Today’s post is a bit of a fun one, because I’m going to share with you the books that have impacted me most throughout my life. I decided to go in chronological order, because I thought it would be interesting to see what books I’ve connected with over the years, and how books have slowly shaped who I am as a person. I tried to keep this post relatively short, but I may add to it later (there are a few books I’ve read this year that I suspect might make this list). I’ve read almost all of the books on this list more than once, and am planning on rereading those I haven’t.
A big thanks to Jillian, who asked me to do this post! You can (and should) check out her personal cannon, because she’s got a lot of great books on there.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. This will forever be my favorite children’s book. I can’t fully explain why I love this book so much, but it is definitely one of those books that immediately comes to mind when I think about books that shaped me as a reader. It was such a big part of my childhood. I must have read this book at least a hundred times, and I don’t see anything preventing me from returning it, especially now that I get to share it with my friends’ and family members’ children. (P.S. Whenever I think about this book now, I can’t help but rap the title because I’ve listened to Hamilton Mixtape way too many times. Just me?)
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. This is one of those books I read as a child that has stuck with me for years. I even read it again last year, and really enjoyed it. Strange as it may sound, this is the book that introduced me to fantasy, and to the prospect of telling my own stories. Reading this book was the first time I was aware that someone else had written it, and that I loved the idea that I could create my own stories, too.
Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling. Harry Potter was a big part of my childhood, something to which I’m sure many of you can relate. I grew up with these books (the seventh one was released just after I turned eighteen), and they really influenced the person I became, in the best way. Going to release parties and waiting in line for hours to get my book or see the movie at midnight was also the first time I participated in a book-related community, and I loved getting to know other people who loved the books as much as I did. It was also nice to learn that I wasn’t alone, since no one else in my family reads quite as much as I do (most of them don’t read at all).
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This book introduced me to adult literature and the concept of censorship. I had experienced censorship before (my mother is very religious and didn’t let me read Harry Potter for a few years after it came out), but wasn’t really aware of the widespread effects. Of what happens when you take away books. And how books are, really, an important part of society. I reread it last year, and loved it even more than I did the first time around. There’s just something really special about Bradbury’s writing.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This book cemented my love for historical fiction and also showed me that genres don’t have to be exclusive. You can have a contemporary novel with a huge helping of history and a side of horror. I think that’s why it’s stayed with me for such a long time.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. When I was younger, this is one of the books I claimed as my favorite, but hadn’t actually read. When I finally delved into this book at the ripe old age of twenty-one, I was surprised to find that I actually did love it! It’s just the right amount of romantic, and embodies what I love so much about Romantic (capital R) literature. I have always been some combination of Lizzie and Jane, and my family is eerily similar to the Bennets, so I really identified with this book. It definitely helped me find the courage to find myself, which is something I wish I’d done earlier.
A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft. I’ve read this book twice now, once for a women’s history class in college and again for a Romantic literature course in grad school. And both times, it spoke to me. I wasn’t exactly raised to be a feminist, so this book was really the beginning of a journey for me, and returning to it – even when I only read a chapter or two – is always reassuring and empowering.
Red Rising by Pierce Brown. I absolutely love this book and have read it about four times now. But the way this book affected me was a bit different than the others on this list. The first time I read this book, I was absolutely blown away. And then I turned to the author bio and saw that Pierce Brown is just a year older than I am. At the time, I was not in school (having recently graduated college), and working at a job I hated. And I had this moment of “what am I doing with my life?”. Four months later, I was enrolled in grad school to get my master’s in English. Red Rising is what I had in the back of my mind as I wrote my thesis, and what kept me going when grad school was hard. Both the message of this novel and the idea that I had the potential to craft something similar have stayed with me for years, and have, in a lot of ways, given me confidence to take more risks and live life for myself.
1984 by George Orwell. 1984 took me a long time to read. And by that, I mean I started it in April and finished it in August. I couldn’t connect with it at first. But when I restarted it months later, something clicked, and I just devoured it. I’ve always loved dystopian and science fiction books, but this one is something else. It’s bigger. And I think it has definitely influenced the way I see a lot of things – particularly technology and politics. Nowadays, I can hardly watch the news without thinking about this book (though whether that speaks more to the book or the things currently on the news is anyone’s guess). It’s just one of those books that really became a part of my personality and of the way I think about the world. And that’s definitely not a bad thing.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. This was the first Neil Gaiman book I read, and it’s still my favorite. I just love his writing style, and this book in particular inspired me a lot as a writer. There’s just something about it that’s utterly magical, and it made me think differently about the ideas that spawn from my own imagination. I am actually planning on starting the audiobook of this one in the next day or two because it’s definitely time for a reread. And then I get to listen to the BBC radio version again which is incredible. I’m not sure I can even give a coherent reason, but this is one of my favorite stories of all time.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This book is one of the most beautiful and devastating things I’ve ever read. I became so attached to the characters that I still occasionally think about them as if they were friends. It’s just a part of me now. And even though it made my eyes hurt from crying, I already want to return to it.
As of right now, these are the books that I feel are a part of me, and I think it’s a really great list. I love that there are a wide range of genres and stories and characters, because that’s what I like to read and be influenced by.
I had a lot of fun coming up with this list – even though it took me days – and I think I learned a lot in the process about exactly why these books are so important to me. I may add to this list later (or do an updated post), because there are a few books I’ve read recently that might make this list, but I want to give them time first.
If you’d like to write a post on your personal cannon, you can share the link in the comments, or link back to this post so I can be sure to check it out! And feel free to share your list in the comments if you don’t have a blog or would prefer to share that way.