Someone got me thinking about the books I used to read as a child and the way they shaped my reading preferences later in life. The logical follow-up, of course, was to put together a top ten of books that have a place very close to my heart (and bed) for a variety of reasons. This list is the following:
1.) China Mieville – The Scar
2.) Neil Gaiman – American Gods
3.) James Henry Schmitz – The Witches of Karres
4.) Charles Stross – Iron Sunrise
5.) Michael Ende – The Grey Gentlemen / Momo
6.) Andy Weir – The Martian
7.) Tad Williams – Otherland Series
8.) Mirjam Pressler – Halinka
9.) Clive Barker – Weaveworld
10.) Tais Teng – 400 Graden In De Schaduw (400 Degrees In The Shade)
Many of the books on this list I read as a child, and some were read to me by my father. Reading a child Weaveworld and is potential questionable parenting, I agree, but I will be eternally grateful for it. Weaveworld is fantasy/horror, which makes for a magical blend of reality and fiction. It sparked the love for what my girlfriend calls “stories in which the man characters end up feeling worse at the end of the book than they do at the beginning.” And it’s true, I love books like that and there are many of those in my library, especially by Stross and Mieveille.
There are four children’s books on this list: The Witches of Karres, the Grey Gentlemen, Halinka, and 400 Degrees In The Shade. I think there is true honesty in children’s books that adult books often skip over because it hurts and I greatly enjoy reading them to this day.
Michael Ende is a wizard with words, and when I read The Grey Gentlemen as a child, I didn’t understand it. I understood and loved The Neverending Story, but I was too little to understand the importance of main character Momo’s message. I knew there was a message, though, and I would reverently read the pages again and again until I understood the heart-breaking truth about growing up and leaving behind childhood wonder. Michael Ende is the reason I get up every single day and actively live and love with every fiber of my being. Whenever I get bogged down in adult responsibilities, I will get The Grey Gentlemen from my bookshelf, leaf through it, read a few lines, and put it away relaxed and renewed. I cannot overstate this book’s importance in my life.
My father read The Witches of Karres to me over and over again, and that book represents some of my best childhood memories. I’d make him start right over the day after finishing the book, and he never once refused. From The Witches of Karres I learned to love stories set in close quarters.
400 Degrees In The Shade is the first book that taught me women are smart, independent, and they can survive anything. Halinka taught me that the world is an unfair place that hurts like a sledgehammer to the chest…but if you hold on a little past your ability to endure, it’s worth the pain. Many of the words of wisdom from this book are still words I live by.
The Scar forcefully opened my mind to the way society works. Hell, that will always be Mieville’s legacy in my life. I owe that man such a fantastic debt of gratitude for his writing. My life would be so much poorer without all of his books here in my little library. Iron Sunrise–and all of Stross’ work, really–had the same effect on me, but in an entirely different way. Stross taught me that the status quo is the scariest and most destructive thing there will ever be in life and if you don’t want to drown in it, you need to kick up dust–again and again–until you find a way out. Both Mieville and Stross write in the way I want to write when I grow up and I look up to them greatly.
Neil Gaiman is an adult books author who has kept that whatever-it-is that allows children’s books to ring so true, and I love his work because of it. Needless to say, he also writes children’s books. American Gods had been made into a series for a reason, but really all of Gaiman’s work could have been on this list.
The Otherland series gave me a love of stories that run very long and involve many characters. Williams is a master storyteller and I love how unrushed his work is without ever dragging.
I have read (and listened to) The Martian at least fifty times, often starting again the second I finish. The humor, the science (oh, the science!) and the details in it make me so very happy. Sadly, I am not allowed to include all these lovely little details in my books because not everyone likes them as much as I do, but maybe one day I will write a book in all the glorious, tiny details I so love to read in The Martian.
There have been many other books in my life that have had an impact, and yes, it includes many of the literary greats. However, those touched me intellectually. These books, especially because I read them when I was young enough for them to be formative, have shaped my emotional well-being, altered the course of my life, and provide comfort and safety to this day. Their continued message of understanding of the human condition, of strength in the face of adversity, and the power of the (female) mind mean more to me than can accurately be put into words.