Formative books?

Trying to get my art mojo back on, so here’s a few pumpkins, sketched in digital pencil from life, as I have a couple of small ones sitting on my desk.

Today on Sarah Sawyer’s writing blog, she had a post about the five foundational books for all Christian fantasy writers. You can read her list there.

It got me thinking about what books were the most formative for me, as a writer. The books I read in my tender years stand out the most, probably because I read them over and over through the years. But they’re not fantasy. I didn’t dabble much in fantasy just because I didn’t think much about it. I obsessed over wolves and horses, like any other girl.

In no particular order, the books that I think have impacted my writing style the most:

The Cooper Family Adventure series, by Frank Peretti. He taught me about how to build a story setting, like setting up blocks. And he taught me how to smash it all in a spectacular, entertaining climax. And he gave me night terrors for years.

The Melendy books by Elizabeth Enright (The Saturdays, the Four Story Mistake, etc.) Her characters and crystal-clear prose has stuck with me for years. You know how most people talk about Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimbly with nostalgic fondness? I’m that way about Randy, Rush, Mona and Oliver.

My Friend Flicka, by Mary O’Hara. Her prose went beyond purple to absolute poetry. It was years before I understood Ken from an adult’s perspective, and realized that he did have a serious psychological problem going on. As a kid, I sympathized with his daydreams, and I mourned with him as he was forced to violently grow out of it through his suffering with Flicka, his horse.

White Fang, by Jack London. This and Call of the Wild taught me how to write a great animal fight. I read so many wolf books, by Walt Morey, Jim Kjelegaard and others, that I thought ripping out a jugular was a reasonable way to kill someone, and never batted an eye at gore. It’s taken me years to get re-sensitized to violence.

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald. One of those beautiful stories that I had to read over and over. It’s like an expanded fairytale, and there’s so much weird symbolism that I kept going back to puzzle over it. Like her grandmother’s lamp that she can make shine so bright that it overwhelms the walls around it and hangs like a globe in the sky.

Notice that I didn’t put in Lord of the Rings or Narnia. Everybody lists those. And you know, I liked those, but they didn’t impact my psyche as deeply as the above-listed books. I think books like Swiss Family Robinson and Bambi struck me deeper, as a writer.

I think that’s one reason I’m attracted to modern fantasy now. I grew up with my imagination running rampant on Earth, seeing the drama and magic of real life and the animal kingdom. So my fantasy reflects that.

Do you find that what you write has been impacted by what you read? What are your top five?


5 thoughts on “Formative books?

  1. Very well thought out. I love your list of book and why you loved them. I think I will list mine too. I will try not to include yours.
    1. Anne of Green Gables
    2. The Velvet Room
    3. Rebecca, The Kings General..
    4. Little Women
    5. Little Britches
    I would say these books are what live in my mind and they are books I have read over and over again and I still do.


  2. Kess, I agree with Farmgirl (Kim) that I like the way that you listed the books and gave the reasons that they impacted you. I will list my top 5 but one is also on your Mom’s list.
    1. Anne of Green Gables – The vivid descriptions of nature, Anne’s personality and Matthew’s sweet spirit.
    2. To Kill a Mockingbird – Addicus will always be my favorite fictional father
    3. Girl of the Limberlost – Again, Nature
    4. Little House on the Prairie – Who didn’t love Laura?
    5. Christy – Her devotion to the people she as trying to help as well as the vivid language

    I liked the books that I could get lost in by imagining the surroundings and identifying with the characters.


  3. Nice pumpkin sketches. Love that ya left them in black and white, too. Guess the new computer is working, yea?

    As for the book list… Wow. Uhm. *considers* Spent most of my early life being a bookworm. There are so many titles… And I’m always finding more. Don’t know if I can narrow the list. *considers further, to the point of getting dizzy*


    *eventually recovers*

    Okay. Here goes nothing.

    The Wonderland books by Lewis Carroll. This may have been the story that introduced me to the idea of symbolism in writing and philosophy as a plot device. There is a balance of action and humor, a dash of imaginative poetry, he did his own illustrations and the themes in the story… The central character is someone who hadn’t really planned to be a hero and the way it’s left, by the end of the story the issue of whether or not Alice deserves the title of hero is still an open debate. As a self-declared writer, I can appreciate that’s an amazingl and uncommon feat. Just seeing the way this story was put together really helped me to understand many, many other stories. And it still does.

    Books by Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams are probably, rightfully so, considered the literary equivalents of cult classics. They have openly turned philosophy into an adventure. The writing can make you laugh, cry and really think. They are among the many many authors – and I’m going to even consider manga authors part of this – who seem to have taken the lessons of Wonderland to heart but they do it with such skill… It’s truly admirable.

    From school, there is a long list of books and plays and poems that had to be read. I think I may have read my first Dr. Suess and Busytown books in school. From there we’ve got everything else. Hamlet. Watership Down. Great Expectations. The Dairy of Anne Frank. The Grimm Fairy Tales. The Little Prince. The BFG. Howls Moving Castle. Jurassic Park. Wayside School. Where the Red Fern Grows. Island of Blue Dolphins. The collected poetry of Miss Emily D. The collected arguments of Plato. The Girl Who Owned a City.

    There are so many titles that I can’t even fully remember, much less list, them all but they deserve a collective mention because between class projects and group discussions, each of these titles had the opportunity to increase its influence on me. Cripes, Brave New World ticked me off so much that I even argued with my teacher. That was a rare thing.

    *points to the other peoples lists* Some of those were school homework for me, too.

    But outside of school, there was Agatha Christie. There was Chaung Tzu and other masters of Eastern philosophy. And there were also comics. And that was a bit of a revolution.

    I don’t know if titles like The Far Side or Calvin and Hobbes even belong on a list like this but… Before I knew what manga was, this is what I had access to. And it influenced me to see how well the stories could be told this way. And now that I know what manga is… The list just keeps growing. My poor bookshelves are a bit overwhelmed.

    Meh. Enough from me. Please excuse my rambling.


  4. Dora: I recall Brave New World elicited a few snarls from me, too. But then, it was supposed to. I do hope you still read books without school making you!


  5. No worries, Net-san. I do still read a lot. I was just saying that basically all the books that I read in school would have to be mentioned on any list of books that influenced me – because I read them in school. Some of the works, including Ray Bradburys writings which I can’t believe I forgot to mention, might have influenced me even if I hadn’t read them in school. But others… Having to write essays about them and discuss them in class and being graded on all that really increased their influence on me, I think. That’s all.


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