In My Own Words

The Books That Shaped Me

I was recently challenged to compile a list of ten books I consider the most influential in my life. I have read HUNDREDS of books, so this is really hard for me. Anybody who knows me knows I can rarely be found without a book in my hand or packed in whatever oversized mom bag I am carrying that day. 

My first “real job” was working as a page at Mt. Lebanon Library. It was perfect – I lived next door to it, they worked around my sports schedule, and I got to spend time surrounded by books. They are my escape. They are my security blanket. They are my sanity. 

I also have so many different genres of books that I love. My living room is my personal library with books divided by topic and age. But, if I had to pick ten books that have shaped me in some way, I think this is about the best I could do.

  1. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  2. Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus
  3. Emily of New Moon  by L.M. Montgomery
  4. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
  5. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  6. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  7. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  8. Dark Tower by Stephen King
  9. The Shining by Stephen King
  10.  Lyrics of a Lowly Life by Paul Laurence Dunbar

This list is clearly all over the place. How can The Giving Tree and The Shining be on the same list? Nobody told me my list had to make sense, just that I should put a list together. I am going to break this down into two entries, otherwise this post will be never ending.

Let me start with The Giving Tree. I think most people have read this book or had this book read to them. It is a beautiful story of a boy and a tree who love each other. But, as the boy grows up, we see how his relationship with the tree changes and how his needs change. One thing I love about this book is how even though the words stay the same, the story changes as we get older. We are able to relate to both the boy and the tree, depending on what relationship we are comparing it to. To whom am the boy and to whom am I the tree? 

Hope for the Flowers is a charming story of a caterpillar named Stripe. It says on the cover that it is “a tale – partly about life, partly about revolution and lots about hope, for adults and others (including caterpillars who can read).” We follow Stripe on his journey of love, loss, self doubt and self discovery. As somebody who has lived with depression and anxiety since I was a teen, this book has given me hope and encouragement. Even when things feel dark, there is always hope!

Most people are familiar with Anne of Green Gables but much fewer know Emily of New Moon by the same author. Emily of New Moon is the first of three books in the trilogy. This book absolutely captivated me as a young girl, maybe around age 10. It was this book and the beautiful description of Prince Edward Island that first sparked an interest in me to see new places and take risks. (Even though I have yet to visit PEI!) This book (and the two that followed) were more than just my first real “coming of age” book, but my first real experience with a strong, bold, outspoken and adventurous heroine. Emily and her story gave me permission to be all of those things in my own life. 

I first read Jonathan Livingston Seagull probably around 14 or 15-years-old, and have read it at least 20 times since. I like to start every new year rereading this story of an inspired seagull in constant search of personal greatness. In fact, I love this book so much that I have a seagull tattoo on my left shoulder. I love having the reminder to never accept anybody else’s limits and to continue striving for the next level of my best self. It is a short read with a lasting impact.

The last book I’m going to share on this first half of my list is one which people seem to have strong feelings about one way or another. My guess is most of us had it as mandatory reading in high school, and who really wants mandatory anything! Holden Caulfield and Catcher in the Rye came into my life as a 10th grade student at Mt. Lebanon High School. (Guilty confession, I stole my high school copy and still have it with all my highlighting and dog eared pages.) Why I liked it at 15 and why I like it at 42 are different, though. At 15, I related to Holden’s internal struggle of figuring out who he was versus who people thought he should be. Now, as an adult, I see the book and Holden quite differently, and I see Holden in a lot of people around me. Holden dislikes others for the traits he dislikes in himself. I think we all know a few people who take issue with us for some unknown reason. This book has helped me realize that often it is people’s own “inner Holden” that is causing them to be defensive and not anything I have done.

​I will get the run down of the next five books up sometime next week and then you can figure out why I can put a terrifying tale of a haunted hotel alongside a classic children’s book!