I am currently working on a creative project for school that is going to track my own personal human development through the books that were most important to me at different stages in my life. I have always been a voracious reader and books have both reflected my interests at any given time and also enhanced and influenced my interests. They have been a key part of my personal development.
The earliest books that I really remember reading are the Nancy Drew books. I read the entire series with my mom when I was a child. I could easily have read them on my own but it was something that we shared together. I remember sometimes going shopping for the books with her, instilling an early love of bookstores. I remember sitting in my bed while she read them to me.
There were books I loved before that, though, even though I was too little to remember them. When I asked my mom what my earliest favorite books were she said without hesitation, “Hansel and Gretel. We had to read that seven or eight times in a row.” I also liked the Dr. Seuss books (which I still like!) particularly Green Eggs and Ham and Horton Hears a Who.
Following Nancy Drew I immersed myself in one series after another that reflected my stage of development and curiousities at the time. I remember reading all of The Babysitters Club. And then all of Sweet Valley High. And then those teen horror books by authors like RL Stein and Christopher Pike.
There was a summer in elementary school when I read a bunch of romance novels from the library, which I was probably too young to be reading. And then I got into Stephen King briefly, reading all of It twice and making my way through The Dark Half. I actually returned to Stephen King later and read many more of his books although by then my favorite was his writing memoir.
Most of the books I remember from high school were the assigned reading (as I was more interested in boys than books for most of that time) but I didn’t read all the way through most of that, finding Shakespeared tedious. I do remember reading The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible and liking Toni Morrison’s Beloved. My senior year of high school I fell in love with reading again and begin immersing myself in a wide range of books. I remember most reading Reviving Ophelia and then I also remember having a true crime fascination and loving Ann Rule. I also read a lot of books on sexuality, particularly fringe topics like “pomosexuality” (post modern sexuality) and transgender stories as well as a lot about the 1980s AIDS crisis; Borrowed Time was a book about AIDS I recall by name.
From that point on I was always reading a diverse array of different topics but I can pinpoint genres that were of most interest during certain times. I seemed to go through phases with them. When depression was hitting me in my late teens (although I didn’t know that’s what it was) and early twenties I read a lot of the confessional memoirs of psychological difficulty – Girl, Interrupted and Prozac Nation, the books by Kay Redfield Jamison. I also read other psychology books; Oliver Sachs was a favorite and I liked the stories like Sybil.
That launched a love of memoirs that has lasted to this day. I’m particular interested in women’s memoirs – stories about personal journeys, spiritual searches, relationships, self-knowledge. I was an Eat, Pray, Love fan and a reader of The Happiness Project and devoured numerous lesser-known books like these. I also read many, many travel memoirs in my early twenties; reflecting a desire to see the world and learn more about it. And from there I started reading obscure found-in-the-bargain-bin-of-used-bookstores writing about travels to different categories or research into lesser-known cultures. I remember books about tribes in Africa and hippie travels to Goa.
In my early twenties I was doing a lot of work with prisoners through my organization Create Me Free. Naturally, I read a lot about prison life at the time. Stories of what prison was like for inmates as well as for wives of inmates and also non-fiction about the history and issues surrounding the creation of prisons were all part of my reading at this time. Fish by Parsell is one example. Another is The Prisoner’s Wife by Asha Bandele.
When I was a foster parent most of what I read was about child abuse, foster care, the education system and related materials. Books that I remember were A Child Called It, A Rock and a Hard Place and White Oleander but I absorbed tons of other information from those books at this time.
And then, for a few years it seemed like most of what I read was about crochet and craft or about self-help for depression and other mental health issues, which make sense since I was working on the research for my book, Crochet Saved My Life. The reading started as a reflection of my interest in the topics and then became the research for the book.
In between there I went through a few different phases with fiction. I learned that I don’t like a lot of old classic literature and I strongly favor female contemproary fiction writers over male. I like stories from Latin American authors. I fell in love with the humor of Tim Sandlin briefly. I immersed myself in Barbara Kingsolver. I read a great book called Woman on the Edge of Time that showed me how sci fi could mix with psychology. I went through a brief love affair with Chick Lit. And I read tons of books set in San Francisco, especially falling in love with the Armistead Maupin series Tales of the City. The most recent fiction book that I really loved was Room, which I read a few years ago, although I’ve enjoyed others since; that’s the only one that stands out in my memory by name.
What am I loving right now? Mostly I continue to read non-fiction and memoirs. I really, really love niche non-fiction topics and find myself fascinated by the writers Mary Roach (I’m currently reading her book Gulp about the alimentary canal and all its research) and Rebecca Solinit (whose books on San Francisco and on walking are favorites of mine). I read a lot of stuff for school – psychology books and articles. And researching for a new book I plan to start working on in 2014 that will allow me to study various systems of self-understanding from the Myers-Briggs personality test to the history of astrology.
I wonder what I’ll be reading next year?