🎵 This is my birthday song; it isn’t very long. 🎵
At some point I will probably stop being okay with sharing my exact age on the Internet, so I may regret this post (and last year’s). But today I am 21 years old and I do not care.
That’s a problem for future me.
Birthdays are still days of wonder to me: a reminder to look back on the experiences that have influenced me, and to look forward to the experiences that await. I’ve certainly drawn a lot from the books I’ve read, for better or worse — and since this is in large part a book blog, I figured, what better way to celebrate?
This post was inspired by Ibukun @ A Bookworm and a Half; I’m sure plenty of other bloggers have done similar lists, but Ibukun’s was the first that I read.
I tried to put these in roughly chronological order of when I read them — keyword being tried. And I haven’t read most of these books for years and years, so you’ll have to forgive me if I get some details wrong.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
This book is extra special to me because it was one of my mom’s favorites, so it’s one of the first books we shared. It’s a wonderful story on so many levels, whether you’re reading with a first-grader’s comprehension or a college graduate’s, and of course the illustrations are lovely too.
I got my own copy for Christmas from my third-grade teacher, which I think makes it the first book that was ever picked out for and gifted to me by someone other than my parents.
Who Wants a Cheap Rhinoceros by Shel Silverstein
Another childhood favorite that my parents read to me, this book is more lighthearted fun. It never actually gave me the desire for my own pet rhinoceros, but it certainly made the whole thing look like a heck of a lot of fun.
When I was growing up we had the (traditional) Chinese edition, so that’s the version I can still kind-of recite. I actually don’t think I’ve read it in the original English, but honestly I’m not sure if I want to — nostalgia and all that.
The Magic Half by Annie Barrows
I first read this book when I was about ten years old, give or take, and I liked it so much that it became my first purchase from a Scholastic book fair. (Yes, I was that kid who saved all her allowance money unless there was something I really wanted. I still am, honestly.)
After I first bought it, I felt the need to reread it multiple times to ensure it was worth the price. But it held up over the years: the magic hasn’t faded.
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
This book comes with a memory, too: The first time I checked it out of the school library, I left my bookmark between the end pages. The second time I checked it out, months later, my bookmark was still there.
I honestly can’t remember why I decided to read this book, but a sort-of friend saw me with it and picked it up too. That may have been the first time I bonded with a classmate over a book, of course not counting the ones we had to read for class.
Inkworld trilogy by Cornelia Funke
I first read Inkheart in second grade, and in hindsight I probably wasn’t mature enough for it; I had nightmares for ages afterward, and upon reread I found so many subtle scenes and themes that I missed the first few times.
To this day, Inkspell (the middle installment) remains my favorite of the trilogy. But I have a soft spot for the last book, too — when Inkdeath was released and my teacher added it to the class library, she gave me dibs since she knew I had read and loved the previous two books.
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
My mom originally ordered this book for herself, if memory serves, but we have a joint-custody understanding as far as personal libraries go. I loved it so much that I took it to sleepaway science camp, where the pages got waterlogged and wavy because it was pouring rain all week.
I also loved it so much that I recommended it to a close friend, who returned the favor by getting me into Nancy Farmer’s other books. Including the Sea of Trolls trilogy, which we both loved.
Boy: Tales of Childhood & Going Solo by Roald Dahl
We’d been assigned to research and write a speech about a famous person; I asked whether an author was famous enough to count, and my Language Arts teacher said it was okay.
Mainly I chose to do my report on Roald Dahl because my parents had gotten me a box set of his books, including these autobiographies. (The editions pictured aren’t the ones I have, but I prefer this cover art.)
Inkheart had made me aware that authors are real people too, but I was fascinated to learn about Dahl’s personal history and discover the inspiration behind some of his most famous works. Story ideas can come from the darnedest places, yknow?
The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce
My first Tamora Pierce book was Protector of the Small: First Test, read over the summer for an online book-discussion class. When I discovered that my high school library had a whole shelf of her books, I started making my way through them. And discovered that I love the Emelan cycle slightly more than Tortall.
The Will of the Empress stands out in my mind because it’s the Circle of Magic reunited as young adults, which I could barely imagine as someone without close childhood friends and with decades to go before adulthood.
Also, I wrote a book report on it, mostly because I happened to be reading it when we were asked to write the first draft. Book reports were a long-term project in this class, but I had commitment issues even then so I’d done the preliminary assignments with whichever book I was in the middle of.
I don’t remember much of the final report beyond reading a passage out loud from the book and showing off a video game adaptation I’d created with a drag-and-drop program. (Not that it matters now, but I got full score on that report.)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I’m pretty sure I just saw The Night Circus while browsing Target and decided I liked the cover and summary. I didn’t buy it then, which I now regret slightly — that edition came with a preface or introduction, which the one I ended up getting doesn’t have.
Years later, this was one of the first Kindle books I bought myself because I wanted to be able to bring it with me everywhere, like a good-luck charm or security blanket.
This is one of those books that I love so much, I never really know what to say about it. From the setting to the characters to the prose, everything about The Night Circus seems perfect to me. (Before you ask, I have read The Starless Sea, and I loved it too.)
Honestly I’m a little scared to reread it too often, because it’s so dear to my heart and I don’t know what I would do if it ever lost its magic. It’s my go-to “favorite” book whenever people inevitably ask, and my go-to recommendation.
Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer
The first time I checked out an Artemis Fowl book, I had no idea what to borrow next from the school library. A friend really liked this series, to the point of calling himself Artemis Fowl III, so I figured why not give it a try? I ended up liking it so much that I “borrowed” that friend’s notebook to learn Gnommish and translate the hidden messages running along the bottom of the pages.
When I got my first Kindle for Christmas, my dad was thoughtful enough to include some of my favorite books and some of the books he knew I wanted to read. So as soon as we finished presents and pictures and all that, I began my serious affair with ebooks with The Atlantis Complex, which had been released recently.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
To be honest, I can’t remember when or why I first fell in love with We Were Liars. But it earned a top spot on my Favorites shelf and has held up well to rereads since then, so I can only imagine that it was really special to me at some point?
So much for this one. 😅
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
This is another book I don’t have distinct memories of, but I know I checked it out from the library multiple times over the course of a few years. The characters spoke to me, and I was amazed by how such a deceptively straightforward plot could captivate me time and time again.
It felt like a “grown-up” read to me at the time, which now strikes me as noteworthy since Sarah Dessen is a middle/high school memory for many people, and I had already been reading Adult books before I picked it up. But in any case, it marked some kind of shift in my book selections.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
If I’m being honest, Rainbow Rowell’s books are hit-or-miss for me. At their best they are very good, but at their worst they can be infuriating. (See: the racism in Eleanor & Park — I don’t think RR ever addressed it, so I do hesitate to support her by promoting her books. But Fangirl was definitely a formative read for me, so with that disclaimer out of the way it didn’t feel right to exclude it from this post.)
This book has been around since 2013, which in publishing time is pretty old. I have a vague memory of seeing it on display in my school library and checking it out on a whim, so my guess is that I first read it when it was newly released, though I wouldn’t swear to it under oath.
From the beginning, I fell in love with the fandom rep. I was a fairly prolific fanfiction writer at the time; I had fandom friends and a few fairly popular fics. Never before had I read a book that acknowledged Internet fan culture, let alone celebrated it, and I felt so validated. I’d also long dreamed about going off to college: exploring campus, having free time to write and occasionally be dragged into socializing, taking classes I actually wanted to. (The joke was on me, since I enrolled in a pharmacy program with a pre-designed curriculum. But I digress.)
And, of course, finally being in a relationship.
Because if YA lit had taught me anything, my life wasn’t complete with a romantic partner. In hindsight, I actually think reading about Levi gave me the courage to go out with a boy who was vastly different from me and from the kind of person I thought I wanted to date. Ultimately we didn’t work out, but I’m grateful for that experience.
Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater
I’m 98% sure I checked this series out when I was volunteering at the library and came across the pretty covers. At the time I was opposed to romance on principle, and I thought werewolves were generally overrated; I can only assume that I didn’t even bother reading the synopsis.
So lucky me, that this came along to gently challenge my preconceptions. I adored Grace and Sam’s relationship, through the big and the little obstacles between them; I was fascinated by the specific workings of these werewolves.
Later my best friend would lowkey coerce me into reading The Raven Cycle, and it would take me way too long to realize it was by the same author. But pretty much since then, Maggie Stiefvater has been one of my very few auto-buy authors.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
While it was certainly not the first Classic I’d read, or even the first Classic that I enjoyed — those distinctions probably both go to Jane Austen books — Jane Eyre was the first Classic that I absolutely loved. Sure, I needed the annotated edition to fully appreciate it, but I had it and I did.
And it wasn’t like Pride and Prejudice where everyone else also seemed to have read and liked it. No one I knew was talking about Jane Eyre, so in a way it was just mine.
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
I actually first picked this one up just last month (December 2019), and do I ever wish I’d had this book as a teenager. In addition to being the type of unicorn known as a YA Fantasy Standalone, it has such fantastic bisexual rep with a lonely-yet-antisocial-and-sometimes-downright-mean protagonist I related to probably more than I should admit.
There’s some delightful trope-skewering/satire, but there are equally many earnest scenes. It portrays believable teenage behavior and dialogue, without being so over-the-top that I found it exasperating as an older reader. The worldbuilding, and character growth? *chef’s kiss*
And, of course, it’s reassuring to be reminded that my days of discovering new favorite books and authors are far from over. While I knew it on an intellectual level, it had been years since I last felt the urge to update my Favorites list. Until this book decided to play keepaway with my heart.
- Which books do you consider “milestone reads”?
- Are there any books that you initially disliked, but either grew to enjoy or plan to try again when you’re older?
- Or any books that you initially loved, but didn’t hold up to rereading?