A few weeks ago, there was a meme going around Facebook: “List 10 books that have stayed with you. Don’t think too hard about it — they just have to be books that touched you.” And I played along, because BOOKS, right?! But Facebook posts slide down the timeline and essentially disappear, so I’m making a note of the ten books I chose here, and adding a little what’s-special-about-them too. These are in no particular order of importance, but only the order in which they came to my mind as I set out to make the list.
1) Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey — this book was, I think, the first adult speculative fiction novel I ever read; I was probably fourteen or so (can’t remember the exact year), and my uncle gave Dragonflight to me for Christmas, opening my eyes to a world beyond children’s literature and the school library’s painfully appropriate-for-our-students YA selection. Also, telepathic ride-able beautiful dragons — I still want one.
2) Outlander by Diana Gabaldon — this book opened my eyes to the idea that genres don’t have to fit into narrow pockets; it’s a rich blend of romance and historical fiction and fantasy, and it’s hard proof that a book (or series!) doesn’t have to be easily describable or fall neatly into a bookstore category to have a huge fan following and be madly appealing. Also, men in kilts.
3) Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey — this book pushed my comfort boundaries with its BSDM component and people-as-property and sex-without-love and sex-for-money, while being so compellingly written that I couldn’t put it down; the world of Terre D’Ange is so rich and fully developed that I was able to accept and absorb the uncomfortable elements as being part of that world. Also, Joscelin Verreuil.
4) Rivals by Jilly Cooper — this book is my favourite of all Jilly Cooper’s Rutshire Chronicles, because of Rupert & Taggie, but all of them together showed me that romance doesn’t require a straightforward plot with one obvious hero; it can be complicated, with multiple side plots, and the characters can fall in and out of bed and love with the wrong or right partners along the way, as long as everything ends up all right. Also, horses and television studios.
5) Flambards by K.M. Peyton — this book might possibly be the first “complicated” love story I fell in love with as a teenager; the characters face real challenges of social class and poverty and powerlessness and family conflict and war, and the emotional arcs and relationships are delicately and subtly handled… and it holds up well to re-reading at various ages and stages, so it’s not just for YA fans. Also, early 20th century setting (a favourite era) and history of airflight.
6) Friday by Robert A. Heinlein — many years ago, this book offered my first exposure to a protagonist with non-traditional relationship choices; the political and moral values aren’t perfect, but I’ll always cherish Friday because it was the first novel to take me beyond heteronormative monogamy for the major characters (rather than just token supporting characters). Also, a ninja-superhero-spy heroine with a secret bellybutton courier pocket.
7) Tam Lin by Pamela Dean — to me, this book is the quintessential college/university novel; it so exquisitely captures life in residence, higher-education bureaucracy, and the experience of academic and social exploration (with some dark urban fantasy elements thrown in for spice). Also, rich allusions to so much literature — I spot more every time I re-read it.
8 ) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen — this book is a classic, for good reason; it has everything I want from a romance (the need to overcome one’s own genuine flaws and society’s obstacles, an external problem that truly threatens to derail everything, side plots and fully developed supporting characters so it’s not too linear, plus a beautifully romantic ending) and it has stood the test of time. Also, Mr. Darcy.
9) Complications by Atul Gawande — this book taught me that books aren’t only for fiction or school; I’ve always been a huge fiction reader, but when I was stuck with nothing to read (in a time before e-books and instant downloading) and borrowed this fascinating collection of essays off my doctor brother’s bookshelf, I discovered a taste for medical and scientific non-fiction which opened windows into hospitals and laboratories for me. Also, awesome prose.
10) Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome — this book (and the series that follows it) epitomizes childhood adventure for me; there’s a character for every child to identify with (I was never sure whether I wanted to be artistic dreamer Titty Walker or pirate captain Nancy Blackett) and a smooth blend of realistic and imaginative elements to their camping and sailing excursions. Also, the food — bunloaf, seed cake, buttered eggs, pies, chocolate…
It would be so easy to over-think this list, to go back and say, “Oh, maybe Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild was a more influential children’s book for me than Swallows and Amazons, and maybe I should have put Riders as my Jilly Cooper choice since it’s first in the series, and should I have picked Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth as my representative bit of non-fiction?”
But I won’t do that. This was my list of ten as they first came to mind, and they’ll be forever on my bookshelf.