Books that changed your life

April 2nd, 2008 • Kate

chestryoakAlyson Noel‘s blogging over at the Teen Fiction Cafe today, asking what books changed your life or your view of life?

This is so hard! The moment I think of one great book, I think of five others that I’d feel guilty for NOT mentioning. So I’m going to go with one of my stand-by favorites, The Chestry Oak by Kate Seredy. I’m sure I found my way to this book via Seredy’s Newbery Honor-winning novel The Good Master, which presents an idyllic view of traditional Hungarian life. (You might not have known it to look at me, but “Unfeasible” comes from the Hungarian, of course.) After The Good Master, I grabbed everything else I could read of Seredy’s — her Newbery winner, The White Stag, The Singing Tree, which was a sequel to The Good Master, and finally found my way to The Chestry Oak. I’d never cried so much reading a book as I did the first time I read this. It’s about a young Hungarian boy, a prince as I recall, living in a castle just before World War I, whose parents are killed or in some other way are out of his life, and how the hardest thing he has to do in leaving his home and everything he’s ever known to move to the safety of America is to say goodbye to his stallion.

Let me just say, I bawled. I remember my mom coming up to check on me, just to make sure I was ok — my sobs had carried down to the kitchen below. I don’t know if The Chestry Oak kicked off my horse-book-reading phase or if it just happened around the same time, but suddenly, I was tearing through everything in the library with the words “horse,” “stallion,” or “pony” on the cover. Besides that, it was a piece of real-life history — and not ancient history, either. Something that happened recently enough that I knew people who were involved in the battles being described — granted, it was a great-uncle, but he was still family, and that made it immediate. That made it REAL.

I’m still a fan of historical fiction, even though, looking back now, I doubt The Chestry Oak was all that “historical” when Seredy wrote it. But books like it are why I majored in history in college (along with English because, hello! Books!), why I dragged Rexroth to see The Other Boleyn Girl at the movies, and why I think of Sean Bean first not as Boromir, but as Sharpe.

So — what books changed YOUR life? Tell me, and tell Alyson!

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5 Responses to “Books that changed your life”

  1. Little Willow Says:

    Here's what I told Alyson at the Cafe post: I think I take a little something from every book I read. I don't know that any have changed my life, but plenty of them have taught me things, made me think, enhanced my writing, and so on.

  2. beth Says:

    For me, it was the Chronicles of Narnia. I know it's a bit of a cliched answer, but that truly is a book series that changed me life. Before I read that book, books were entertainment. And Narnia was entertaining. But after the 100th or so time (give me a break, I was a kid!) of reading it, I realized that there was a deeper meaning. From there, I started looking for "hidden clues" and meaning in literature…which led to me becoming a writer myself, so I can do the same for children that CS Lewis did for me.

  3. Carrie Says:

    When I read Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins, I knew I wanted to do THAT for a living. And just a few years ago, I went to a dinner party with him and said something that made him take off his sunglasses. (He's a sunglasses in the house kind of guy.) One of my proudest moments, other than the whole wedding and birth of my babies thing.

  4. Joelle Says:

    For me it was the Betsy-Tacy series. I identified so much with Betsy that I had to become a writer. If I have to pick one of the books though, it was Betsy and the Great World. By the time I was in high school I already knew that I would go to Europe "to live" as Betsy had, rather than just to visit, which I did after college. These books are like comfort food for me. I read them of a winter night by the fire. Interestingly enough, when I reread these books, I see that Betsy's lack of success at times is really because she's her own worst enemy. I have a little of that in me too (not the stubborn bit, but the going about things on my own without asking for help, which ends up taking me twice as long – or ten times as long to reach my goal). But like Betsy, I'm a really happy person and I just go along merrily anyway!

  5. Alyson Says:

    I went through a horse book phase too– most notably- BLACK BEAUTY and MISTY OF CHINCOTEAGUE, and I did tons of chores (well, it seemed like TONS at the time) to earn the Misty model horse!