10 Books that Changed My Life

September 20, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I took a two-week-long road trip to the wedding of some dear friends in Washington state.  We drove through Humboldt, up along the Oregon coast, through Portland and Seattle, then made our way to Bend and Crater Lake before visiting friends in the Bay Area.  From the road, I bit the bullet and submitted my newly-polished manuscript to various editors and agents, including the ones I pitched in San Antonio. 

Now that I'm home and things have settled down a bit, I've had time to work on some short stories that have been patiently waiting for me to get my act together.  Cowboy Valentine and Cowboy Cocktail now have three shiny new siblings, interconnected short stories that can also stand alone.  Yee-haw!  I'm quite excited about this series.  It's going to be a blast reviewing and tightening it up.

Last week on Facebook, people were writing lists of the ten most memorable novels they'd ever read.  This got me thinking about my own library and the books and characters that have stuck with me through the years.  I thought I'd share my list here with you.

10 Books That Changed My Life

1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
I read this book when I was 22 and teaching English in Japan.  East of Eden made me homesick for California.  Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors, and the epic scale of the book appeals to my love of mythology and archetypes.

2. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
 Cisneros' collection of very short stories is one of my favorite books because her voice is so strong.  Her narrator is Esperanza, a young girl from a working-class Mexican American family who lives in Chicago.  Esperanza comes of age in a series of experiences that are awkward, beautiful, and often painful.
3. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Kvothe is one of my favorite literary heroes, a powerful red-headed trickster with incredible vulnerabilities and a heart-breaking past.  The narrative is rip-roaring fun.  Please read this book.

4. The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula Le Guin 
This series began as a trilogy that was completed in 1972.  Twenty years later, Le Guin wrote Tehanu, starring characters from the trilogy who were now also twenty years older.  In 2001, she wrote The Other Shore, which left me a weeping, incapacitated mess for a few days.  Wizards, dragons, good and evil, and so much delicious detail that I can't help losing myself in the books whenever I pick them up.

5. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
This is the great-grandmama of them all, the book that got me addicted to books in the first place.  Ma and Pa are the kindest, most capable parents.  Food is at the heart of this particular book.  I'll never forget the scene where Pa slaughters a pig and the girls play with the inflated bladder like a ball, take turns eating the roasted tail, and ask Ma to try the cracklings which she says "are too rich for little girls."     

6. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman world-builds like no one's business.  In this novel, America is populated with Old World gods brought into being by the beliefs of the immigrants.  However, the old gods are being supplanted by gods who personify people's new idols: technology, media, economy.  Includes a showdown in Rock City, Georgia and the existence of a magical portal at the House on the Rock in Wisconsin. 

7. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
I read this gorgeous, fatalistic novel in two breathless days while I was an undergrad at UCLA.  Tess is smart and beyond beautiful, but the constraints of her social position force her into many a bad situation.  Batted like a cat toy between Alec D'Urberville and Angel Clare, Tess acquiesces to their wishes until she.  Totally.  Snaps.  Very memorable.  

8. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmerman Bradley

A classic!  The Arthurian legend told from the point of view of Morgaine, also known as Morgan le Fay.  Her life reads like a Greek tragedy.  Thematically similar to American Gods, The Mists of Avalon takes place against a backdrop of tremendous change: the shift in Britain from paganism to Christianity.  Morgaine is a priestess of the old ways.       

9. Little Birds by Anais Nin
Dark, sexy, and twisted, Little Birds was the first piece of erotica I ever read.  I think I bought it at a library sale or secondhand store when I was about sixteen.  A collection of thirteen short stories, it isn't a romance so much as study in sex, identity, and ensnarement.  There's a memorable scene of a voyeur watching two people make love in a beach house.  Reading this book for the first time, I felt like that voyeur!

10. In Bed with a Highlander by Maya Banks 
How I got into reading and writing romance in the first place!  This is the first romance novel I ever read, so Ewan and Mairin will always be special to me.  A powerful Highlander Alpha vs. a sassy ingenue...really, what's not to love? 

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