Ten Books that Made Me

I have a terrible addiction. I buy lots and lots of books. Sometimes I even get so excited about a book that I forget I’ve already bought it and buy it again. Well, that only happened once. Actually twice. Well…never mind. I wrote about this problem elsewhere. The thing about books is that they have been my friends ever since I was tiny and my big sister taught me to read. I remember the magical moment that it all clicked for me. I felt I had conquered the world and there was NO WORD I COULDN’T READ or spell. (I had just managed to read the word ‘extraordinary’ and concluded I was some kind of prodigy. I was probably 12 by this time, but whatever…)

I moved on from being able to read one (albeit impressively long) word by myself to the roughly 700 books Enid Blyton wrote (I probably read oh, say 587 of them?!). Like Enid, my real childhood life was not so happy, and her books helped me exist in an imaginary one, filled with adventures, magic, heather, moors, tea and scones, strawberries and cream and actual friends. I grew up in tropical Penang in the sixties, so I never actually ever tasted scones or cream, and really didn’t have a clue what a moor was, but all the same, I had endless adventures roaming the English countryside, eating, laughing merrily, climbing trees and solving mysteries with the Famous Five and the Secret Seven.

More than anything in the world, books have defined me and helped me navigate every part of my life. I picked out ten that shaped me more so than the others:

  1. Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Being a teenager, I wouldn’t have noticed this book until I was selected to be Algernon in my high school play (it was an all girl’s school). Dragged from my intense preoccupation with trashy romance novels, onto the magical world of the stage,  (which was to become a huge part of my life later on) I was surprised to find that English literature could be funny and brilliant.
  2. Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals. Humour, animals, life in Corfu with an eccentric family, I was hooked! I read all his books, and read and re-read this one. It made me want to live in exotic places, it made me laugh and laugh, and it made my family seem almost normal in comparison.
  3. God Loves Laughter. I read this one many, many times. I was introduced to the concept of being a seeker after truth, of faith and of adventures of a spiritual nature through William Sears’ wondrously funny, honest and engaging book. It actually changed my life.
  4. Pride and Prejudice. Ok, I admit, a younger, smouldery-er Colin Firth had a lot to do with this one. But after I fell in love with Mr Darcy on the small screen, I fell in love with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I wished I could speak like Miss Elizabeth Bennet. But then I wouldn’t have any friends in the real world. Or maybe Mr Darcy would have found me and I’d be living in Pemberley right now…
  5. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. This was the first art book I ever read, and it wasn’t even about making art. Julia wrote as if she was talking to me, and with an authenticity about the creative process that just made me want to be part of it. It was given to me at the very cusp of studying art. Huge effect.
  6. The Road Less Travelled, Scott M Peck’s seminal classic. I reviewed this book nearly 30 years after it was written, for a Uni assignment. I couldn’t believe how much I learned from it – about life, marriage, coping with adversity. It had me at the first line: “Life is difficult.” I know, right?
  7. Dawn Over Mount Hira by Marzieh Gail. This one’s a collection of essays. My favourite was a heart-stirring account of Tahirih, a real life 19th century Persian poet who was executed for her outspoken and controversial views on women’s rights. Dark times, when women weren’t allowed to speak in the presence of men, much less to be poets or scholars. This tragic heroine came alive for me, then I got to play her in a musical Greg wrote many years later! I also learned other stuff here – that ‘Paris smells like a toilet’, for example. Does it really? I’ve wondered ever since.
  8. The First 30 Days by Ariane de Bonvoisin. I woke up to a huge Great Big Truth here – that every good thing that has ever happened to me has happened because something changed. It helped me absorb the concept that change is to be embraced no matter how prickly, painful or downright ghastly it seems at the time. Uncertainty has become my ally. Well, at least it’s muscling its way in.
  9. JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Ok, I know it’s a bit geek-like of me. But I LOVED The Lord of the Rings from when I first read it at the age of seventeen and all … ahem…six times after that. It captured my heart and my imagination and made magic real. Then I fell in love all over again when the first movie came out. But maybe that time it was with Aragorn, not so much the book.
  10. Steal like an Artist. Ten Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. My latest find. This little black book (seriously, it’s little and black) is just bloody brilliant! One of the many treasures Mr Amazon introduced me to. Being my latest discovery, it hasn’t shaped my life, I really just wish I wrote it, but Austin Kleon deserves your attention, cos he did.

And that’s it. Not as hard as I thought, although I’d probably write an entirely different list if I did this tomorrow.

You? Any book that helped make YOU you? I’d love to hear about it!

Comments 26

  1. I love “God Loves Laughter” — I can’t count the number of times I’ve read it since my high-school English teacher loaned it to me. It changed my life. I also like “Release the Sun” by the same author.

    “Dawn Over Mt. Hira” is another favorite, but my personal favorite essay is the last one, where she devotes one paragraph to an incident in the life of the founder of each religion. I’ve often said that the world religion classes could use it for a final exam — “Identify the person and the incident described here…”

    Love your blog!

  2. I love lists of books!! I love to see other peoples’ lists!! Thanks for this list of substantial and meaningful reads – I will definitely take a look at many of these!!

  3. I loved “My Family and Other Animals” too. I remember years later I went to Corfu and as I leaned over the rail of the ferry gazing wistfully across at the island, thinking of Gerald Durrell and olive groves and beaches, someone stole my camera and the film containing all my holiday snaps! The other childhood book that
    shaped me was ‘Charlottes Web’. Because of that story I have no fear of spiders! As an adult, I would say one of the most influential books I’ve read is ‘Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus’. It totally explained those things I found most frustrating about men! 🙂 and finally, a book that taught me a lot about belief in oneself was ‘The Measure of a Man’ by Sidney Poitier.

    1. It’s a good thing you’ve travelled enough now to make up for that terrible loss of all your holiday snaps! Must have a look at The Measure of a Man. Thanks for the tip. Men are from Mars was quite an eye-opener for me too 🙂

  4. Do you know I am reading a book at the moment where the main character is CONSTANTLY quoting Oscar Wilde. And then I read this from you. So clearly I have to go and read The Importance of Being Earnest 🙂

    And you know what? Lord of the Rings just never did it for me. I gave it two goes and both times … meh. And this from a dedicated lover of fantasy. What am I missing that the entire rest of the world isn’t?!!!

    1. Bear in mind I was fifteen and had little to compare it with… I started my list with The Importance of Being Earnest because it served a hugely useful purpose in my life!

      Yeah, I get that Lord of the Rings does nothing for many people! It’s long, unwieldy, needs a good editor and basically goes on a bit 🙂 Again, it came along at the right time in my young life, at seventeen, when I really responded to the escape it provided. I actually think the first LOTR movie was a better interpretation of the book than the book itself.

  5. Malini your walk down memory lane has reminded me of the very first book that started me on my own love affair of books and reading. I can’t recall my exact age but I was probably about 9 and I was in an english extension class for boys who could do more. We were given a novel bt CS Forrester about the Napoleonic Wars titled “Death to the French”. By the time I had finished (in a single sitting!) I was well and truly hooked on reading. I could smell the gun powder and see death on the battle field! It was an extrordinary experience and one I continue to seek out in the books I read today.

    1. Wow! That was quite a description, I could smell the gunpowder too!! I’m glad my post reminded you of such a powerful childhood memory. Books seem to sear images into our minds like no movie can, I reckon. Maybe it’s because we make up the visuals ourselves 🙂

  6. Great list! I giggled my way through my family and other animals in your lounge room as an 11yr old… Then promptly scoured the libraries to find as many of his books as I could 🙂 a few of my books would be Enders Game by Orson Scott Card (the first science fiction book I ever read), Lights of Fortitude by Barron Harper (short biographies about the Hands of the Cause and their absolute steadfastness) and My Place by Sally Morgan (also from you, I went on to do my BA in Australian Indigenous Studies).

    1. Hey Shanths, nice to know I had am impact on your reading 🙂 ‘My Place’ was a real eye-opener for me too. Definitely one of my favourites.

  7. I love this post 🙂 Although it’s pretty cliché the Harry Potter books will always be my favourites…They always manage to draw me in to the story like nothing else ever can, and always rekindle my love for reading when I haven’t read for ages. All the books you’ve read make me think I have a lot of work to do, I’ve probably only read about 1 thousandth of the amount of books you’ve read!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

      Hey, liking Harry Potter is NOT cliche!! I actually wondered why I didn’t include them on my list considering how much I love them (and how many times I’ve read them!). I guess it’s because this list is about books that helped ‘form’ me in some way, not the books I’ve enjoyed reading the most or anything … Plus I went back in time nearly fifty years, so that’s a lot of books BEFORE Harry was invented 🙂

  8. Hi Malini,
    Gosh I used to read a lot, but have to say am not much of a reader now – although I do listen to to a lot of audiobooks. You reminded me of how much I also loved My family and Other Animals – I think I need to add this to my list to read with the kids!! We have been working our way through my old Enid Blyton Favourites (so I can read them again of course!!) – the Magic Faraway series and we just started on the the Wishing Chair series. It’s a good old trip down memory lane for me – and the kids are loving it 🙂
    By the way, when I was growing up, I used to work in the old fashioned tearooms in the Stately Home that was Mr Darcy’s Pemberley 🙂 It’s in the village where my parents live.
    Mandy x

    1. Post

      Hi Mandy! That is amazing (about Pemberley!) Somehow I didn’t imagine that real people were associated with it 🙂 Have fun with Enid Blyton – there was a tv movie about her that was on while I was battling the flu and it got me remembering all this stuff…she had such a complicated life, it was quite at odds with her beautiful books.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Hi Mallini, Thanks for sharing about your love of books. I used to be a bookworm too. Loved Enid Blyton, Jane Austen & Tolkien. I loved Lord of the Rings so much that I went and studied Old English..ha! I am looking fwd to the Hobbit movie and would like to visit The Shire in NZ. I also saw the Enid Blyton movie and it didn’t seem like she was a very nice person which was a shame. Her books are great and I still have a treasured collection of them at home.

    1. Post

      Hi Wini
      yes, I saw the same movie about Enid Blyton – just before I wrote the blog 🙂 She had a complex life! Amazing that you still have a collection of her books!! thanks for stopping by x

  10. Hi Malani
    Even though I am a huge book lover, I am ashamed to say I have only read Pride & prejudice. Will go to Amazon after finishing this post or the library to catch up. Enid Blyton books got me through my childhood as well. The magic faraway tree series was my favorite. Also a big fan of Roald Dahl. XLisa ps my first visit to your blog, found you through Kelly’s a life less frantic blog

    1. Post

      Hello Lisa
      Lovely to ‘meet’ you 🙂 Kelly is my ‘fairy godmother’ so you must be part of her magic tribe 🙂 Thanks for stopping by! x

  11. Thank you so much for the book recommendations. I always love to find new books. “God Loves Laughter” looks really good and there are a few others on here I have had on my Amazon wish list for a while, so now more reason to go ahead and get them.

    Thank you, also, for taking the time to check out my new blog and give me some feedback. Your art here is gorgeous. I wish I could come to one of your workshops! Perhaps a goal for future travel 🙂

    1. Post

      Hello there Regina! I think you’d love ‘God Loves Laughter’ – it is just a funny, gorgeous, very readable book! And judging by the feel of your blog, I would guess you’re a happy spirit (who doesn’t smile inside when they see a sunflower?!)

      Thank you for your kind words about my art. I’d love to meet you at one of my workshops…come on over!

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