Sadly, I have a horrible memory. The older I get, the more the tapestry of my childhood unravels, each thread of memory loosening and coming undone, more and more of it lost forever. That said, I don’t remember who taught me to read, and I don’t remember the first book I read by myself or bought with my own money, but I do remember vividly who taught me to love reading: my mom. An avid reader herself, she and I made a weekly trip to the Coles bookstore in the strip mall, where we both picked at least one book to read. She would hang out in the romance section and make her choice from the Jackie Collins- and Danielle Steel-type books and I was left to choose whatever I wanted. I often meandered through the whole store, browsing and flipping through books that caught my eye. Sometimes I’d pick up a non-fiction book about how to care for dogs, but I was gently (and repeatedly) told we wouldn’t be getting one, so a book about dogs was best left on the shelf. That was the only time I was ever censored as a child, although, I still got those books out from the library and scattered them around the house as a not-so-subtle hint that I really wanted a puppy and look how responsible I was being by researching animal husbandry!
Yeah. It didn’t work.
Anyway. I sure don’t remember all of books I read, and there were a lot of them, thanks to those weekly outings. But I do remember the important ones; the ones I read over and over, that made an impact on me as a child and a teen and still have impact on me as an adult, as both a human and as a writer.
I remember ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and have been thinking about it a lot lately, as I’m asked more and more what my favorite book was as a child. It would have to be this story of a plucky Canadian orphan who finds herself taken in (reluctantly) by a seemingly crusty spinster and her confirmed bachelor brother. What seems like a recipe for disaster turns into one of the most beautiful stories of love and what it means to be a family, no matter how untraditional that family may be (pretty progressive for a book that was written over a hundred years ago). People held together by love, is what makes a family, no matter if they’re related by blood.
I’m not sure if these thoughts really occurred to me on a conscious level when I first read about Anne (don’t forget, it’s Anne with an ‘e’, please). No, I connected with Anne on a much more personal level. She was an orphan, passed around from family to family before coming to live with the Cuthberts; I am adopted (albeit as an infant, and have never known any family than the one that raised me). I think every adoptee, no matter how secure, wonders if their family truly loves them as much as they love their own flesh and blood. Seeing how much Matthew and Marilla grew to love Anne with fierce passion, despite her stubbornness, propensity to get into scrapes, and outspoken attitude, dispelled any lingering doubts I may have ever had about how much a family can love and accept a child they didn’t create.
But as I grew older and my copy of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES got taken off the shelf less and less, I turned more to the world of fantasy and science fiction. On one of my trips to the bookstore, I picked up a book called DRAGONSONG by Anne McCaffrey. I remember distinctly that there was a girl on the cover and she was surrounded by little dragons. Let me be very clear:
But it wasn’t just a book about a girl and dragons; it was a book about a girl who didn’t fit the mold of what was expected of her (a girl) and was denied her passion (music) and so had to run away from her family to follow her dream. I loved Menolly’s strength and determination and was quickly hooked by her story. And so I was introduced to the world of Pern. From there on, I read almost all of the Pern books there were, from the Harper Trilogy (DRAGONSONG was the first book) to the Dragonriders Trilogy, to the several prequels and beyond. And I read them a lot—those books got dog-eared and ripped, which meant I probably bought some of them two or three times.
John Wyndham (THE CRYSALIDS, DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, THE TROUBLE WITH LICHEN) was also a big favorite of mine as I got a bit older, but I think these books appealed for a different reason. Wyndham’s books, which contained a lot of ethical dilemmas and ‘what ifs’, absolutely fascinated the teen philosopher in me. Boy, did I feel SMART when I was made to think, really think about what happened and how I would react in those situations (despite how far-fetched it seemed, being chased by huge plants—I was able to figure out that the murderous plants weren’t really the point of the story). I thrived on learning and thinking as a kid, and I’m happy to say that nothing has changed.
So in looking back at my favorite reads, I guess it shows my tastes grew along with me, from the coming of age books about girls fitting into families and then maybe even walking away from those families to follow their passions, to those books that went outside the individual to see the world beyond. And it makes sense, doesn’t it, that we start out looking at ourselves and then out to the world and how we fit into it? I’ve never really contemplated this until just now, but boy, do I ever feel smart having thought about it. But that’s what books do—they make us smarter and they make us think.
And they teach us how to take care of puppies.
An executive assistant by day and a writer by night and weekend, Joanne Levy lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband and menagerie of pets, including an African Grey parrot, two cats and a Labrador Retriever. SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, a funny and heartwarming middle grade novel about a girl who can hear ghosts, is her first novel (and releases today, July 3!). You can find her online at http://joannelevy.com and on Twitter at @JoanneLevy.
If you’d like to learn more about Joanne and her book be sure to check out her interview with Mr. Schu, and a review of Small Medium at Large by Mr. Sharp.