When I think about ten books that changed my view on the world at the time that I read them or had a huge impact on the circumstances that I was in at the time, it’s difficult to come up with only ten. These are books that I would like to pass along to my 18 year old daughter, not all are something I would ask a young girl to read, though a couple of them, I did read as a young girl. When I was putting this list together, I tried to consider stories that made me fall right into them, either because of the language, or because of the plot being very appropriate to my situation at the time.
10. Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume About a girl’s journey through puberty and her struggle with her faith. I read this when I was around 10 or 11, right after they showed us the sex ed movies for the first time in elementary school and it really resonated with me. It has been banned in many public schools and libraries for its very frank discussion of adolescent sexuality, but of more interest to me was that struggle that Margaret had with both sides of her faith. On the one hand, she was Jewish and on the other Christian and it was difficult for her to reconcile the two. It mirrored my own confusion about my belief in God and helped me find my way to him in a way that was uniquely mine.
9. Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders This was quite possibly the first time I became aware that people abused animals. I read this book and I cried for days at what had happened to Joe. I still remember vividly, the scene where Joe’s owner chops off his beautiful ears. After I read this book, I became determined to never be that kind of person. Years later when I was 20, my neighbor’s pit bull turned up at the fence, emaciated, terrified of the garden hose, but desperate for a drink of water from it. I cupped my hand for him and gave him handfuls of water from the hose for a while, then I ran into the house and straight into my parents’ arms. I showed them the dog and we all cried. My father was outraged, we all were and I was reminded of this book then and I believe that, in part, this book inspired us to take steps to save that dog’s life. He ended up going back to his breeder and was loved until he died years later, which is the life he always deserved. If you have ever wondered, dear daughter, how I became an advocate for animal welfare and learned a zero tolerance policy for people treating their pets like ass, read this book and you will understand.
8. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley Marion Zimmer Bradley takes a look at Arthurian legend in this book that is quite possibly as close to the truth as we’re going to get. If it ever actually happened, and magic were real, I really believe that this is how it would have gone down. The pagan religions of the era were faiths of goddess worship. Women had more power in the dark ages than modern historians give them credit for.
7. Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen My first real exposure to the realm of Fantasy. I originally saw this on an episode of CBS Storybreak, then I raced to the library and checked out all three books in the Pit Dragon Trilogy. I fell in love with Jakken and his special, but forbidden relationship with Heart’s Blood. I became fascinated with dragons and I rooted for Jakken’s freedom and prayed that Heart’s Blood and Jakken would somehow find their way to some sort of safety where they could be together. It was brilliant and it was the first time I became so obsessed with a story that I felt the urge to write a story of my own.
6. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson I just want you to ask yourself one question as you read this book, daughter of mine: “Why does it matter?” I read this book in college. It’s a beautiful, moving story and one that I think everyone should read. I will not recommend it to younger children, but anyone over the age of 18 should read this book. Ask yourself, as you read, why you care and why the thing that’s bothering you matters to you. This book really makes you do a lot of soul searching and soul searching is good for everybody, especially for those who haven’t finished figuring out who they are and what they’re about.
5. Rose Madder by Stephen King When I read this book, I had been out of an abusive relationship for a couple of years. I was in a place where I was moving beyond what had happened to me and was learning how to rise above it and live my life under my own power as a woman, not under the shadow of that girl who was so afraid of never being loved, that she believed she was unworthy of something better. I wasn’t that girl when I picked up this book and sat down to read it, but Rose was that girl when the book began and I immediately identified with her. Never before had I latched onto a character in a book so strongly. This book resonated with me in a way that King’s other works have not done and it helped affirm my belief that I was on the right path and that I had always been more than just that insecure girl. It set me back on the path to find my power. I’ve lost track of it a time or two since, but when I do, I go back and read this book again to remind myself of where I have been and what I have overcome and I always find the strength to move on. As a point of interest, I haven’t opened my copy of this book in nearly ten years and I don’t believe I will need to open it again. When I do, it will be because I want to.
4. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury A story of summer and childhood innocence. Ray Bradbury is one of the finest writers I’ve ever read, his way with words worms its way into your soul. He’s not at all flowery, his use of diction is very direct, but so very elegant that I cannot help but admire his writing. Even if this isn’t the book you would prefer, read SOMETHING by this man just once in your life. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that my daughter has already read Fahrenheit 451, but this book gave me goosebumps with the beautiful story and amazing imagery and the way that I became lost in its words.
3. The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Dr. Laura I don’t know if she will ever choose to get married, but if she does, or if you do, I promise you that you may love the man you marry, but you will NOT understand him. He will do or say things that will make your head spin, or immediately send you flying into a rage. Dr. Laura’s ideas on a lot of things are very conservative, but there is one thing that she gets right. Her understanding of what it is that guys want from their wives is crucial. Anyone that I know that has had a marriage last for more than ten years, follows her advice, even if they don’t realize that they’re doing it. It boils down to this, he doesn’t need you to vacuum the house in pearls and a dress. He needs you to be there for him. This isn’t all about you. It’s about keeping BOTH of you happy. All that crap that girls read in romance novels and see in movies and on TV, that isn’t love and that’s certainly not marriage. Marriage is about acceptance. It’s not about romance or great sex. It’s not about the guy sweeping you off your feet and carrying you away to some exotic mansion somewhere. It’s about really knowing the person you are marrying and wanting to build a life with them at any cost. It’s about learning to bend and being prepared to compromise. It’s also about setting aside your stubbornness, which I know will be difficult for you to do. Dr. Laura opened my eyes to how I was single handedly making my husband miserable. She made me understand that while not everything in our marriage was my fault, some things were and I had the power to change them and make my life better. Read this book, if for nothing else, than to realize that you can and should be in charge of your own happiness.
2. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft I wrote an entire paper in college on why the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft matter. She was a visionary. She was so far ahead of her time, that it amazes me that she wasn’t killed for her shocking ideas on how women deserved to share equal rights with men. She argued that women should have the right to vote some 200 years before they received it. She also discussed the sense of fulfillment that women receive from having a job and contributing to society for some purpose other than raising children. Her ideas were incredibly progressive and it’s very interesting to look back on what she wrote then and realize that no one else before her had presented these exact arguments and that her arguments are still used in discussions on gender based discrimination to this day. I suspect that’s because what she had to say makes perfect sense. Every young woman should read most of her works, but in particular this essay, which is available for free from the Gutenberg Project.
1. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein Another dog book. Also the most beautiful story I have ever read. This is what it’s like to be loved by a dog, from the dog’s perspective. Also, the main human character is a race car driver, so this book is ideally suited to all three of my interests, cars, dogs and writing. But more than that, this book opened the door for my acceptance of the loss of our beloved Labs. Marley and Me let me accept Reilly’s passing. This book also made it easier for me to let go of Lucy and Mugen by reassuring what I already knew, that when they go, they go someplace that makes them happy and fills them with joy and someday, I will be able to meet them there. It also reminded me that the love of a dog is worth everything. Through thick and thin, they stand by you. How many people will you know in your life that stand by you through everything? Not many, and outside of your parents, your children and your spouse, the only being that will put up with absolutely all of your shit is your dog.