Every writer has a list of books that shaped them. These are the books that made me a writer.
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Most writers can list books that made them decide to start writing. Whether it was the way the author used language, or the feelings the stories evoked, I have always kept a list of books that pushed me on this path toward writing. And today, I’m sharing the books that made me a writer.
Elementary School Books That Made Me a Writer
This was a book my mom read out loud to me before I was at an age where I really wanted to read on my own. I remember wanting to be an orphan who lived in a boxcar so bad because of this book, but never really connected the loss of my parents with the concept. Fast forward roughly 26 years, and I would still gladly live in a boxcar. Only, I guess the cool and hip thing these days is to live in a shipping container.
This is the book that helped me make the conscious decision to be a writer in the second grade. I liked how the characters in this book seemed so real. The parents argued about money, and there was a terrible jerk of a boy who rode Ramona’s bus. It was like real life. And none of this was like an episode of Full House where no one really had issues but still learned a family lesson by the end.
I read this book in the third grade, and I remember it being the first time a book really made me cry. For those not familiar, it’s about a young teenage girl and her relationship with her uncle, Punky, who has Down Syndrome. It was probably the first time I ever read a book in a day.
My elementary school library had an illustrated version of The Hobbit, and I checked it out in the fifth grade. Up to that point, I had never heard anything about the book despite having an uncle who loves Tolkien, and an aunt with a cat named Gandalf. Needless to say, a lifelong love was born. Oh, and if you want to see me dressed as Frodo and read a supremely depressed Marisa, here you go.
Middle School Books That Made Me a Writer
In middle school, this books was required reading in my sixth grade reading/writing workshop class, and required reading in my eighth grade English class. I don’t know why the overlap existed, especially since both classes were required. But I’m really glad I had to read this twice, because it’s still one of my favorite books today, and it’s pretty much the one thing I make any potential boyfriend read. (Yes, I have read the sequels Lowry wrote recently. No, I don’t care for them at all. No, I haven’t seen the movie and I absolutely refuse to.)
In the eighth grade, we finally read The Outsiders, and I got to see what all the fuss was about. I loved this depiction of Oklahoma, and the overall grittiness of it. I felt so many of the books that were marketed to me or written for a kid my age were overly sweet and suburban-feeling. But this book had a body count, and dealt with social class differences that I was experiencing (although, not as overtly or dangerously).
High School Books That Made Me a Writer
Real talk: The wifi network at my house is named after the house that Miss Havisham lived in. #SpinsterLyfe I will read Dickens all day long, and contend that any adaption of A Christmas Carol is a better Christmas movie than anything else. And even though Hard Times is definitely my favorite Dickens novel, reading Great Expectations freshman year of high school will always stand out in my memory.
My junior English teacher had a bunch of Phish posters, and she let me and my group read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for a semester project. While I hate the way women are regarded in this book (and in like 98% of the books by white men written before 2000 — and some after), I can’t deny that being exposed to this at age 17 definitely changed my world view.
That very same junior English teacher let me read Light in August for the other semester project. I will openly admit that I didn’t get all the complexities and details of the story at that age. But I’m so happy I was exposed to it at that age, and recommend more Faulkner be taught in high school.
So, everyone by now should know that I try to sit on a bench dedicated to Ralph Ellison on OU’s campus often. Ellison, and Oklahoma-born writer and part of the Harlem Renaissance, was the first Oklahoma writer of color that I ever read, and I absolutely love his style. I’m eternally grateful this book was on the AP Literature reading list, and that I got to read it.
There is one line in this book that changed my life when I read it. Huck has been led to believe that he should turn in Jim because he’s a runaway slave since it’s the right and moral thing to do. But he chooses not to, ultimately deciding to follow his own moral compass, saying, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.” I’ve wanted to get that tattooed on my wrist ever since, and it also made me want to write about the complexities of morality, and how easily bastardized religion can be to support evil causes.
What Books Made You a Writer?
What books stand out in your mind as important to shaping who you are? Which books changed how you approach your life? Did you ever pick up a book and realize you were tippy toeing up on your destiny?