My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction, awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction, and awarded the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon.
When Shepherd.com, a new online book blog recently asked me to name some of my favorite books, I was overwhelmed with the massive job of selecting five from hundreds. There were too many books to list. Fortunately, Shepherd allowed me to cut the number by listing only the books in a certain category. My category of choice was “Coming-of-age books.”
The process of narrowing that list got me to pondering all the books that have influenced my life. It wasn’t always the award-winning books, although some were. It wasn’t necessarily the best sellers, though some have sold very well indeed. The common denominator was the value of what they taught me. RAMONA THE BRAVE by Beverly Cleary pulled me through a very dark adult period. When I frequently woke in the middle of the night to find my fears clinging close, I would go get my worn copy of RAMONA THE BRAVE and read how this courageous little girl fought her way through her own terror. Then I was able to go back to bed and sleep.
The YEARLING by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings taught me not once, but several times, that sometimes we have to make terrible choices. Sometimes love is not enough to solve all problems. Then there was JACOB HAVE I LOVED by Katherine Paterson, a YA novel that helped me to get over my jealousy of my more beautiful sister. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austin allowed me to dream in my young years that there could be a Mr. Darcy out there for me (There was, but he had less money, and he didn’t own Pemberley). CHICKEN TEN THOUSAND by Jacqueline Jackson is one of the most satisfying and joyful books I’ve ever read. It’s a picture book, but it has a story that can satisfy both kids and grown-ups. This is one of those books that somehow did not get the attention it deserved. Thank you, writer friend Marileta Robinson for calling this book to my attention. I go to this little book often to reassure myself that happy endings are possible in the worst of situations.
Despite some recent criticism about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s insensitivity in the Little House Series, her stories, first read to me as a child by one of my best teachers, made me love books and turned me into a lifetime reader. It also made me love the West and Native Americans, who are part of my own ancestry. SEND ME DOWN A MIRACLE by Han Nolan helped me to remember my own southern childhood in a better light.
BLACK BOY by Richard Wright was a riveting eye-opener for me. The section in which he learns to walk the streets of Memphis despite the bullies he knows will beat him up and take his family’s grocery money, was as powerful as anything I have ever read and made me see the world through a black child’s eyes. AN HOUR BEFORE DAYLIGHT by Jimmy Carter brought back a part of my own rural Georgia origins, though Carter’s Georgia was a wealthier, more educated place than mine.
Reading has shaped—and is shaping—my love of history. AT HOME by Bill Bryson brings everything, including the kitchen sink, into this recent book. He himself lives in a historic English parsonage, so he is well qualified to tell about how people lived in those houses a hundred years and more ago. Another writer who inspired a love of English history in particular was Norah Lofts. I discovered THE TOWNHOUSE in college. Lofts authentically brings medieval England to life. Her hero, Martin Reed, must struggle through grinding poverty to raise himself from serfdom to a man of property with a townhouse. Lofts follows a number of generations in that same house, believably, conveying the details of English life in Medieval and later times. Her writing was a big reason history was one of my college majors.
Finally, I must mention a recently written memoir that I have added to my list of favorites: THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeanette Wiles. Her childhood had a lot in common with mine, with poverty, uncertainties, and rootlessness being the main things she could count on. It was heartening that her experiences confirmed that of my siblings and myself: you can overcome almost any bad childhood with education, basic values somehow gathered along the way, and luck— maybe a whole lot of luck—and determination.
This book list is bound to grow. I’m still reading, still learning, still gaining strength, knowledge, and courage from the wonderful books I love.
Sh-h-h-h! Time for a reading break.