I think readers have milestone books–books that define different periods of their lives. These books aren’t necessarily the best books they ever read, and may not even be their favorites. (Though they certainly can be.) They are significant as much for their timing as for their content.
Here are some of the books that stand out in my memory:
The Book that Made Me a Reader:
The warmest spot in my literary heart has to be reserved for Lilibet, Circus Child. This Astrid Lindgren book was sent to me by my Swedish aunts, and it was the very first book I could read all by myself. Man, I loved that independence! The sheer joy of being able to decipher the words, to sound them out and have a real story appear in my head–it was like magic. Even though the book was mostly pictures, I still felt so grown up, because they were real photographs, not cartoons.
This was my favorite page:
I stared at that page until, in my head, I was Lilibet.
The Book that Set on the Path to Being a Writer:
Trixie Belden and The Secret of the Mansion, by Julie Campbell. This was the first of the Trixie Belden mysteries, and it opened up a whole new world to me. Not only did I want to spend every spare minute I had in Trixie’s world, but I also wanted to create my own Trixie stories. And I did. Yup, I was writing fan fic before fan fic was cool. I still think, with a little polish, my 10-year-old self’s masterpiece–Trixie Belden and the Kentucky Derby Mystery–could have been a contender.
The Book that Turned Me On to Gothic Romance:
The Legend of the Seventh Virgin, by Victoria Holt, was given to me by the lady up the street I used to babysit for when I was a young teenager. She knew I was a reader, so she gave it to me one night when she knew she’d be out late, and that the kids would be asleep for most of my time there. It felt deliciously naughty to be reading something with the word “virgin” in the title, and boy did it get me hooked on gothics!
The Book that Saved my Sanity When My Kiddos Were Little and I Didn’t Get Out Much:
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. Of course. The big, fat genre-stew of a book (historical, time-travel, romance, mystery–seriously, it has everything) was just what the doctor ordered when the walls of motherhood closed in on me. It was the perfect escape, and I could enjoy it over and over again. In fact, I still reread it often, and never get tired of it.
The Book that Made Me Think, Hey, I Can Do This!
One For the Money, by Janet Evanovich. Hello? The voice! A smartass MC, tossed willy-nilly into dangerous and funny situations? How fun would that be to write? If Evanovich could make a go of a series like that, I figured I might have a shot at it. With a “Linda” twist on it, of course. My voice, not Evanovich’s. Still, it was nice to know readers could appreciate a certain level of kookiness.
Can you remember the first book you read all by yourself?
If you’re a writer, can you remember the first book you read that gave you a Hey, I can do this! moment?
Bonus question: Do you think I came up with this whole “milestone book” thing because I couldn’t make myself choose just one book?
30 Replies to “Deb Linda’s Milestones: Circuses and Time Travelers and Virgins, Oh My!”
the first book I read all by my lonesome was BFG by R. Dahl. to this day, i still smile when i think of that book.
the first one that made me want to be a writer was STRANGERS by Dean Koontz
and the one that made me think, hey i can do this too! was THE VAMPIRE LESTAT by Anne Rice (still one of my favorite books/series to this day)
Oh, I love BFG! I’m a big Koontz fan, too, and I really like Anne Rice’s early stuff. Good milestones! 🙂
Oh, Linda, what a great post to wrap up this week! I can’t tell you much I love your first pick–I had a similar book as a child–and isn’t it amazing how so many years later, we recall those pics we pored over–and that sense of wonder and excitement in the pages?
Thanks for taking us on your journey, my dear. My oldest is just now learning to read and I can’t help but read your post and think that HER journey is just beginning. What book will she remember years down the road as the one that began it all for her?
What a special time for you and your oldest — gosh, I remember that time with my kiddos so well.
Whichever book my daughter remembers as the one that began it all for her is more than likely still in our basement — I can’t bear to get rid of books, so they tend to pile up. I’m pretty sure my husband got me an e-reader in self defense. 😉
You raise such a good point–so much of what we remember about our early reads were the covers and the tactile experience (smell, feel) of the books–as much as I love e-readers, I can’t imagine my daughters learning to read on one. (And we all know the smell of books only improves when stored in the basement, IMO.)
Exactly! I’m glad you’re giving your kids the paper experience. There’s nothing like it. 🙂
I think you totally couldn’t choose just one. I don’t think I could narrow mine down this much.
I always have trouble narrowing down my “most important” or “favorite” anything. With books, it’s impossible.
i love how you broke this down, linda. there are so many fabulous books out there and each one touches us in a different way, so yes, it’s nearly impossible to pick just one, but to give us multiple categories!?! well played.
Why, thank you! That sounds way better than “indecisive.” *grin*
I can’t remember the first book I ever read by myself, but I remember the first book I ever read that had a shifting POV. My brother is three years older, and he was a precocious reader. So was I, and I wanted to read everything he read. I can’t remember how old I was when he got Lord of the Rings. I remember reading along, stumbling over some of the words and concepts but totally engrossed in the story. I turned the page and… the story switched to a totally different set of characters!
I couldn’t understand. I flipped back a page. Yes, there were the familiar characters I’d been following breathlessly. Forward a page. Several pages. Where were my characters? Obviously, there was something wrong with the book. I paged forward until “my” characters came back again, then continued reading “their” story.
It took me a while to figure out the book was intentionally written that way. 🙂
My first “I can do this” moment came while reading a poorly-written piece of crap. And I didn’t think, “I can do this”. I thought, “Hell, even I can do better than this…”
Ha! I read a few (okay, several) of those “I can do better than this” books, too. I thought it might be . . . um, “impolitic,” shall we say? . . . to mention them by title in a public forum, though. *grin* But, oh yeah, THOSE are some of the most encouraging books ever. 😉
Geez, I’ve read so many books in my lifetime, I’m not sure if I can even answer this. It honestly feels like I’ve ALWAYS read, so I can’t for the life of me come up with the first book. It was probably a child’s poetry book, though. Evanovich is kind of an inspiration to me, too. To tell the truth, I’d never read any of her stuff, or even heard of her, until a gal who read my WIP first draft called me a “literary Evanovich.” (So, natch, I had to read her books to see if that was a good thing or not.)
A literary Evanovich, huh? Sounds like a good thing to me!
What a cool topic! I think Charlotte’s Web was one of the first books I actually picked up to read on my own. And I’m pretty sure it was Nobody’s Baby but Mine by SEP that made me think “Hey, I can do this too!” 🙂
Oh, I love SEP! That was a really good one. 🙂
Wow, those are great questions!
I don’t remember what the first book I read was, but I know that Ramona the Pest and Charlotte’s Web were my first favorites. Though Pippi Longstocking was COOL!
And I did love that Trixie Belden, too! I remember one about a barge on the Missouri River.
And I’m still not sure that I can do this writing thing, too, so my inspiration is a little fuzzy…but I have to say that meeting real writers in real life makes me believe that real people can be writers!
Hey, you ARE a writer. I read your blog, so I know this. 🙂
And I remember that Trixie Belden, too — it was called (oddly enough) The Mystery on the Mississippi. *grin*
Trixe Belden, Outlander, One for the Money fan in the house!!!!
See, I knew you were smart! 🙂
I can’t remember the answer to the first two questions but the answer to the third one is – yes! You’re sneaky that way.
Ha! You know me too well. 😉
Landmark books for me —
Trixie Belden caused me to fall in love with mysteries, as did The Three Investigators series.
Then there was
The Moonspinners by Mary Stuart
The Door by Mary Roberts Rinehart … also mysteries
The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny
The Morgaine series by CJ Cherryh … they hooked me on fantasy
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov … here comes science fiction
And then the first novel I published was historical fiction. Go figure.
Oh, lots of good ones there! Isn’t it amazing how all our writing influences meld together to produce our own unique voices?
I’m not sure how you narrowed down your landmark books this far. If I had to choose the book that made me a reader, I’d say The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and everything by Beverly Cleary. Which, as you can see, is more than one book.
The first book that made me feel like a grown-up was Watership Down by Richard Adams. It wasn’t the story itself that made me feel that way, it was a teacher. I had borrowed the book from the school library when I was ten. At the time, the eighth graders in my school also happened to be reading that book in class. When the eighth grade teacher saw me walking around with the book, he brought me to the principal’s office and accused me of stealing it from one of his students. Not because anyone was missing a book, mind you, but because what else would I be doing with it? When he found out I hadn’t stolen anything, he sent my mother a note to check if she knew I was reading stuff that was too old for me. My mother assumed (correctly) that he was an idiot. The whole ordeal made me feel very grown-uppy.
The Beverly Cleary books were my first “chapter books” — I loved them, and felt so grown-up when I checked them out of the school library.
Re the A-hole eighth grade teacher: Ugh. I agree with your mother — he was obviously an idiot. It’s amazing to me that people like that make it in the teaching profession. Sad, that.
I have no idea what book I first read all by myself. Heck, with all these voices in my head, I still don’t feel like I read by myself. Great list, Linda, and I also love JE’s voice in the Stephanie Plum books. It’s accessible and fun and why read if not to enjoy yourself?
Exactly. I love reading all kinds of books, “fluff” included. And I refuse to feel guilty about enjoying it.
I remember when I started school they expected me to read books which said things like ‘John has a blue ball’ when I wanted to read stories. If I hadn’t already known there were better books out there I think those trainee reader books might have put me off for life.
Weren’t those horrible? Soooo boring.
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