My first favorite book was Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells. I ordered it from the Scholastic book order in first grade. I carried the tiny paperback with me everywhere I went. It even spent the night in the rain on at least one occasion, so it’s pretty gnarly, to say the least. And yes, I still have it. I met Rosemary Wells at an American Library Association conference several years ago in New Orleans. She re-published the book with new illustrations and just like a movie remake, the original is better. Sadly, she was not nearly as impressed with my fan girl story as I’d hoped she’d be. I got her autograph and had my picture taken with her, regardless.
My next favorite was probably The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo by Judy Blume, another Scholastic purchase. One of the lasting lessons my father taught me is, “There will always be enough money for books.” (patience, please...I haven’t gotten to my love of the library yet) You can’t go wrong with Judy Blume and the juxtaposition between The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret is fascinating. Each has its place in human development.
From there I went straight to every Ramona Quimby book ever written, starting with Beezus and Ramona, although I think my favorite is Ramona Quimby, Age 8. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Beverly Cleary series, Ramona is the Junie B. Jones of the 80s. Shortly after my love for Ramona began, I went through some trauma in my life and came out the other side wanting to read every heart-wrenching story of any young woman going through some debilitating episode, and through all of our tears, she miraculously makes some kind of incredible recovery or period of growth. If you read those late 80s love/death/disease recovery stories, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Would she ever dance again?? But of course!!! Etc. Throw in Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden, which are classics and much better written, and you get my drift—the concept is the same.
The Girls of Canby Hall by Emily Chase. Oh my. Middle school angst at its finest. A series about frenemies at an all-girls school with a little romance and mystery thrown in for good measure. They’re out of print, but you can find a Ramona Quimby book at any library or bookstore anywhere, just sayin’. It was about that time that I fell in love with the library. And yes, it had a card catalog. I would literally just pull a bunch of books and read them. I browsed the shelves like the Parsons Public Library was a bookstore and I graduated myself from the youth library to the adult section on my own. I’d pull a book off the shelf, check the cover (yep, it’s true), read the inside flap and add it to my stack if it sounded interesting. I wasn’t censored. I was growing and developing and figuring out my place in the world, so Summer of My German Soldier, Flowers in the Attic and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret were all part of my reading experience. And it worked out okay because I’m no more going to lock my children in an attic than I am going to torture small animals.
My tastes changed and the mystery genre piqued my interest. I enjoyed solving a whodunnit and the adrenaline rush and suspense that came along with it. I read some Nancy Drew and quickly moved on to edgier authors and started my hardcover book collection. Dean Koontz and John Saul scared the bejeezus out of me and I let them! I only ever read one Stephen King—The Dead Zone. His book On Writing is outstanding, if you ever get the chance to read it. It's about his process, and who doesn't want to know that? Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is one of my all-time favorites. When I went to college I consumed every Jane Austen and everything the Bronte sisters wrote and I think Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte stands out the most. My roommate loved a good love story. She liked Danielle Steel and LaVyrle Spencer and Spencer, although less prolific, is my preference. She also introduced me to The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher and The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, which have to be in my top 5 favorites of all time. In graduate school I read mostly what was assigned to me and was introduced to the Harlem Renaissance—my favorite literary movement. Zora Neale Hurston was magnificent. Her contemporaries Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, equally so. Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and any of her poetry, rock my world.
Once I had children, my reading habits changed again. The days of Koontz and Saul ended abruptly, as did my late night movie marathons. In college I thought nothing of going to a scary double feature and getting back to my dorm at 1 or 2am spooked out of my wits. As my uncle would say, “Hoo-Boy!” That changed when I had children. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed a good thriller, suspense or mystery, I just liked them with a softer edge and perhaps a little love falling involved. Janet Evanovich makes me laugh out loud and I need that in my life. Nora Roberts and Jude Deveraux can have me hooked within the first paragraph and that’s important to me. When I get time to read, I don’t want to have to wait for 60 pages to engage. I had never read Christian fiction until I started working at the library and Karen Kingsbury and Irene Hannon are great. Dee Henderson, though, she got me with the O’Malley series. Her other series are good, but nothing tops the O’Malleys. Danger in the Shadows was the first I read and I would be hard-pressed to choose a favorite. Along those lines, you have Richard Paul Evans, Nicholas Sparks and Jan Karon who I really enjoy reading, as well. Jan Karon creates a community you want to live in and a minister you want to hear preach, and perhaps share a meal with because you know there will be laughter.
Let’s talk about Jojo Moyes. Whew. Have you read Me Before You or did you just watch the movie? If so, do not do yourself the disservice. Read the book. I’ve never, and I do mean never, seen a movie that was better than the book. My colleague Kathy got everyone in the library to read it and we all fell for Will Trainor. What can I say, after I read Me Before You, I had to write a review for The Louisburg Herald! Great book.
I spent a lot of time reading the William Allen White Challenge books with my kids. They were very excited to get to third grade so they could start on them. For my older children, there was a good balance between humor and drama in the story lines. By the time my youngest son got to the right age, they nearly ALL made me cry and he spent a lot of time eye rolling. Donuthead by Sue Stauffacher has to be one of my favorites. The Shredderman series by Wendelin Van Draanen is also good, just not on a William Allen White Challenge list, although I could make a great case for it. I'd like to be a part of that selection committee...maybe someday. Right now we’re reading the Sports Beat series by John Feinstein, and in our library they are classified as Young Adult. They are a mixture of mystery, suspense and sports writing with famous athletes who make appearances from time to time. I’m pretty sure that’s what hooked my son.
Now that my kiddos are older, I’m able to get back into some spooky stories. Harlen Coben is pretty hard core but his characters are also funny. I like dry, sometimes irreverent humor—if you do, too, you might try Jonathan Tropper. I enjoyed This is Where I Leave You the most. One summer about 7 years ago I started reading series. C.J. Box and J.A. Jance keep me reading, as do Randy Wayne White and William Kent Krueger. There are times late at night when I can’t sleep and I will use CloudLibrary to find an eBook so I don’t wake up anyone (yes, I’m aware it’s bad for me…but it helps me get to sleep, so I keep doing it). A couple of great stand-alone novels I have found have been Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio and A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron.
Basically my interest in books is like my interest in music. Eclectic. Unpredictable. Ever-changing. Whatever might move me, I’ll read and likely enjoy. My favorite today will be very different than my favorite five years from now because I’ll be in a different place in my life with different emotions and perspective. That’s what makes libraries so amazing and essential...no matter what stage of life you are in, you will be able to find a book that will feed your soul.