Four Influential Books

I was recently tagged in one of those 7 day Facebook challenges – I’ve seen them for hunters, farmers, and even one for the parents of athletes – but this one was for books that have influenced your reading life. The instructions say, “no explanations,” but this is a blog whose whole purpose is to make me write, so there will be explanations, but only 4 books. (I’m turning into such a badass, making my own rules).

The challenge’s purpose is to “. . . promote literacy, the joy of reading, and support for public libraries.” So friends, make use of your local library. In fact, in Beaverlodge, a library card now costs nothing, so no excuses.

With that being said, let’s go back to the very beginning, to a series that turned me into a reader, and progress chronologically from there.

1. Little House in the Big Woods By Laura Ingalls Wilder

I’ve always loved books. At age 4, I was inexplicably drawn to the light-blue boxed set on the top shelf in our basement that was the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, & convinced my mom to read them to me.

At first she tried to explain that I wouldn’t like the books because there were no pictures, & she was right, I didn’t like them. I loved them!  I was happily transported back to the late 19th century, & listened intently, completely enthralled by Laura’s stories of growing up in the woods in Wisconsin. As the series progressed, I was enamoured by her adventures in the covered wagon with Pa, Ma, & Mary, inspired by her experience teaching in a one room schoolhouse, & of course, fascinated by her courtship with the dashing Almanzo Wilder.

This series influenced my reading life because it cemented a deep, abiding appreciation for the power of storytelling, literature, & reading. By the time we finished the series, I was hooked.

2. Baby-sitter’s Little Sister Series

At one of those community garage sales held in the arena while the ice is out during the summer, I remember browsing through tables with my mom. I must have just turned seven, and was happy selecting a couple of books to take home when she asked the seller, “how much for the entire box?”

Soon, a cardboard box filled to the brim with the Babysitter’s Little Sister series was all mine. That that old cardboard box meant as much to me as a chest full of treasure, and I carefully lifted each book out with giddy anticipation.

Soon, I was whipping through the adventures of Karen, little sister to Baby-Sitters Club founder Kristy (another series I’d soon jump right into), and her two friends Hannie and Nancy. This series influenced my reading life because it made me a prolific reader, capable of reading quickly, which was spurred by my desire to find out what trouble Karen would get into next.

Tucking myself away in a quiet room to escape from the chaos of a house with twin brothers, I could easily read one of these titles in a few hours, even at age 7.

3. Graphic Novels from LIS 404

In one of the final semesters of my ed. degree I took a class called LIS 404 “Comic Books and Graphic Novels in Schools and Public Libraries,” and it challenged & changed SO many of my assumptions.

I’m guilty: I used to think that graphic novels weren’t “real books,” and that they were only for kids who couldn’t read the aforementioned “real books.”

As a collective, titles like Feynman By Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick, Fun House By Alison Bechdel, Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol, Owly By Andy Runton, and A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel By Madeline L’engle and Hope Larson influenced my reading life by opening up an appreciation for an entirely new world of literature that I’d previously dismissed (I still draw the line at manga though), and I now regularly read literary graphic novels and biographies.

4. The Lesser Blessed By Richard Van Camp

The Lesser Blessed was one of the assigned titles in a course I took in my first semester at UofA titled “The Indigenous Novel” with professor Keavy Martin. Being very nervous about my decision to major in English, I remember mustering up the courage to answer a question in class, only to barely be able to choke out a few intelligent words, my voice quaking.

This slim novel is dark, poetic, sometimes disjointed, astonishingly raw, and so incredibly beautiful, as Larry, the protagonist, ultimately heals the wounds of abuse inflicted on him by his own father, a residential school survivor, who was abused by a priest as a young boy. It’s a stunning portrait of the ruinous effects of intergenerational trauma.

Last year I desperately wanted to share its message of hope with a class of students, just as Keavy Martin had shared it with me years earlier, but was forced to retract the title because the language made some people uncomfortable, because reading it wouldn’t “enhance their spiritual journey,” and because there was sex.

This book influenced my reading life because it’s the first book I’ve been willing to take some (or a lot) of heat for, the first book I’ve been willing to jump right into the fire to defend instead of choosing a safe title, the first book that demonstrated to me that when literature challenges people and makes them incredibly uncomfortable many will push it away instead of opening themselves up to its lessons. I truly believe in The Lesser Blessed and its importance for reconciliation, and I would willingly go to bat for it again.

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