We all have that one book. The book that made us fall in love with reading or look at the world a little differently. Maybe it’s a classic, a little known author or an international bestseller set in the wizarding world of Harry Potter.
Whatever it is, you remember it fondly and keep a copy for the days you need to remember simpler days. It’s your warm fuzzy, cozy blanket or warm cup of tea.
These are the books loved by team 8THIRTYFOUR, we hope they put a smile on your face.
As a gangly awkward middle schooler, books were my escape. My dad was an avid reader and I used to sneak into his room and pull books off his top shelf in his closet, to this day those are still some of my favorite authors. Clive Cussler, Robert Ludlum, Ken Follet, W.E.B. Griffin – all wrote on espionage, military, government secrets and they shaped my childhood. Weird, yeah but so freaking cool.
Even so, the book that had the largest impact on my life was, Little Women. Louisa May Alcott modeled my beloved character, Jo, on her own experiences living in the 1800s. Women were expected to get married and have children, not pursue a career and be independent. Jo was a tomboy who loved writing, being outdoors, beating the boys at their games and challenging social norms of the day. Alcott was a feminist before it was widely known term. She started out writing under a pen name to avoid disclosing her sex and eventually went on to write Little Women loosely based on her own childhood.
As a young girl Jo was my hero, when I got older I realized the true hero was Alcott. What an extraordinary life she lived.
The Dark Tower
How many of us have dreamed of a different world? Some fantasy, or sci-fi world that captures our imagination and takes us away from the mundanity of ours? Probably all of us – even if we didn’t realize it. Now, what if you took all of those fantasies and put them together into one, cohesive world? The Dark Tower stands at the center of it all, every world of imagination and fiction, every time and every dimension. It both encompasses and is contained within every dream we’ve ever had, drawing us toward it unyieldingly, like a moth to a flame.
At least, that is the world Stephen King imagined in his seven book epic fantasy. How could this NOT influence my highly impressionable teenage mind? This book series opened my mind to the idea of a multiverse, and influenced my creativity and storytelling more than anything before or anything since. I’d already had crazy ideas for worlds beyond; I was a teen, after all, who grew up on anime and video games. This series helped shape that world, and sparked ideas that have stuck with me ever since.
Now, like a lot of King’s novels, The Dark Tower suffers from some of his writing demons. A lackluster ending, and dragging middle, a mysterious intro that leaves many questions unanswered. But the IDEA is what impacted me the most, and I’ll never forget the moment I read the words that changed everything: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
Sabriel by Garth Nix
As a child, I used to absolutely devour books. Reading was my favorite pastime—after all, I was convinced I would write a fantasy novel before the age of 18 (Paolini was my celebrity rival, so I had to do it a year before he did). So, on every road trip, every day off, every spare moment, I could be found diving into book after book after book. Maybe that’s why this was such a hard one for me to narrow down. Sure, I adored books like Tuck Everlasting, A Wrinkle in Time (which I wrote a fanfic for when I was in first grade…it wasn’t very good), Lord of the Rings, and everything Amelia Atwater-Rhodes touched. But for some reason, I really found myself impacted by Sabriel.
Now, I have a habit of not finishing things I enjoy (case and point to my Dark Tower tattoo, when I still have 100 pages left…and have for three years). I think it’s because I don’t want them to be over, and the Old Kingdom series (of which Sabriel is the first) was no exception. Why? Because I was too busy reading the first book over and over again.
Sabriel is a girl who is set to inherit her father’s title of Abhorsen—the necromancer tasked with putting undead to rest. At the beginning of the novel, she inherits her father’s tools, a set of bells and a sword, and must set off with her cat companion to free her father from Death. It’s a story about learning on the go, finding magic in small things, and choosing friends wisely.
The book has never left my mind, from the image of Sabriel and her sash of bells (which I definitely ripped off for a D&D NPC) to the feel of the entire book. It introduced death to me as something natural, and fate as something to be explored. As Sabriel’s almanac asks, “Does the Walker choose the Path, or the Path the Walker?”
To Kill a Mockingbird
My whole life I have had a love of reading. A blessing and privilege that I do my best to not squander as I had the opportunity to build out my collection of books from a young age with a Grandfather who worked in journalism and parents who whiz through books like it’s their job. Gifted a book, or two, every birthday and Christmas there was always a sense of newness and wonder in my collection. I waited up for the releases of the new Harry Potter installments, I got lost in the fictional worlds of C.S. Lewis, Suzanne Collins and even Megan McDonald (If you know the Judy Moody books, we definitely can be friends). But I wasn’t struck by fiction quite like I was the summer leading into freshman year of high school with Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.
At the risk of sounding like the “Stefan” character on SNL (again, if you get this reference, can we be friends?) this book has it all. All through the lens of a child seeing a flawed world that they are navigating and seeing how it can fail many people. This failing chiefly falls on Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of rape. The Finch family, led by widowed Atticus, the very defense lawyer who choose to see Tom Robinson for the innocent man he was and do right by him amid a tumultous trial (one that nearly didn’t happen because of an angry mob that wanted to lynch Tom the night before it was set to begin… like get a grip people…).
Throughout the book you hear about a mysterious character, Boo Radley, the aloof homebody (an agoraphobic by today’s standards) who is almost like a guardian angel to Scout, Jem and Dill as they face the realities of the world like going to school, having the town turn on them due to their father defending Tom and finally saving them from the swallows of revenge after the trial concludes. This book, unlike others I had read to that point, teaches young people (or anyone really) about what empathy looks like and how to walk through life with integrity.
I will say though, I am still waiting for my gift in a tree from my very own Boo Radley.
As a young middle schooler I found my escape through various dystopian societies to escape my own. I found it difficult to escape the inner workings of my mind through real-life scenarios and found comfort within fictional worlds. The likes of Junie B. Jones, Ivy and Bean, and The Magic Treehouse I was always obsessed with adventurous young individuals who were curious about the way things work. I identify as an incredibly curious human being and want to always know what other people are curious about. Through The Giver we are placed into a dystopian society in which the main character, Jonas, let’s us into his mind to see what it truly means to live in a society that is “other.” Love, adventure, and curiosity were all things that middle school me was fascinated by and I felt myself escaping with Jonas into this society I did not understand.
Now, as a young adult, I see how a utopian society can become a dystopian society. I identify with individuals that are asked to face the “other” within their societies, now as much as I did in my younger years. Books do change lives and The Giver was one of the many books that changed mine.
If you’re looking to pick up one of these amazing books recs, shop local.