These are not necessarily my “favorite” books, but 10 that have a special place in my life for various reasons. Presented roughly in the order in which I encountered them:
The Outsiders. The book that made me believe I could write a novel, since S.E. Hinton was a teenager when she wrote it, and inspired me to write my first long-form fiction piece way back in middle school.
The Pigman. My paperback copy has an author’s note at the end in which Paul Zindel answers “frequently asked questions” from kids who have read the book. I fell in love with the idea of creating characters that other teens would relate to and possibly even write me appreciative letters about!
Westmark, The Kestrel and The Beggar Queen. Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark trilogy is not nearly as well-known as his Prydain cycle, but for my money, it’s a much more original bit of world-building. Westmark feels like a real, historic place, even though it’s a (nonmagical) fantasy land. And the books are chock-full of strong, kick-ass female characters, while most of the books I was reading at that age were lucky to have even one.
I’m With the Band. Not only did the amazing Miss Pamela Des Barres let the 15-year-old me live vicariously through her rock-and-roll adventures, but she made it seem like a real possibility that I too could have a life glorious enough to write a book about it someday. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to participate in her life-changing writing workshops as well!
Love, Dad. Read as research when writing the first draft of my novel The Freedom Dreamers, back in high school. Evan Hunter writes about the generation gap of the late 1960s through the experiences of a father and his daughter. I laughed, cried and got super angry with his flawed characters, especially the indulgent dad who just could not seem to get the concept of setting limits with his spoiled, entitled hippie daughter.
The Fountainhead. Read my senior year of high school for a scholarship essay contest sponsored by the Ayn Rand Foundation, and became a die-hard Objectivist for a few years. Still think that it (and Atlas Shrugged) are great reads even if you don’t buy into the philosophy.
Tully. A novel by Paullina Simons I picked up for a quarter in the library’s used book section, and proceeded to read every few years for the next decade. Expected it to be a beach-read trashy romance novel, but was surprised when it turned out to be a realistic, nuanced coming-of-age story of a young woman who manages to carve out a meaningful life with friends, career and family – all in spite of being a total mess most of the time, due to both sad circumstances and her own stubborn character. Made me want to write books for and about young women in extraordinary circumstances.
Exorcising Your Ex. Beginning in my 20s, I started to find that the books that “changed my life” were less frequently fiction than self-help, preferably with a healthy dash of humor. Elizabeth Kuster’s book helped me laugh, cry and heal from the ridiculously hard breakup of the most serious relationship in my life to that point.
Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts. Regena Thomashauer’s audacious position that you should love and celebrate yourself – “enjoy your life and get everything you want” – blew my mind even at the supposedly evolved age of 30.
Finding Your Own North Star. Read it last year and continue to pick it up every so often. Martha Beck helped reconnect me to my long-shelved dream of becoming a writer, and I can’t recommend it enough if you’re struggling to identify your “north star,” the thing that will bring you joy and purpose. Let the Wildly Improbable Goal-setting begin!