I read a lot as a child, to the point where my mother thought I would go blind. She also thinks that’s why I started turning gray at age 20. You got to take one teaspoon honey every night, she insists. We all know how superstitious she is, although I am nearsighted now and can’t help but wonder…
Apart from rapidly building my English vocabulary in a non-English-speaking household, reading was my refuge. I went through a typical fantasy phase, losing myself in novels in which I identified most with a heroine who was always plain-looking and outlandish, but brave. As a result, Noonie and I had vivid imaginations. We lived perpetually in a place where bicycles are horses and the old badminton net in your parents’ field is a portal to another dimension.
For Christmas, DP’s nephew received several children’s dinosaur books, such as How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? They reminded me of a time that I was really into dinosaurs, which was a bit unusual for girls back then. I remember feeling simultaneously sad and relieved when I learned they are extinct. When I was home recently for the holidays, I found my old dinosaur book that sparked this infatuation. From there, it was only natural that I started to recall the most influential books from my childhood.
As an adult, I now read mainly nonfiction; but every once in a while, I still like to lose myself in a mindless fantasy or two. I have read many of the classics, as required by compulsory education; I have delved into authors that were way over my head at the age when I read them (Dostoevsky and Nietzsche); and I have been profoundly changed by more modern authors like Paul Farmer, H.H. Dalai Lama, and Laurie Garrett. I find it really silly (and annoying) when people post their “most influential books of all time,” and it’s usually (very obviously) some contrived list designed to convince others how “deep” and well-read they are. O.K., so I am judgmental sometimes. When I think of influential books, the ones I remember most are from childhood. Here are my top 5:
- Shark Lady: True Adventures of Eugenie Clark by Ann McGovern
- The Battle of the Dinosaurs by David C. Knight
- The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
- The Hero and the Crown (prequel to The Blue Sword) by Robin McKinley
- A Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle
In the first book, Eugenie Clark writes a letter to her audience:
Dear girls and boys,
I love my work and never stop learning about the sea and its creatures. Scientists agree that there is always so much to learn and so many new discoveries to be made.
Some of you might want to be marine biologists, oceanographers, or ichthyologists, and share my delights in the wonders of the sea. Some of you might not want to be scientists at all.
Whatever you grow up to be, I hope you get great satisfaction in your work and that you get involved in what interests you the most.
I must have read that book (and all the others on this list) a dozen times.
What else do I read? My virtual bookshelf on Goodreads