What better way to get to know a person than through the books that shaped their imaginations, right? When I say I grew up with my nose in a book, I really mean it. I took home stacks of books from the library every week and invariably read my way through the whole pile before our next visit. Couple that with the fact that I lived in a small town and our library’s children’s section, while well stocked, was hardly expansive, it wasn’t long before I’d read everything of interest to me in the children’s section over and over again and graduated to the adult books and the newly formed “teen” section. Here are a few of my favorites from those days.
Look. If we’re going to get to know each other (and we are!) I’m going to need you to come to terms with the fact that I am an unabashed horse kid. I’m the person who galloped around at recess pretending that the swings were jumps and I was a thoroughbred. A lot of people get over this kind of horsey obsession. I never did. I loved The Saddle Club books. I loved that they dealt with the economic realities of being a horse nerd without buckets of cash, and I loved that they were (a little) diverse. I really wanted to be a Stevie with her wacky ice cream combinations and devil-may-care attitude, but I was really more of a Carole, focused and organized at the barn and a mess pretty much everywhere else. I haven’t read any of these books in literally decades, but the characters and plotlines have really stuck with me over the years.
You may notice that my reading tastes have always (and still to this day) run toward novels featuring strong women who look at the roles they are handed and say, “Nah. Thanks, but no thanks.” Cimorene is no exception. Rather than marrying the annoying and vapid Prince Therandil, Cimorene runs away to volunteer to be the dragon Kazul’s princess, and shenanigans ensue. Suffice it to say that any person who can organize a treasure trove, make friends with a dragon, and whip up a killer cherries jubilee is a winner in my book. I may not be a princess, and I may not a have a dragon of my own (though I do have two very large and very good rescue pups), but I think Cimorene and I have a thing or two in common.
Oh, the Alanna books. I read the four novels in this series so often that the librarians had to order a new set by the time I made my way to the adult section of the library. Alanna and the whole world of Tortall captured my imagination in the best way. I loved that Alanna was quick-tempered and ambitious, and *spoilers* I was THRILLED that she didn’t end up with her first love. Alanna was the sword-fighting, magic-wielding take-no-prisoners kind of woman that I wanted to become, and she let nothing get in the way of her ambition, a trait that I’ve done my best to adopt in my own life.
No list of influential books in my life would be complete without Margaret Atwood and her incredible dystopia, The Handmaid’s Tale. I think I was eleven when I read this for the first time, and I kept coming back to it, year after year, and finding new layers within the story. Margaret Atwood really kicked off my love of dystopias, and I’ve never stopped looking for new and interesting takes on the worst possible futures of humanity. Now, as I work on my own books, I think a lot about the research and creativity that went into constructing Offred’s reality. Every horrifying detail in The Handmaid’s Tale was inspired by a real event at some point in history, and every page is a testament to Atwood’s mastery of storytelling. I was and am completely overwhelmed by the brilliance of this book.
Okay. Bear with me. This book kicked off a series of events that would, eventually change my life, and for that, I will always be grateful. When I was in middle school I found The Official Preppy Handbook on a shelf in a used bookstore in my hometown and bought it on a lark. I so loved this satirical look into a world WILDLY unlike my own that I read it over and over again. And then I told my parents that I wanted to go to boarding school. After a lot of finagling and negotiation and a visit to New England I won a full scholarship to the Dana Hall School in Wellesley, MA, listed as the top school for girls in The Official Preppy Handbook. It was there that I took my first creative writing class and managed to connect the dots the fact that I loved to read and there were people out there writing books for a living. And thus, my writing ambitions were born (alongside a lifelong obsession with collecting weird etiquette books, but we’ll get into that another time).