A few days ago I was challenged to come up with a list of ten books that have stayed with me and changed my life. Initially I was nonplussed at the request, wondering how to winnow the thousands of books I’ve read down to just ten. I also realized I had to create categories to provide a focus.
Not to make a big deal out of a Facebook challenge, I finally decided on Books That Influenced my Writing Life. And I also noticed that often it was not individual books but authors or topics that have been important. So here is my idiosyncratic list.
Black Beauty. I was born crazy about horses. My favorite toys as a kid were a mismatched family of stuffed horses that I slept with every night. So of course my favorite book would be about the wonderful animals. Anna Sewell’s plea for better treatment of horses was contained in a sentimental story and proved quite effective in changing people’s ideas at the time it was written. The specific things that bothered her are no longer applicable today but Black Beauty remains a childhood staple.
Smoky the Cowhorse. Like a lot of young girls I avidly read the Black Stallion and all its myriad of clones and loved the stories. At the same time I knew they had little relation to real horses. Not so the Newberry Award book by Will James. It gave a great picture of how a horse thinks and reacts to things. And what made it even better were the true-to-life illustrations by James.
Tales of the Knights of the Round Table. That probably isn’t the correct title but I loved the stories about the brave and noble knights of Camelot. I adored fairy tales and fantasies and gladly charged into battle with Lancelot, Gawain and Galahad. And I’m afraid I look for similar real-life heroes.
Johnny Tremaine. I’m not sure if Johnny or Little House on the Prairie came first but I became addicted to historical fiction—all eras, all places. I loved reading about how characters lived and worked in past times. As I got older I transitioned to more adult fiction such as the stories of Anya Seton, who wrote lovingly researched historical romances, although she considered them biographical novels.
Lord Peter Wimsey books. Oddly enough I never particularly cared for mystery stories until I discovered Dorothy Sayers’ tales of an insouciant, aristocratic sleuth and his super-competent manservant. Prompted by the original BBC series, I looked up the books and fell in love. Then I discovered Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters and I was totaled hooked. Historical mysteries. What could be more fun?
Romance novels. I came somewhat late to the romance genre—not counting the Seton books. The early stories with the brooding, domineering hero and the subservient heroine were not my cup of tea, but when the stories changed to more realistic characters I became interested. Nora Roberts wrote stories I could get into. I particularly liked the ones with a paranormal theme—witches, Irish fairies and such. I could believe her characters. Since then I’ve discovered many wonderful writers, too many to mention. But one of my particular favorites is Jayne Ann Krentz. I encountered her via her Arcane Society novels and fell in love.
So that’s my odd list of books, authors and themes that have stayed with me and influenced my writing life. I written about horses and noble heroes, paranormal, mystery and romance. The only thing I haven’t yet done is something historical—which my husband keeps bugging me to do. Who knows I may have an American Revolution mystery waiting to emerge.
What about you? What books have been important in your life?
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