Books That Changed My Life

In which I examine the books that I carry with me inside. Not literally.

Melodramatic title, no? But I’ve been thinking about the books that changed my life in some way. So in no particular order, and in no way complete…

1. From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by EL Konigsberg–This was the first book that I remembered the title and author of from when I was a child.  I loved this book. I read it so many times. I wanted to be a runaway, except that I had no reason, but moreover I wanted a secret. I still haven’t run away, and I’m pretty short on secrets too, but I still think about this book with such fondness. As soon as my children were old enough, I bought them a copy to devour. I don’t know if they loved it as much as I did, but it stood the test of time. I loved reading it as an adult almost as much as when I was a child.

2. The Chronicles of Prydain by Llyod Alexander –My very first fantsy series if you don’t count the Grimms. And his was name I remembered as well. For whatever reason the double L at the beginning of his name fascinated me. But I digress. I don’t really remember the stories very much at all, but I do remember falling in love with magic and fantasy. I was very young when I read them and always intended to get back to them and never did. And the character Taran has always remained in my heart as the perfect hero even if I can’t remember what he did.

3. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury–I didn’t read this until I was an adult. It was assigned to my eighth grade daughter as summer reading. She and her friends didn’t understand it, so they gave it to me to read and help them understand. I loved it. It is a series of vignettes connected by one summer in a boy’s life. They aren’t even his stories for the most part, but stories that affect him and help him grow. The next year, I got a job teaching at my daughter’s school and then I taught the book for the next seven years. I loved teaching this book. The Helen Loomis chapter made me cry every year, Col. Freeleigh made me want to live, and the Ravine sent chills down my spine. It is a book filled about magic, and yet there isn’t anything supernatural in it. It is a book that affirms life like no other.

4. Bewitching by Jill Barnett–I had reached a rut in my reading about two decades ago (God, has it really been that long?) and then I came across this book. It was the first book that made me laugh out loud and then cry (real tears–it was pathetic) at the end in years. I was feeling like I had lost all my emotions and this book help me find them again. Now I cry at TV commercials.

Some (very few) of my favorite books--the ones that were close enough that I could take this pictures quickly.
Some (very few) of my favorite books–the ones that were close enough that I could take this pictures quickly.

5. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov–When I was a teenager, I swore I hated science fiction. Not for me, said I. And then in high school I had the chance to take the class that all the students said was the best English class my school offered. So I signed up for it, holding little hope that I’d like the topic. Boy, was I wrong. It was the best English class, but I LOVED the science fiction. What the hell had I been thinking? This stuff was terrific. And Asimov’s book was probably my favorite of the ones we read (including Princess of Mars, Stars My Destination, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Martian Chronicles). I also taught this book to students, many of whom claimed they didn’t like science fiction either. Hahaha.

I didn’t realize when I started writing this blog that it was going to appear in parts. I have to continue because I still have a whole list of books that I haven’t mentioned yet. So thus concludeth part the first.


Books I’m reading now:

Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Azkaban by JK Rowling



I’m just going to put it out there. I love spoilers. I like to know what’s going to happen before it happens. I can enjoy a book or movie if I already know the ending. It doesn’t bother me in the least. Sometimes the spoiler is the deciding factor if I’m going to watch a movie or read a book at all. If it doesn’t have that satisfying ending, forget it. I will especially forgo any book/film that has a “clever twist” ending (in quotes for a reason because I like twists). Those irritate the crap out of me, i.e. girl’s dad is dying, she promises to take care of him, she meets someone, dad gets mad and sicker, but it’s the boyfriend who dies tragically and suddenly, dad realizes how selfish he’s been, she needs to live her life, etc.- blech. (Hey, I’m allowed an opinion too. If you like those stories, fine. I applaud you for sticking up for yourself, but I don’t have to like them.). By the way, satisfying doesn’t mean happily ever after. Second Hand Lions starts with the death of the two uncles, but I love it. And Dandelion Wine (Ray Bradbury) has a higher body count than a lot of novels, but it’s wonderful and life affirming.


A study at UCSD showed that knowing the spoiler/ending increases enjoyment of the work (the link is to an article about the study, not the study itself). I agree. Look, we all know romance novels make up the biggest segment of the fiction market. Every romance ends with the couple forming a relationship. Every single one (If it doesn’t, then it isn’t a romance). Guess what? That’s not what the readers read for. Romance readers love what they read. Could part of the reason be they know the ending? Yes, I read my books backwards. I always (ALWAYS) read the last few pages at the beginning.


I think this enjoyment explains re-reading as well. I often told my students they need to read assignments twice- the first time just for the plot, the second for understanding. If you follow my blog you know I am currently re-reading George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series. It’s better the second time through. I know what happens; now I can concentrate on details and characterization. It’s so much richer this time. And I probably don’t have to tell you how many times I’ve read Harry Potter. In fact the saga of the German copy of Chamber of Secrets will be an upcoming blog. But each time there’s something new to enjoy and grasp. Italo Calvino said, “a classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” That sentence presumes reading things more than once. There are many books I won’t ever re-read or couldn’t get through the first time (and that’s okay too; I’ve blogged here on taste before). But the ones, books and movies, that I revisit several times are my classics. I find new meanings, nuances, and truths I didn’t on the previous viewings.


And it’s easier to get to deeper understanding if you know the ending.


Don’t worry. I try not to spoil endings for others. People can be touchy about the subject. But if I ask you for a spoiler, I really want it. I want to see the journey more than the end. Maybe you should try it a couple of times and see if you notice any difference in your reading.


So how do you feel about spoilers?




Books I’m reading now:

A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare