Anyone who knows me knows that I am, as my dad once put it, a voracious reader. After the initial kindergarten outrage that the words didn’t follow the rules, they started to come together into stories and facts and tapestries that have captivated me ever since. I mostly have my parents to thank for the fact that I grew up loving books so much, and for making sure I never, ever ran out of things to read.
A book I recently finished was looking at some of the differences between kids who grow up to be successful adults*. One of the most significant factors? Books. Not everybody loves reading, and I get that. But reading — well, frequently, and on a variety of topics — is genuinely one of the most indispensable methods of learning and preparing for success. Reading expands your vocabulary, sharpens your cognitive processing, and fosters empathy; which is something the world sorely needs more of.
When I was a kid, I was remiss to go anywhere without a book. I would pack a quarter of my suitcase full of them on vacations, and used to follow behind my mom in the grocery store, just using my peripherals to navigate so I didn’t have to put the story down. College made reading what I wanted more difficult because I was busy, exhausted, and all my homework was reading, but I’m slowly picking up books more frequently.
Of course, some books are just for fun. But some made a huge difference in how I saw the world, and how I wanted to live in it. So just for fun, below is a list of some of the books that have influenced me most. (Disclaimers that I get no compensation for any recommendations I put up on this blog, and though I’ve included links to them on Amazon because it’s convenient, please consider supporting local and independent bookstores!)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Don’t knock it — this was absolutely my favorite book as a kid, and the one I always wanted to read after a rough day. Fun fact: I can still recite the whole book from memory (though I sometimes muddle up Saturday).
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
When I was in 4th grade, my mom recommended I read this for a book report, and frankly I didn’t want to. I reluctantly started it, and didn’t put it down for the next four days. This book is one of the first that made me not just fall in love with stories, but with words, in addition to igniting my love of all things C. S. Lewis.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
To be honest, this book isn’t particularly high on my list of favorites. But it had a lasting impact on me, and one that I only realized the extent of later. Stargirl is flawed and thoughtful and leaves an impression, and showed me all the potential of quiet, everyday magic.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
History has rarely afforded us the preservation of firsthand accounts from any besides the most powerful, and this slim autobiography is honest, harsh, and hopeful — it implores the reader to open their eyes, and deepened my dedication to looking for stories and perspectives beyond my own. (Also y’all, this one is $1.62 on Amazon right now — pick it up if you haven’t read it.)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This remains my favorite book in the world, and no other book has caught me the same way. The narration is striking, the story is poignant, and it talks about things we can’t imagine in a way that is surprisingly, hauntingly familiar.
Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis
This books dances on the line between essays and fiction, but it helped teach me how to view life— in all its pain and pulchritude — as even more wondrous. The book talks about prayer while not shying away from any questions or challenges that might arise.
It’s also worth noting that books are by no means the only thing worth reading. Newspapers have taught me more than I could possibly put into words, magazines have been a consistent source of ideas and inspiration, and comic books tell far more true and relevant stories than we often give them credit for. There’s something to learn everywhere you can find words to read. What stories have impacted you most? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!
*The book is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell if you’re interested — he’s one of my favorite nonfiction authors.