This is like asking which is my favorite child! Impossible to answer. Often my favorite is the one I’m reading in the moment. But here’s an attempt at writing about books that moved me or were somehow significant in my development as a reader and a writer:
Station Eleven. This is the book that’s most captivated my imagination in recent years. I’ve read it at least four times. I’ve been a long time fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, going back to my first foray into the genre in my teens, but this book adds something fresh to the conversation. The author, Emily St. John Mandel, calls it “a love letter to our world,” and I think that’s what I adore about it.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This book is a perfect example of how kids can see themselves in books that don’t precisely represent them. Francie is different from me in many ways: an Irish immigrant living at the start of the twentieth century. And yet I felt like I was reading a kindred soul’s story when I discovered it as a kid. As a poor, scared kid from an immigrant family, this is the first book that made me feel seen.
Tiger Eyes. Who doesn’t love Judy Blume, right? I could list half a dozen of her books that meant something to me as a kid. But Tiger Eyes did something special for me. It helped me see that a character (and a girl!) could be angry, and surly, and not know the answers. Having been raised on “can do” protagonists like Nancy Drew, who felt so unlike me, (nothing but love for Nancy, btw!), Davey in Tiger Eyes gave me permission to dream up flawed protagonists. I love this book.
The Handmaid’s Tale. I read this book back when it came out in the 80s (way before I should have, maybe!) and it was an eye-opening and disturbing read. But perhaps what I loved most about it was that epilogue, in which scholars are discussing the “historical” time period of the story in cold, academic terms. I still yearn to include something like that in one of my books!
I realize I’ve only listed female authors. Hmmm. I swear that wasn’t intentional but I’m kind of happy about it too. The guys get a lot of credit all on their own.
And of course this is a ridiculously abridged list! My goal is to keep adding to it. This is a start!