An only child till age 5 1/2, I was the beneficiary of having been regularly read to, by my four grandparents and father. I will ever be grateful for the love of books they left to me, as their lasting legacy.

Here are those I cherished most, at particular points in life:

Age 5: Just So Stories ~Rudyard Kipling~ The exotic made as familiar and comfortable as my well-worn, teddy bear…

Age 10: Alice in Wonderland ~Lewis Carroll~ No more absurd than reality and a LOT more fun!

Age 13: The Jungle ~Upton Sinclair~ simultaneously appalling, repellent and engrossing account of one immigrant, meatpacking family in turn-of-the 20th. Century, Chicago. This was the first book I choose to read and was not "assigned." 

Age 16: Black Like Me ~John Howard Griffin~ one white author's account of his transformative life-experience during six-weeks of traveling through the segregated South in 1960, after being chemically changed to pass as a Southern "black" man. This book literally stunned me...as a Midwest teen, I knew little of the intensity of racial hatred still present in that time and setting.

Age 18: The Feminine Mystique ~Betty Friedan~ an exploration mid-20th century women’s unhappiness as “the problem that has no name.” Friedan explained that in post-World War II United States life, women were encouraged to be wives, mothers and homemakers - and only wives, mothers and homemakers - writing in the first pages of her book, that housewives were beginning to ask themselves, “Is that all?” At this age, I discovered that no other author had so opened my eyes to alternate world-views or possibilities.

Age 22: Listen to the Warm and Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows ~Rod McKuen~ exquisitely evocative poetry, contemporary to the times

Age 30: The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Trilogy ~J.R.R. Tolkien~ Bilbo and Frodo and Gollum, Oh, My! What a literary TRIP!!!!

Age40: Aztec ~Gary Jennings~ the systematic, brutal dismantling of an entire advanced society in the name of "salvation" (I believe this one most affected me...emotionally, spiritually, intellectually and permanently)

Age  50: Bicentennial Series Kent Family Chronicals ~John Jakes~ 8 novels, spanning one family's interaction with events in American history, fom just before the Revolutionary War through 1890. STRONG heroines, those Kent women!)   

Age 60:  Brain Droppings ~George Carlin~ THE master of the word and the absurd (his creative utilization of the language enhanced his comedy exponentially, in my opinion)

So, that's my short list, so far...What is yours?

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Comment by The Good Daughter on January 29, 2013 at 5:46pm

My memory is too bad to go back and recount favorites at different ages, but I did respond to an open call on OS a while back about the books that influenced me most.  Just want to say how stunning, indeed, Black Like Me remains to this day.  I need to re-read that.  

Comment by nerd cred on May 16, 2013 at 4:11pm

See me backtracking through your posts.

You were young for The Jungle! I didn't read it till my 20's or 30's and the first half was a struggle even then - very dry.
I don't think I could do a timeline. Just So Stories and B'rer Rabbit were my childhood, read by my father, the only one who read to us. My mother thought reading was a waste of time. Even so, thanks to Dad's influence reading was important and I was good enough at it early enough that in kindergarten the teacher had me read stories to the kids so she could do other things. I remember them sitting in a semi-circle on the floor around me in a chair so I must have been fluent enough to keep them interested.

Though we had a lot of books in the house, the only one that was mine was Heidi, Joanna Spyri which I got for Christmas at 8 or so. My sister got Swiss Family Robinson that year but I could never read it. Found it boring.

I tried Oliver Twist in 8th grade but couldn't stay focused on it. Had gone through all the Donna Parker and Trixie Belden in the library so I moved on to  the James Bond series. The next year I devoured David Copperfield, though, and still read it about every 10 years or so. I love Dickens in general and fear dying with some of his books unread.

Pride and Prejudice. No comment needed. Many times.

Black Like Me was so important in the 60's. In that vein but a little later on, Native Son and Manchild in the Promised Land.

I hated Rod McKuen when it was not socially acceptable to hate Rod McKuen.

I got married and pregnant at 19 and learned about The Feminine Mystique after that. I didn't understand why women didn't just do what they wanted. I was naive enough to believe my husband's bullshit at the time and thought I was making my own choices.

Leon Uris. Exodus and QBVII - in my early twenties and just before spending 6 months in Poland, the epicenter of the Holocaust. After visiting Auschwitz I spent several catatonic days reading The Diaries of the Sonderkommando. Traumatic.

I own Brain Droppings, don't remember when I got it.

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.

This could go on and on and on ... Most recently I am listening to audio books while walking. Now is Mikhail Bulgakov, The Heart of a Dog - I wonder what it looks like as I walk in the park laughing out loud to my earbuds.

Just before that, Room by Emma Donoghue which I most highly recommend. A woman was kidnapped and imprisoned 7 years by a pervert. In that time she had a child and the story is narrated by the 5 year old boy who has lived entirely within an 11'x11' room and seen no person but his mother.

And now I see I misread the assignment! But I can't sort out more and less meaningful books, they all kind of enter the spider's nest that is my brain and details get blurred. Fun to walk back through some of them in this way, though.

Comment by Ellen L. Cannon on May 16, 2013 at 6:36pm

nerd cred-Thank you again, for reading and commenting. I've reserved Room from my local library, since  you have recommended it.  I recommend, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Sloot...stunning and heartbreaking real-life account of the poor, black, female, cancer patient, who's cells became the first and only human tissue to survive and be replicated in the laboratory...and the overwhelming debt all humanity owes to her (unknowing) sacrifice.

Comment by nerd cred on May 16, 2013 at 7:05pm

Thanks for reminding me - I'm actually about 1/2 way through Henrietta Lacks - put it down and lost track of it over Christmas - have to finish it. I heartily agree with you on that - it is a stunning story.

I actually got the audio of Room after getting lost in Amazon peeks inside it! I got lost in just that little bit so I'm pretty sure it will be as effective in print. Would love to know what you think of it after you read it.

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