For as long as I can remember, I have been a reader. I think I’ve always been in love with words. Books are a way for me to escape my ordinary life, but I’ve also realized that I use them as a way to learn about people—their personalities, their cultures, their origins. A famous line from the film Shadowlands says: “We read to know we’re not alone.” Through reading, I have been able to expand my understanding in so many ways. Out of the hundreds of books I have read in my life, here are five that are important to me.
Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen – Considering how much I write about it, I can understand if you think Sense & Sensibility is my favorite book. My favorite Jane Austen book is actually Emma. But reading Sense & Sensibility was a turning point for me. It was the first piece of classic British literature that I chose for myself. It marked a shift from juvenile fiction to adult fiction. From there, I learned about Anthony Trollope and Walter Scott. My determination to major in English became a determination to focus on literature and a realization that I can use books as a way to learn about people.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan – When choosing the classes for my junior year in high school, I registered for Honors English. Honors English students don’t necessarily study the same books as regular English students. The summer before that class, the teacher sent a letter to all of her students, asking us to choose a book from a list to read before the school year began and to come prepared to discuss it on the first day. I chose The Joy Luck Club. I have always had an interest in Asian culture and it sounded the most intriguing to me. For anyone unfamiliar with this book, it tells the stories of women born in China and their America-born daughters. In reading it, I learned about a culture much different from my own, yet I also learned about women who aren’t so different from me. As a daughter, I found something to relate to in this book. Even over 20 years later I still think about it. I want to read it again to see how becoming a mother might have changed my perspective.
A Damsel in Distress by P.G. Wodehouse – I first started reading Wodehouse because of Jeeves & Wooster. My dad and I would watch the series together, then share the books. A Damsel in Distress is a standalone Wodehouse book with characters who don’t appear in any of his other works. It also happens to be my favorite. Wodehouse is a master of clever phrases, comedic dialogue, and ridiculous situations. This book has all of that. It’s a classic story of a man and a woman falling in love, then trying to overcome all of the obstacles in their way. It’s well-paced, laugh-out-loud funny, and has the most satisfying ending of any book I’ve ever read. It’s a reminder that good books don’t have to be serious.
William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner by William Hague – One of my favorite actors is Ioan Gruffudd. I’ll spare you the long version. When the film Amazing Grace was released, my sister Abiah and I went to see it together, since he is the lead actor. I left the theater feeling inspired to make a difference in the world. It is still my favorite film. I found this biography by William Hague because I wanted to learn more about Mr. Wilberforce. Most biographies can be a little depressing at the end, leaving me thinking of how much more the person could have done before he or she died. I don’t feel that way with this book. Ending the slave trade was only one of the many great things Wilberforce fought for. He worked hard until the day he died and Hague expertly conveys that. This book had the same effect on me as the film—making me want to change the world.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley – You should know by now that I love Flavia de Luce. When the book club I belonged to a few years ago said we would be reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, I expected it to be a historical romance, like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Since I like that book, I was looking forward to it. I was pleased, though, when it turned out to be a mystery. I have loved mysteries ever since reading Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drewin elementary school. In junior high I graduated to Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Alan Bradley showed me that modern mystery writers can be just as good as the classic ones. Reading the Flavia de Luce books is a delight. Every year, I know I have at least one book to look forward to, as long as Bradley keeps writing them.
Which books have had an impact on you? Please share them in the comments!