Since yesterday was Thanksgiving, I'm going to copycat Looks & Books and list the books I'm grateful for.
Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Believe it or not, I had trouble learning to read and at the end of first grade, was still struggling. At the start of the summer vacation, I picked up my mother's old copy of Little House in the Big Woods and was immediately engrossed and in the space of ten minutes, mastered reading utterly. I read the entire Little House series that summer, along with most of the Betsy-Tacy series, and several other books. Over the course of my life, I've reread the books countless times and read them aloud to my children. Laura's character--her fearlessness and independence--hugely influenced my own. This is one of those series in which the illustrations are as much a part of the book as the words. I can't imagine these stories without the beautiful illustrations by Garth Williams.
Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery
Of all the characters I've encountered in literature, Anne is the most real. The books are alternately funny and tragic. It's hilarious when Anne accidentally gets Diana drunk, but I always cry when Matthew dies. I love the entire series, which concludes when Anne is in her forties and her children are grown.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Another book I read that summer after first grade. Mary Lennox, raised in India, is sent to England to live with her uncle after her parents die of cholera. She has been ignored by her parents, allowed to tyrannize her nanny, and at age 10 is as spoiled a brat as you will ever see in literature but her new life in England, where no one is willing to spoil her, effects a marvelous transformation on her character. The Tasha Tudor illustrations are essential. The Secret Garden was another important piece of the phalanx of comfort literature with which I armed myself in childhood. It was my mother's too. When she learned she was dying, she called me and asked me to bring her copy of The Secret Garden to her in the hospital.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
This is the book that made me want to be a writer. I know, everybody says that, but it's true. At any rate, it must only inspire people who are already inclined to be writers. My kids have all read it and none of them say it made them want to be writers. Anyway, it's not just about writing, it's about a girl who unwittingly causes her nanny to be fired and suddenly finds herself rejected by her peers. I read Harriet when I was seven and immediately started my own spy notebook. I still have it. My seven-year old observations of my siblings, parents, neighbors, and the shopkeepers of Eggertsville, NY are hilarious. My mother observed me with my spy notebook and gave me a diary for my 8th birthday and I have been keeping a handwritten journal ever since.
The Diary of Anne Frank.
I read this book twice before I turned ten and was too young to understand it. I didn't fully comprehend the horror of the holocaust, I was appalled at Anne's crush on Peter, but I immediately grasped the concept of diary as confidante. Now I am grateful to Anne Frank for writing--I believe this is the last line in the diary before she and her family were discovered by the Nazis-- "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart."
The Wizard of Oz books by L. Frank Baum
If you are familiar only with the famous first book in this series, then you are deprived because there are fourteen books in the series and The Wizard of Oz is not the best. I am partial to The Road to Oz and Ozma of Oz and we owned the entire series--they had been my mother's when she was a child-- and she read them all out loud to us. It seems like it took my entire childhood to get through every book, but we loved them. I loved reading them to my own kids. I'm grateful to Baum for creating these fantasies as a vehicle to cheerfully mock American society.
I'm a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson
This is the first book by Bill Bryson I read. Its daft cover photograph, looming down on me from a high shelf at the library attracted me at once. Bryson, an American, lived in England for twenty years, then returned to the US with his family and this book is a collection of essays about the contrast between our cultures. It's the sort of book that makes you laugh out loud in public, and I'm grateful to it because it led me to look up Bryson's other books, and these are now firmly entrenched in my collection of books I read when I need cheering up.
Flannery O'Connor: The Complete Stories
I read this in college and loved it so much, I used it as a template for my own writing. My early short stories are identifiably O'Connor-like. They make me laugh, even while I am cringing. I'm grateful to have found Flannery O'Connor to be my muse because there's so much worse I could have found. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but these stories are really, really excellent, and the supreme example of the darkest of dark humor. I think even now, there's a bit of O'Connor's influence in my writing.
In the Land of Dreamy Dreams by Ellen Gilchrist
This post is getting very long and I'm thinking of more and more books to be grateful for. Barchester Towers! Excellent Women! Collected Stories of Eudora Welty! Mary Poppins! Towers of Trebizond! The Lord of the Rings series! I will stop here. What books are you grateful for?