I grew up in a hundred-year-old house with bookshelves lining every wall of the downstairs level, floor to ceiling. You could almost believe that the house was constructed of books, dusty books, I might add. Living with those titles day in and day out reminded me of the books I had read, the emotions they invoked and the lessons I took away. It’s something we’ve lost in the digital age, where books are filed out in cyber space or deleted with a click of a button. Now, recalling 15 of the most influential stories I’ve read is like pulling them off their bookshelves. The characters and themes come alive inside me yet again!
1. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest HemingwayHemingway has been my favorite author since high school. As an icon of WWI expatriate writers, he popularized the term Lost Generation, which captures that feeling of displacement and worthlessness I imagine we have all experienced at some point in our lives. I appreciate the headstrong women in his novels, especially at a time when women's rights, responsibilities, and respect in society were still new. But what really draws me to Hemingway's books is his writing style--succinct, subtle, and yet rich in tone and meaning. I wish he were alive and still writing today.
2. Absalom, Absalom! by William FaulknerI don’t enjoy Faulkner's writing, but I admire his nerve, writing from a place within himself that few people can fully understand. In my twenties, I went through a Faulkner phase, reading his books, looking up one obscure word after another. Well, it was the worst thing I could've done for my own writing, as obscure words started sneaking into my story, totally confusing and foreign to my characters.
3. A Christmas Carol by Charles DickensI love reading about London during the Industrial Revolution, especially through the fatherly eyes of Charles Dickens. My mother read The Christmas Carol to me every December 24th until I was in high school!
4. Little Women by Louisa May AlcottThis was the first book I read on my own in my pre-teens and will forever associate Jo March’s coming of age with my own feelings of freedom and independence.
5. Abide With Me by Elizabeth StroutIn a shocking story, Strout finely, delicately, and absolutely captures the evolving relationship between a mother and a daughter. She taught me to write between the lines.
"Write between the lines". I love that phrase - it's definitely what turns an average novel into a great one!
6. Three Junes by Julia GlassA deep and brilliant look at humanity. Reading Glass is a lesson on characterization.
7.--9. What is the What by Dave EggersI'm interested in the plight and resilience of people, and especially children, innocently caught in the middle of war. Though I can't relate to or understand their struggle, I want to listen to their stories. Two other books I have great respect for in this category are Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro's The Bosnia List and Elie Wiesel's Night.
10. Heaven's Prey by Janet SketchleySketchley, in my opinion, is the boldest, most talented Christian fiction writer out there. And Heaven's Prey is packed with proof . . . and suspense.
11. Twilight of the British Raj series by Christine LindsayBeautiful writing. I could stop there. Lindsay is a master of creating setting, and when you're exploring lush and wild India during the British Raj, that's what you want! She also effortlessly weaves contrasting plot lines that represent India in flux.
I thought this series was excellent, especially the final book.
12. They Almost Always Come Home by Cynthia RuchtiWhen I need reminding that stories show; they don’t tell, I turn to They Almost Always Come Home. In her story about a middle-aged couple facing a marital slump, with the wife at home and the husband lost in the wilderness, Ruchti keeps you deep in the action.
13. & 14. Lost in Siberia by Ian Frazier and Me Talk Pretty One Day by David SedarisThese authors make me laugh. Frazier makes me think mostly, but he’ll drop in his humor, in just the right places, and be both funny and thought provoking.
15. The Cheer Leader by Jill McCorkleThe Cheer Leader (1984), one of McCorkle’s earliest novels, portrays the angst weighing on Jo Spencer in her teens, and how that stress finally brings her down in her twenties when she goes for the wrong guy in college. The story has lingered with me since I read it years ago and is, in part, behind Lift the Lid, the charity I founded, which encourages students to use the power of writing to shout, This is what I’m dealing with! Listen to me! I mean something! I’m grateful for McCorkle’s inspiration and look forward to reading her latest novel Life After Life.
Thanks, Sara! It's always interesting to find out what authors like to read, and to pick up a few ideas ...
About Sarah GoffSara Goff recently moved to Darien, Connecticut with her husband of 14 years and their two sons after living in Sweden and then London for nearly seven years. I ALWAYS CRY AT WEDDINGS, her debut novel about figuring out life and finding love in New York City, was recently released by WhiteFire Publishing. A part of the proceeds from the book will go towards her educational charity Lift the Lid, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Visit www.lift-the-lid.org for more information on the charity.
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