Ten books is a challenge. Five books is an impossible mission. Below are the five books that define me as a writer, spark my interest as a reader, and left me with an insatiable hunger for words.
There’s a book challenge going around various social media sites right now that requires you to list the 10 books that have affected you the most. Here at Hypable, we’re kicking off our own version of the challenge. While we may be doing only five books, we’re also going to tell you why they affected us — and maybe we can convince you to read them, too.
The first five books that come to mind are those that I read in the last few months. Books tend to slowly fizzle out rather than fade instantly from memory for me. So, after taking a trip down through grade school, high school, college readings, and post grad, I settled on five books (well four and a play) that I believe influenced my writing, my future reading trajectory, and most importantly opened me up to the worlds that exist when you crack the spine and turn the page. (Disclaimer: never actually crack the spine, please! Books have feelings.)
There is no possible way to include every single book that I talk about incessantly. Is there a world that I can imagine without the Harry Potter series? No. (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the first book to make me cry, throw a book across the room after living under Umbridge’s rule, and wish desperately that the story would never end.) There are the endless children’s books that molded my sense of humor (The Monster at the End of This Book). The Au Pair series made me wish I could spend a summer babysitting in the Hampton’s. Not to mention the books I read because I thought they would prove I could be just as smart as Rory Gilmore. Sometimes they were worth it (Howl). Sometimes they just proved to be something to check off the list (The Fountainhead).
But these five books are the key that unlocked how I read, what I aspire to, and, very simply, what I enjoy most in the world.
‘Peter Pan’ by J.M. Barrie
Disney movies growing up were the gospel. There was no other way to convince me a fairytale was truer than if it had the Disney Classics seal of approval. However, as I grew up and moved away from the animated covers and swirly copyrighted lettering, I noticed a great source of untapped wealth resting in the original tales. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie was the first original story I read from my Disney canon. I was horrified by the language of the 1900s, smiling with delight at the “tick, tick, tick” of the crocodile, and fascinated by the creative differences Disney chose to follow.
I went on from here to read nearly every original tale of my favorite movies. The stories are dark, they are not all happy, and they are, more often than not, morbid. The original ending of The Little Mermaid has scarred me for life, but reading the stories helped open up a lens to other modern day tellings of similar tales. For me it all started with the boy who lost his shadow fighting the man who lost his hand in a place called Neverland. The possibilities of adaptation seem endless if you look around. I read approved sequels that explored Captain Hook’s back story, and even J.M. Barrie’s own retelling of the story in the play Peter and Wendy (to which Disney’s version stuck closest to).
Brilliant adaptation writers twist the originals with their own ideas of how the characters may behave and see the world in different times, places, and circumstances. After spending a great deal of my reading in source material, perhaps that is why I enjoy any Sherlock Holmes adaptation and Once Upon a Time so much. The writers take what is common and established and flip it on its head in new and inspired ways. Acting is one facet of those shows, but the writing behind it, to me, is the much more admirable component.
‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt
The Secret History is a book that hits you like a stiff drink. It burns as it is going down, but once it settles you feel the warmth of it spread through your chest. You are still left with its aftertaste for sometime, but the hangover is what is going to bother you the most. Years after reading Donna Tartt’s novel, The Secret History, I still find myself thinking about the Bacchanal in the woods, the Greek lessons, and that small New England college. In a way, the novel never left me. If people are looking for a new book to try, this is the first one I recommend. I typically include the disclaimer that they may want to put it down, but they should see it through the end. Give the characters a chance, learn with them, murder with them, and move on with them. Because once you read it, it will move on with you.
Note: If you are currently watching How to Get Away With Murder and love every second, I highly recommend this book.
‘The Butter Battle Book’ by Dr. Seuss
In the fourth or fifth grade, I cannot recall which, the librarian took us into her confidence. “Do not share this book with the younger grades,” she instructed, “for it is typically banned and we do not want their minds corrupted.” The Butter Battle Book told tales of war and violence. For my classmates it was nothing, but for me it was guidance. The secret life of Dr. Seuss, beyond the Whos and the pfeffernusse. Who knew that this man has a passion for politics and comics of war? I dove into his history, never finding any work a bore. Geisel was a rebel, a humorist, he dabbled in prose! But the rhyming of silly words, for that his fame rose.
Though it was a way to celebrate banned books and have a fun lesson, The Butter Battle Book brought me to Theodore Geisel, and that dear friends, I consider a blessin’.
‘Troilus and Cressida’ by William Shakespeare
Upon reading this selection, one may assume that a college course or a high school class placed this play on the syllabus and through lengthy discussions it worked its way into my mind. However, that is not the case. I first encountered the William Shakespeare play, Troilus and Cressida, through No Fear Shakespeare. I always felt that to satisfy the void left after reading I must dive into any and all material by the author. Well, where does one begin when Romeo and Juliet is at an end and The Sonnets are not doing it for you?
The No Fear Shakespeare section at Barnes and Noble was always my favorite. The beautiful blue covers, the minimalist art, not to mention the handy translation guides! I picked up Troilus and Cressida because I thought it would be a nice palate cleanser after the let down of the three days spent on Romeo and Juliet. Freshman year of high school I was enrolled in Latin, so naturally a story involving Hector, Aeneas, Agamemnon, and Achilles, folded into my lessons in translation nicely. The language and the story felt foreign and confusing, I did not know what to take away from it, but I did know that I regarded the play higher than any other Shakespearean work in my personal canon. Something stuck. That extends to today, which is why Troilus and Cressida makes the cut. Macbeth came in a close second for this list, but it was the struggle to get through and understand Troilus and Cressida that kept me wanting more Shakespeare and to go even further back into Old English and Medieval English.
‘Absolutely Normal Chaos’ by Sharon Creech
The summer of 1999 I read like a fiend. Anything I could get my hands on at the local library I devoured. The Beverley Cleary books were checked off in a week’s time, Judy Blume (though some of it went over my head) the next, and Ann M. Martin soon there after. I enjoyed them all and can still recall the defining character traits of the babysitters, Ramona and Beezus hiding their father’s cigarettes, and that some people actually wanted freckles in Freckle Juice.
It was not until I hit Sharon Creech that I found my niche and crossed the threshold into the genre of literature I read the most. Tiptoeing the line between young adult and juvenile fiction, Creech’s Absolutely Normal Chaos was the first book I read and reread and reread again that summer. I could not get enough of Mary Lou’s journal as she reflected on her life in her own words while the Odyssey unfolded in Homer’s poetry. This book left a mark on me far deeper than any other realistic fiction I read that summer. Binge reading the other series left me in a satisfied haze, not unlike a Netflix marathon will do today. Until I hit Sharon Creech, I was floating through the summer. I went on to finish Walk Two Moons, Bloomability, and Chasing Redbird, but none of them felt the same. Eventually, I left Creech behind and found my way to Jerry Spinelli and Lois Lowry. You can say that Absolutely Normal Chaos was the gateway drug to YA.