Five books which changed my life

I read a lovely article recently where Mariella Frostrup discussed her ten most life-changing books. Typically I can’t find this article to link to (my information warrior powers are sleeping on the job) so, as I was somewhat inspired by that article, here are five books which changed my life. Obviously a lot of them have a children’s literature slant, what with this being on my blog and all, but there are a few oddities in there. And I promise I’ll link to that article when I find it again.

(Also, I’m aware I could do a version of this article which focuses solely on girls school stories so beware, you’ll be getting something like that in the near future. For now just praise me that I’ve gone at least three posts without mentioning the Chalet School …).

The book which made me feel like I could be a princess

Growing up is hard to do. It’s harder to do when you’re one of the run of the mill kids. When you’re not cool, when you’re not hot, you learn to develop your support network in other ways. Friends. The right people get you through anything. And books: books that make you think you can get out of the never-ending drudge that is school because they show you what can happen to people (kind of) like you.

The Princess Diary  by Meg Cabot gave me all that and more. It’s the story of Mia Thermopolis, the dorky awkward teenager who discovers she is actually princess of the distinctly ruritanian kingdom of Genovia. And oh my god it’s funny. Meg Cabot sparks off every page and just lives the nightmare that is being a teenager.

The film adaptations (and Anne Hathaway, my secret girlcrush) are my guilty pleasures. I remember being on a long distance flight to New Zealand, about 402 hours in, and I turned into a sobbing wreck at the emotional journey Mia had undertaken in the film. Amazing. Although slightly embarrassing for the dude sat next to me.

The book that made me realise anything was possible

I really want to go to Tibet. I want butter tea. I want to see the prayer flags flapping on the mountain side and I want to witness that culture.

And it’s all because of one woman. Alexandra David-Neel. Nobody knows who she is these days but by god this woman was amazing. The first western woman to enter Tibet, she adopted the appearance of a pilgrim and her and her male companion made their way to Lhasa.  Vaguely normal so far, but this was actually incredibly brave. If she had been discovered she would have been thrown out of the country. She did it because she wanted to and because she knew she could.

There’s a moment on their journey where her and Yongden are stuck on a mountain without shelter. It’s viciously exposed and the bad weather is coming on. It’s very much a life or death situation. But they survive due to David-Neel’s mastery of thumo reskiang, the Tibetan skill of increasing body heat. She sends Yongden off to gather fuel and settles herself down to the rite. They survive. Both of them survive a night on the mountain side without any injury.

It’s an amazing, and viscerally readable story. Here’s a link to the same edition I have. It’s not in print anymore but there are a lot of second hand editions floating around.

The author that always makes me laugh like a fool

It’s a slight cheat here but I’m selecting an author. She’s never failed yet. Louise Rennison. I hate her because she’s so damn good. She’s bloody brilliant. Seriously. I’m running out of synonyms for amazing and I’ve only written seven sentences.

The book that left me winded

It’s unusual for a book to leave a physical impact. I can count on one hand the books that have left me feeling winded. Micheal Morpurgo is obviously up there, but if I have to select a specific book I’ll go for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.

The last few pages left me feeling physically assaulted. I still remember my genuine intake of breath when I read them, and that awful sick feeling in the stomach that what I had expected to happen had come to happen.

I’ve spoken on writing about war before and I think this book justifies my argument. Sometimes the numbers are just too huge to comprehend. Sometimes you need a name and a story to latch onto. Witnessing the death of innocence that occurs in this book is one of the most awfully painful reading experiences I’ve ever experienced.

The book that I keep coming back to

I am a mean reader. I really am. I’m very aware of this. I’ve put books back because I didn’t like the font. I’ll pitch a fit over a typo. I’ve ignored authors because of the name they’ve given their lead character. I confess : I am horrendously subjective when it comes to books.

But I will never ever ignore a book from Frank Cottrell Boyce. And it’s all because of Millions. Millions is one of those books that deserves to be on the reading list for everybody everywhere. It teaches you everything you need to know about the power of love (and no, not the eighties power ballad version). Love. Love between brothers, a father for his sons, and a mother for her children. And oh my god it has the most beautiful scene in it that I’m not going to spoil now but I’m teary just remembering it. Just – go – read it – and thank me later. I am evangelical for this book and pray that one day I’ll be able to deliver something as good.

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