We all have those books that changed the way we grew up, whether they were children’s books read to us or just something in school that made us see the world differently. I’ve been thinking about the books that influenced my world growing up and shaped how I see and enjoy things today.
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder – This is probably the youngest book I remember as being 100% formative. I got my love of the almost-paranormal from this book. Plus I discovered, when I went back and reread as an adult, that many of my writing quirks came from Snyder’s writing. It had far more influence on me that I realized at the time.
The Eternal Enemy by Christopher Pike – In my early teens, I read a lot of cheesy supernatural books, but this one stood out. There’s one particular moment that I can’t reveal re: spoilers, and it changed the way I thought of personhood, identity, and consequences. Though I haven’t even seen this book since I was twelve or so, I still remember it powerfully.
Singularity by William Sleator – I didn’t read a lot of full on sci-fi as a kid, but I did enjoy the occasional Sleator book, and this one stood out from the rest. There’s a teen who spends a year following a very specific routine in terms of exercise, including running and calisthenics, and there’s still a part of me 25+ years later that thinks in terms of “running-pushups-situps” as the ultimate fitness advice. Ha!
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – I read this one in school for my high school junior English class. While most people find Faulkner painful to read, I fell in love. I was experimenting with different writing styles at the time, and had never read anything even remotely resembling an experimental form. This book opened my eyes to writing that not only broke the rules but made up its own rules.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – I read this book when I was 20 and about to start my third year in college. In the past, I’d spent a lot of time emotionally connecting with music and song lyrics, but had yet to come across a book that spoke to me on an individual, personal level. That’s what The Bell Jar gave me – a chance to connect with books on a level that I’d never experienced before. The experience was profound and life-changing.
I’ve had influential books since I was 20, of course, and many of them have redirected my life in some way. But I always think of the formative period mostly being confined to childhood and adolescence, with a small snaking out into those college-aged years, and so this collection of five are really the Manda-canon of formative books.