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Friday, September 09, 2005


Hmmmm, a list of the ten books that have shaped my life? I accept your challenge, Mm-v! Here then, in roughly chronological order, are the ten books that, for better or worse, made me the woman I am today:

1) Racketty Packetty House – an ancient, delicate book given to me by an elderly friend of my mother that made me forever fervently hope I would one day be quick enough to catch a doll leaping back into her place as I entered the room. This slim volume was singularly responsible for my fascination with miniatures.

2) Just So Stories – one of many favorite books, along with a never-ending supply of Dell Crossword Puzzles empty but for Expert, Challenger, and Crazy Crosswords completed in pen, given to me by Grammy and Gramper, my paternal grandparents, that sparked a love of language. I discovered words weren’t just fun to read, they were fun to speak, they felt good in your mouth, you could taste them: “I am going to the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, to find out what the Crocodile has for dinner.” It also inspired my sense of adventure and wanderlust, and may have exacerbated a fear of man-eating reptiles, as well.

3) The Bungalow Mystery – or whichever Nancy Drew mystery it was that initially hooked me. One especially thrilling summer I arrived at my aunt’s house in Boston to find a stack of seven or eight books already passed down through the ranks of my cousins, ready for reading. Nancy Drew started me on an obsessive, lifelong reading jag and a desire to be a titian-haired, teenaged sleuth racing around town in a convertible.

4) Never Talk to Strangers – A book whose influence probably saved my life when a friend and I were nearly abducted as children. He wasn’t a camel with bony knees, but I knew what to do nonetheless. One I was determined to find and share with my own children, with the additional instructions to scream real loud.

5) Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War – A family heirloom, one of the few original volumes, was often spread across our living room carpet when I was little. Opening the heavy, damp, creaky leather cover of a book nearly half my size, reverently turning the giant stiff pages, and being mesmerized by images of battlefields, camps, death, and destruction made a huge, morbid impression on me as a child.

6) The Exorcist – I never actually read William Peter Blatty’s novel, but since we’re talking about books that shaped our lives, I will include this one as the first time I realized there were books that contained material deemed inappropriate for children. The librarian inquired whether my mother would approve of my reading material, and I politely replied that I was allowed to check out whatever I wanted. This was true until that day. My mother marched me right back to the book deposit box after we got home and she discovered my latest selection. I learned the significance of the plain brown wrapper. This attraction to supernatural subjects remained largely unsatisfied until I discovered Stephen King.

7) The Bastard – John Jakes’s first in the Kent Family Chronicles. I began this series after most had already been published and read by my parents, so I was able to read practically straight through from beginning to end. Let’s see, there were The Rebels, The Seekers, The Furies, The Titans, The Warriors, The Lawless, and The Americans. When I finished that series, I gleefully started right in on North and South, Love and War, and Heaven and Hell. Historical fiction, at the time the only adult reading available in our home besides a collection of Reader's Digest Condensed Books, whetted my appetite for historical non-fiction.

8) The Betsy – My first Harold Robbin’s novel, the first of many, from Gramper’s shelves. He didn’t recommend these, but he never objected to me borrowing them either. Where my real education began.

9) War and Peace – A book I was determined to read on a solitary, month-long stay at our farm in Belize, not because I wanted to, but because I should. I discovered it was possible to enjoy a challenging book and realized you can be an educated person without a diploma.

10) The Well Trained Mind – Raising kids seemed to me common sense, but when I decided, pretty much on a whim, to homeschool my children, I needed a guide. Weeks of research led me to this book, which started me on the climb to Parnassus, both for the girls and myself.

How about you? Care to give it a try?

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