Sarah asked, "What are the top ten books that sort of defined your childhood? Books you read over and over and were incredibly fascinated with and changed your world?"
To answer this question, I'm sticking to books I read and reread before high school. Anything after that was a different sort of experience and informed my tastes in a different sort of way. Still tough to stick to ten, but I made an honest effort. I feel particularly bad leaving Jack London off this list, but what can I do? The rules say ten!
The Hotel Cat by Esther Averill
This is the first novel I have a memory of rereading. I read it and reread it my second-grade year and when my teacher retired at the end of the year and gave away all her books, she gave this one to someone else. But it's always stuck with me.
The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Three Investigators, Sherlock Holmes
Cheating, I suppose, but I read all the Hardy Boys books at least twice and all the Nancy Drew books at least once and then in junior high I switched to the Three Investigators which prepared me to read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes which emboldened me to take on Literachoo. Thanks, Frank and Joe! (and Biff!)
The Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard by Mary Adrian
No one else at my elementary school checked this book out and so I filled the checkout card myself. i don't know if I've ever been as obsessed with any book as I was with this book.
Riddle of Raven Hollow by Mary F. Shura
This was one of my go-to books when I couldn't sleep and wanted to read. I had all the beats of its plot tattooed on my soul. I'm sure this book has had a lasting affect on how I structure story.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
This novel helped me understand what literature meant. The layers of symbol, the ambiguities, the things left unsaid. Konigsburg played an important role in teaching me how to read.
Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
Long after childhood ended, I would periodically reread this book, and I would sob at the ending, and I would know I was yet human and that a healthy emotional life was still possible.
Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
Although not strictly magical realism, this novel had that sort of affect upon me. Anything can happen. Anything can go wrong. The world is more wondrous and fragile than I imagine.
The Silver Chair and A Horse and His Boy I had other Narnia books and reread some of them many times, but these two are unquestionably my favorites. And they inform greatly my ideas on what a "series" of books should consist of.
The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander
In contrast to the last pair, I included this book as a negative example. I reread this book many times, but I never really liked it. Frankly, Alexander seems like a swell guy, but even as a kid I didn't think he was much of a writer. And having to articulate myself as I read and reread what made this book a failure sharpened my critical capacity.
Thornton W. Burgess's Animal books
If literature is meant to teach empathy, no books did this better than Burgess's. The breadth of experience presented boggles. That two books can present the same two characters---one a predator, one food---and make them both fully identifiable and heroic? That taught me a great deal about charity, about humanity, about writing.