Books That Changed My Life

Hurry up, Slowpoke was one of the first books I was able to read myself. Simon Mouse is a slowpoke who lags behind his mother and sister and winds up having a fantastic adventure on his own. It was the start of my journey as a lifelong reader. I recently found a copy of it at a used book sale, probably the Kilbourn Library’s, and snatched it up. 

The Boxcar Children series was a favorite when I was in elementary school. Again, part of the appeal may have been the freedom the Alden children had. Orphans Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny have to fend for themselves and have incredible adventures along the way. Looking at the books now, I feel a sense of wanderlust. I also marvel at the gender stereotypes—boys in short pants, girls with kerchiefs. Still, opening the book brings back wonderfully quaint childhood memories. The series encouraged my imagination, a gateway to becoming a writer. 

The Trixie Beldon mystery series was a favorite when I was in middle school. Trixie and her pretty (and rich) friend, Honey, put their lives at risk in books such as The Mystery of the Whispering Witch or The Mysterious Visitor. Besides being page turners, I loved being transported into exotic, unfamiliar settings such as haunted mansions. This series could have prompted my love of travel. 

The book that helped decide my teaching career was Catherine Marshall’s Christy. The young teacher taught in an Appalachian school amidst poverty and superstitions. As an idealistic young woman, I wanted to do the same. I’ve reread it several times and it continues to hold magic. Fascinating because of the Cutter Gap 

culture and superstitions, romantic because of the two men in Christy’s life, and suspenseful because of not knowing what choices she’ll make. Christy has it all. 

Big Red, The Yearling, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, and My Friend Flicka were favorite animal stories. The sadder the stories were, the more I remembered and cherished them. Bring on the tears! Reviewers have mentioned my skill at writing animal characters. My admiration of these emotion-driven books may have helped. 

Books were deciding factors in naming my daughters. “Heather” conjures up images of the moors in the classic Wuthering Heights. “Heidi” evokes memories of the vibrant young orphan traveling to the Alps and helping turn her grumpy goat-herding grandfather into a happy, loving man. Heather is an organic farmer at heart, and Heidi does exude joy and happiness. A coincident? Maybe not. 

Black Elk Speaks, edited by John Neihart, the story of the Oglala Lakota visionary and healer living from 1863-1950, stirred my interest in Native American culture and spirituality. Black Elk was seriously ill as a child and had a mystical vision. He spent his life hoping to heal and help his people. Summing up the meaning of the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, Black Elk wrote: “And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.” 

And finally, compilations of essays such as Jacqueline Mitchard’s The Rest of Us and Anna Quindlen’s Loud and Clear showed me it was possible to combine favorite 

columns into a book. My Laugh, Cry, Reflect: Stories From a Joyful Heart resulted from that discovery. 

Reading is a bonding experience. My mother and I shared a love of reading and she introduced me to authors such as James Michener, Leon Uris, and Sidney Sheldon. Discussing books brought us closer together. 

Similarly, when I first met my given son as a four-year-old, he and I read and reread his favorite book, The Tales of Peter Rabbit. Being able to cuddle with him and share the antics of the naughty rabbit brought us closer. 

Globally, sharing books is one way I’m able to feel part of a larger community. Joining celebrity reading clubs, local and national book clubs, or enjoying classics most people have read, such as The Grapes of Wrath, unites us. 

I’ve kept a reading log since 1993, rating each of the books I’ve read. I’ll keep writing the logs because books, I know, will continue to change my life.

4 Replies to “Books That Changed My Life”

Gayle Rosengren

I loved this essay about how reading has expanded and enhanced your life in a myriad of ways and reminding us how truly “fun-damental” it is to our humanity.

Amy Laundrie

Thank you, Gayle, for chiming in. Sharing favorite books with friends is a highlight of my life. Read on!

Sue Berk Koch

What a lovely summary of how books influenced your life! Thank you for sharing it with us.

Amy Laundrie

Books, like dear friends, help to bring us joy.

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