Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls. This was the first book where I learned that someone could write something that could make me feel a powerful emotion--as though I were really witnessing what they wrote about. I was 9, and I can still vividly remember having to put the book down--because I couldn't read through the tears in my eyes--when Little Ann and Old Dan met their sad fate. At first I felt a little uncomfortable, thinking "why am I crying over dogs and a boy that aren't even real?" and then somewhere in the back of my mind came the knowledge: that is what a good book can do. It can make you feel something real within a story that is not.
If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I doing in the Pits?, Erma Bombeck. I'm pretty sure that I must have read my mom's copy, because I remember reading this book when I was in 4th grade, and I doubt I would have sought it out. I loved that she talked about everyday things that all moms and families go through, but she made it laugh out loud funny. (and I wasn't even a mom!) This was the first book that made me laugh out loud, and it was also the first book that I found could have me laughing one minute, and tearing up the next. Make me cry without meanness and I like you. Make me laugh and I love you. Make me cry while I am laughing...and I am yours forever.
The Tell-Tale Heart, Edgar Allen Poe; and Stories That Scared Even Me, Alfred Hitchcock. Ok, technically, Tell Tale is a short story; and Stories That Scared is a collection of stories compiled by Hitchcock; but I have to put them in here and put them together because they scared me to death. They were my first exposure to literature designed to frighten and boy, did they do a good job. It was disturbing and yet oddly exciting to find myself feeling the panic and madness come over the narrator in Tell Tale, and finding myself having to resist the urge to run to my parent's bedroom after reading one of the Stories That Scared. To this day I cannot read frightening or very suspense filled books if I am alone in the house. I've never put a scary book in the freezer, a'la Joey on Friends...but I've thought about it.
Days of Grace, Arthur Ashe w/Arnold Rampersad. This book amazed me and taught me that there will be literally thousands of brave and honorable people in this world that I may never know about. I picked up this book knowing very little of Ashe except his gentlemanly nature on the tennis court, but he became one of my heroes. His grace (hence the title) and courage against racism and illness, and his quiet dignity in doing the right thing is something I still look back on and try to require from myself. He once said: "If one's reputation is a possession, then of all my possessions, my reputation means most to me." He deserves that possession to be a valuable one, he worked for it and he earned it.
Woman of Independent Means, Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey. It sounds like a romance novel, but it's not. It's written entirely as letters that one woman writes to the people in her life over the span of some 60 years. This book was where I was reminded how much I truly love letters...I will read letters by people I have never heard of, and have no idea about. I think it must be because letters seem so intimate, so private. And because you can feel the relationship that the sender and the recipient have based on the tone and feel of the correspondence. Because of this book, I put copies of letters and emails to different people from me in my journal. I know that each one reveals a little bit more of all the sides of me. I also learned in this book how I can love a character and still not like her. I found myself completely shocked at some of the things Bess Steed would say or do; but then still find her ultimately, and overwhelmingly, endearing. I re-read this book every year or so, and every time I still find myself sad that Bess is simply a character and not a real woman. Because I'd love to have tea with her.
This is a short list. I haven't mentioned all of the books that have changed me, mostly because there are too many. And some, I really couldn't tell all the things that have changed about me because of them. How could I possibly try to explain the impact of the Bible and the Book Of Mormon, for example? They permeate my soul. They have changed--and are changing--every facet of my personality.
Please feel free to share some of your special books with me in the comments, or if you blog--make your own list. If you do, let me know so I can go and take a look.