Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Books That Shape Us

I've been thinking a lot about those few select, amazing books that define who we are. The ones we read over and over, whose characters own our hearts and souls. The books that come along at critical points in life, from childhood on up, to help us make sense of the world. Books that are beloved because they took us to magical places, or revealed certain truths, or held a mirror up for us to examine our lives, both trials and triumphs.

I've blogged before about childhood favorites, including Trixie Belden and Bread and Jam for Frances. Cleary and Blume were staples, along with Cynthia Voigt and Shel Silverstein. Others I didn't discover until college, like the Narnia books (I know!) and Lloyd Alexander's Prydain chronicles and Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising series. A kid lit class in college opened my eyes to an entire world of authors I'd never known: Ursula Le Guin, Diana Wynne Jones, Roald Dahl, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Frances Hodgson Burnett. I became a regular at used book stores. It was a second childhood, a Renaissance, that's still going strong--and still shaping who I am as both a reader and a writer.

The talent of today's authors is no less jawdropping. I have to fight with myself over every new Megan Whalen Turner book, whether to gobble it up or savor every page.

Where did it all start? With my mom. She passed away this summer, and the last few years of her life were so tough on her. Circumstances required that I assume the role of caregiver, and it deeply strained the relationship between us that I'd always cherished. But a little distance has granted me a wealth of perspective. I've been able to reflect on her legacy, on the many gifts she bestowed, not the least of which was a love of reading. I don't remember how often we read together, or how consistently, but I do know that after every doctor's appointment to treat my persistent tonsillitis, she took me to the drugstore to pick out a new book. She read aloud to me, classics like David Copperfield and Alice in Wonderland and Little Women. And she indulged my frequent trips to the library. She didn't mind that I brought home armfuls of books. She raised an eyebrow but didn't fuss during my many obsessive phases, from ghosts to poetry to classical LPs.

The past fews years I've been watching my oldest son, now 11, devour books. He prefers series, like Fablehaven and Harry Potter and The Secret Series (This Book Is Not Good for You), because he can revisit familiar characters like old friends. I can't help but agree.

However the landscape of publishing changes in the next decade, I hope he'll always have a book in his hand. And I hope my mom knows, somehow, that every time I pick up a book, a part of her is there with me.


Helena said...

I recently discovered the digital media at our library and I've been listening to the Artemis Fowl series on audio book. (And Kate's been listening to Ramona books at bedtime.)

Chris said...

We loved the Artemis Fowl books. And Ramona! Those are the BEST! We didn't see the movie but heard it was cute.