Updated: Aug 26, 2021
Over the past few days, I’ve been seeing a meme going around on Facebook in which writers (or readers) list the ten books that have stayed with them long after they’ve been returned to the shelf. I think everyone can relate to a book in same way. The time you read it, the conditions you were in, the purpose that was driving you, the suffering you endured–I make it no secret that certain novels have touched me tremendously throughout my life. Here are ten, numbered by the age at which I read them, that have stayed with me.
Naya Nuki by Kenneth Thomasma (age 7)
As a child and well into my mid-teens, I was subjected to merciless bullying. Most of this had to do with my person (or what they felt I lacked,) but a particular point many chose to center on was my love of reading. Literature became a staple in my daily, conscious escape from reality. At the age of seven, I started progressing past the usual fare and ventured into realms that I’d no basic concept of. One of these books was Naya Nuki, told from the perspective of a Shoshoni Native girl who escapes slavery after being taken prisoner by foreigners. Her plight, while completely unlike my own, resonated with me. I identified with the feeling of wanting to be free and away from the claustrophobic isolation imposed upon you by someone else. To this day, I have fond memories of the book. I found a signed copy of the novel in Jackson, Wyoming on a family trip and consider it to be one of my prized possessions.
First Test by Tamora Pierce (age 12)
Around the sixth or seventh grade, I began to develop and experience great feelings of depression and hopelessness. This was mainly due to my situation. Still entrenched within the ruthless battlegrounds of public schooling, I endured relentless bullying and was accused of deviant sexuality y bmy peers. Such frustrations eventually led me into the realms of fantasy. One of my later, but undoubtedly golden, discoveries was Tamora Pierce’s Tortal universe, to which I was first introduced through First Test. As a girl wishing to protect her family and kingdom, Keladry is hard-pressed in her aspirations to become a knight when the country has only recently begun to allow noblewomen to train within the military. Her plight from peers, as well as those whose purpose was to encourage and shape her into the warrior she would one day be, perfectly surmised my existence within the public school system, and continues to do so to this day.
Bag of Bones by Stephen King (age 13)
My first (and absolute favorite) King book, which not only inspired me to branch out into reading horror fiction (thereby securing my unyielding love,) but also made me aspire to write something people might genuinely feel was terriying. Little can be said about King’s mastery of the setup. As life foretells, things happen unexpectedly–and when they do, they often result in heartbreaking, terrying, and even life-threatening situations. Bag of Bones is the best ghost story I’ve ever read, and undoubtedly one of the most haunting portrayals of loss I’ve ever had the honor of reading.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding (ages 13 – 16)
It isn’t often that circumstance leads you to read the same book three years in a row. In the 8th, 9th, and 10th grade that I completed via online, I was thrust into the unfortunate circumstance experienced by a group of English schoolboys when their plane goes down and they are forced to survive on an island without adult guidance. Heralded as a modern classic, it reeks of metaphor of human nature, symbolism on good and evil, parable on moral judgment and the undeniable cataclysm of self-destruction. It is, genuinely, terrifying, without even speaking true of supposed supernatural elements. Instead, it relies simply on the reader’s judgment to decide just what is real and what isn’t.
A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice (age 14)
I realized I was different at the age of eleven. With a penchant for the same sex I found unfathomably alienating in very-Mormon, Southeastern-Idaho, I struggled with my blossoming sexuality for years until I came across a book written by Christopher Rice. In his novel A Density of Souls, we are introduced to the main character of Stephen–who, like a lot of young gay men, battle with the torment of knowing they are different while trying to understand if it’s acceptable for them to be so. I purchased the book on a whim from Amazon right before my fifteenth birthday. It was on an all-day field trip with my Freshmen drama class that I realized, halfway through reading the novel, that I was gay, and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. After years of trying to rationalize my sexuality away, I finally had concrete proof that I was normal.
Kornwolf by Tristan Egolf (age 15)
At the end of my first (and only) year of high school, I was the target of a merciless practical joke that left me the subject of an FBI investigation. After a call was made by an ‘anonymous individual’ stating that I’d ‘left a death threat’ against my high school on MySpace, my computer was taken away on grounds that could not be validated even after being directly in contact with the social networking site beforehand. For two weeks I lived in complete and utter terror. Of them ‘finding something’ that would incriminate and then somehow make me responsible; of losing the writing they claimed they had ‘no physical responsibility for’ during their investigation; of the things being said about me within my community, which were relayed to me through two separate individuals who heard first-hand the supposedly ‘private matter’ that ‘no one knew about’ being spread around the school. During that time, Kornwolf by Tristan Egolf gave me solace. A complete and utter disconnect from my life in frame, reference and culture, I devoured the story of a town plagued by a monster, the nature of which I sadly believe caused the author to end his own life right before finishing this book.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (age 16)
Some call it Hamlet with dogs. I call it my beautiful distraction. After suffering a series of vertigo attacks that a doctor determined should be examined by a neurologist, I was given the completely devastating (and completely-incorrect) news that a ‘lesion’ on my brain might be a brain tumor. Over the series of two weeks that I had to wait to see a world-reknowned neurosurgeon for a second opinion, I was tormented by the throes of panic and anxiety. My belief that I would not be able to write after a surgery to take a ‘tumor’ from the language-processing center of my brain led me to write an artistic will. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle was the book I read throughout that time, which not only served as a buffer for the anxiety I experienced from my ‘diagnosis,’ but also from my grandfather’s battle with cancer, and serves as a reminder that while sometimes tragedy does strike, sometimes good things (like hearing that my ‘lesion’ was not a tumor) happen as well.
Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh (age 17)
The telltale signs of my mental illness began to show themselves en force the year I turned seventeen. Subjected to anxiety attacks caused by nothing, tormented by nightmares that had no bearing on my life, paranoid about my existence, my career, where it would (or wouldn’t) take me–I found Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh due to the fact that I’d purchased another book of hers from a book club magazine. Telling the story of three different women, all of whom are questioning their existences and whether or not they are ‘really who they are’ because of a man that connects them all, I sympathized and in a way understood their schizophrenic concept of identity. It served as one of several grounding points that allowed me to remain open-minded about treatment.
Siege by Rhiannon Frater (age 18)
At the height of my inner turmoil–when I was literally on the break of a ride-or-die mental breakdown–I was offered asylum in Texas by one of the most amazing people and one of my best friends in the entire world. Hand-in-hand with a book whose symbolism in some ways reflected with mine, I boarded an airplane for a thirteen-hour trip from Idaho to Texas. Through a massive anxiety attack which resulted not only from leaving home, but also being on my first airplane, being far away from anyone I knew, as well as venturing into the unknown, I bulldozed through half of the novel and later finished it in the days after I arrived in Texas. Knowing there was an ‘other side’ to my horrendous home life helped conquer the underlying fear of the unknown, and the primary theme of hope within Siege only confirms that life does eventually get better.