I've always loved reading. In my now limited free time, I still love reading. I remember going to the local public library and being a part of their summer reading program every summer. I'll never forget the excitement of actually being old enough to volunteer by tabling for the same summer reading program in middle school and high school (yay community service hours!). I'll also never forget how excited I was to get the monthly Scholastic book catalogs from elementary school and get home and mark all the books that I wanted to read. Long story short, books are very important to me and I've read lots of books in my lifetime. For my fellow bookworms, below is a list of 10 books that have had a profound impact on my life (in no particular order).
1. Life of Pi -- Yann Martel
Have you ever read a book that transports you into the novel? "Life of Pi" was one of the few books that I've read that have been fully able to transport me the entire time. For me, this book is one that is more than meets the eye. I am 100 percent guilty of watching the movie first; the movie was good but when I read the book, I was completely transfixed. Martel's writing style takes you along Pi's journey as though you're in the lifeboat with him and makes you feel Pi's fatigue, his anger, and his confusion. Though this book is a work of fiction, there's something about Martel's use of language that makes it feel so incredibly real for the reader.
2. In the Sea There are Crocodiles -- Fabio Geda
I honestly have such a difficult time trying to articulate how powerful this book was. I first read "In the Sea There are Crocodiles" as a sophomore in high school (way back when) and it's stuck with me ever since. As a 15 year old, the last thing on my mind was political happenings in other countries, but this book completely opened my eyes to the realities that millions of people face, even to this day. Of course, another thing that struck me was that I was the same age as the protagonist at the end of his journey. As I read this book, not only did I get to learn about the unfortunate events that plague many countries, but I also found myself in complete disbelief and awe. There's something truly astounding about a 10 year old's abilities to travel through several countries alone to seek refuge, encountering situations we never even imagined possible, and being able to survive and recount his story.
3. The Trumpet of the Swan -- E.B. White
As a child, books were my best friends. Granted, I don't remember the fine details of the books I grew up reading, and this one is no exception. However, the reason I have to add "The Trumpet of the Swan" to my list is that it was the first chapter book that I read with my mom. I believe I was in second grade at the time and I distinctly remember sitting in a chair in her office at work and reading out loud to her. It's so important to have parents that encourage their children's interests and engage in those interests with them. I loved that my mom, despite being busy at work, wanted me to read to her. Reading out loud to my mom was one of the only times that I've ever felt comfortable reading aloud. This book especially hit home because I've always been very shy and didn't (and sometimes still don't) like to speak in front of lots of people; the male swan in the book has no voice and learns to play the trumpet as a substitute. For me, it taught me that there are other ways to express yourself without using your voice and is something that I still believe in today.
4. Beezus and Ramona -- Beverly Cleary
This entire series was one of my favorites growing up and was the first book series I ever read. There's something so lovable about Ramona, a naturally curious child whose free spirit often gets her into sticky situations. What I love about Ramona is that I see a lot of myself in her: I have always been a naturally curious person and have been known to daydream and get lost in thought often. I think what makes "Beezus and Ramona" so memorable for me is that Ramona's relationship with her older sister Beezus reminds me of my relationship with my younger sister. Like the two siblings in the book, my sister and I often annoy each other and bicker a lot, but at the end of the day, we get along.
5. To Kill a Mockingbird -- Harper Lee
While most people dislike required readings, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is easily one of my favorite books I've ever read. I instantly fell in love with the way Harper Lee told the story from the perspective of Scout, a young tomboyish child whose father was the town attorney. As I read more and more (actually reading ahead sometimes because I was so wrapped up in Scout's world), I fell in love with the characters, especially Atticus Finch. While I know there has been a lot of backlash about the prequel to TKAM, "Go Set a Watchman" (which I personally refuse to read given what I heard about changes to Atticus's character), Atticus still is one of my favorite literary characters. I admire his strong sense of justice and integrity, especially for the time of the book's plot. His integrity has inspired me since I first read the book and is a trait that I keep in mind to this day.
6. Of Mice and Men -- John Steinbeck
OK, so in all honesty, "Of Mice and Men" was one of the first books that has ever made me cry while reading it. I won't say what part truly touched me, in case you, as a reader, are one of the handfuls of people who weren't required to read this as a freshman in high school. The most powerful takeaway for me was that sometimes you need to do the right thing to spare someone's pain or suffering. As I got older, I began to appreciate Lennie's and George's friendship more as it was one of the first friendships that I've read about between two very different people, one of whom has a mental disability. The beauty in George and Lennie's friendship overlooked Lennie's mental disability which I still think is very powerful even today; it taught me to see beneath the surface and really get to know a person for their personality and not what they look like outside or appear to be.
7. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down -- Anne Fadiman
"The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" was a required reading for me for a sociology class I took in my sophomore year of college. I'm a biology major, so first of all, taking a sociology class was completely out of my element. However, I'm so glad that I did take the course because of this book in particular. What struck me, especially as a scientist, the way that immigrants are not willing to accept Western treatment except as a last resort as well as their general view of Western medicine. Taking science courses has always taught me that disease and illness need to be treated with biomedical solutions. I found myself frustrated by this unwillingness to accept Western help, but also realized the issues with the Western medical system, especially in the United States. If you're a pre-med student, I highly recommend reading this book to give insight into some of the downfalls of the current medical system in the US as it challenges you to think about how we need to bridge the gap between cultural barriers for immigrants as well as learning to understand non-Western traditions.
8. Survival of the Sickest -- Sharon Moalem
"Survival of the Sickest" was the very first science novel I've read, and I was terrified by it at first because I always believed that scientific literature was going to be dense and hard to understand. However, I have to thank my AP Biology teacher for assigning this book as an extra credit opportunity because it changed the way I thought about scientific writing and also further ignited my passion for comprehending human genetics. Often times, we think of diseases as bad and fail to see the genetic basis of disease. Dr. Moalem opens the reader's eyes to how certain diseases due to genetic mutation had advantages in the past, which is why they persist today. Maybe some of you won't appreciate this book as deeply as I do, but I do recommend reading it regardless of your background in science because it's truly interesting and makes science more approachable.
9. The entire Harry Potter Series -- J.K. Rowling
Of course, I had to add the Harry Potter series and I couldn't pick just one book that stood out to me. I was completely spellbound (pun intended) by the amount of detailing that J.K. Rowling as able to imagine and bring to life in the plot of the series. I love Rowling's imagination (and am honestly really jealous of it too) as well as the characters. Despite having magical powers that us Muggles don't possess, they were still so relatable. These books taught me that it's OK to be different because you will always find someone to accept you for who you are; all of the main characters were a bit quirky and outcasts, but they came together and formed an inseparable bond.
10. Oh, the Places You'll Go! -- Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss has always been one of my favorite authors. "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" was one of the few books that stuck with me from my early childhood because it's so inspirational. As a child, I loved the way his books rhymed. As an adult, I appreciate this book so much, especially when I go through phases of feeling lost and confused, because it reminds me that I can do anything and I have the capability to reach my full potential. With that, I'll leave you with my favorite Dr. Seuss quote below.
Go pick up a book and let the words inspire you. Get lost in a literary world every once in a while because reading makes you smarter.