Books of My Life

Entertainment Weekly has a sometimes-series where, in their Books section, they chat with an author about books that have shaped their life. I love this series. It’s always fascinating to me, even if I have no idea who the author is, to hear about what set of books have been important to them, in the past and in the present.

Of course, I have to do my own version now, taking the EW list as my inspiration. I’d love to hear your own list, though. This kind of history always enchants me – it seems like some sort of magic, how words can have so much impact on someone’s life, and how certain stories change who we are. So please, do share!

My favourite childhood books
The other day, my friend Jen asked me what kinds of books I liked to read as kid. And I said I really didn’t know, but then I started listing them off and BING, realized I liked MYSTERIES. I read every single Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew book there was, and then moved on to Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. One of my ultimate, all-time favourite kids’ authors is Ellen Raskin – her novels are really weird, offbeat, magical mysteries that I recommend. Unfortunately all are out of print now except for The Westing Game, but that one is a good place to start – my favourite, though, is The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues.

The book I enjoyed most in school
I was a huge, huge geek in school and loved just about everything we were forced to study. I really loved Shakespeare and Shaw and poetry in high school, and I know, you kind of want to punch me right now, don’t you? I will, however, give a special shout out to Who Has Seen The Wind by W.O. Mitchell, a book everyone else seemed to hate but that I loved like ten bear.

My favourite movie versions of great novels
I love, love, love Emma Thompson’s version of Sense and Sensibility, as well as most of the similar Merchant-Ivory stuff, like A Room with a View (SO romantic!) and Howard’s End. I think what Peter Jackson did with The Lord of the Rings was brilliant and possibly even better than the source material. And although the source material isn’t exactly a classic, I thought Adaptation – technically an adaptation of the book The Orchid Thief – was quite brilliant and original.

The classic I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read
I made it about 80% of the way through Crime and Punishment before quitting – one of the few books I have ever abandoned – and now I give War and Peace the side-eye and think I’ll never be able to handle it. Of ones I’ve always meant to read, but still haven’t, there’s Great Expectations and (actually cringing as I admit this) both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I even OWN copies of the Twain books and yet have never cracked them open. SIGH.

A book I consider greatly overrated
American Psycho is a book that I hate, hate, hated, and will never understand why some people think it could be passed off as art. I also disliked The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, to the point where, when it was over, I was actually angry that I’d read it. I really liked The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, but was incredibly bored by Middlesex, which most people consider far superior and a modern classic.

The last book that made me cry – and the last one that made me laugh
I just finished a kids’ book that Allison recommended – Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. I loved it – the story is so magical and inventive, and there’s a mother-related storyline that tugs at the heartstrings and made me bawl like a little kid at the end. On the laugh side, Tudor recommended Love That Dog by Sharon Creech for the kids – so far, I haven’t been able to get any of the kids to actually read it, but I did, and loved it – it’s a whole tale of a boy and his dog told through a series of poems, and it’s clever and funny (although sad in some places too, as all good books about life should be). I really do hope to read some adult books very soon!

A book I read in secret
Forever, by Judy Blume, snuck chapter by chapter in the back stacks while “working” in the library over my lunch hour in Grade 8. I’m sure every single woman my age has a similar story.

A book I wish I’d written
Um, every single one? I have huge, mad respect for anyone who sets out to write a book of any kind, and actually does it. I flirt all the time with daydreams of being an author, but instead I just putter away on my blog. If I ever do write something, I really hope it is as perfectly brilliant as either of my two all-time favourite books: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, and Come Thou Tortoise, by Jessica Grant.

What I’m reading right now
I just started The Adventures of Claire Never-ending, which was written by Catherine Brunelle, who lives right here in Ottawa and who read a blog post at BOLO this year. It’s delightful! Next up is a book I ordered on a whim from Amazon while trying to hit the free shipping mark: The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals, by Wendy Jones. Sure hope it lives up to the title!

18 thoughts on “Books of My Life

  1. So glad you liked Love That Dog! I loved all mysteries as a kid (Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden) and every horse book / series I could get my hands on, and as soon as I was into double-digits I couldn’t read enough Jane Austen (why didn’t she write more?) and Dick Francis. I’ve re-read all my classic Dick Francis books until they’re falling to pieces.

    Oh, Anne of Green Gables too! And it would also have to go down as possibly the best ever screen adaptation of one of my favourite books of all time (ever).

    Classic hates are Tristram Shandy – I read it but it really was TERRIBLE and I would never have finished it if I didn’t read it on a treadmill where I had literally nowhere else to go. Also, Heart of Darkness. Maybe not the fault of the book – it was just that, by fourth year university, I had already had to study HoD three times (as in pick it to pieces, and analyse it to death), so that when it showed up on the reading list for a course I was registered for, I actually dropped that class.

    Interestingly, the replacement class I registered for was the one where we had to read Tristram Shandy so maybe your literary fate is your literary fate no matter what you do …

    1. Oh, I love the Anne of Green Gables adaptation too! So perfect, the casting was just bang-on. We watched it again last summer while driving to PEI and it totally stood up – the kids loved it.

      I actually had to google Tristram Shandy – the name was familiar but I didn’t know much about it. It sounds like…a challenging read, to say the least. Nine volumes of “humourous” long-winded discussions of various issues while nominally telling a fake life story? Hmmmm. Will not be putting it on my Goodreads “to read” shelf any time soon :).

      1. Good call re: Tristram Shandy. I think reading it exempts me from tackling War and Peace. Although it seems to have a surprisingly high ranking on Goodreads …

  2. No time to leave my thoughts on all of these, but a few comments:

    I definitely read lots of Hardy Boy books as a kid; somehow I also remember reading Where the Red Fern Grows, not realizing that it was a classic. I wouldn’t say it was a favorite of mine as a youngster, but it has definitely stuck in my mind.

    I remember really getting engrossed in the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov during college. I am and always will be a fan of classic SF and this to me is one of the best examples of the genre.

    I’ll also agree that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptation was outstanding, particularly the first installment, and simply blew away the Harry Potter adaptations (which started around the same time IIRC). I bailed on the series as a teenager halfway through The Return of the King, and have since gradually come to realize that fantasy just isn’t my thing. I think it was only when the second Hobbit movie came out and I realized I just had no interest in seeing it (despite the fact that I really enjoyed the book as a kid). But Fellowship of the Ring was top-notch cinema of the kind rarely seen these days.

    I’ve never read Great Expectations (or any Dickens for that matter), but I will say that Crime and Punishment really moved me. Worth a second shot (but it is dense, I’ll admit).

    One book that always makes me cry is I Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. I don’t think there’s been an adult book that has made me cry (happens all the time at movies though).

    Great post!

    1. Oh, big yes to Love You Forever – I cannot read that out loud to my kids because my sobbing freaks them out. And that goes double time for The Velveteen Rabbit – it’s on my NEVER READ list because OH THE HEARTBREAK.

      I’m the opposite to you, I think, when it comes to SF and Fantasy – I sometimes enjoy Fantasy but SF almost never grabs my interest. I’ve tried the Foundation series (well, book 1) a couple of times and it never took. That was years ago, though, so I’m probably due to try it again!

  3. Oh I love books, so much. I may have to steal this so I can take time to put more thought into it! But agree above with Anne of Green Gables and LOTRs. I also picked up Catherine’s book the other night! I’m just trying to finish off the Hadfield one first. Did you finish it?

    1. Definitely steal it! I’d love to see your picks in every category. As for the Hadfield book – nope, still not finished – but when shiny new books arrive I can’t resist. So it’s on hold right now while I read Catherine’s!

  4. MrsCarlSagan

    As a kid I was a huge fan of Anne of Green Gables, the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins. I also had a book called Lars and Lisa in Sweeden by Alida Vreeland that I must have read a couple hundred times. In highschool I was a Shakespeare fan and really enjoyed John Steinbeck. As a tween, I read Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret on the sly more times than I care to admit.

    I’m usually mostly disappointed with movie adaptations of books, but thought The Namesake movie was just as beautiful as the book.

    I often become teary when reading, however the last novel I read that made me weep BUCKETS was Can You hear the Nightbird Call? by Anita Rau Badami; the last book that made me laugh out loud was Come, Thou Tortoise.

  5. “I flirt all the time with daydreams of being an author, but instead I just putter away on my blog.” Lynn, if there’s one HUGE realization I came to this week after Blog Out Loud, it’s that we ARE authors. I’ve been singing the “OMG, I’m a WRITER!?!” song since Tuesday and I swear it’s changed me. 1500 posts? Be proud of what you write, no matter what the medium.

  6. My Mom is British and also a teacher, and when we were little girls she introduced us to a lot of good books (the Secret Garden etc). However, as young ladies we read a lot of trash……. I loved the Sweet Valley High series.. and of course, the creepy but captivating Flowers in the Attic series. yikes! but, I also loved Anne of Green Gables and everything Judy Blume.

    Since then, I fell in love with a boy named Harry and made sure my boys were equally addicted to the Potter stories! we looooove them all. Also, Roald Dahl… especially Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. the kids’ book that makes me cry is the Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. gets me every time. his poetry is also a favorite of mine.

    Trying to think of movies adaptations I preferred to the book….. one that comes to mind is The English Patient (hated the book, but liked the movie). Also, the Shawshank Redemption is my favorite movie and based on a Stephen King story that I thought was good but not great. one last one…… Mary Poppins. Just read the book recently and it was messed up!! the movie was WAY better!

    My favorite book is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.I absolutely adore this book and have read it many times. this year, I went to see the movie and was terrified they would butcher my favorite story, but was surprised that I liked it, certainly not as much as the book, but they did a decent job.

    Just finished reading Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala.. I cried all the way through.. a very sad, true story.

    as you can see from all the comments above, we all have a lot to say about books! thanks for giving us the forum 🙂

  7. LuckySevens

    I love this idea! I made a similar list years ago for myself but it was the Soundtrack of My Life. The playlist is too long to make on my iPod so I ended up making a word document with the song list. Now I will have to make a book list too. I will probably steal your categories. :). I will share with you when I make it.

  8. Geez, a free post idea, about books? Don’t mind if I do! Will link back. Just have to say, I’ve recently decided to read all the Newbery Medal books, so now excited about the Westing Game, and considering tracking down oop copies of her others.

  9. smothermother

    A Confederacy of Dunces, couldn’t finish it. Hated it.

    Life of Pi. Hated it. Enjoyed the movie.

    Wifey by Judy Blume, read in secrecy when I was way too young to be reading such racy adult fiction. it was passed around to the girls in my grade 6 class in a brown paper bag.

    I started my love of fantasy fiction at 13 with the Dragon Riders of Pern series. Still love to reread those.

    I haven’t read very many classics, so I won’t bother listing any.

    loved 1984 in school and anything shakespeare. yah, i was a bit of a geek too. 🙂

  10. Ooh, what a fantastic post and your literary choices make me feel sort of inadequate! Since having kids, any fiction I read has been pure pleasure and not really very intellectual. It’s one of my life dreams to visit PEI (a Canadian friend has a cottage there so we even have a place to stay!) but it is SO far from Seattle. I just re-read all of the Anne of Green Gables books when pregnant with my first and they totally stand the test of time.

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