A Literary Odyssey: Ten books That Have Left a Strong Impression on Me
NOTE: Many of the books included in this list were read in my childhood. This is not because I have failed to find good works of literature since, but, rather, because I found that the earlier works had the greatest impact on my life. If I had not been a voracious reader as a child, I doubt that I would have been as drawn to the path of a writer.
Also, you may notice a pattern on my list. Lucy Maud Montgomery and Madeleine L’Engle have been among my greatest inspirations as a writer.
1 & 2. EMILY OF NEW MOON and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES series
By Lucy Maud Montgomery
It’s amazing how an author can write two series starring characters with similar dreams and backgrounds and yet with entirely different results. It has been said that one should never write about the same subject twice, but Lucy Maud proves such skeptics wrong. Each series is wonderfully unique and distinguishes itself as a collection of notable works of literature. While the Anne series helped define my childhood, I read the Emily books, which are a bit more brooding and intense, in my early teens.
Lucy Maud Montgomery “got” me. Through her books, I found a kindred spirit . . . and I think that was important for me to have, both as a young girl and an aspiring writer. No author—before or since—has ever expressed so perfectly what it is like to be a dreamer. Additionally, I have always been captivated by the world to which L.M. Montgomery manages to bring readers without allowing them to leave their own world. Her books are realistic fiction at its very best, precisely because they are filled with such imaginative insight. The lyricism with which she weaved her stories has a depth and beauty to it that is unmatched. There is no writer with whom she may be compared. She is truly one of the greats.
3. A WRINKLE IN TIME
By Madeleine L’Engle
Truly one of the most brilliant, imaginative books ever written. I loved it as a child, and I loved it when I re-read it as an adult. Madeleine’s books are often a sci-fi/fantasy crossover, so this book was a wonderful introduction to that concept. And, in general, this author’s creativity has always served as an inspiration.
4. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
By Jane Austen
I grew up watching the BBC film with David Rintoul and Elizabeth Garvie, and, as a teen, finally read the book. What’s not to love?! Lovely—and fascinating—romance, witty and brilliant dialogue, thoughtful social commentary . . . not to mention some of the best characters in literature. Sidenote: You know, it’s interesting—Darcy is often put out in our society as “the perfect man”. The guy women love, who leads to their “unrealistic expectations of men”. The guy that some men resent because of the aforementioned “unrealistic” expectations. And yet the character—the real character—is far from perfect. It is not his absence of flaws that makes him a hero. It is his realization that he has growing to do, his remorse over the errors that his human failings have caused and desire to correct them, that makes him a hero. It is his chivalry amidst his imperfections that define him as a great man. Similar commentary may be made about the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet . . . because, of course, while he is Prejudice, she is Pride (or perhaps a bit of each for both?). But I digress. (Sorry, sometimes I just can’t help nerding out over stuff!)
5. TWELFTH NIGHT
By William Shakespeare
I don’t know if plays count, but my list would be incomplete without some mention of Shakespeare. I fell in love with his world around age 9 upon discovering a collection of abridged versions of his plays in the school library. A few years later, in fifth grade, I fell in love with the language of his world. The first play that I read by him was TWELFTH NIGHT, and it remains my favorite.
Don’t kill me for saying so. . . but sometimes I wish that we still spoke in Early Modern English. In many ways, it is more expressive than the current form of the language.
6. KNIGHT’S CASTLE
By Edward Eager
I lost track over the number of times I read this book as a child. Back before I was a night owl, I would get up while most of the house was asleep, curl up on the sofa, and read this spellbinding tale—often in one sitting. KNIGHT’S CASTLE is the third book in a fantasy series written in the ’50s, and served as a limitless playground for my imagination. Years later, I returned to this novel for a Children’s Literature class assignment. (We were to select a children’s book as the topic of a thesis paper, and KC came to mind.) I’ve always said that the mark of a truly good book is one that you may enjoy as both a child and an adult . . . one that does not lose its power with the passage of time. KC not only delighted me again as an adult, but held new meaning upon a later reading. I was surprised to discover that there were certain elements that I had not noticed, at least consciously, as a child. It may be a imaginative, fantastical tale, but it also contains a profound message about our society, especially the trend of modernism. Symbolism abounds, although it could easily be overlooked because of its subtlety.
KNIGHT’S CASTLE is the sort of book that could be the subject of an entire unit in a literature course, yet probably never will be. While, from my understanding, it was well liked, it will likely be easily dismissed by some as “just a children’s book”.
7. THE DARK IS RISING
By Susan Cooper
TDIR is the first book in a truly epic fantasy series, but that is not the main reason why I chose to add it to the list. To this day, I remember the effect that the last line in this novel had on me. I don’t even know the line verbatim—just the essence of it—but it reminds me of the impact that I hope to have on readers. The entire series may be great, but this small portion of it, in a way, served as a greater inspiration.
8. A RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT
By Madeleine L’Engle
Another one from Madeleine L’Engle, but, this time, more realistic. Young adult fiction is sometimes stereotyped as less sophisticated, but this is a great example of how deep YA fiction can actually be. Beautiful, beautiful book.
9. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
By William Shakespeare
A newer favorite by the most esteemed bard. I remember staying up late to read this one . . . and, like the freak that I am, I just kept cracking up! Witty, fun, and all around brilliant.
10. THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA
By C.S. Lewis
The impact of a book is clear when it inspires you to write a story.
To make a long story short: I was traumatized at the hands of a paperback. Although I had written a few stories earlier, the spark for this inborn passion was really ignited the summer before second grade. I was seven years old and had just finished reading the second book in The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian. SPOILER ALERT: Queen Susan and High King Peter cannot return to Narnia. I was devastated. I channeled my frustration into my pen and wrote “Gina’s Trip to Narnia.”
By Gina Marinello-Sweeney