The Top Ten Books That Have Influenced Me

So, this challenge has been going around facebook and it’s really annoying me that I haven’t been nominated yet. I’ve been an avid reader since I learned how to read and quite frankly, I’m a little insulted that no one’s nominated me. So, I’m taking it upon myself to nominate myself and just do it. Right here, right now. Because I want to, and because why not?

This was super difficult and I’m not quite sure if I can possibly rank them from 1-10, as that’s just mean. To the books.They all have influenced me in some way and those ways are all important. So, this is just a list, and a list has to start somewhere, right? Without further ado, here I go!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
I read this book for the the first time when I was sixteen and was like, whatever. It took me way too long to read and I didn’t really get it. I really wanted to get it mind you and I wanted to love it, but I didn’t. After rereading it this past summer before heading off to Washington D.C., I was blown away. In the five years since I first read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, my literary tastes have changed drastically and I’ve grown to appreciate literature that I would have found to be quite uninteresting as a younger person. Francie Nolan is arguably one of the wisest young women in literature. In any other context, her intellectual breadth would seem unrealistic for her age, but because of her circumstances, her character makes sense. She is an absolutely inspiring and beautiful character. I appreciate this book so unbelievably much. During my second reading of it, it taught me that there is always something to be thankful for, even in the darkest of times. This book is so beautiful and I am in debt to it for the way it made me question my own circumstances and ponder what the most important things in life really are.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

This book changed my life in the sense that it was the biggest confidence booster I have ever had. I spent much of my teenage years being aware of my introverted nature; however, I often tried to repress this part of me because, for some strange reason, I got it in my head that there was something inherently wrong with introversion. This book made me realize that being an introvert is not just okay, but normal. Being an introvert is something that makes me me, and if people have a problem with that, to hell with them. I honestly don’t think I would be the person I am today without reading this book. It not only boosted my confidence, but also brought to my attention a lot of really useful attributes that are common in introverts and are often overlooked in our extremely extroverted-oriented society.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

To say that I adore Jane Eyre is an understatement. I’ve read it four times now since the first time I opened the book in sixth grade and I like to peruse it every now and again just for fun. I find Jane Eyre to be such a relatable character despite her circumstances as a poor unwanted orphan who ends up at the most unpleasant boarding school around (and that’s just the beginning). Jane’s struggles are really universal–a need to feel understood and loved and a need to feel useful–and I love how Brontë is able to convey this connection between her character and her readers, despite their very probable differences. I have learned so much about myself from this book and I truly feel like there is a bit of Jane Eyre in everyone. This is my favorite book in the whole world (just an FYI I distinguish favorite books from influential books, though they do often overlap) and I don’t know what I would do without it.

Little House on the Prairie (the series) by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I can’t pick one, I just can’t. I credit these books for stimulating my interest in history and turning me into the voracious reader that I am. I loved them because they took place in the Midwest (By the Banks of Plumb Creek takes place in my home state of Minnesota) and for the colorful characters Wilder created (sure, the real Mr. Edwards probably wasn’t as jolly as the one portrayed in the book, but how can you not love his fictional representation?) I fell in love with the Ingalls family while reading these books (the TV show that I would frequently watch on reruns certainly helped with this) and I wanted to be just like Laura when I grew up. These books have influenced me in more ways than one and again, I can’t imagine my life without them. (On a side note, Laura’s actual autobiography, which was originally rejected by publishers and instead led her to write her acclaimed series, will be released soon. I’m looking forward to seeing how her true memories play out in comparison to her fictionalized accounts. Laura was such a big part of my childhood and I hope that, with her autobiography, she will become a part of my adult life as well.)

 Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Another book from my childhood that has had a profound impact on me. Anne Shirley and her world were the source of multiple daydreams for me. I wanted to live in a house just like Anne’s; I dreamed of driving through a Lover’s Lane with a future boyfriend and I wished for a Lake of Shining Waters in my backyard. More importantly, Anne’s optimism and sense of adventure inspired me to dream big. Her willingness to see the beauty in everything instilled a belief within me that there is beauty everywhere, even if you have to search extra hard for it. Anne Shirley remains to me a reminder of all the good in the world; her spunk and quirkiness remind me that it’s okay to be different, and her constant inquisitiveness remind me to question everything.

I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust by Livia Bitton-Jackson

Around sixth or seventh grade, I developed this extreme interest in the Holocaust. Perhaps as a history lover who was beginning to understand how cruel the world can be, an interest in the Holocaust was a perfect fit for me. I Have Lived a Thousand Years was the first book I read that explicitly dealt with life in Auschwitz and other concentrations camps. Furthermore, the main character, young Livia, who was known as Eli Friedmann as a child, was close to my age. A thirteen year old living through the Holocaust is hard to imagine, and yet she does. Though a book about the Holocaust that does go into detail, it is a book targeted at younger teen readers, and therefore Bitton-Jackson approaches the subject as such–it is detailed, but not necessarily graphic. I Have Lived a Thousand Years was a way for me to understand the Holocaust in thirteen-year old terms. While I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to fully understand the Holocaust, I definitely have a more mature understanding now than I did at thirteen, an understanding that I didn’t need to have at that age; I Have a Thousand Years helped with that. I Have Lived a Thousand Years made the Holocaust real for me and it had such an impact on me that I used it as my prose piece in speech during my junior year of high school.

Ordinary People by Judith Guest

I really need to read this book again. It was assigned summer reading for my AP English course in 12th grade. I remember everyone else in class really didn’t care for it, and there was me, who loved it. The magic in Ordinary People is that it is, simply put, about ordinary people. It is an incredibly sad story, but it is a sad story that could happen to anyone. It was this realistic nature of the story that got to me. At that point, my life had been relatively easy. I grew up in a middle class home in the suburbs with two parents who loved their children. As much as I loved to think I had troubles, I really didn’t. Ordinary People was this view into these seemingly normal lives that were so marked by pain and I just found it fascinating. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I would like to go back and revisit this book to see what I think of it now. At the time, I found it to be extremely powerful and I really wonder if I’d feel the same now. Regardless, it had a huge impact on my life at the time and it wouldn’t be right to exclude it from this list.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Another book that I should reread. Owen Meany is this incredibly complex character who is difficult to understand, yet he is this immense force who is impossible to forget. Honestly, this is a tough one because I can’t even fully describe  exactly how Owen Meany has influenced me. I read it in 12th grade, again for my AP English class, and was so struck by it. Perhaps reading it again would give me a clearer idea of why this book is so important. I loved it and it spoke to me and I feel almost foolish that I can’t say why. Perhaps it is Owen Meany’s complexities themselves that had an impact on me. Regardless, his character is utterly unforgettable and this is a book that will stay with me forever.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Okay, so I was really hesitant about including Bovary, because I have mixed feelings about the book in general. There were some parts of it I loved, but by the ending I became pretty disenchanted by it all. Regardless of all that, I would be lying if I failed to say that it has influenced me. I read it this summer while in D.C., and it took forever, partly because it’s super long and partly because I was in Washington D.C. and didn’t make reading my main priority besides a few precious minutes every morning while eating breakfast. Anyways, why is this book so important then? How is it influential? Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about love. What is love, really? Can it really be boiled down to one simple and easy definition? I really don’t think it can be. Madame Bovary has a lot of commentary about love because, well, the whole idea of love is this never ending problem for Emma Bovary. Her expectations of what love should be are quite ridiculous and she doesn’t understand love at all or how it relates to life, which ultimately leads to her unfortunate demise. If you’ve read anything more from my blog, you’ll recall that I recently posted a short commentary about one of my favorite quotes from the book regarding this issue. Madame Bovary is way more complex than simply this issue of love, but it’s the aspect of the book that I was most in tune to and what has stuck with me. There is much more that can be said about this book, but Emma’s understanding, or lack of understanding of love, is what impacted me the most.

Harry Potter (the series) by J.K. Rowling

Alright, so I’ll admit I feel like this is kind of cliche to put down. After all, Harry Potter is one of the largest book-to-movie franchises to date and all that. Despite this, like many people from my generation who grew up with Harry Potter, the stories have influenced me extensively.These books ignited my imagination like no other. Furthermore, although I didn’t realize it when I was younger, they allowed me to question reality in a perfectly healthy and logical way by immersing myself in another world that was similar in many ways, but different enough to be new and exciting. Harry Potter taught me that the world is full of magic, you just have to go looking for it. These books brought me characters that I fell in love with and settings that felt like home. The Harry Potter series will always remain a favorite for me. They are so important and so special to myself and many others.

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10 thoughts on “The Top Ten Books That Have Influenced Me

  1. Reblogged this on It's a Britta Bottle! and commented:

    I want to write more about books. When I started this blog, I intended to write about books if not frequently, at least a little more than occasionally. I even made a page at the top of my blog that will take you to all my posts about books in anticipation of this. I don’t necessarily want to write book reviews, but rather to discuss books as living, breathing entities that have affected me in one way or another. It’s difficult, though, in school, because although I am reading a lot for my history and English majors, it is rather unlikely for me to feel inspired by a book when it becomes another homework assignment to complete–no matter how wonderful it is.

    I haven’t written about books lately, but I have been thinking about this post from the earliest days of this blog. This is one of my all time favorite posts from this blog, and I would say the first post that I am most proud of. So take a trip back in time to September with me, where I discussed the top ten books that have influenced me most. 🙂

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  2. Other than HP, I don’t think I’ve read any of the above. However, I’m looking at my shelf and I have Jane Eyre, Mme. Bovary, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and A Prayer for Owen Meany. Actually, wait…I read Anne, but only the first one. Same with Laura Ingalls Wilder. My mother used to teach about the pioneer days in her classroom, but stopped using Laura Ingalls Wilder because it was boring, in comparison with something fictional.

    Re: writing about books, I feel the same way. It’s just that since I’ve started my PhD, I have so little time and energy for pleasure reading that sometimes I end up reviewing books for class or research, and even one time going back and reviewing something I read awhile back. Last semester I read all of two books for pleasure. I’m doing a little better this semester; I read 2 more over break, and am in the middle of a 3rd at the moment.

    Have a good one Britta!

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    1. I highly recommend all of them, of course. That is, if you ever get around to reading them with working on your PhD and all. Oh goodness, here I am thinking, how could anyone find Little House on the Prairie boring? Then again, I am a history nerd and now that I think about it, the first two books are rather choppy; the story doesn’t really pick up until On the Banks of Plumb Creek.

      Well, I thought I was busy with reading as an undergraduate, but I’m sure you have much more. I usually don’t even get through one book for pleasure during the semester–not necessarily because I don’t have the time, but because when I do have down time, I want to do something other than reading since I already do so much for class. It’s a shame, really. I’ve been in the middle of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter since the beginning of January!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Jacob!

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  3. A Prayer for Owen Meany is my favourite book ever. Quiet was a really important book in my life too. It came along at just the right time. About 5 years ago I had my first panic attack ever. My anxiety quickly got out of hand after that. I developed agoraphobia and could not leave my house without having a series of panic attacks. I couldn’t even put on my shoes without having a panic attack. After 2 years of that I finally got real help (therapy, not drugs). The book came out when I was almost better. It made me embrace my introversion, rather than want to fight it to try and fit it. It really helped me understand myself and love myself more. I do not have panic attacks anymore. I’ve been free from them for over 2 years. I don’t even feel anxoius (without good reason) anymore.

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    1. That’s such a wonderful story, Amy! The impact books can have on us is simply amazing. Quiet really is a life changer and I’m so glad I read it when I did. Panic attacks are the worst–I’ve only had one in my life, a couple years ago, but it was one of my scariest moments ever. When I was having really bad anxiety, I tried medication and it only made me depressed–I, too, found that therapy worked best for me. It really is amazing what a book can do, though.

      Like I said in my post, I think I have to read Owen Meany again someday. I love it and it spoke to me, but I really have no idea why.

      Thank you for sharing, Amy. I’m so glad you’ve been anxiety attack free for such a long time.

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      1. I was prescribed antidepressants about a year into my anxiety/panic disorder. I took ONE pill. A few hours later I became violently ill. I thought I was going to die. The stupid thing had a half-life that lasted days. After I stopped being sick, I was more anxious than I was without the meds until it finally got flushed out of my system. I refused to even try any other medication after that. I’m glad it happened thouhgh. If drugs helped, I probably never would have sought out therapy, and I know without therapy, I never would have truly “fixed” the problem.

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      2. I only took them for three or four days and recall feeling depressed for a few more weeks afterwards.
        I agree–I know some people find medication to be extremely helpful, but I’m not keen on depending on a drug to make me feel better.

        Liked by 1 person

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