I’m what you might call an “avid reader.” I have been for as long as I can remember. I’ve probably spent more nights reading than partying into the wee hours. I remember, as a kid, reading anything I could get my hands on: billboards, ingredients list, inserts to pretty much anything we bought, magazines, and books. Always books. The owner of a local used bookstore in my hometown got so tired of me coming in with boxes of books to trade in that he told me I could take any romance novel I wanted if I promised not to bring it back. I still love a good bodice-ripper.
If asked what my favorite books are, I’d have a list of fantasy, science fiction, nonfiction, history, mystery, and more. I love young adult fiction because it’s easy to read, with fast-paced stories and good characters. I love historical fiction because it gives me a touch of reality without the confines of actually having to stick with facts. I love biographies because I have always been fascinated with how people tick. Take me to another planet or imaginary world where anything is possible, and I’m in heaven. Basically, they are ALL my favorites. Like my children, I just can’t pick.
However, ask me which books matter to me, and I have a different answer. I’ve tried to compile the top of that list here. These books have had a hand in making me who I am, each in their own way.
The Berenstains’ B Book by Stan & Jan Berenstain
This was the first book I ever “read.” It’s a gripping story about a bear, a bull, and a baboon riding a bicycle that ends tragically for a poor baby bird. When I was pregnant I demanded my dad find a copy for my children. It went out of print for many years and was impossible to find. Fortunately, it’s now been republished and is easily findable on Amazon and elsewhere. It’s in regular rotation at our house. When we first started reading to the twins, their favorite part is the page that says “BAM!” in giant letters. They knew when that page was coming and wanted to “read” it every time.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
This is one of the few books I’ve read multiple times. Each time I read it, I find my life reflected in the story and take different things from it. As a young teen, I enjoyed a good story about love and hate and overcoming adversity. As a recently divorced woman, I thought it was about finding my own inner strength and relying on no one but myself. As a middle-aged mother, I now read it as a story of surviving the things life throws at me and keeping a firm grasp on who I am rather than who others perceive me to be.
Becoming Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama
Politics aside, this book had me enraptured. It spoke to me as a driven law student who found marriage and motherhood and made decisions about her career and life path. It showed me that compromise in marriage and putting aside personal goals for family is not relegated to the masses. I appreciated that someone who lives so much in the public eye could share such a personal story that resonated with me as a mom, wife, and lawyer. I listened to this audio book during a long drive on a particularly difficult case. And it served to remind me that we are all just doing our best to get through this life thing. We are more alike than different in so many ways.
Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene
Nancy Drew proved she was smarter, faster, and better than the boys around her. She solved mysteries with class. I had a collection of hardbound Nancy Drew books and read them repeatedly. They were formulaic, and I always knew “whodunit” long before the end. But that didn’t matter. I kept reading to see how Nancy was going to figure it out and reveal the mystery to everyone else.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
The child of the first humans to reach Mars is raised by Martians. He is eventually found and returns to earth an instant celebrity. The book is about how he adapts to earth. It’s about being an outsider despite the fact that you are among your own people. It’s about finding your way. And it’s a pretty harsh commentary on humanity at the time. The book was published in 1961 and is, in some ways, tied to that time. But it’s also completely timeless in its take on finding your own way.
Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alexander Haley
Roots was originally published in 1976, televised in 1977 (with Levar Burton), and recently redone in 2016 (with a whole host of big name actors). It’s a fictional history following Kunta Kinte as he is sold into slavery in Africa and sent to North America, and then it continues through the lives of his ancestors to the author. This was the first book that made me cry when I read it. It was also the first book that made me think about the vast expanse of history that occurred before I was even born. Reading this book was my light bulb moment in which I realized just how small I was in the scheme of things. By the same token, there are many characters in this book whose small acts have a big impact, and this concept also implanted itself in my young mind.
The Story of Civilization by Will Durant
My dad introduced me to so many of my favorite books. As a kid, we had giant, built-in bookshelves in our dining room. These books sprawled across an entire row. From a young age I knew that history was just a series of great stories, thanks to Mr. Durant. Any time I had to write a paper for history class, I started my research with these books. The author writes in a style that makes even the most boring bits of ancient history seem alive and interesting.
Nowadays, most of my reading involves superheros, Legos, chickens and other barnyard animals, and maybe the occasional bratty little sister. I don’t get nearly enough time to read for me. When I mourn the loss of my own adventures in books, I remind myself that I am hopefully planting those same seeds in my kids that my parents planted in me. They are starting to read on their own more and more, and I can see the day where that ever-growing pile next to my bed might start to shrink again.
Until the day I can pick them up, I just keep adding new books to the pile. What books have touched your life?