I like this meme because I like lists. I like this meme because it reminds me of the Top 5 lists from High Fidelity (by Nick Hornby as a book, starring John Cusak as a movie). And I like this meme because it causes me to think long and hard about book-related topics. So here goes:
Top Ten “Gateway” Books/Authors In My Reading Journey
These were this week’s instructions: your list could be a mix of a books that got you into reading, an author that got you into reading a genre you never thought you’d read, a book that brought you back into reading.
What a difficult assignment! And yet so rewarding to consider those books that changed your life by steering your reading. I keep adding and subtracting books fro this list, but I think I’ve finally settled on a final 10 and here’s why:
Favorite childhood picture book, because of its message, because of how the book came into my life (my mother knew a woman while living in Mexico who knew the author/illustrator), and because of how it’s also my best friend’s favorite childhood book (we met in college, my BFF is from Maine, and so is the author/illustrator). We even have a plan to get similar lupine tattoos.
Miss Rumphius, also known as The Lupine Lady, is told by her grandfather that she must do something to make the world more beautiful. One of the only picture books I know of that shows an independent, free spirited, happy woman whose life is full of people but not because of a marriage, not because of a family, but because of her spirit of adventure and community.
2. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
You’ll sense a theme with this one. Another childhood favorite. I’m sure I read classics before this, but I remember this being the first one that I truly loved. For instance, I’m pretty sure my grandmother gifted me with Little Women and I really disliked it (Little Men and Jo’s Boys were another story). I’m convinced that LMA knew how to write about boys more than girls, which is odd when you consider she had only sisters. But action, adventure, enchanting descriptions of a wealthy little girl who’s being taught a subtle morality? Sign me up!
3. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
This was my gateway book into the world of Nick Hornby. It’s my favorite Hornby title, but what I enjoy almost as much are his collected essays from his series, “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” in the UK’s The Believer. He’s sardonic and irreverent, but he also talks about family and life and how his reading fits into the big picture. In a way, he does the same in High Fidelity, trying to help Rob determine how everything fits into the big picture.
4. Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley
I basically can’t stand Gone With the Wind. Go ahead, be horrified. But Scarlett’s just so…irritatingly unaffected by what happens to her! It’s difficult for me to imagine anyone going through THAT much and still remaining the selfish little tart she turns out to be even at the end. What I love about Scarlett, is that Alexandra Ripley doesn’t lose that essence of Scarlett. She’s still independent, self-centered, headstrong, and doesn’t really give a fig what others think while also being painstakingly aware of society’s rules, but by the end of the (quite long) tale, she’s grown up into this woman that’s worthy of the attention and admiration given to her. Plus, you know, more Rhett. Always more Rhett please.
5. Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
Anne Fadiman introduced me to the art of the essay and I never looked back. David Sedaris, William Foster Wallace, Sarah Vowell; these are just a few of the other names I have read since. But Anne Fadiman is queen of them all, with Ex Libris as her crown. It is a love letter to the life of a bibliophile, and let’s be honest, we can all relate to that.
6. One Bite With a Stranger by Christine Warren
This one is a beauty – my introduction into the paranormal urban romantic fiction world. Whew boy, was this one hot intro! The power play between the two characters is right up there with some of the hottest sex I’ve ever read, and what’s even better, Warren doesn’t let up with the subsequent releases. The only downside is the books were not released in order of events, so you skip around in the world’s plot a bit if you read them in the order in which they were released. In all honesty, though, that doesn’t detract from the stories themselves. Since then, I’ve devoured every single book Christine Warren has written, and I’ve also explored other similar series. So thanks, Christine!
7. The Lingerie Handbook by Rebecca Apsan
I searched out this book, because I wanted to know more about lingerie, and boy did it ever deliver! In the spirit of oversharing, I definitely took its lessons to heart and now feel sexy knowing exactly what I’m choosing to wear on the daily, whether anyone else sees it that day or not.
This is one of the first books I remember my mother giving me (besides Miss Rumphius). I know she bought me hundreds before, but I carried around this leather bound, embossed edged, bible of a 5-book series for days while devouring it. My younger sister did the same. And it introduced me into the cult of people who recognized the book I was carrying and knew me for the sense of humor I had based on what I read. Frankly, it ruined me for most other science fiction, and for that, I thank DA and my mother.
9. We are Mesquakie, We Are One by Hadley Irwin
I discovered this book in the early 1990s in the children’s room (that no longer exists) and the main library on Hanover College’s campus in Southern Indiana. I then searched out every single other book with Native American characters and read Where the Broken Heart Still Beats and an entire series of books by Kenneth Thomasma. Then I became a Native American studies major in college, and have plans to become a Native American rights lawyer when I retire. So, you might say this was a gateway into a life path.
This kind of reminds me of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in that it’s kind of an inside joke in terms of its humor. You either get it, or you don’t. I got it, and it inspired my first grammar tattoo (seen on the right – am ampersand behind my ear that also looks like an “e” for both grandmothers’ first names). Not only does it lay out grammar rules in a way that’s not dictatorial but, rather like the OED, explains its history, and usage, and brings it to the present day as well. Oh, and it made me decide that I am, in fact, in support of the Oxford comma. But either way, it was a gateway into reading other half-pretentious books about grammar, and once you start that, you can never really look back.