Of all the relationships I have had throughout my life, my love affair with the written word is the one that has entrenched itself deepest into my soul. When I read – it’s not just about the words on the page – it’s the piece of themselves the author gives me that I fall for. It’s the places I am taken, the imagery I feel….the people I come to know, love and even hate. The books I am most touched by are those that make me laugh or cry or give me something to take with me through life.
I am not a critic – and this is not a review of these titles. I write, or at least, I want to write. My literary aspirations were born from a deeply rooted need and desire I cannot easily describe …but it also comes from influence, admiration and awe. The following list, and the people who created these works, are the reason I have wanted to write, and do write, since I was a child:
1. “That Scatterbrain Booky“: I don’t even know how to describe the emotional connection I feel with Bernice Thurman Hunter‘s “Booky” (pronounced Boo-key) series. I was about 8-years-old when the author came to read her then newly published (and debut) children’s novel. In all, there are three books that re-count Thurman Hunter’s childhood, growing up in Toronto during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Myself being an imaginative and curious child growing up in Toronto, I felt an immediate connection with Bernice and her stories. Every time I picked up my copy of “That Scatterbrain Booky”, I was transported to a version of my home town I would not have otherwise known existed. It was close to home, yet worlds away. I can definitely say that it was Booky that first made me want to write and create. My tattered copies of all three books in the Booky series have been in my life for almost thirty years and remain my most treasured possessions.
2. “The Black Stallion“: The only other thing that may come close to my love of books, is my passion for horses. What could be better than books about horses? Believe me, when I was a kid, I read just about every one of Walter Farley‘s stories. Some are better than others…“The Black Stallion” is my favourite of Farley’s work. This is another book I have been carting around since my childhood. To this day, just as I did when I was 10, I still get caught up in fantasies of being alone on a desert island with a wild horse to tame and ride along the beach.
3. “Tiger Eyes“: I stole this book from my older sister when I was 10. Why? She told me I “wouldn’t get it”. So, I read “Tiger Eyes” in secrecy one summer, knowing that it was probably too old for me and that I would most likely read something my Mom would have thought I was much too young for. I got way more than I bargained for…a gut wrenching story of tragedy and loss and love. I still get shivers up and down my spine when I think about Davey and the contents of the paper bag she carries with her. As soon as I finished the reading this book, I wanted to know what it feels like to pull people through such a twisted, mesmerizing world with the ease and beauty that Judy Blume does. As for my sister – after spending two months looking for her missing book, she mysteriously found it in the bottom of her backpack at the end of the summer.
4. “Anne Of Green Gables“: What can I say? I am a Canadian girl...”Anne Of Green Gables” is pretty much a rite of passage for me. My best friend and I read “Anne” together when we were 9 – exchanging opinions and views of each chapter on the way home from school each day. It was the first really big book I read and I loved each and every detail. It was also the first book that made me cry. How could I not hold a place in my heart for Anne and L.M. Montgomery? Both are National Treasures.
5. “The Handmaid’s Tale“: I started reading this classic novel as most high school students do: as part of an English class assignment. Margaret Atwood‘s breathtaking story jumped off the pages and dragged me in, changing me forever. I remember sneaking it behind the cosmetics counter I worked at after school, reading one page at a time throughout my shift simple because I could not put it down. Our teacher gave us a month to read our books and compete the assignment, I was finished it in half that time. In fact, I read it two more times before our papers had to be turned in. Years later, while working in a down town Toronto pharmacy, Margaret Atwood herself wandered up to my counter. Flustered and stammering upon realising who she was – I managed to squeak out “Thank you for writing the way you do.” and then promptly felt my face turn beet-red. She smiled and thanked me back.
6. “The Stranger”: I first started reading Camus when my (first) husband and I were still in college. He was a philosophy major with a heavy collection of classic literature. I read a lot of my husband’s books, but it was Albert Camus that I liked most. I can honestly say that I am unable to pinpoint exactly what it was that makes me love Albert Camus’ writing. Perhaps it’s the stark reality he puts his characters in. It may be, however, the unpretentious manner of his approach. His writing is poignant and paints humanity in the harshest of light. “‘The Stranger”, in particular, stuck a chord with me. I read this book during my commute to and from work on the subway. I became so tangled up in it, I missed my stop, more than once. When our marriage had dissolved and my soon to be ex-husband and I were splitting our possessions, it pained me to give “The Stranger” back to him.
7. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”: To me, Douglas Adams has to be one of the funniest writers in the history of the novel. So creative and unique – I had never read anything quite like Douglas’s fantastic tale before. Have you ever read a story that made you laugh out loud? I love a book capable of such humour. This was another book I had to (sadly) hand back over to my ex-husband.
8. “The Lotus Eaters”: If you not yet found Tatjana Soli’s début novel “The Lotus Eaters”, you need to. You need to find and read it soon as possible – especially if you are a photographer – which is why I love this book. I never thought the act of capturing photographs could ever be put into to words. Soli does so with eloquence and soul. To make things even more dramatic, her story is set during the Vietnam War and centres around photo journalists in the heat of battle – first hand witnesses to death and destruction. This book is beautiful and devastating all at once. I fell in love with each character and wilfully gave myself over to every sentence and chapter that Soli created for this tale.
9. “The Time Traveler’s Wife”: I have not yet seen the movie version of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” – nor do I plan too. I simply loved this book so much – I don’t want Hollywood to tarnish it in any way. The day after I finished reading this book, I picked up my pen and drafted three outlines to stories I wanted to start working on immediately. With her poetic and engrossing style, Audrey Niffengger awoke my inner writer and set it free. Thank you, Ms. Niffengger for writing this and inspiring me so dearly.
10. “It’s Not Me, It’s You”: Have you ever heard of Stephanie Wilder-Taylor? If you haven’t, look her up – immediately. This woman is everything: Funny, honest, talented and ….did I mention funny? “It’s Not Me, It’s You” is a collection of essays about her life from her teen years to her 30’s, chronicling a broad assortment of people and moments she encountered while trying to “make it” in LA. Wilder-Taylor has a very direct approach and outlook on life. Her writing is unapologetic and real – and extremely refreshing. I am not one to write fan letters, but I emailed Stephanie after I read this book and thanked her profusely for coming into my life.