Every month in her magazine, O, Oprah has some famous person list the books that made a difference to them. Whenever I read this list, I make my own (I think most of us do actually). But since it is highly unlikely that Oprah will ever include me in her magazine (though one can always hope), I decided to publish my own list here!
Anne of Green Gables – This is a classic, by L.M. Montgomery and published in 1908. This was perhaps the first classic novel I ever read. When I was eleven or twelve, my mom gave me her copy of the book, and I instantly fell in love with Anne Shirley. The story takes Anne from an orphanage to a home with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. They are expecting a boy but they get Anne. When Matthew picks Anne up from the train station, Anne hops into their buggy and proceeds to talk for pages and pages without stopping. Anne and I were the same age, and I too could talk and talk and talk (still can)! I completely “got” Anne, and the great part of the novel is that nobody ever shushes her or tells her to slow down or be quiet, they just listen! She was the first character from literature that I fell in love with; she taught me that my chatty, hyper self is perfectly okay.
Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley - I admit it; I love anything having to do with King Arthur and Camelot. This is a lovely tale from the perspective of the women involved in the story. It is a big fat novel, but it is beautifully told and puts the women at the front and center of the story. Until I read this, I viewed the women as minor characters who kept making life difficult for the men, but this story brought home the whole idea that the women were just as major of players as the men, and actually, they are much more interesting!
The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart – This is another Camelot novel, but it tells the entire story from Merlin’s perspective. There are four novels in the series, and the first starts when Merlin is about seven years old. This is a thought that had never occurred to me – Merlin as a child? I read this book several times in high school and have re-read it since then. I had never considered that major, powerful figures were once children. Even now, when faced with intimidating people, it helps to consider that they were once in 7th grade PE too – it helps put people in perspective – we’re all the same!
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James – This is a difficult novel, but I adore it. I think it has one of the most evil characters in all of literature in it . . . Osmond. Isabel, the main character, is a strong young woman who ultimately loses all sense of self to Osmond who doesn’t care a bit. This novel scared me. I read it in college and related to Isabel and her sense of freedom and excitement about heading into the world, but she allows her life to be so directed by the men in it that she ultimately loses herself. That’s a scary thought and dire warning to any young woman.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – I read this book during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in college. I remember that distinctly because I stayed up until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning to read and then I had to work all day until I could get home to read again. I think I read the entire thing in less then one exhausting week. It is an amazing story – the details, the characters, the tragedy, the setting. Scarlett’s dignity despite the horrific circumstances really spoke to me.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – need I say more? This is the ultimate love story, but its also about honoring oneself within the confines of accepted societal mores. I think I’ve probably read it five times, and every time I love it more. Austen’s understanding of humanity is timeless.
Mama Day by Gloria Naylor - This book is written from two different first person points of view. It was the first novel I had ever read that was written in this format, and I loved hearing the internal voices of both the main characters. This novel is also a modern re-working of The Tempest. Naylor claims it as an African American tale. This novel was the first that forced me to acknowledge and accept that the traditional canon was incredibly exclusive and fails to speak to a huge portion of our culture. It is also a wonderful story.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – This is another epic tale of romance, hardship, and strong female characters. Somehow, Gabaldon combines historical fiction, romance, and fantasy (three of my favorites) into a strikingly believable tale. I have not been able to put any of her stories down. She interweaves history into an amazing story, so I feel like I’ve had a history lesson along with a great love story. Her theme of one sacrificing everything for true love sucked me right in!