I’m joining Sarah again for her 10 Books week. Today: 10 fiction books that I read over and over.
Only 10? Deep breath.
I decided to think about books that have shaped and influenced who I am both as a person and as a writer (are those two different things?). I love so many books, consider so many characters close friends. This is like listing your ten favorite people in the world. Ever. For your whole entire life. Who do you strike from that list? Nonetheless, I endeavor to make a limited list.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – Obviously. I’m sure you fell out of your chair when you saw this title topping my list. How could you expect otherwise from the girl who thinks herself to be–and in some ways is, thank you very much (what do you think the “A” in Heather A. Goodman stands for?)–Anne-with-an-E. Need I say more?
Nancy Drew Mystery Stories : The Secret of The Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene (who turns out to be a collection of authors, much to my disappointment) – So there I was at a highfalutin writer’s conference with Pulitzer Prize winning speakers and other amazing authors (i.e. Chimamanda Adichie, see below), and what do I buy? A Nancy Drew T-shirt. So much for keeping up appearances. I read my mom’s copies of the first 20-odd books in the series, and now these same copies (which you’re not getting back, Mom, sorry) have a place of honor in my home. When I began writing in elementary school, I wrote murder mysteries because I thought it delicious the way things loomed in Nancy Drew books.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – I want to be Anne, but I’m probably more like Jo (or perhaps a mixture of both). When I think of my journey as a writer, I compare it to Jo’s. When I think of the dreams I had of Europe and the adventure of my life now, I think of Jo. She and Anne guide me through life.
(At some point, I should move on to “adult” books. But not quite yet.)
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis – I loved the Narnia series, although, to be honest, I wouldn’t argue that they’re the best written books ever. Still, they shaped me. For some reason, this book, the prequel, though I read it last because it’s last in my childhood set, stands out more than the others. Going back and discovering the beginnings of things fascinated me. You can do that as a writer? my young mind thought. Astonishing.
Fahrenheit 451: A Novel by Ray Bradbury – I fell in love first with Dandelion Wine and Martian Chronicles before coming to Fahrenheit. I read the first two in a series my English teacher created with Aldous Huxley (loved Brave New World as well) and George Orwell (Animal Farm? Meh. I know. I’m probably heretical or at least unAmerican for saying that). A year later she introduced us to Clarisse. I understood Clarisse’s love for books and the sacrifice she would make.
Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo – What can I say? I love, love, love this book. I listened to the audio version of it years ago. The day it finished, I was running in the park and sobbing because what was I going to do without Sully now? I still wonder how he’s doing. (And you know what? It’s time to check on him–aka reread the book.) In some ways, I can’t tell you what draws me to this book. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything spectacular about it: a blue-collar worker (who, in real life I probably wouldn’t like, to be honest) in an everyday small-town setting who does nothing fantastic. It’s like the Seinfeld of the literary world in some ways (except it’s not really about nothing; then again, neither was Seinfeld). He confronts his ghosts, and you learn to love this gruff man who seemingly tries to push everyone away.
Pride and Prejudice: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) by Jane Austen – Yes, I’m that girl, and I’m that cliche. What can I say? I love her spunk.
Digging to America by Anne Tyler – And not just because her name is Anne-with-an-E. Like Russo’s writing, this novel is deceptively simple, and it turns out that it’s not simple at all. It’s complex and delicate and sensitive and moving. I struggled between this one and Back When We Were Grownups, but in the end, I think I love this one a little more. Her characters are rich, quirky without being token or dismissive, and complex. Tyler writes with the kind of humor that comes from knowing people. I love that she writes about the grandness of everyday, seemingly small lives, and I love that in this book, she tackles ethnicity and friendships that you’d never expect.
And two new favorites:
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender – I came to Bender and Adichie (see below) via their short stories. Their writing captivates me and challenged me: you can do this, I think when I read them. I love Bender’s surrealism, and I love the weirdness and tenderness of her characters.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie – I’d hate Adichie if I didn’t love her writing so much. She and I are the same age, so of course, I’m full of jealousy. She’s an amazing writer, and I want to sit in her books and drink in everything: her descriptions, her characters and how they develop, the rhythms and movement of her writing. This book deeply moved me. It’s the story of a war, but it’s not the story of a war. It’s the story of the people in this war and how the war changed them. Really, it’s the stories of the people in this war because Adichie is able to show so many perspectives from so many different backgrounds and tie them together. You have to read this book. Seriously. If you don’t, we can’t be friends. Yes, I feel that strongly about it.
Honorable mentions: I’ve gotten into the writings of Jennifer Egan and Jonathan Safran Foer the past several years, and I’ll mention them here because they too are challenging me to look at what I can do with writing, with stories, with characters. I think they’re changing me as a writer, though only time will tell that.
Isn’t it amazing what we can do with 26 characters? Infinite possibilities of building words and sentences and ideas and books. I’m in awe of these small tools and how they’ve shaped me.