Without further fanfare, here's the list, in no particular order:
1. FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury This book is brilliant and important- reading it when I was a teenager was the first time I truly realized how powerful the written word is in society and how much people want to restrict it and silence it.
2. Othello by William Shakespeare (I want to cheat and say THE COMPLETE WORKS) I had a very high reading level and a huge interest in Europe when I was growing up, so my grandmother’s neighbor suggested Shakespeare & gave me access to her attic library with a whole shelf just of Shakespeare. Even though I didn’t understand all of the richly layered prose and the intricacy of the word choice and the adult themes, I felt like I’d entered into a secret society based around these enormous leather-bound books full of stories that had been passed down through time. It was magical. I picked Othello, because the emotion is so raw and powerful, and Iago is, in my opinion, the best villain ever written.
3. THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry This book spoke to my heart so deeply. I read it in French first, and while the English book is just as powerful, something about reading it in the original language deepens the experience. The messages are so simple yet have so much truth in them. And the illustrations are the best.
4. HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX by J.K.Rowling (since I had to pick one) I so envy those who got to grow up with Harry. Besides just loving the books, the series made me realize that “normal people” could get published and that I could write books I’d wanted to read growing up. I picked Book 5 because to see Harry so happy with Sirius and have him ripped away… it gutted me as a reader and as a writer, it taught me that you have to pull your characters to the lowest possible point and let them find their strength to move forward.
5. SPEAK by Laurie Halse Andersen This book saved me. Reading it gave me a voice too. I got to meet Laurie this year and tell her how much it meant to me and thank her for giving me “permission” to let go of what I’d been holding in and let the wounds completely heal.
6. AMERICAN GODS, by Neil Gaiman This wasn’t my first Gaiman, but it’s the one I turn to over and over, probably because of how much I identify with Shadow. For most of my life, I’ve felt very directionless, very much just existing in the world, being pushed from here to there, not being a part of the world around me and not being understood by the people in it. Like Shadow’s journey, mine has been paved with difficulty and heartbreak, and many times I didn’t think I’d make it out the other side. I’m still not where I want to be yet, and I guess that’s kind of the point. We’re always changing and adapting. That’s why this book speaks to me.
7. THE EIGHT by Katherine Neville This is a book I have pushed so many people to read. The dual timeline with events in the past tying into the future, is so well-done. I love how Neville mixes history and chess with the fight to possess this magical chessboard. Any story that takes place around the French Revolution is going to intrigue me, but Neville equally holds my attention when the story shifts to the 1970s. Such a great thriller, with two awesome female protagonists.
8. THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck I read this in high school, and I remember being so captivated by the story. Part of it was Steinbeck, but part of it was my English teacher. We had to write a significant paper on the book, and I choose the use of color. It was fascinating, and the first time I truly got the point of literary analysis. The book also really spoke to me about looking beyond myself and into the situations of others.
9. THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexandre Dumas, père Oh this book… Justice, faith, love, revenge… Such a powerful story with powerful themes. Is it any wonder I used elements of it for one of my own stories? As someone who always knew I wanted to study law, reading this in high school, with its discussion of justice and divine retribution, cemented that for me.
10. THE HOBBIT by J.R.R. Tolkien This is one of the first books I remember reading that didn’t feel like a children’s book to me, so it made me feel very grown-up at the time. I dove into the world, and re-read it over and over again, like it was my own little secret dream-world.
I'd love to hear about your most influential books too!