I love book lists, so when I saw the open call for this, I naturally started compiling the list in my head. It’s difficult to narrow it to 10 since I love books and reading, but these are the ones most responsible for making me who I am today and who I’m trying to become.
1. Wicked by Gregory Maguire. Ok, anyone who’s read my blog recently knows how important this book has been in my life. In Why Everyone Should Read Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, I talked about how relevant this book is to how we as individuals and a society create our own identity by “othering” those who are not like us. What I love about Wicked is how it tells a story that so many of us know in a way that makes us question how we see the world around us.
2. Beowulf. I may be alone in this book being influential, but I’ve read Beowulf at least a dozen times. I love the story and the language. I’ve read it in the original Old English, which was a challenge but helped me see how so many of the words we use today evolved from this early language. Beowulf turned me on to epics and medieval literature.
3. Grendel by John Gardner. I read this in high school after reading Beowulf. My English teacher wanted us to see that there’s always another side to a story. I think that is where I first began to develop my love for “alternative” versions of stories. Here again, we have the villain of one tale portrayed as a sympathetic character.
4. Very Far Away From Anywhere Else by Ursula Le Guin. Another book I read in high school, I was immediately drawn into this story of two high school students who didn’t really fit in. They developed a friendship and love that made them feel like they belonged. This was a story I could relate to and it introduced me to Le Guin, who has become one of my favorite authors. In college, I had the opportunity to meet her at a lecture and get my copy of this book signed.
5. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin. The first sci-fi book of Le Guin’s that I read, this novel got me hooked on science fiction. Without spoiling the book for anyone, I’ll just say that after reading this, I became more interested in the inner workings of the mind and how our dreams influence us and the world we live in. Neither of the TV movie adaptations really do justice to the novel, but they are worth watching if you can find them.
6. The Once and Future King by T. H. White. I had loved The Sword in the Stone as a kid, so my sister bought this book for me. She studied Arthurian literature in college and this was my first introduction to that world. I absolutely loved it and have been hooked ever since. I have an entire bookcase devoted to Arthurian literature and non-fiction works about the subject. The concept of the Quest is something that I think many of us can relate to.
7. Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Another book my sister put in my hands. I loved the novel and have read most of the others in this series. Another alternative to what we consider the “traditional” Arthurian story. I never saw Camelot the same way after this, and am forever against Lancelot and Guinevere. The miniseries based on the novel wasn’t bad, but nothing can match the book. I’ve read it several times over the years and I never tire of the story.
8. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott. My first introduction to Lamott was actually Crooked Little Heart, which I loved. But Traveling Mercies spoke to me at a time when I needed something to pull me back up out of the hole I was in. It was reassuring to read Lamott’s stories and know that there are others who feel just as pissed off about God sometimes as I am. A lot of people won’t admit to it, but Lamott isn’t afraid to say that sometimes God is a real asshole. She has struggled through so many trials, but somehow remains sane. Whenever I feel myself slipping again, I pick up this or one of her other memoirs.
9. Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings. My first introduction to the fantasy genre, I was immediately hooked by this book and the series. After I read it, my mom took me back to the used bookstore where we got it and bought me all the other Eddings books we could find. I went through 16 of his books in one summer. I’ve been a fan of his and the genre ever since.10. Hamlet by William Shakespeare. Hamlet was my introduction to Shakespeare. I loved the story, but I loved the way the language flowed even more. This play taught me to appreciate the beauty of language. Of course now I can't read it without hearing Mel Gibson's voice, but that's another story.