One day, I read a book that changed my life. I was young, easily impressed. I didn’t really grasp how big of a step it was. A step in a new world, in a thousand different worlds, a step towards imagination.
Not every book changed my life. They were all great experiences. But very few had an impact on who I have become.
For starters, obviously, Harry Potter. I do not think there is more to say about those books, written by J.K. Rowling. 1090739 words, 3363 pages, 199 chapters, 8 movies, 7 books… 1 story. One story that I grew up with. One story that definitely got me to believe there could be more to this life, even though it was only in my head, in my dreams.
Then, which is no surprise again, Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. To be honest, I don’t think I have read the full, original story. I do have it on my to-be-read shelf. I was told the tale when I was barely able to read or write, but I believe it was the Disney one. Does it count? Maybe not. But I could not even start to explain how it has shaped me into who I am today. This young woman who, inside, is still a little girl who does not want to grow up.
Continuing on, another book that will come to no surprise for those who have been following me since the beginning: The Giver by Lois Lowry. My first dystopian novel. Written in 1993, dedicated to younger readers. People tend to forget it, with all the Hunger Games frenzy going around. But I never have. Forgotten it, I mean. I was around ten or eleven when I read this one. I read it for school. I cannot remember why… I guess we must have been studying utopias. Or not. Memory fails me. But the memory of reading this book for the first time is still vivid in my mind. I read it with this awful French cover. But you know what they say: never judge a book by its cover. And it did strike me in the end, didn’t it? I read the book again ten years later, so not too long ago. In English, this time. And believe me when I say this, it was yet again freakingtastic.
Une vie by Maupassant is one of the few classics I actually read and devoured when I was in middle school. I was not a reluctant reader (or was I?) but I hated being forced to read books. I was a good student, I promise. But everyone has his or her flaws right? After all, I’m only human. Anyway, back to our sheep (a weird French expression that means to go back to business). Une Vie by Maupassant is the heart-wrenching and depressing story of a young woman who was fucked over by the people she loved throughout her life. A naive character to whom you should still give credit because she’s got to have had strong, made-of-stone shoulders to bear it all. I was becoming a feminist around that time and let me tell you this book did not soothe my anger. I am now a pacifist, making a stand without being extreme. Somehow this book has fueled my energy like no other.
Now, to some of you (lots of you), this book – or rather book series – is rubbish. But to me, it means the world. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer helped me when there was not even the slightest flicker of light left in my heart. Sounds cheesy? Dramatic? It does. I was in high school and oh Lord, it was agony… or purgatory as Edward would say. I was feeling insecure, unhappy and this book came up. From then on, my life was sparkling (pun intended). Just kidding. It did not get better, not at first anyway. I felt blissful in books, miserable in life. Yet, I made it and this very book series got me a boyfriend, who is still, to this day, my one and only.
One day, in a bookshop, I picked up a book. The blurb said “for Twilight fans”. I have never been able to relate the two stories, even after reading them multiple times. But anyway, at first, it was the reason I bought it. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made, cross my heart and hope to die. If I Stay by Gayle Forman had me in tears. Both times I read it. And I will be reading it again before the movie comes out in August, in the US of A (i.e. not until late December for us French people). A few readers I know have not been affected by this book. To me, it was an emotional roller coaster. God, Teddy…
On the road of discovering new books on a whim, I found Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman. I was in WH Smith in my first year at uni as a good and proper English student. If I am not mistaken, it must have been my first or second hardcover. I hereby blame my hardback addiction on this book. I finished it on the train on my way to the city. On my way to uni. I cried and there were people around me. But at this moment, I could not have cared less what they thought. This book was incredibly powerful and the storytelling amazingly smooth and brilliant. This is how I met and fell in love with Malorie Blackman’s writing. Not with Noughts and Crosses – which I deeply admire, don’t get me wrong – or her other works. Sometimes, you simply cannot explain why you prefer a book to another that is equally as good.
I watched the movie adaptation of this novel before reading it. Should I be ashamed? Maybe… But both were incredible to me and I adore them for different reasons. The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks. The usual lost-white-girl-meets-lost-white-boy romance you would expect. And yet it is so much more than this. I will not do justice to this story within a few lines. Or within a hundred of them. Just read it and if it does not speak to you, do not dare ever speaking to me again. Just kidding, jeez, relax! All jokes aside, I sometimes wish I could forget about it. The story reminds you how necessary it is to forgive, to give second chances, to never regret. But sometimes, ignorance is bliss.
I cannot think of a book that changed me, that had an impact on me for a few years after that. I loved a lot of the ones I read. I was thrilled by how some of the stories got my heart to race and skip a few bits, got my pulse to run fast and furious through my veins. There are many books I thoroughly enjoyed. But none of them have hit me, crushed me, altered me like those few I am talking to you about today.
I had to wait, wait quite a long time to be swept by the force of a book again. It all happened last year. In 2013. Two books took my breath away, both of them written with such delicacy it felt like the warm touch of a feather going down your spine. It was utterly intense and incredibly fine.
Let’s start with Every Day by David Levithan. You must all be tired of hearing me rave about this book. I can’t help it. I have to talk about it, I have to tell the world about it. I hope this story somehow made me a better person. If there is anything I want to achieve in life, humanly speaking, it’s to be more like A. Only read it when you are ready. When you are ready to be slapped. When you are ready to take a stand. When you are ready to live every day with the intention of being a better version of yourself.
Last but definitely not least, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Isn’t the title all you need to know to jump and dive into this book? You know from the very front cover that this read is going to be unique and compelling. This novel is a summer anecdote, a grief antidote. It is a story that isn’t one, not really, about finding yourself and realizing that only you can decide what makes you happy. This book had me gripped till the very last page, to the very last sentence. And what a sentence, what an ending it is. This book changed my perspective on everything and nothing at the same time. It made me full, but longing for something I cannot place in every book I have been reading ever since.
To the authors of those stories and to all the writers who bring me on mind-blowing journeys, thank you. You inspire me.
I also want to dedicate this article to two of my favorite people. Christi, Louise… thank you for being amazing, talented writers and women. To me, you are special.
Please let me know which authors have inspired you. What books would you recommend and defend, body, heart & soul? French and English comments are very welcome. I can read and understand Spanish if necessary. And that’s about it, though I did learn Italian as well in high school. A huge mistake of mine not to have practiced afterwards.