The Most Influential Books in My Life

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Most people who know me, know I love to read. In high school, as soon as I had a free moment, I would pick up whatever novel (usually a young adult historical romance) and get lost in another world. Lately, my to-do lists are so long (and they are mostly theoretical, I don't usually have a to-do physical list at home-I do at work, of course), I have trouble focusing on a lot of fiction, but I still do  indulge when I can.

Below are the top 10 influential books I have read.

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The Little House Series

The Little House series. Although these have fallen out of favor in the past few years, due to certain racist elements, the books themselves have had a tremendous influence on my life and the choices I have made. As a child, I smarted with the jealousy and unfairness over Mary's golden hair and good choices. As a short-tempered, brown-haired gal myself, I got it. Darn that smug Mary and her ability to behave. I see this with my own two boys. Gabe can give a little, while Liam will never give. As a parent, I appreciate Gabe's willingness to sacrifice and delay gratification. As a child, I would have been pretty annoyed with him.
The Little House books probably led to my strong desire to be a stay-at-home mom, after teaching in a one-room school house, of course. Special education is probably as close to the one-room school house experience one could have. Theoretically (although this hasn't happened of late) I would have smaller classes and more autonomy over what I are teaching (guided by IEPs and state standards naturally). I didn't know anything about this coteaching thing when I went into special education. It would have changed my mind. Note: I am a Liam, not a Gabe. But more importantly, I remember Ma with her routines: Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, etc. and I desired to create that cozy, rhythmic home life. Then there was On the Banks of Plum Creek and during times of hardship, the girls learned at home, with Ma overseeing their lessons, and I had the desire to homeschool implanted in me. And later, These Happy Golden Years, where Laura first teaches school, with terrible living arrangements, and is courted by Almanzo Wilder, added the romance my teen self craved. I doubt you could bring up anything in these books which I couldn't remember.

Little Women

I first read an abridged version of Little Women on a snow day in fourth grade. I enjoyed it so much I had to check out the full version from the library and was hooked since then. I loved this book! As a girl there were aspects of each of the March girls I could relate to and it was easy to see myself living out the life of each one (well, maybe except sweet Beth). Being a struggling young homemaker like Meg, an ambitious, spirited writer like Jo, or a lovely, spoiled artist like Amy- who couldn't relate to these girls? Of course, like Wilder, reading this book only led to a greater interest in the author herself and reading biographies about her real life.

Sunfire Romances

The Sunfire romances were MY books in high school. The best, by far, were Amanda and Susannah. In Amanda, a spoiled Boston girl travels the Oregon trail and falls in love. In the second, a Southern girl faces the challenges of the Civil War and falls in love with a Union soldier. Good stuff, people. As the series continued, the books got much shorter, and less interesting, but overall, I learned a lot of history from these novels while fulfilling my feminine desire for romance. These weren't Literature, and I caught some flack for reading them, but truly, they greatly influenced me.

The Tightwad Gazette Books

The Tightwad Gazette books were created from a series of newletters which the author produced from her home. These started before the Internet Age, and were chock-full of practical information on how to save a penny, and how that could add up. I believe they did so well, she ended up retiring early. Although I have a love of luxury, which is always in conflict with my tightwadding ways, these books helped through those very lean years of living as a air force wife and later a divorced college student with three kids.

Ahab's Wife
Oh! This book! I loved this book. It is the tale of the wife of Captain Ahab, from her point of view. It is a romance, but also an ambitious book where the protaganist herself survived a challenging Kentucky log cabin childhood with an unbalanced religious zealot for a father, and eventually found intellectual and social stimulation on Nantucket. It was a bit too long, dragging in parts, but truly inspired my interest in Astronomy and the idea of being a Renaissance woman.

Color Me Beautiful

Listen. I am all girl. And I love this color theory stuff. I don't always abide by it, but I read it, I study it, I absorb it. This is the original book with its awesome 80's photos and glaring colors, but truly, if you don't know whether you are a Winter, Spring, Summer, or Autumn, where have you been all your life? Now, there are numerous other books out there that build on this idea, and many website, and pins!

Please Understand Me

I adore personality theories. There are so many out there, and they may all be unscientific and silly, but I will tell there are hundreds of thousands of us, many very intelligient, who just eat this stuff up. This is based on the Myer's Brigg's temperament test and gives you a four-letter code with insight into your personality. I liked this book because I finally felt like someone understood what it was like to be me, and make decisions the way I do. These books and ideas are a HUGE part of me.

The Well-Trained Mind

My educational theories in a nutshell. I believe in a nature-based, Waldorf without the religious stuff, preschool, and then a structured classical education. While I think project-based learning has its place in education, I do not believe in child-led learning at an early age. Children do not know what is best for them, and well-educated minds are not encouraged by following the whims of childhood. And this is why, I so often lament not being able to homeschool. I simply cannot live the life I believe in due to our insane societal structure and cost of living a normal life.

The Anne of Green Gables Series

These should have been first. My Gosh, nothing has probably influenced me greater than the Anne books. I will never be Anne. She is more clever, kinder, and lovelier than I can be. I will forever be destined to be a Katherine Brook, bitter, thwarted and jealous-but oh how I can love Anne and desire to be more like her. These books are great. They are laugh out loud funny, can move you to tears, and how many times have I stopped to wonder, What would Anne do in this situation? Every aspect of my life, which in childhood was filtered through the Little House books, is now filtered through the Anne series. They are my rock.

Women Who Run with the Wolves

Such a great book! This book brought to mind a deep richness and romance which had nothing to do with men. It promised an existence so deep and primal through the idea of archetypes imprinted in our brain-I couldn't help loving it. I haven't read it in several years, and maybe it doesn't quite belong on this list, but I am out of time.

Now, I have probably overlooked crucial books, and I am sure some of you are disappointed I didn't include the Bible or the Harry Potter series. However, I tried to be as honest as I could be in the moment, with kids fussing in the background.

I cannot fathom what my life would be like, or who I would be, without books to influence and guide me. We all have to build structures in our brain, ways to process and respond to the world around us. I believe reading, both fiction and nonfiction, helps us scaffold our thinking and responding in a way that differs from what Disney or YouTube shows young people. I believe our best thinkers and deepest feelers are those who can dig into books and think critically about them (not in the way literature majors do, I could never be one of those people-trust me, I have tried), but who let the words sink in, and throw out what doesn't work, and bring that book into the fabric of their flesh. I believe reading and thinking and feeling what it might be like to walk in another person's shoes makes us more human than we could be without.

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