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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Books That Changed My Life Part 2 (the middle grade/ya edition)

I think I'll discuss these books chronologically, in the order in which I read them. Each one did something to my mind to shape the way I write.

First off:
The Once and Future King by T.H. White. I read this book as a senior in high school and it was the first assigned book ( alright, fine, the ONLY assigned book) that I didn't cheat and use the cliff notes to understand just exactly what was going on. (Please don't think less of me....but it is cruel and unusual punishment to make anyone read Moby Dick who really isn't up for it.) Anyway, I loved this book and reread it many times throughout college when I needed a break from other reading. There was just something about the way he retold the Arthurian legend in the non-stuffiest of ways. I fell in love with the down to earth narration, as if I, myself, might have met Arthur and Merlin on the street. It was my first intro into King Arthur, but I felt like I'd been waiting for this book for my whole life.

My Love Affair with Roald:

First time I read this aloud to kids, I was blown away! Loved this book....the way Dahl talks to the reader, the danger, the humor, the bittersweet ending......I wanted to BE Roald Dahl, although I never thought I could write something so long (or so good.) Now, I had loved Dahl's books when I was a kid....Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and all that, but this book made me want to write something......something that I didn't even know.......but it woke up that author inside and made me want to try new things.

Ah, Matilda. The characters in this book are so amazingly written. This book made me fall in love with the characters, even the ones he wrote so miserably awful. The unusual details he provides about his characters truly brings them to life. The Trunchbull has to be one of the greatest villains ever. Heck, I'd pick her in a battle of nastiness over Lord Voldemort any day.....

Which brings me to....
I love all of the Harry Potter books, don't get me wrong. And this one, The Prisoner of Azkaban, well, it's not even my favorite. (Half Blood Prince is the best.) But it changed me. It took me from mild-mannered Potter-fan to crazed Potter-Fanatic. The whole time-turner things just made me sit up and go, "Say What??!!" I could not believe Rowling's creativity, her moxy, her shere wonderfulness as a writer. I mean, heck, Hogwarts is her universe. She created it and she gets to make the rules. But for the first time as I read one of her books, I felt like she pushed her own envelope (which I think she continued to do in many of her other books as well). She took chances in P of A, and I think it made her a better writer. (I think Harry would have taken chances, too.)

Honestly, I didn't even want to read this book. I didn't read Young Adult Books. I either read grown-up books (for I am a grown-up) or I read children's books (because I write for children and work with children.) But my when my eldest daughter said, "Mom, their making a movie of that Twilight book, and Cedric Diggory is going to star!" I thought I'd buy it for her. (She still hadn't gotten over Cedric's senseless death at the hands of Lord Voldemort in the Goblet of Fire....but I digress) She read it in a day. "Mom, you should read this. I think you'll like it."
I read it in a day. It was sooooo easy to read.....and it made me remember what it was like to be a teenager. And it made me realize that YA is a much broader category than I thought....not all YA books are about drugs. (Okay, so when I was a kid, Go Ask Alice was the big YA book.) Meyer told a very compelling story, the one SHE wanted to tell. She created her place in the writing world. Isn't that what we all make our own place at the table instead of just filling in for someone else?

Now for something serious:

I did not want to read this book either. And when I started it, I didn't want to like it. And I didn't. Not a first. But Markus Zusak won me over. He broke the rules with this book. His narrator switches from telling the story, to talking to the audience, to waxing poetic. Even the font changes depending on the mood of the narrator. Zusak didn't worry about the rules. He just wanted to tell his story in the best way he could. And he was not afraid to go places that were painful, for we had spent so much time with his characters, we deserved to know the truth.

Side note: After I first read the book, I felt like a horrible writer. I would NEVER write something so profound. (But I got over it....I mean, it's not like I wanted to write something really profound anyway...) But he inspired me to try harder, and to try to write better.

Hot off the press:

What I love about this book (by fellow blogger Laini Taylor) is that she breaks the rules, too. Three stories in one book? What? You can't do that. Nobody buys those kids of books.....Well, if they don't, they should. Laini masterfully weaves three stories together, which is an unusual book structure these days, but it is her description that makes me go, "Wow." She has a style, and better still, she seems to know her own style, and uses it to her advantage as a storyteller. When I read this book, it made me want to look at my own style, and make sure I was using it in my stories in the best way I can. (Plus, this book is awesome because it has pictures. The picture book writer in me loves the visual images......)

So, again I ask you, what are the books that changed you as a writer?


Suzyhayze said...

I love this post! Many of these books are the same for me... but one book made me want to be a writer.

Dandelion Wine: Ray Bradbury. I won't ever forget it and read it over again and again.

Just lovely.

Susan R. Mills said...

I loved Matilda. I had a puppet that I named Matilda. What great memories you stirred up with this post. Thanks. And it's refreshing to read something about Twilight that doesn't rip it apart. Good for you!

Bane of Anubis said...

Roald Dahl rocks (THE BFG might be my favorite of his)...

Where The Red Fern Grows

Loved all the Duncton Wood books (though they're probably not YAish, I was reading them in my YA years).

Narnia, of course, back before I knew about all the religious symbolism :).

More recently, Harry Potter (though the time-turner was one of my least favorite plot devices in any book ever)... fun story, fast pacing, pull-you-in writing... I actually, despite contradictory beliefs by most, think her 1st two books were her best b/c she didn't succumb to serialitis (e.g., excessive scene inclusion, drawn out scenes, etc.)

Definitely not TWILIGHT, but my wife would probably second your analysis...

Amy Tate said...

I love Matilda too. But Shelley, I just CAN'T read Twilight even though every one of my friends is shoving it down my throat. Vampires REALLY freak me out...really.

Lisa and Laura said...

Ooh, The Book Thief is one of my favorite books of all time. Just beautifully written. Marcus also happens to be our agent mate. We're hoping that one we hit it big we'll all have a sleepover and he'll let us braid his hair.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Laini is a finalist for the National Book Award! How cool is that???
I love your list, and those I haven't read, I'm going to rectify. I must disagree, as Bane did, with Twilight. It made me realize what I don't want to do, I'm afraid.
I really love that you are doing these posts and saying why the books inspired you.

storyqueen said...

Suzy-I haven't read Dandelion Wine, but I kind of like a TwilightZone kind of way.

Susan: My first editor at Houghton Mifflin was named Matilda. Love that name.

Bane-I love BFG, too!! About the Harry's, I'm get what you're saying about not liking the time turner, but for me, it was a moment of realizing that J.K. could do what she wanted. It was her book, after all. And I found that somehow empowering as a writer. (Same feeling about Twilight. She told her story her way...and there was an audience for it.)

Amy-Well, ask anybody and they'll tell you...Twilight is the least creepy Vampire book. It's really just a love story (not that there's anything wrong with that.)

L and L: Yeah, I'd braid his hair. His book is just sooooooooo good. sigh.

Tricia-Well, again, I'll reiterate, I don't wish to emulate the success of Twilight (not that I even could), but Meyer's book, in her distinct voice, opened up the world of YA literature to me. I will be forever grateful to the book that broadened my literary horizons and gave me the courage to try my hand at writing YA. (yeah, the teenage girl that lives deep inside of me wrestled with the whole Team Edward/Team Jacob thing....)

Renee Collins said...

Just going to add a huge ditto to the Roald Dahl love. :) He is, plain and simple, the best.

I'm reading his books to my five year old daughter (who's luckily never seen any of the movies,) and it's just magical. She adores them, and I'm falling in love all over again. I actually got choked up when Charlie finds that golden ticket. :)

MG Higgins said...

I've loved so many books over the years, including ones you've mentioned. I think more recently DAIRY QUEEN by Catherine Murdock really clicked with me. Her humor is spot on and I didn't think it was possible to write an entire paragraph with one sentence and make it work.

Yat-Yee said...

EB White is my hero!

My daughter first read Matilda in first grade, and the other day (She's in third now) she said, "Hmm. Haven't read Matilda this year." and dug it out to read it again. A book that can do that is magic.

I read The Book Thief when it first came out and wasn't bowled over. But everyone who talks about it loves it so I think I'm going to re-read to see if I get it better this time around.

Myrna Foster said...

Ditto to your choices, especially Roald Dahl and The Book Thief.

Have you read "The Wee Free Men," by Terry Pratchett, or the "Mercy Watson" series, by Kate DiCamillo? They are so very funny and different.

On the serious side, "The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, and "Women in Their Beds," by Gina Berriault have had a profound influence on my writing. That doesn't mean I write like either of the authors, but they made me care and worry about their characters and showed me how powerful women's stories can be.

And then, there is my obsession J.R.R. Tolkien.

Stephanie Faris said...

Would you believe I've not yet read Twilight? I want to. But I can't ever get it from the library and I have too many books in my to be read pile to invest in buying it! I loved the VC Andrews books as a kid and Stephen King. I'd say both of those authors changed and shaped me as a writer.

Julie Dao said...

This post really resonated with me because you included so many of the books that changed me as an author. Roald Dahl was one of my favorites growing up, and I worship J.K. Rowling and her writing. I'm not a Twilight fan but it was very refreshing to read your take on it; people who enjoyed the book usually rave about it beyond what is realistic, so I thought your opinion was great and really thoughtful.

Books that really stuck with me: The Hobbit, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and Little House on the Prairie.

Kelly H-Y said...

Loved this post! Thank you! I agree with what you said about Rowling ... her imagination just blows me away!

K. M. Walton said...

In honor of Lisa & Laura's pay it forward idea, I'm stopping by your blog for the very first time. HI!

I even visited your website where I discovered that you wrote a book about peace. I used to own a summer camp called Camp Kindness. I'm a peace lover.

I'll be sure to stop by your blog again.

etirv said...

Excellent list!

Roald Dahl is a family favorite!

Jessie Oliveros said...

You have great taste! And cliff notes!?! I'm shocked. Actually, I was a user of cliff-notes in high school, too. In fact, I did the unmentionable and subbed Tale of Two Cities for cliff notes. Little did I know how INCREDIBLE the real book actually was. (I found out years later.)

SarwatC said...

My girls love Dahl and thought the best thing about me as a writer was being in the same publsihing hosue as Mr.Dahl (though they were a bit disappointed when they discovered he didn't actually live at the Puffin offices).
Life changing books? Easy!
The Hobbit. His Dark Materials. Book of Lost Things.