Before we can even begin, I think it’s imperative that I share this commercial from my youth.
You have probably heard the expression “you are what you eat.” Well, you are also what you read, what you watch, what you do. I suppose a more fitting quote would be to say “you are what you experience.” What we feed our bodies and our minds shapes who we become.
I read a lot and recently I began to think about influential books in my life. It was interesting to think about the ways certain books helped develop my thoughts and my connections to the world around me.
So here is a list of 21 books that helped make me me. It’s by no means a complete list. I’m not even including my childhood love of all things Garfield (which may explain some of my sarcastic tendencies). Don’t worry, there are no spoilers! I included pictures for the books I own.
Have you read any of these books? What do you think of them? What are some influential books in your life?
Pigs at Christmas, Arlene Dubanevich
First grade me checked this book out of the school library SO MANY times. Goofy pigs getting ready for the holidays, what’s not to love? It’s no secret that I love pigs, so of course I love this book.
Island of the Blue Dolphins, Scott O’Dell
I remember loving this book as a child! Independent female lead gettin’ it done and surviving through her strength and intelligence. I’m pretty sure this book is how I learned what a ravine is.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
Another strong female character. I know I am not going to get this quote exactly right, but I distinctly remember a character judging the heroine for swimming by making a remark such as “no respectable, god-fearing woman knows how to swim.” I loved that the main character, Kit, stayed her authentic self despite having moved to a Puritan settlement.
All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum
I read this book when I was eleven years old. Fulghum’s insights taught me that being a child was pretty awesome and that I should hold on to that spirit throughout my life. Simple pleasures and acceptance of yourself and others, those are the ideas that pop into my head when I think of this book.
The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff
My mom gave me this book when I was ten or eleven. I LOVED Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books, so it made perfect sense that Mom would buy this. This is a great introduction to Taoism, eastern thought, and the art of being.
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
One of my favorite books. I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was sixteen and Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet was an identifiable heroine. Bennet is smart, witty, outspoken, and determined to buck social conventions of her time. I LOVED her and wanted to be more like her.
She’s Come Undone, Wally Lamb
Another book I read in high school. The female lead is so real that I was surprised that the author was male. Some of the main character’s thoughts echoed some of my own at the time. I remember being a bit of an emotional wreck when I finished this book.
Trout Fishing in America, Richard Brautigan
Weird for the sake of weird. I found this book humorous and it expanded my idea of what writing could be.
1984, George Orwell
It’s been quite a while since I’ve read this book, but there are some images seared in my brain. Oily “Victory Gin” for one. Others I’ll keep to myself in case you’ve not read it. This book is especially apt in our current political climate. Nineteen Eighty-four imparted to me the importance of independent thinking, doing your own research, and not having a blind faith in your government.
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
More strong women. This book helped bring awareness to the struggles of African-American women in American society. The story is both heartbreaking and uplifting.
The Story of an Hour, Kate Chopin
Young feminist me was delighted with Kate Chopin’s take on standard gender expectations. There was such a feeling of solidarity with a woman who used her writing to denounce the female status quo.
July’s People, Nadine Gordimer
I knew very little about apartheid in South Africa before reading this book (not that I am claiming to be an expert now). Nadine Gordimer transports you into the heart of her characters. At first, I found her style a bit stilted, but it flowed more freely as I read on.
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser
When I read this in 2005, I had already been vegetarian for eight years and no longer ate fast food, so it was an affirmation of my choices. There are so many disturbing practices in the U.S. food system and this book helped me to be more mindful of the impact of my food choices.
Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
I don’t know what expectations I had of Frankenstein. I know I wasn’t expecting it to be like the old monster movies, but I guess I wasn’t expecting its depth. The real monsters are the human beings who are full of judgment and lack compassion. All beings wish to be loved and our souls can be twisted from its deprivation and harsh treatment.
Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West, Wallace Stegner
John Wesley Powell is bad ass! He was a one-armed explorer who help map out the west and, oh man, did he and his crew value their coffee. This book is adventurous and also explores our resource use.
For reference, the hundredth meridian runs down the country a bit west of Austin, TX. Areas to the east of this meridian get an average of 20 inches or more of rainfall per year and areas to the west average 20 inches or less. (Obviously, there are areas to the west that do not fit this, like the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest.)
Our Stories Remember: American Indian History, Culture and Values through Storytelling, Joseph Bruchac
This book is a wonderful introduction to Native American culture. I just recently re-read it. I first read it in a Native American studies class in college. I remember the feeling of belonging as I learned about Native cultures. Finally, here were people whose culture centered on their connection to earth. As I would read, I would think things like, “YES! This is how I feel! I am not an outsider for loving the earth as I do.”
The Oversoul Seven Trilogy: The Education of Oversoul Seven, The Further Education of Oversoul Seven, Oversoul Seven and the Museum of Time, Jane Roberts
My mom had given me this book and it sat unread in my house for a couple of years. In 2007, I brought it along on a six month intership with the National Parks on the Utah/Colorado border. When I decided to read it happened to coincide with the death of my beloved grandma. It just happened that I was reading about an elderly female character dying. The concepts in this book helped me process my grandma’s death in a peaceful and loving way.
I enjoy the first book of the trilogy the most. These books have an interesting take on time and our interconnectedness.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
Everything I’ve ever read by Maya Angelou is beautiful. Caged Bird is the first of her books that I read and also the first book in her autobiography series. She is poignant and funny. Her honesty and wit are endearing. Maya Angelou is a wonderful storyteller; you quickly become absorbed in her tale. Her works exemplify strength and positivity in the face of adversity.
Siddhartha, Herman Hesse
Beautiful and peaceful. This book shows our struggle with our own humanity and our connection to all things.
True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart, Thich Nhat Hanh
One of the first Thich Nhat Hanh books I read. This small book is a powerful tool in forming open and honest communication with yourself and those you love.
Being Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh
I love the works of Thich Nhat Hanh. He is able to communicate concepts of peace and compassion concisely and poetically. Reading his books is like receiving a hug for your soul.
Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Phyllis A. Balch
This book has been in my house since I was sixteen. I remember perusing my mom’s first copy and being excited to try out natural remedies. I one hundred percent credit this book for putting me onto the path to maintaining a healthy body while deepening my connection to earth.
If you are interested in finding out what other books I’ve read, feel free to check out my Goodreads account: