I’m just now getting around to this. These are the ten books I read when I was young. I’m going to do this a bit differently, and limit my list to books that influenced my writing as well as my tastes.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien

I grew up near these amazing woods. They were my woods, and with their remnants of stone walls, giant oak trees, and a small pond surrounded by hills, it was as close to Middle Earth as this New England kid was going to get. I spent a lot of time in those woods, and I kept wishing that a door would open up and take me to Middle Earth.

This is why I wrote my portal stories.

The Black Stallion. Walter Farley.

The entire series was catnip to a horse-crazy girl. The cool thing is that Farley wrote these books about a horse-crazy boy. Why don’t more boys like horses? It’s too bad — they are missing out. I started reading these books in the first grade (yes, precocious) and it kicked off my undying love of horses.

The Black Stallion series is why I write about horses.

Kidnapped. Robert Louis Stevenson.

Even more than Treasure Island and The Black Arrow, Kidnapped was my first foray into adventure tales. And the roguish rebel Alan Breck was my first literary crush. I can still read Kidnapped and a part of me wishes I was Davy. This is why I write adventure stories.

The Three Musketeers. Alexandre Dumas.

The best adventure story ever told. Still readable, as are all the sequels. And my second literary crush was Athos, but that was just a stage.  I wanted to be a musketeer when I grew up.

Dragonflight. Anne McCaffrey.
I know, I know — problematic rape fantasy. But telepathic dragons! I read and re-read til my books fell apart.

Kirkland Revels. Victoria Holt. One of the many mid-century modern gothics that engendered a love of the genre in me that continues to this day. There is a faint echo of Victoria Holt in The Crow God’s Girl, in which our Kate is a girl in a very unwelcoming house.

Madam Will You Talk. Mary Stewart.
The gothic, updated for the modern girl. Stewart put her girls in peril, but they were smart and no-nonsense and got out of it. Lynn Romano is my version of a Stewart heroine.

Cotillion. Georgette Heyer.
The Grand Sophy was my first Heyer, and I will always love it, but Cotillion has my heart. Cotillion is one of the funniest, smartest romances around, with an unlikely hero who is the exact opposite of the strong, manly, roguish, unreliable type. You see, Freddy knew to get a special license. Alan Breck would never do that. Athos might, but he’d be all broody about it. Freddy is exactly the man that a Regency girl needs. Mr. Aikens is my homage to Freddy. (He’d probably forget the special license too, come to think of it).

If anyone needs me, I’m going to be in my bunk — reading Cotillion.

One of the best books of my childhood.

One of the best books of my childhood.

The Wolf King. Ann Turnbull. This is a little-known Bronze Age YA that for years I thought had been written by Rosemary Sutcliff until I actually looked at my old Scholastic edition. Heroic Fantasy Quarterly editor Adrian Simmons and I have both discussed our fondness for The Wolf King, especially for the pivotal sword-making scene. I almost wore my copy out, but it is still on the shelf.

Eagle of the Ninth. Rosemary Sutcliff. Speak of the devil.  I’ve been on a re-collection binge of Heyer and Sutcliffe, and my local Half-Price Books has come through like a champ on both. Her books are so good.

Like anyone who’s been asked to do this thing, I could keep going, and in fact a quick glance at my bookshelves shows a few dozen more, plus the ones I’ve read in the library and don’t have. But the rules said, the first books that come to mind. (Can I just sneak in a quick mention of Heinlein and C.L. Moore? Thanks.)

Note that there’s no Austen. I didn’t come to appreciate Austen until I was in my early twenties. So I left her out, but have certainly made up for lost time.

So that’s my list. What’s yours?


Emily Wethington · September 15, 2014 at 11:42 am

Hey lady,
I only had the nerve to list 10 books that I never finished but influenced me nonetheless. I like your list and share many of those titles in my heart, too. It’s fun to stop and reflect on all those marvelous stories and heroes and villains! Wow!
Ok back to my errands and chores. uhhh

Patrice Sarath · September 15, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Books you never finished?! Is even a thing possible?!

John MacAyeal · September 15, 2014 at 7:43 pm

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
The Onion Field
In Cold Blood
Hell’s Angels
The Fan Club
A Fan’s Notes
Cell 2455, Death Row
Native Son
Black Boy
I think all these books influenced and dovetailed with my interest in tough, gritty urban settings.

Patrice Sarath · September 15, 2014 at 9:31 pm

I have to confess. I just this year read In Cold Blood. It’s really good, and holds up quite well.

John MacAyeal · September 17, 2014 at 6:13 pm

It also started the genre of the nonfiction novel.

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