I'm finally getting around to this meme, which was picked up by Peculiar through Steve. How could I resist such a list as this? The top ten books which have most influenced my life--a delightful prospect indeed. And then I began listing books, and, not surprisingly, came up with more than ten; so I decided to group them chronologically, according to four stages of my life. Most of them are favorites, but I think they are favorites in great part because of their influence.
Books encountered as a child:
Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I received this book for my fifth birthday, which makes it one of the first real books I read to myself. The near-perfect industry and harmony of the Wilders' farm is a vision I come back to almost daily, and I still love reading about food, too.
A Time to Keep, by Tasha Tudor.
I've wanted to live in Tasha Tudor's world my whole life--to step into one of her illustrations and go to a sugaring-off party, or the dolls' fair, or a marionette show in the barn. Another ideal vision. This book is one of Sam's favorites, too.
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame.
Three specific parts of me come from this altogether wonderful book: the desire for a cozy home like those of the animals, nestled underground or in the roots of trees or under riverbanks; a first taste of magic and mystery, awed and unnerved without knowing why by the piper at the gates of dawn; and the knowledge that I was not the only one to glory in the clean slate of winter and the stark bare bones of the land.
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis.
Because this list would simply be incomplete without Narnia--I've read them so many times that they are necessarily a part of me. My thoughts about creation draw heavily on The Magician's Nephew, my understanding of Christ is founded on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and my idea of heaven (as well as my beliefs about salvation) is pretty much straight out of The Last Battle.
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.
My parents gave me this book for Christmas when I was five, so I must have started reading it soon after that--I don't actually remember not having read it. At first I just read the beginning over and over, where Jane is a child, then as I grew older I ventured farther into the story. Jane's strength, honesty, and self-respect set my own standards.
Books encountered as a teenager:
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis.
Though I haven't re-read this book in years, it's like a security blanket on my shelf. It's never been packed up for longer than the duration of a move, and sat on my shelf all through college and during my summer in Alaska. The first time I read it I wanted to underline every sentence because he just said everything so well. I felt as though he'd given me words for my faith, and the ability to speak of it to others.
The Private Life of Tasha Tudor, by Tovah Martin.
I don't just want to live in Tasha Tudor's world, I want to be her. I think about her daily without even realizing it, when I go barefoot or pin up my hair into a bun or milk the goats or prop up a book on the counter while stirring a pot on the stove. Tasha Tudor has influenced my feelings about clothing, hairstyles, gardening, crafts, farm life, goats, history, art (my own and that of others), books, productivity, birthdays, Christmas, cooking, and, well, pretty much everything else that I like. Really the only things on which I disagree with her are corgis, primroses, and Hallowe'en. And marriage. And, I suppose, religion, since I never found it necessary to make up my own.
Farming for Self-Sufficiency, by John and Sally Seymour.
The discovery of this book was a revelation. Here was the practical knowledge for the visions that were already deeply ingrained.
The Day I Became An Autodidact, by Kendall Hailey.
Despite being homeschooled, I hadn't realized before reading this book that autodidacticism was (or ought to be) the goal of education. It's still my desire to read the way Kendall did.
Books encountered as a college student:
Pensees, by Blaise Pascal.
I was shaken by Pascal's diversions--the things we do to keep ourselves from thinking about who we are and who we ought to be. My blissful ignorance was gone forever.
Moonlight and Vines, by Charles de Lint.
After Odious read Pamela Dean's Tam Lin aloud to me freshman year, I asked him for recommendations in the fantasy genre. I'd always loved "white magic" books, as I called them as a child, like Edward Eager and E. Nesbit, but hadn't encountered any grown-up fantasy other than Tolkien. As we walked through Uncle Hugo's Bookstore in Minneapolis, Odious picked up this short story collection with the offhand remark that I might like it. In fact, it was an introduction to a new world of reading as well as writing. These were not only the kind of stories I wanted to read, they were also the kind I wanted to write. While I'm not as infatuated with de Lint as I was at first, his books have greatly changed the way I see the world. Because of his characters, I look closer at people that I otherwise might have ignored, and am reminded that every person is more than he may seem at first glance.
Books encountered as an adult:
How Children Learn, by John Holt.
I read this while working at a small church daycare, and was utterly amazed by Holt's insight and candor. The brilliant simplicity of his educational theories is wonderful, and I only wish I could convince more people to follow them.
Pilgrim's Inn, by Elizabeth Goudge.
I'd read some of Goudge's books as a child, enjoying the fantasy element without really noticing much else about them, but when I rediscovered her last year, I felt my life change again. She does not write comfortable books, in that she forces the reader out of complacency and into introspection, and yet I feel so comforted by them because she contradicts the modern philosophy that has always seemed wrong to me. I've already blogged about her focus on self-sacrifice, so will just reiterate that Elizabeth Goudge (in this book and its two companions especially) has made me act as well as think differently.