I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the books that really, really had a profound effect on me as I grew up. Mostly because if I look at my life in general, I would have a list of a thousand books and a thousand memories. So in no particular order whatsoever, here is the shortest list I can manage of books that basically meant a lot to me from ages 6 – 13 approximately:
The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren – I used to think I’d made this book up, to be honest because I couldn’t imagine really being given a book about two Swedish boys who die and then have adventures together in Nangijala. But it does exist and I love it still.
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien – I still think of myself as basically a hobbit because I sort of have the same feeling about adventures as Bilbo. And I’m way overdue for an adventure that will make me miss home at this point.
Redwall by Brian Jacques – Stumbling upon this in a used bookstore in Michigan is still a very vivid memory for me. As is staying up late on a beat-up old couch trying to cram in as much of it as I could. I had always loved talking animals, but this is the book that really made it seem not only cute but all kinds of awesome and scary.
The Clearing by Alan Arkin – Another Michigan memory and talking animals book. Besides being hilarious and meaningful, this is also the first book that I can really remember making me absolutely incoherent with grief and then joy when it ended up that the lemming was okay after all.
Moomin series by Tove Jansson – I love, love, love the Moomintrolls! They are so cute and absolutely bizarre and wonderful.
The Secret Book of Gnomes written by Wil Huygen and illustrated by Rien Poortvliet – Which I discovered at my first library and then re-read over and over again. Both before and after watching David the Gnome on Nick Jr. I was also a pretty avid reader of field guides when I was little in particular the Golden Guides to various aspects of nature but also handbooks on the… well, the more fantastical of things. I don’t know if I want to rule out the possibilty of gnomes, fairies, and what-have-you just yet.
D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths by Edgar Parin D’Aulaire and Ingri D’Aulaire – Which contributed significantly to my obsession with Greek Gods and Goddesses. And might be responsible in part for the shrine I made to Athena. Although I don’t think any of that is to blame for the time I pretended to sacrifice a goat stuffed animal for her divine guidance.
D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths by Edgar Parin D’Aulaire and Ingri D’Aulaire – Which led to my life-long obsession with Norse anything but especially Loki and his offspring.
D’Aulaire’s Book of Trolls by Edgar Parin D’Aulaire and Ingri D’Aulaire – I admit this may seem odd given my love of gnomes… but oh well. It’s not my fault if they’re mortal enemies. Besides, I have a lot of sympathy for creatures who hate the sun as much as I do.
Various Fairy Tales by Oscar Wilde – You might be thinking to yourself who gives a collection of these things to an eight year old for her birthday? Answer: my parents. Who also let me watch cartoons based on them, I might add. I rediscovered them in high school, which was marvelous… and I guess now I’m grateful to have been exposed to them at an early age. I’m pretty sure “The Birthday of the Infanta” has scarred me for life though.
Elfquest series by Wendy and Richard Pini – Probably the greatest influence of all and absolutely the most amazing graphic novel series. And one of the few where I actually remember character names. And anything that so much as reminds me of any aspect of Elfquest or deals with similar concepts such as wolves, eyries, crazy womenfolk going mad with power, and really cool clan symbols based on animals or elements (*cough* A Song of Ice and Fire *cough*) winds up on my keeper shelf.
Sadly these graphic novels all ended up being taken away from me for quite awhile by my mother who saw a page with a woman who was scantily clad and promptly freaked out. By that time, of course, I’d already learned a lot about the Elven birds and bees thanks to an epic orgy in one of the earlier books, but not only do I digress but I also never had the heart to tell her about any of that. Around that time I also ended up coming up with my own Elf name and even having a fellow Elfquest-obsessed penpal, but that’s a story best saved for another time.
X-men comics – I ended up feeling much better about how weird I was once I discovered mutants. My sympathies were always with the Brotherhood, but ya know… Magneto is pretty much the awesomest guy around.
Ishmael by Daniel Quinn – A man answers an ad from a teacher looking for a student and soon finds himself learning an amazing amount of things from a gorilla. There is no good way to summarize a book like this but it was another random Michigan bookstore find and is still really fantastic.
SO. Based on this, what can we conclude? Well, I see a tendency towards European fiction over anything else, a strong preference for anything not based on reality, and a potentially disturbing trend towards not identifying or liking human protagonists as much as one probably ought to. Sounds about right.
Looking at the list, I can already think of about fifty other books I could mention… but honestly we’d be here for the rest of forever if I listed every single incredible book I read during that age span alone. So if this hasn’t bored everyone to tears, I suppose I could make a similar post at another point in time. Or maybe try to take a trek down memory lane to what I read as a teenager who desperately wanted to be anything but.