I see blog posts on favorite books and think, how could I ever pick a favorite out of all the wonderful books I've read? To me, it would be like a mother picking a favorite child. Impossible!
I have read so many books; one or two a week since I learned to read would be a ballpark estimate. That would be maybe 5000 books. Each book is unique, as different as a fingerprint or a snowflake. I read different genres for different purposes and value them for different reasons. Some entertain, some inform, some provoke. I read them at different times of my life, when I am nearly a "different person".
So how can I pick a "favorite"?
I like to read other people's choices, so I thought I would give it a try. To make it remotely possible, I am making three age categories: childhood, middle years, and recent. And I am giving myself three picks in each category. Just because I can!
So . . .
I grew up in the country, went to a country school, and books were scarce. One had to pay for membership in the town library (a luxury we couldn't afford), and there was no central school library. Each classroom had a shelf with a few tatty old donations that could be borrowed. They had an dry, musty smell and were ancient.
The books I owned were called Little Golden Books and could be purchased at the dime store for 29 cents.
My favorite was The Little Red Hen, a Russian folk tale about a hen who finds some wheat and tries to get all the other animals to help her make it into a loaf of bread. No one will help -- until it comes to the eating of it and then everyone wants a slice, so to speak. I can close my eyes and still see the pictures. My sister had red hair and so was chosen one year to play the starring role, the hen herself, in a classroom play!
I think I might have read The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner, from my grandma's bookcase, and it probably belonged to my dad and aunt. We visited there every Sunday evening. I would pick a book and sit on a prickly chair by the bookcase, devouring it. I learned to read very fast because I wasn't allowed to take a book home.
The story is about four orphaned children who make a home for themselves in an abandoned railroad car. I loved their resourcefulness in making useful things out of discards and spent many hours lost in stories of my own, imagining a similar life of my own creation. Behind the ballet studio where I took lessons there was an appliance junk yard of sorts that I could see from the window. In my mind I created endless useful things for my own boxcar home from the junk I could see. It's a wonder I wasn't tripping over my feet and the other students because my mind was so busy elsewhere!
I can't tell you how many times I read Anne if Green Gables, first for myself and then over and over with my girls, who loved it as much as I do. We've watch the movie a bajillion times, and once drove many miles to see the musical play. Why? I loved the setting (turn of the century Prince Edward Island) and the lifestyle and values it represented. But mostly I loved Anne ("Anne with an e").
Anne was another orphan, mistakenly sent to live with an old man and his spinster sister, both set in their ways and expecting a boy orphan. Anne always meant well but nevertheless was a girl, a strong-willed girl, who constantly found herself in trouble because she lived her life so passionately.
As I look at these book choices from the vantage point of today, I can see how profoundly they influenced me and the way I have lived my life, how they either shaped or reinforced values that are important to me today. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get on with it. Look around at what you've got and make good use of it. Live your passion. And as my dad and the Red Hen would say, "No work, no eat!"
Thanks for reading. I'd love to know what books you loved from your childhood and how they influenced your life.
(The photo is from a hallway at Leadenhall Market, London.)