I missed the 10 Most Influential Books meme on Facebook, so I want to make up for it. Like many of us book-nerds, I find it difficult to narrow down just ten books. I mean, do you mean books from my childhood, adolescents, my early twenties? What about all the feminist books that influenced me? Or that picture book from when I was 4 that was about colours and a scarf that had grey in it like the grey of storm clouds but I can’t remember the title of book just that particular shade of grey, and so every time I find myself in a children’s book aisle I search for that grey…
Here I offer my list of books, in no particular order, that have stuck with me, changed me, and helped shape my understanding of myself. What are yours?
1.) The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
I seem to read this at least once a year and have even gone so far as to tattoo a quote from this book on my body. I suppose this type of dedication means it is important to me. The Bell Jar has helped me understand what depression feels like. It has helped me know when that glass case is coming down around my life and trapping everything inside, denying me breath. I told a friend I was reading this book in the spring and she asked me why because she knew how my depression had enveloped me. The thing is, I’m not extra depressed reading The Bell Jar, instead I am comforted and hopeful that someday soon I will be freed once more to feel the air on my face.
2.) Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
For anyone who has read this blog you will know that this is the book that made everything here possible. Bridget Jones’s Diary is the only book that I have had my mind completely and profoundly changed about in the course of twelve weeks. I first read it without any shred of irony. I was certain this was a how-to book on ruining women’s lives. But after an arduous struggle in a class that kept bringing me back to Bridget, a revelation occurred and I haven’t looked back.
3.) Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail – Cheryl Strayed
Wild took my heart out and made me look at it. This book showed me my hopes, fears, sadness, terror, and transformation through a powerful journey that I’m still not sure I know how to talk about even months after I finished reading. Also, I will never, ever, get the image of toe nails peeling off of hiking boot battered feet.
4.) Writing Down The Bones – Natalie Goldberg
This last year I have tried to embrace myself as a writer. I want to share stories and ideas but often find myself discouraged or in my own head too much. Goldberg offers encouragement alongside workshop exercises that keep me going when I am low. It isn’t a book that needs to be read cover to cover in chronological order (although I did do that). Instead, it can be used as a moment of writers meditation. Open to chapter and read the few short pages, maybe write from a prompt. Simple and small. But can grow into something large before I know it.
5.) Blankets – Craig Thompson
My introduction to graphic novels was through an English lit class that included titles like Maus, Watchmen, and Dark Knight. But Blankets is something I picked up on my own and found a story similar to one I have lived told in a way that reminds me what it feels like to be confused, in love, scared, and longing for a simplicity that I one day learned did not exist. Thompson’s own story of growing up in a restrictive Christian environment that he longed to follow but eventually couldn’t was one of the first times I saw this narrative in something outside of myself. It was comforting to know that others have lived something similar and that I shared that story with someone else.
6.) Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates
I have to admit that I read this novel after watching the film. The film does this book justice as it fully captivates the hopelessness and isolation of 1950s gender roles in a way that left me speechless after experiencing both film and book. The shades of these roles are still with us and something that I actively combat in my daily life. The first season of Mad Men reminds me of this novel in the way it depicts not just women but in particular men’s experience of being boxed in and told to perform.
7.) A Ring of Endless Light – Madeline L’Engle
What can I say, this novel had a teenage girl swimming with a dolphin on the front cover. I was a pre-teen. It was the 90s. Dolphins were in, man. Beside that and the dreamy marine biologist would-be boyfriend, the central topic in this book is death, dying, family, and god. No one in my life had ever died before and I was maybe, kinda, sorta obsessive about thinking about that experience. Preparing for it in a way. As if anyone can ever do that. But also, you know, dolphins.
8.) Backlash – Susan Faludi
I am sort of using this title as a catch all for my veracious feminist text reading extravaganza that I went through with Women’s Studies. My personal feminist awakening happened when I finally had evidence that linked my own experiences with sexism to those of second wave feminists, the 1990s, and the state of things in the mid 2000s. Backlash helped me understand how feminist movement can experience patriarchy pushback. Although published in 1990, it also helped me start to pinpoint contemporary issues – where they had been and where they were going – pulling feminism into the 21st century for me.
9.)Dangerous Journey: The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress – Oliver Hunkin
This was read to me as a child growing up in a Baptist church. The book has full page, lush illustrations of Christian’s journey from the town of Destruction to the Celestial City. Now, my personal background with Evangelical Christianity is best told else where but the reason I put this book on the list is because it fascinated me as a child. It is still with me as an adult. The dirty, grime of sin and destruction was tangible from these pages. There is one part where Christian must walk on the sliver of light from an open door, passing stone lions that seems so real that if he steps to either side they will tear him to shreds – the contrast of light and dark, fear and safety is powerful.
10.) Bergdorf Blondes – Plum Sykes
Learning to fall in love with Bridge Jones is what brought me to Bergdorf Blondes. This book is hilarious and ridiculous. For me, it is the epitome of chick lit. It’s everything I would have hated before Bridget. But I love it. The protagonist refers to herself only as Moi, she texts while having sex, having a fiance is the ultimate accessory. I actually think this book taught me to have fun when reading.