being human if we were actually beans. The crazy concept came to me, on the bus ride home (the late bus) and it was dark outside. With nothing to look or read, I began pondering my myth and story.I recall thinking the Greek myths were about god's, I want my myth to be about humans, human beings, ah... and there it is, human beans. Eureka!

My story contained some interesting stuff, like since all the beans looked the same, how did they make themselves unique? An exploration of identity (just like the mythological gods) rolled out on my written pages. I didn't quite know what I had done, but the teacher's note indicated I had created an excellent analogy that compared and contrasted humans, in creating their own identities, to how the greek gods obtained their identities. And I saw "Well done!" at the bottom of the note.

I also found I was fast developing my tastes for adventure stories that examined tough and sometimes important topics about life and living. Oh, I know Laura Ingalls had her struggles and life on the prairie was tough. But in the end, it was simply not realistic enough for me.

Later on, I thoroughly enjoyed the Great Gatsby. It was like experiencing 1) a life I would never have, and 2) fraught with so much trouble, just like real life. Those elements, on top of the examination of how real people express their needs piqued my interest. I realized people do trample over others in their never-ending reach to get their own needs met. Furthermore, I came to understand, some people aspire to a life only one can dream about but never really obtain. We all do it at some point or another. Totally relatable, even if in a somewhat pretentious way.

But Pride and Prejudice hit that same nail on the head, and the story is such a fun read. The only difference between Gatsby and Elizabeth Bennet is that she actually does venture out of her comfort zone for the perfect life at the top. For one, she survived. But I'm willing to bet were there been a sequel (and assume somewhere there is), Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy would have experienced their own marital trials and nights of couch sleeping, just like the rest of us.

I hated reading Orwell's 1984, but only because it's a difficult read. The storyline is crazy, compelling and of course, comes with all kinds of analogies, metaphors, and futuristic concepts that itself is a must read for those reasons alone. And oh, my, my, how we see its relatability every day, don't we? In that way, it makes the book even more significant and instructive in latency.

But then came Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the original psychological and science fiction thriller. Mary, who's own life experienced much loss and pain, almost unimaginable by today's standards. Wrote a book about a hideous creature that suffered great pain. We all know the derivatives of that story. But the original carries a great deal more weight. Mary Shelley masterfully takes a deep look at character analysis and self-examination in many forms for each of the main characters. While many know the story as a monster that wreaks havoc everywhere he goes. It is really a deep-dive into what motivates and makes us who we are. How pain and suffering guides us in our own paths of self-examination, being forced to take a hard look at oneself. Complete with horrifying and abject character traits.

But the book I loved reading even more on the Frankenstein front, was Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon. Talk about putting the story of Frankenstein in perspective? That analysis of life, character, and art is extraordinary. And perhaps should have its own blog post examining that book. It was that good! This book is by far one of my all time favorites.

So as you can probably see by now, these are books that have heavily influenced who I've become as a reader and as a writer. While there are many more books I've read and lost myself in as well. Some, I've hugged when I've finished them. Some I procrastinated reading the last few chapters just because I didn't want to the let them go. It's interesting though, of the books I gravitate to, they generally share a similar theme. Survival, understanding struggle and developing an awareness of how to deal with horrible situations.

I enjoy examining complex characters and the things that impact their decisions and how those decisions impact others and their own lives. Then rolling all that into an adventure story, as adventure in and of itself, becomes an exploration. It's no coincidence it is what I see that makes the perfect novel storm.

Charlotte Gordon did this so well (even though her book is a biography it contains all the elements of an adventure), as did Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, Jean Craighead George, and so many others that helped me want to learn more about myself and the world of characters and places only stories can truly take us.

Reading and writing, for me, is an exploration of life. And in that exploration, I love to get lost in the adventure. The places it can take me and the lessons I can learn. Reading provides insight into worlds, places, and people that I would not otherwise not experience. Writing helps me to process concepts, values, and wisdom gained of the past, while still allowing for potential change in the future.

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