Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"The 10 Books That Stayed With You" Meme

I am one of the last few humans on Earth that doesn't have a Facebook account (marvel at me! I should be in a 21st Century sideshow! "Attention, step right up, see the Girl Who Has No Facebook Account!"). Because of this, I miss a lot of the Facebook memes that go around every so often. Sometimes I hear about them on Twitter or read an article decrying whatever the Facebook feed de rigueur is this week. I usually never give them a second thought and I certainly never want to participate in them... until I heard about "The 10 Books That Stayed With You" meme and, well, I love books. One thing lead to another and I had a mental list of books that made a mark on me and I couldn't help but join in. I still don't have a Facebook but, man, do I have a lot of thoughts about books.

It's a good meme. It doesn't ask you for your favorite books or your top five desert island picks, it asks for books that stayed with you, that you've carried around in your head and in your heart for untold years. These books made some kind of indelible mark on your soul. When I finally put my list to paper I was surprised by how... non-literary it was. I've read a ton of classic literature and yet I found myself placing other books ahead of Dracula or Jane Eyre. Science fiction and fantasy are, of course, hugely influential and it was funny to realize what an impression a trashy splatterpunk vampire novel made on me. Who knew?

So here is my list of the 10 books that stayed with me. Check out the list after the jump and add your own in the comments!

1. Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce: The fantasy novels of Tamora Pierce were huge influences on me as a young girl. I remember clearly how I got them. I was nine and we had just moved for the first time completely across the country. I knew absolutely no one. We moved right after the holidays, so I had a bookstore giftcard to burn. Back then, paperback books for kids were cheap as hell so I cleared out the shelf and bought eight Tamora Pierce books; the Song of the Lioness series and the Immortals series. I was probably pulled in by the stunning cover art. Alanna: The First Adventure is the first in the Song of the Lioness series and it follows a woman who wants to be a knight. There's magic and battle and intrigue. I loved them so much. I read them over and over and over. They showed me how strong women can be, how resourceful and valuable. To me, the works of Tamora Pierce should be classics of the fantasy genre. Huge, important books.

2. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: This is such an easy answer if you know me. I love Neverwhere to pieces. It was the first Neil Gaiman book I ever read. I was a sophomore in high school, lonely and angsty. The magical realism spoke to me. It showed a world that was magical right under our feet, hidden to all except a lucky few. I identified so strongly with Richard. I could understand the terror of being invisible because I felt so invisible in my day to day life. Neverwhere gave me hope that there was magic and adventure in the world at a time when I so dearly needed to hear it. Neverwhere became more than a book to me, it became a best friend. I will follow Neil Gaiman to the ends of the earth.

3. Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice: I know, I know, SO cliché. I can't help it! This is what gave me a taste for vampires that hasn't quit since. The book was lush and atmospheric, moody and adult. It was the first such novel I had ever read. I always read far above my grade level and I discovered Anne Rice in middle school. Louis and Lestat permanently altered the way I looked at vampires. They were fascinating creatures and I feel deeply in love with them. I read every single novel in the Vampire Chronicles (yes, even Memnoch the Devil!) but Interview stands out as the best.

4. Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite: Speaking of vampires... Lost Souls is a little known splatterpunk Southern horror novel about goth vampires in New Orleans. It's dark and desolate. I found it in high school, about the same time I discovered Neverwhere, and it spoke to my depressed little soul. The characters were strange, the author was strange, everything about it was alien. I can credit it with basically turning me into a teenage goth and my love of dark things that persists even now. There's murder and drug use and obscure music. The vampire Zillah would give Lestat a run for his money and the man character, Nothing, was a template I could throw my own angst and ennui into. Steve and Ghost are characters who are eternal fixtures in my brain. Lost Souls had a huge impact on me as a person and as a writer.

5. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: You all knew it was coming. The Harry Potter series (for I can not pick just one) was a MASSIVE deal to me. It was my introduction to book fandom and the first communal book reading experience I ever had. There's something intoxicating and fun about reading a book everyone is reading. There's so much excitement around it. I found so much to love in Hogwarts and the people who studied there. I loved Harry, my birthday buddy, and Hermione and Ron. I loved the idea of the houses, of belonging like that. I instantly knew I'd be a Slytherin, something that still impacts me (I even have a Slytherin lanyard that holds my daily train pass!). The stories of love and hope beating the forces of evil, of never giving up and the theme of friendship all spoke to me. I doubt there are many from my generation that didn't grow up with Harry and friends and carry around Hogwarts in their hearts.

6. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: I own probably a dozen copies of this book. I can't help it. Oscar Wilde had such an incredible way with words and I loved the way he portrayed the slow corruption of Dorian. I read it between Anne Rice novels so it fit thematically. It was a real look at evil, of ambition, of hedonism. The transformation Dorian undergoes is extreme and fascinating. I began my obsession with gothic literature here and was soon burying myself in novels about overcast moors and things that went bump in the night. Oscar Wilde will continue to be a massive influence on me.

7. The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft: Yup. I am a walking cliché. I embrace it. The Cthulhu mythos stories were some of the WEIRDEST things I had EVER read. I think that's what made them so appealing. It felt almost subversive to read them. Like I was part of a secret club or something. The Cthulhu stories get stuck in your head and will never, ever get out.

8. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood: This book scared the absolute and total shit out of me when I read it as a college freshman. I was feeling out my identity, becoming a dyed in the wool feminist and realizing that the world was much, much bigger than my little corner of it. I began to care deeply about politics. I credit this book with all of that. The story of Offred gave me nightmares and it's what I immediately think of every single time some mouthbreathing member of the GOP tries to act like I'm not a person because I'm a woman. This book terrified me, it made me angry and it made me leap into action to fight for my rights.

9. Asterix by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo: While virtually unknown in America, the Asterix comics are huge in Europe. My father had a bunch of them growing up and passed them down to my sister and I. She wasn't into them, so I took full custody of them. They're French comics about a little Gaul named Asterix who fights the good fight against the Romans who are just starting to invade their land (which would later become France). They're adorably drawn, the stories are clever and laugh out loud funny and they were way dirtier than my young mind realized at the time. They made me interested in history and shaped my sense of humor. Asterix meeting Cleopatra is one of my favorite volumes and involves dirty jokes told with hieroglyphics. How can you not love that?

10. A Child's Collection of Mythology and Folklore: I received a book from my aunt for my 5th birthday and it became the cornerstone of all of my interests. It's beautifully illustrated and huge, covering stories and myths from every culture on the planet. It still has a place of honor on my bookshelf today. It was my first introduction to mythology and gave me baseline knowledge of many folk tales from around the world. It introduced me to Coyote, one of my favorite mythological figures ever. I re-read stories about stone soup and giants and little girls outsmarting snow queens and Arabian princes. There were Norse gods and Greek gods, Baba Yaga and Gilgamesh. There were stories from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. This book was EVERYTHING to me growing up. It's one of my most treasured possessions. I can point to this book and without question lay at it's feet every interest and book I love now. This was the catalyst.   

Books that made an impact on me that didn't make the cut: The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, the stories of James Herriot, the stories of Damon Runyon, the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, the Adventures of Tintin by Hergé, Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, Matilda by Roald Dahl, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore (makes way more sense than the Bible) and Dracula by Bram Stoker. 
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  1. I, too, do not have a Facebook account, so you are not alone. :)

    I would have to add The Little Engine That Could, The Riddle of the Wren by Charles de Lint, the Witch World series by Andre Norton, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone.