Many of you have probably heard about the recent Facebook meme about “Books that have stayed with You.” These aren’t just favorite books, but books that have made a lasting impact on your life. Seeing your friends post their list gives you an insight into what influences them and what shared influences you have between you. The results that Facebook’s analytics have found are really neat, though obviously skewed by a younger and more-Westernized audience. But, for example, there’s a 0.4 overlap in books shared between friends compared to the 0.1 overlap between random lists – meaning friends tend to have similar literary leanings. For the full data analysis, take a look here.
I didn’t do this list on Facebook, though I combed through my friend’s lists and noted a couple books down on my “to-read” list, but I wanted to expand on why I chose the books I did. So without further ado, the books that stayed with me (in order of reading chronology):
1. The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White (2nd grade) – This is going to sound ridiculous coming from a book blogger, but I hated to read when I was a kid. It took me the longest time to learn how and I think my embarrassment over my inability lead to dislike of the activity. But this is the first book I can remember loving. Louis’ courage and determination to overcome his deficiencies inspired me to do the same.
2. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (3rd grade-12th grade) – 21% of those who did this meme put Harry Potter somewhere on their list, and for good reason. These books may not be the pinnacle of English-language literature, but they’ve become classics amongst a certain cadre of youth who grew up eagerly waiting for Harry’s next adventure (not to mention their own Hogwarts letter!). I was no exception to the obsession and made a number of friends because of our shared Potter-mania. A book that can build friendships is indeed magical.
3. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (6th grade) – This was the book that taught me empathy for others. I couldn’t relate to a gang of ’60s greaser guys, but Johnny and Ponyboy still struck a chord inside me, teaching me to look beyond first visual impressions into the inner complexities of a person. I’ve reread this book multiple times since and I’m still shaken every time I get to “stay gold.”
4. Cambridge Latin Course (7th-11th grades) – Not an obvious pick perhaps, but I studied Latin for six years and was a total Classics nerd. To this day, I’ll still sing the Mickey Mouse conjugation song, recite lines of Catullus’ poetry, or translate random words and phrases based on the Latin roots I know. Although post-high school I transferred into a language that’s actually spoken, the Roman History class I took in college is still one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had, one that would’ve never happened if this book hadn’t sparked my interest in Ancient Rome.
5. Animal Farm by George Orwell (8th grade) – Around 8th grade, I started becoming interested in politics, disillusioned with the current American administration. I read this while on a trip to Egypt and France, and thus began my interest in government and political activism, eventually leading me to DC. “All animals are equal…but some animals are more equal than others.”
6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (10th grade) – I became a vocal feminist because of this book. Like many celebrities today (cough*TSwift*cough), I didn’t really understand the concept of feminism but Atwood drew my attention to ongoing discrimination against women by portraying a dystopian society not too far removed from what ours could be someday.The politics of gender have been ongoing for thousands of years, but I hope they don’t evolve as in Offred’s experience.
7. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (12th grade) – Since I began liking books, I knew they could take me on new adventures and teach me new things, but Nafisi demonstrated how literature turns dreams into reality for women globally, especially when they are so constrained in their society. Through her memoir, I realized what an astounding transformative impact education can have on the political, economic, and social development of a community.
8. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (12th grade) – I read this book when I was making a final decision about what college to go to. Delving into the human struggle within the larger political-military landscape of Afghanistan solidified my choice to major in international relations, with a focus on the Middle East. I may not work in that field now, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the turmoil in the region has not eased since this book was written and individuals continue to suffer due to the machinations of their self-serving governments.
9. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (summer before college) – As a first-generation Indian-American, I related to Gogol’s difficulties assimilating both his cultures (and thank God that my parents didn’t give me an obscure ethnic name). In college, I threw myself into Indian-centric activities and classes because I felt like I didn’t comprehend my ancestry and I wanted to embrace it more. I often feel like I’m a “bad” Indian when I suck at math or can’t properly cook curry. To this day, I’m slow to navigate between my family heritage and the customs of my homeland, especially in cases of value conflict.
10. I Am The Messanger by Markus Zusak (2013) – A lot of people laud Zusak’s The Book Thief, but I think this is his better work. Through average shmoe Ed, the reader understands what it means to stand up and take action for the good, something that everyone can do, not just heroes. “I am not the messenger, I am the message.”
As you can see, I picked these because they molded the person I am by guiding me towards certain life decisions. I’d love to hear your top picks, if they differ or if any are the same. Like I said, this is a great way of finding commonalities but also for getting inspiration about new reads from people you trust. I hope you pick up some of my recommendations!