Recently, I was tagged in two separate Facebook statuses, both of which concerned the same book-related meme. "Facebook memes," as Chuck Wendig said, "are usually the intellectual equivalent of getting gum stuck in your pubic hair." As the meme concerned books, however, I was compelled to respond. Though the meme's original intent was to list ten books that had affected you in some way, I also had seen it presented as a list of "favorite books." In the words of Wendig, "Favorite isn't that meaningful of a metric." Favorite books are not the same as books that have stayed with you, made you think, made you wonder, or—for me—left you brimming with emotion, hot and honest.
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
(Prep yourself; this will not be the only middle grade/YA book on this list, nor will it be the only Spinelli.) Maniac Magee's most common themes are racism, compassion, and homelessness. It was first published in 1990, and was first read to me when I was nine years old. After recess, we fourth graders would return to our classroom for story time, drowsy from chasing each other around the blacktop. I still remember the classroom, damp and heavy in those un-air-conditioned days, and the woody scent of pencil shavings. It was then that Maniac Magee was read to us by a student teacher, a woman of both soft demeanor and appearance. Her hair was auburn and short, I think, and her last name began with an H, I think. Time has swallowed some of my memory, but I have not forgotten the chirpy intonation with which she read, "Ma-niac, Ma-niac / He's so cool / Ma-niac, Ma-niac / Don't go to school / Runs all night / Runs all right / Ma-niac, Ma-niac / Kissed a bull." It was a book that I immediately loved. I admired Spinelli's descriptions, his portrayal of human emotion, and--most of all--wanted it to be true. Since that first reading in elementary school, I've returned to Maniac Magee several times.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
I was a teenager—a lonely teenager—when I first read Stargirl. The title character is a nonconformist, and, at sixteen, I wished I had been as brave, and as creative, as her. As a matter of fact, I still do. Stargirl is described by the narrator, who says, "She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl. We did not know what to make of her. In our minds we tried to pin her to a cork board like a butterfly, but the pin merely went through and away she flew." Like Maniac Magee, Stargirl is about compassion and acceptance. But it's also about whimsy, about selflessness, and about heart—about doing what makes your soul happy. Stargirl is the apex of free spirited-ness and, to this day, I wish I could instill as much happiness and as much art into the world as she did.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"Guy loves rich girl, gets rich to impress her. Gets rich illegally, girl doesn't love him, then she runs a lady over." #explainabookplotbadly
Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
This book was a birthday present from Zoë. She and I both follow Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) and often alert each other to Jenny's newest observations. (By the way, if you like cats, feminism, and taxidermied animals, and are not easily offended, I highly recommend following Jenny.) Let's Pretend This Never Happened is poignant, hilarious, and entertaining. While the memoir explores the darker sides of human emotion, including depression and anxiety, it also left me in tears of laughter. And, most importantly, it helped me realize that every human has a story, and that every story can be interesting. It made me ... well, it made me want to try and write.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
As a book lover and former journalist, the reality in Fahrenheit 451—where creativity, freedom of speech, and original thought are punished—is terrifying.
Home Country by Ernie Pyle
Ernie Pyle was a journalist who, in 1926, quit his day job, packed up his Ford roadster, and hit the open road with his wife. Over the years, he wrote numerous columns about the unusual places he visited and the people he met in each state. He was also a correspondent during WWII, but was killed on the island of Iejima in April 1945. Two years after Pyle's death, Home Country—a collection of some of his columns—was published. The book is the most wanderlust-inducing piece of literature I have ever crossed. It was also a gift from Ty, and we sometimes bring up some of our favorite columns. Like the one about the woman in the Yukon who had planned to commit suicide, but ended up becoming a successful trapper. Or the one where Pyle and his wife found themselves stuck, and lost, in the southwestern desert. Each story is presented without judgment, without prejudice, and is always interesting. As I read Pyle's columns, I made a list of places I wanted to visit someday, including Put-in-Bay, Ohio. Overall, Home Country is just as much a portrait of America as it is a travel guide.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Write. Write all the time. And when you're not writing, drink. Drink with your friends and make sure you insult each other in the most adoring of ways. Also, Gertrude Stein. (See also: Midnight in Paris.)
The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman
This is the most haunting graphic novel I have ever read and, in 1992, Maus became the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize. The story focuses on Art's conversations with his father, Vladek Spiegelman. Vladek was a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust and Maus depicts his experiences in Nazi-occupied territory, including time in a concentration camp. The juxtaposition between the story—one of the world's grisliest moments in history—and how it is presented—through comics—is unforgettable.
Bloomability by Sharon Creech
This book taught 11-year-old me to love the world and its people, no matter their circumstances. It also taught me to appreciate adventure and how important it was to try new things. When I transferred to Purdue and signed up for language classes, I chose Italian—not because of the language's inherent beauty, but because it was the language the characters of Bloomability were trying to learn.
Hard Love by Ellen Whittlinger
Many of the books on this list are ones that encourage compassion, or acceptance of others different than yourself. Hard Love explores similar themes. The narrator, a sixteen-year-old boy named John, isn't sure if he's straight, gay, angry, or bored. Since his parents' divorce, John's mother has not touched him. John is uncomfortable talking to others, but he is able to express some of his emotions (and angst) in his zine, "Bananafish." Partway through the book, John meets Marisol, a self-described "Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee lesbian" who writes the zine "Escape Velocity." Over a series of coffee dates, the two characters bond over zines and dysfunctional families. Their teenage awkwardness, as well as questions about sexuality and identity, are at the core of Hard Love. It was a book that made me crave creativity, words, and the opinions of others. I honestly wish I had my copy of Hard Love with me in Indianapolis; I have not read it in years. As I've recently become pen pals with a few zinesters, I'd love to read a fictionalized account of the culture. Furthermore, I'm sure that rereading the book will put me in the mood to create a zine of my own, which is something I considered doing when I was a teenager, but didn't know how to execute.
Runners-Up (which lean more toward favorite books than stayed with me books) — Wildwood by Colin Meloy, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins, and Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, which made the list not because it's one of my favorite books, but because I had never had a book make me so incredibly angry. (Really, practicing Elvish would've been a better use of time.)
Also. Facebook employees Lada Adamic and Pinkesh Patel conducted an analysis on the meme, which has been active for more than a year. Information was gathered from 130,000 status updates posted only during the last two weeks of August, however. The analysis, which was shared here, listed the top one hundred books that have stayed with us. The Harry Potter series took the top spot, followed by To Kill A Mockingbird and The Lord of the Rings. Also appearing in the top twenty were the The Bible, Stephen King's The Stand, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
What are some books that have changed you?