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The Most Dog-Eared Books on My Shelves

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I was a reader long before I was a writer . . . and it was through my love of reading that I started writing. I may have mentioned before that the first fiction I ever put on paper was to continue the story of one of my favorite YA romance novels.

So I thought I’d pay a little homage to those books on my shelves which were/are my favorites, which are the most dog-eared, which are bound together with clear contact paper and/or shipping tape, some of which I continue to read even as an adult.

Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, By the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My mother read these to us when I was very young, and since learning to read, I’ve read these books at least once a year since. I now have them all on audiobook, which makes the annual read-through much easier—and more fun, because Cherry Jones, the actress who voices them, sings most of the songs to the accompaniment of a fiddle!

The Sunfire series of YA romance novels, especially Kathleen and Victoria. I still have this entire set of books—as a matter of fact, it’s only been in the last few years, since the proliferation of online used booksellers, that I have rounded out the complete collection with the addition of two or three titles I was missing. Kathleen is influential because it was the first one of these books I read. Victoria was my favorite out of all thirty-eight books, and is the one that led me to my first foray into fiction writing (and fan fiction). I loved it so much I decided I had to know what happened next, so I started writing the sequel. Which does still exist somewhere in my vast collection of notebooks and old Trapper-Keeper folders.

Walks the Fire by Stephanie Grace Whitson. This is the novel that got me into reading Christian/inspirational fiction again ten or so years ago.

Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. No surprise to anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while. While I find the other four novels enjoyable (though Emma is my least favorite), these are the two that I come back to time and time again—probably because the two heroes are my favorites of all the Austen heroes. Captain Frederick Wentworth and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy as written by Jane, not necessarily as presented in any of the film adaptations, resonate with me at a deeper level than any hero of any other romance novel I’ve ever read.

White Jade by Willo Davis Roberts, who wrote Victoria and several other titles in the Sunfire series. In fact, because WDR wrote my favorite Sunfire, I looked her name up in the card catalog at the Thomas Brannigan Memorial Library in Las Cruces, NM, and discovered this little gem of a YA gothic romance. It’s set in California in the mid- to late-19th Century and is written from a first-person POV, and it features two of my favorite romance novel plots: a brooding, slightly mysterious hero and a marriage of convenience. I was finally able to purchase this one a few years ago (again, thank goodness for online used booksellers!) and read it at least once a year.

The Tobey Heyden series by Rosamund du Jardin. The summer I was fifteen, in raiding the shelves at my grandparents’ home for something to read, I came across a little book entitled Practically Seventeen. Being practically sixteen (well, in about eleven months), I decided to give it a shot. It was one my aunt, who’s twenty years older than I, had owned it when she was a teen in the 1960s. The book was originally written in the 1940s, and the nostalgic feel of it—from sock-hops to wearing a boy’s class ring to summers spent at their lake house—as well as the pre-chick lit fun of the first-person viewpoint made it a much loved book. Again, in the last five or six years, I have gotten hold of all of the other Tobey Heyden books and enjoy reading them occasionally. But Practically Seventeen will always be my favorite.

A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind at the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle. Mom read the first one to us when we were in elementary school, and then I read the rest of them as an early teen (Many Waters sends twins Sandy and Dennys off on their own time-travel adventure).

The O’Malley Series (and Danger in the Shadows) by Dee Henderson. I devoured these romantic suspense novels involving the seven O’Malley siblings, each one in a high-danger/high-octane career, each one having to solve some crime or mystery, and each one falling in love with someone else involved in the circumstance. If I had to choose a favorite, I’d have to go with The Protector, because I think I’m still a little in love with Marcus O’Malley, no matter how many romantic heroes I’ve fallen in love with since the first time I read that book.

Along Came Jones by Linda Windsor. This is the best romantic comedy ever written. Want to know how the lid of a toilet tank can be used as a weapon? Just read this book!

Jude Deveraux’s Velvet series (Velvet Promise, Highland Velvet, Velvet Song, and Velvet Angel). Velvet Song was the first romance novel I ever read, even though I was probably too young to have been reading mainstream romance novels at twelve. But it was because of these books that I fell in love with reading. It’s also because of these that I fell in love with historicals, and gained my adoration of marriage of convenience/arranged marriage stories. (And, believe it or not, I was reading these books at the same time as I was devouring the Sunfire YA romances . . . how’s that for diversity of reading materials?)

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. About two years ago when the sixth book came out and all of the furor over these books started up once more, I decided that before I could weigh in on the debate as to whether or not I felt they were “bad” (i.e., glorified evil), I needed to be more familiar with them. So I Netflixed all three of the movies that were out at the time and watched all of them the same weekend (according to Netflix, they were shipped to me on 7/11/05—ironic, huh?). Well, I was hooked. So I bought a set that contained the first five books in paperback and over the next month or so, read all five of them (this while in graduate school supposed to be working on my thesis). I bought the sixth book in hard cover, because that was the only version available at the time—finished it in one weekend. Tomorrow, Thursday, I will be meeting up with Ruth and another gal to go see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (which opens tonight). Then next Friday, I’ll be at Barnes and Noble in Cool Springs for the release party for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows so that I can get my (reserved) copy at midnight and stay up all night reading the final installment. I have never been able to put my finger on exactly what it is that makes these books so addictive, but I’ve narrowed it down to her characters and her storytelling ability (because it sure isn’t her writing craft!).

What about you? What are some books that have been influential in your life—whether it’s those that you just enjoy reading again and again, those that have led you to a deeper understanding of yourself or God, or those that have made you a better writer?

  1. Wednesday, July 11, 2007 9:45 am

    Harry The Dirty Dog First series that remember loving. Must have borrowed these from the children’s library umpteen times. Now as a mother, I’ve had the pleasure of sharing them with each of my three sons, who have also loved them.

    The Happy Hollisters series — About a large family (six kids, I think?) who always found themselves in the middle of some mysterious adventure. What stuck out was the closeness and love that flowed through this family.

    Encyclopedia Brown — I remember devouring these. They were short, smart, and informative.

    The Little House series and the Little Women series. Can we say almost memorized? Many folks don’t realize that Little Women had sequels, including Jo’s Boy’s and Little Men. My mom bought the entire set for me in hardcover. (She was and is my biggest encourager!) Lost the ones she purchased but planning to gift myself with another set. In my testosterone-driven household, re-reading these will make me feel all girly again.

    The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. First time I read something that made me feel off-kilter. Really scared me. Other book that really scared me was Stephen King’s The Stand. Words have power.

    Steeple Hill Love Inspired books. Found them shortly after they first began, although I didn’t know it was a new line then. Fell in love with these books that were refreshing to my soul. Made me want to write.

    Arabesque Romances — A bit racier than Love Inspired but in my early 20’s that was less of an issue for me. Important thing was that here were contemporary stories about folks who looked and occasionally acted like me.

    Left Behind series. Forgetting controversy re: pre and post-millenial beliefs, this was first fiction I read that gave me goosebumps and truly made me think about eternity.

    Harry Potter series. I too ignored the hype until the first movie came out. Son wanted to go so I insisted on reading the book first. We were hooked so I bought the others then published and we caught up. Haven’t missed a book or movie since.

    Sorry this comment is so long but books have meant a lot to me.


  2. Wednesday, July 11, 2007 4:32 pm

    Oh, so many!

    Anything by Glenn Balch or John Richard Young. Margurite Henry too.

    Rosamund du Jardin…loved Practically Seventeen, and Wait for Marcy.

    Janet Lambert, nearly wore out my copy of Star Spangle Summer.

    Betty Cavanna’s Spring Comes Riding

    L.M. Montgomery…Anne, Emily of New Moon…loved them all.

    LHOTP…I had them memorized too.

    Cherry Ames nursing books.

    Zane Grey books. My friends and I passed them around. I LOVED them.

    And so many more.


  3. Wednesday, July 11, 2007 10:10 pm

    Eigth Moon, by Betty Bao Lord
    Mark of the Lion series, by Francine Rivers
    Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
    and as a child I loved Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon.

    Books are so fun!


  4. Thursday, July 12, 2007 7:20 am

    As you read my list, and my ambivalence over certain aspects of the piece I’m discussing, you’ll understand that I learn as much from what is done well in a novel as I learn from what is done poorly.

    The Stand by Stephen King is, in my opinion, one of the finest books ever published, although I could have done without the deus ex machina ending. Early King was brilliant, and by “early”, I would say anything before Christine. ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining were particularly brilliant.

    Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is an incredibly compelling story about a man’s search for redemption. That being sad, I will never again read the unabridged version. Hugo was an author of such acclaim at the time he wrote it that no one had the guts to edit him. Most abridged versions are too short and reduce the richness of the characters he created. The book should be roughly 700 pages, by my guess, as opposed to the 1200 page unabridged version or the typical 400 page abridged versions.

    Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck. I realize that’s not exactly a title most people think of when they think of him, but it’s an incredibly fun, episodic piece with brilliant characters. I once set out to write an episodic piece along the same lines, using the semi-abusive but funny interplay between Blackadder and Baldrick from the classic TV show “The Black Adder” as my templates. At the end of it, I realized I’d written a comedic version of Of Mice and Men.

    I don’t think I really have to tell anyone of the virtues of Mark Twain…

    Off the beaten path, but these should be considered classics soon:

    Anything by Joe R. Lansdale. His mystery novels often take on a tone telling you what it would be like if Mark Twain and Dashiell Hammett collaborated on something. His characters take on the kind of folksy mannerisms one would expect in a Twain novel, making for what I call “Redneck Noir”. His horror is often based on pretty radical story concepts— If you’ve seen “Bubba Ho-Tep” starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis, it was based on one of his short stories.


  5. Carol Collett permalink
    Friday, July 13, 2007 10:38 pm

    Charlotte’s Web-the first book I read all by myself. Still makes me cry.
    King’s The Stand and ‘Salem’s Lot just blow me away.
    Harry Potter-I love the characters.
    Kate DiCamillo’s books-she’s got an amazing gift for storytelling.
    The Higher Power of Lucky-the latest Newbery Medal book.
    I could go on, but I should stop here.


  6. luvbooks7 permalink
    Sunday, July 29, 2007 7:19 pm

    I hope its not too late to comment, I too loved the Little House books. All of them. The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, Everything by Judy Blume, Are you there, God, it’s me Margaret, was a reread.

    Oh wow sunfire and sweet dreams the teen series, I think I have some that I bought at a library sale, need to get the whole list to see which of the vast list that I still need.

    I read “adult” books at 11 or 12, Stephen King and Kathleen Woodiwiss!
    Love the Velvet series by Jude D.

    The Little Women books by Alcott, Yes I read Jo and Jo’s boys also.

    I know either Sweet Dreams or Sunfire had a book “Lisa”, well I had to get that one also.

    The Harry Potter books, I’m still waiting on the last one to arrive, missed out on getting it at one of the big stores, sad because its the end of an era, I wonder if people will ever get that excited about a book release again? I sure hope so!



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