Books that made me who I am

I grew up on books. Books raised me. Or, my parents raised me, but they did so with the help of a lot of books.

There was never a forbidden topic in my house when I was growing up, nor was there a forbidden book. I read long tomes of Greek mythology, how-to books, incandescent denunciations against the Catholic Church, young adult classics, kid’s books, everything. My go-to bedtime story was not Dr. Seuss, it was The Bicentennial Man, by Isaac Asimov.

My point? I love books. I’ve laughed with them, cried with them and learned from them. And, like, with everything, I have my favorites. The books that left a mark. The ones that helped shape my opinions, my likes and dislikes. The ones I turn for comfort, and sometimes, for inspiration.

Today, I would like to share those with you:

Harry Potter Series, J. K Rowling – the words are one thing, and the reality of what those words do to you, what they help you achieve, is another. Harry taught me, in a way that perhaps no other book has before, or after, how you can love a book, drown in it, discuss it for hours, obsess over it, love it, live it. It also, in a very roundabout way, taught me how to be brave, how to speak up, how to think for myself, and even how to make friends.

In the time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez – Fiction hurts sometimes, but reality cuts the deepest. A book about real-life events is always a complicated thing, because you learn and yet the pain is even more profound when you know the events you’re reading about really happened. But, thanks to this book, I’ve come to believe that if we talk about things, if we tell the stories, we can make them mean something.

The Perks of being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky. Everyone gets what they need to get out of literature. The thing I got from this book, more than anything, was the reminder that life sucks sometimes, yes, but it’s big and it’s long and even when it seems like things are never going to improve, you just gotta keep trying. You can get through it. You really can.

Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery. Of all the characters on this list, I met and fell in love with Anne first. As a little girl she was a reminder that being different was not always a bad thing. She also taught me to love pretty words and to appreciate the beauty in a perfect line of prose. Maybe I was meant to be a writer; perhaps I would have fallen into it anyway. But as it stands, I owe a debt of gratitude to Anne, for the words.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott. There aren’t that many books that little girls can relate to, sadly. And Little Women is one of the few that has a little bit for every type of girl. I’ve gone through stages of my life where I identified with each and every one of the four titular characters, and though right now I’m back to Jo March, I’ll always appreciate what each of them gave me.

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Another one of my bedtime stories, and the one book I keep on my nightstand, I wish I could say The Little Prince taught me to think like a child (a tall order), but at least I can say it taught me to think outside the box, to see with the heart, in a way. To feel.

The Madman, Kahlil Gibran. I first encountered this book many years ago, when I was young, insecure, and terrified of being different. It’s not Gibran’s best known work, or his most renowned, but for me, it will forever signify acceptance, understanding, and maybe even permission to be who you are.

Blindness, Jose Saramago. In my entire life no book has affected me as viscerally as this one. Reading it I learned that words are the most powerful thing in the world, so powerful that sometimes they can even make you think you’re going blind as you read the descriptions.

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini. Books can sometimes break your heart, and then heal it all over again – just like life. And though I’d learned before that words matter, I’m quite sure that’s a lesson that you need to learn over and over again. Words have a lasting impact. Words can change the world.

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas. To this day when someone asks what my favorite book is I bring up Duma’s epic story about revenge and forgiveness, not only because it’s so well written, but because the great books are the ones that stick with you many, many years after you first read them. This is a great book that taught me more about right and wrong than years of lessons.

These are, of course, not the only books. I like to believe you get something out of every book you read, even the ones you hate. These are the ones that have stayed with me so far. I’ll keep reading, of course. I’ll find more. And I’ll be better because of them.

That’s what books do. Even when you don’t want them to.

What books made you who you are? Which ones inspire you? Which ones can you read and re-read over and over again? Share with us in the comments below!

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