Besides the rather large, guilt-producing stack of books that my 4th grade daughter has been begging me to read, I have on my nightstand both Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and The Deception of the Emerald Ring by Lauren Willig that I’m currently jumping between.
I’m a perfectionist and a work-a-holic.
I’ve created a little office for myself from an alcove off of my bedroom, complete with a thick set of curtains to block out both a snoring husband and whiny children. This is where all my writing happens. I used to try to write in strange places like at the pool while my kids were in swimming lessons, but it was just too distracting. And hot.
I’m a very character- and place-driven reader, so it makes sense that my five influential books fit that description as well. All of them affected me in some way and made me want to try to create something as beautiful.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
As a child, I was given a set of her complete works one Christmas, and they remain, to this day, my favorite gift ever. Alcott was able to balance sweet sentiment and moral advice perfectly in her beautiful characters and plots, making me want to visit them again and again. Early on I tried to write little stories like Alcott, and when I found I didn’t measure up, I consoled myself by instead drawing hundreds of illustrations of her work. They also didn’t measure up, but I could endure bad art better than bad writing.
Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
this series was also bittersweet but quite humorous, too, and I appreciated how she balanced the two. Montgomery created true, believable characters who grew and developed over time, and her setting in Nova Scotia was a place I never wanted to leave, nor did I ever want the stories to end. Many summer days were spent with Anne and her companions.
The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
I had never picked up sci-fi before this series, but I knew it was something that everyone was supposed to read someday. Skeptical at first, I was soon amazed at how Tolkien was able to create a whole different world and beings to inhabit it with such descriptive, beautiful prose and symbolism. I read it in high-school when I was going through some very rough times, and it provided a welcome escape from my reality.
The Girl by Catherine Cookson
I stole this and many others by Cookson off my mother’s bookshelf when I was far too young, but I was immediately hooked. These long, dramatic, romantic saga’s thoroughly captured my imagination and made me fall in love with England. They set the stage I think, more than any other books, for my love of English manners, historical fiction and romance, and long, twisting storylines. From there it was a natural step to developing a love of classic literature.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
I have no idea how I came across this book, sometime in college, but I absolutely loved it. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987, and I could immediately see why. The characters are larger than life and made me laugh out loud in their ridiculousness. Despite a somewhat superficial plot, Toole was able to weave in deeper themes and symbols in such a seemingly effortless way that it stunned me. His book is a beautiful piece of art, and I admire it immensely, so much so that I even, for one semester, anyway, delusionally wanted to become an English lit professor just so that I could teach this book.