You’ve probably seen this challenge on Facebook already – list 10 books that have made an impression on you. When one of my friends tagged me last weekend, I decided to narrow it down to ten by focusing on books that I feel have influenced me as a writer. Here’s what I came up with, listed roughly in the order in which I first read them. All images link to listings on Barnes & Noble’s website.
1. The Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
These are the books that made me want to be an author. At the age of five, I started narrating my life in third person as though I were writing about it like Laura.
2. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
Notable first and foremost because it was my first fantasy fandom. Also notable because The Last Battle is my earliest memory of encountering racism. I had nightmares about Narnians thinking I was a bad guy because I was brown like the Calormenes, not white like the Narnians. I don’t think C.S. Lewis incorporated these messages with any forethought or malice. He was a product of his culture like any other artist. Which is why I, as a writer, try to be mindful of prejudices in my culture, and to consciously consider how various tropes might affect demographics that I’m not a part of.
3. The Hank the Cowdog series, by John R. Erickson
These books are the literary representation of everything I loved about Texas, the state where I was born and spent most of my early childhood. The eponymous narrator is a mutt who works as the self-proclaimed Head of Ranch Security on a Texas ranch. In hindsight, this snarky, egomanical, slightly unreliable narrator may have had an effect on my writing style.
4. Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, by Judy Blume
Overall this book is kind of forgettable, but it stuck with me because, paired with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, it taught me the concept of Protagonist. Sheila Tubman was introduced in TOAFGN as a minor antagonist who existed only to irritate narrator Peter Hatcher. Then in OKASTG, Sheila became the narrator, and suddenly I saw these characters’ little world through her eyes. It looked totally different. I still didn’t know the word “protagonist” (I was in second grade, iirc), so I labeled the concept “the character you feel sorry for.”
5. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
What stuck with me about this one more than the actual story was my mom telling me she’d been in a school play based on the book, and my grandma telling me she’d enjoyed the book when she was a kid. Little Women was my first experience with generations being linked by stories.
6. The Bracken Trilogy, by Jeri Massi
How a Christian fantasy series published by Bob Jones University Press ended up being one of the most feminist fantasy series I’ve ever read, I have no idea. It’s all about a mysterious Wise Woman bequeathing wisdom and power to three generations of future queens. It’s been years since I read it, but I’ll bet anything it passes the friggin’ Bechdel Test with flying colors. Incidentally, Jeri Massi is now an outspoken advocate against abuse and corruption in fundamentalist Christianity.
7. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
I could write a whole book about how much these books mean to me. I’ll just say that they brought me back to fantasy.
8. The Thrawn Trilogy (Star Wars extended universe), by Timothy Zahn
This was my first experience with science fiction as a literary genre as opposed to a film/TV genre. Zahn’s books were the only ones in the Star Wars extended universe that I really connected with, but they led me to Zahn’s non-Star Wars works and to classic sci fi novels like…
9. Dune, by Frank Herbert
Herbert’s skill as a world-creator and in the use of Omniscient Narrator makes this a must-read for any aspiring speculative fiction writer. I’d go so far as to say that Dune is to science fiction as Lord of the Rings is to fantasy in terms of scope and execution.
10. Agent to the Stars, by John Scalzi
This was my introduction to online serial publication. Scalzi put it online in 1999, and it’s still available online for free. Scalzi’s characterizations and his great balance of humor and heart are as much in force here as in his later, traditionally published writings. Agent to the Stars directly influenced my decision to build a platform through serial online publishing.