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For the Books That Have Impacted My Life- Part II

As I have been pondering this topic I realized just how many books I have read that I want to write about. Even if their contribution to my life was small I am beginning to acknowledge that everything I read and take in will have some effect on me good or bad. There are countless topics rushing through my mind as I contemplate which to share. I want to focus on the books that have been the most memorable during the different phases of my life. You can be sure I have not put my finger on a book I had zero interest in.

When last met (see previous post) I had just finished talking about Dave Pelzer and how his traumatizing childhood did not hinder him from becoming a positive voice for others. The books that came to me during my college years were very powerful. 

For this discussion I am turning to the books I have read post school. However I decided that instead of breaking the list down by age or life stage I would instead be more specific and use their genres allowing for a clearer understanding of the reasons behind the books.

Under normal circumstances I am not a woman who is into fiction. Popular fiction is even less likely to be in my hands. I have not read Fifty Shades of Grey or whatever else is currently on the hot list. In fact the only reason some of these books made their way to me at all is because of their author. Some talent is just too strong to deprive myself of.

As for the numerous non-fiction books that complete my list, I have separated out the memoirs when I so felt they deserved to stand out on their own. I so love a true story ( and there are so many out there I have yet to read. Those on this list are the handful I can’t live without.

It is important to note that these books are not in any special order within their category. I tried to arrange them just as they popped into my head. They are not in the order I read them or their importance to me. The simple fact that they are on this list shows their meaning in my life.


“The Women of Brewster Place”- Gloria Naylor

The author of my first fiction pick was Gloria Naylor and she recently passed away. Reading that online made all of the visions of her story; the Women of Brewster Place come flooding back into my mind. I saw the movie too but her words were what was left ringing in my ears. The heartbreaking story shined a light on their very dark tales.

“We Were the Mulvaneys” - Joyce Carol Oates

I am not sure how this book landed in my lap but it was certainly one that remained on my mind. You see the family dynamic and how it changes after one of the members suffers a brutal assault. You get to be a fly on the wall to see both the victim’s and family’s reactions as the events unfold. It is one that you won’t be able to forget while also wishing you could step inside and make it all better.  

“To Kill a Mockingbird”- Harper Lee

Is by far my most favorite book of all time. I have reread it many times and each time I am blown away by the words on the page. I have never ever read something so beautifully written dealing with a heavy story. Those characters became people in my life. Everyone wanted a father like Atticus Finch, a man who only acted solely on his morals while trying to shield and educate his children on the way the world works.

This is also one of the few instances where the movie gets it right. It too is a favorite of mine. That final courtroom scene gets me every time. No matter how many times I watch it I am always quiet as a mouse even though I know what will happen.

That courtroom is from Harper Lee’s childhood town of Monroe, Alabama and is now a museum open for tourists. It is one of the reasons I want to make sure I get to Alabama sometime next year. Coincidently that is also the hometown of another writer on this list, Truman Capote. Harper and Truman were childhood friends. It is said that Dill Harris was based on him.

It is also noteworthy that when Truman went to Kansas to research In Cold Blood, Harper went along acting as his research aide.

“Zoo” & “Zoo 2”- James Patterson

James Patterson is some kind of freak. I mean that in the best possible way. No seriously I do. He is a personal hero of mine but simultaneously a freak. The man has written more books in one year than most authors publish in their lifetimes. Where he gets the material, patience, and drive I will never understand. If he was the only author on the planet we will still have an ongoing list of materials to come through.

Besides this super natural power he has managed to get me to read two fiction books, Zoo and Zoo 2, of his both in about a day. The topic of animals taking over doesn’t sound early as fascinating as this book is to read. CBS was wise to take this story and make it the hit series it now is. I am of course a loyal watcher as well.

The only person I think that can rival James Patterson’s publishing record is Danielle Steel. While I never read any of her books my mother did when I was growing up and I loved the Lifetime movies that were made based on them. Jewels, Mixed Blessings, Heartbeat, Changes, Family Album, Fine Things are all classics.

“Gone with the Wind”- Margaret Mitchell

I was introduced to the story of Gone with the Wind by Santa if you can believe it. One Christmas I received the DVDS as a present so that I could watch it for the first time. This was some time ago before I had Netflix.

After watching all four hours I was captivated. The story surrounding Scarlet O’Hara was flawlessly told. I loved that I could see her resiliency and her strength. She wasn’t perfect but she was a survivor that’s for damn sure.

That movie made me want to do two things. The first was to read the book and I did. That is about one hundred times better than the movie, even though I loved it. I hung on to every word on the page told with such heavy emotions I felt more and more connected to the story.

The second thing this story made me want to do was visit Atlanta. Besides the history of the Civil War intriguing me, I know that it is where Margaret Mitchell resided as she wrote the book, which of course takes place there as well. Soon enough this will be coming true.

“The Awakening”- Kate Chopin

According to the Kate Chopin website: “The Awakening is Kate Chopin’s novel about a married woman seeking greater personal freedom and a more fulfilling life. Condemned as morbid, vulgar, and disagreeable when it appeared in 1899, it is today acclaimed as an essential American book.”

That pretty much describes it on a basic level. I read this book in high school and again a few years ago. It was the first time I learned about a woman who would do anything for her family except sacrifice her soul.

As a young woman that brought all kinds of issues to the forefront for me to think about. I learned how valuable self-love and self-preservation is for one’s own salvation.


“In Cold Blood”- Truman Capote

The best part about this book is that it all began because of a small paragraph Truman Capote saw in his New York Times newspaper. A man after my own heart. What followed was a case that shocked the country with its violence and cruelty and was Capote’s first work of non-fiction work.

I would argue this book was the most important in Capote’s career because of his kinship to the killers and his own upbringing.  Capote himself (and I am paraphrasing here) said “it is like we grew up in the same house but I went out the front door and he went out the back”. Capote seeks to explore why this crime happened as if understanding it will make it better. I suppose it is the reason we all watch true crime channels nowadays. If only we understood that mindset…but then think of how much worse the world would be.

“Capote”- Gerald Clarke

It started with the movie of the same name and Phillip Seymour Hoffman playing the lead. Like all of his other roles I have seen him in, Hoffman was brilliant in bringing Gerald Clarke’s words to life. It was like he breathed life back into Truman himself.

This book will always be special to me and not just because I took to it. This was the very first book signing and talk I ever went to, LONG before I started my blog. I went on a whim because I saw it advertised in the New York Times. It was fate. Gerald was so nice and hearing him talk about Truman and the book was fascinating. Clearly it became a feeling I continued to seek out.

In the words of Truman Capote himself “Gerald Clarke knows more about me than anybody else does, including myself.”

And he was right.

“Five Days at Memorial”- Sheri Fink

I almost don’t know where to begin or how to describe the experience of reading this book. It was life changing that is for sure, but really so much more than that. My love for New Orleans drew me in but after the first paragraph I was holding the book in my hand like it was a first edition Bible. Each word was precious to me and I paid close attention to the details. It was like walking in the shadows of a tragic story fueled by incompetence, neglect, and good intentions by all of the participants as those who worked and were treated at this hospital got stranded there during Hurricane Katrina. Five Days at Memorial will stay with me for years as I rethink all I know about the medical field and those whose job it is to protect us from harm, in and out of hospitals. For anyone who has lived through a natural disaster like Katrina you will understand all too well the price some had to pay when there is no plan of action. A frightening thought that continues to leave me awestruck.

You will find another of Sheri’s masterpieces on my current list of books I want to read. Reading this work only made me more eager to read another of her gems.

“The Stranger Beside Me” - Ann Rule

“Of all the gin joints in the world he had to walk into mine.” This line from Casablanca sums this story up perfectly. Ann Rule, a true crime author extraordinaire, was working a suicide hotline with the one and only TED BUNDY. Yep, that Ted Bundy and during his prime killing season no less. Ann befriended the charismatic witty man whom everyone loved. She always wondered how he could be so sure nothing would ever happen to her daughter. Once she found out it made for quite the tale.

This was my first introduction to Ann and by love of her work will last the rest of my lifetime. Sadly we lost her a few years ago but the many books she wrote are treasures. One always seemed better than the last. Some were even made into TV movies.

She always spoke for the victims who no longer could do so while trying to uncover and understand the mess murderers leave behind. If only I could be a fourth of the writer she was I would be the happiest woman who ever lived.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”- Rebecca Skloot

“Science writing is often just about 'the facts.' Skloot's book is far deeper, braver, and more wonderful . . . Made my hair stand on end.”—Lisa Margonelli, New York Times Book Review 

Lisa you hit the nail right on the head with that one. Despite the medical jargon I had to digest, to say I learned a lot is the understatement of the year. HE-LA cells which were cancer cells taken before Henrietta Lacks died are the reason we have many vaccines for incurable diseases including but not limited to cancer medications. I was so into this book I had three women at work reading it alongside me. Not one of us could have loved it more. It is a sad story needless to say but an important one. I got the education of a lifetime in one book. If you ever thought you had to be your own health care advocate reading this book will send shivers down your back until you are sure what your doctors are doing is really in YOUR best interest.

No wonder this New York Times best seller was named by over sixty critics as one of the best books of 2010. For me it was one of the most important books of all time.

HBO is in the process of filming a movie about this story featuring Oprah Winfrey. That should be amazing.


“Big Magic”- Elizabeth Gilbert

I am a fan of just about every nonfiction word this lady has shared with us. Although Eat, Pray, Love struck a deep chord within me this was not the book that changed my life. It was Liz’s Big Magic that was the deciding factor in pursuing my love and life of writing at any cost.

I could go on and on about this lady and this book but I already have ( Suffice it to say this is why she made the list.

“Beneath the Surface” - John Hargrove

This book is second only to the documentary Blackfish when it comes to opening my eyes to SeaWorld’s shameful behavior. After watching Blackfish I felt sick to my stomach but I needed more information. John Hargrove was a trainer at SeaWorld for many years and saw first hand how lies were being sold to the public versus what was going on behind closed tanks. At some point he could no longer keep silent. He had to speak out against the one place he had grown up worshipping.

The things I learned are hard to forget. I have never been to SeaWorld but now I know I could never go there to pay money towards a facility that needs to close. The campaign online is called Empty The Tanks and hopeful someday they will. For now they have said they will no longer bred animals. I just hope the way they treat them changes. I have come to love those big beautiful orcas from afar but the sadness in their eyes is palpable. I really want to go whale watching on the west coast some day and see these animals in their natural habitat.

This book has recently been optioned for a movie so I look forward to seeing what comes from it. 

Some of the Books Currently on My List to Read List

As I pondered this sequel post it took a lot of planning to ensure it was the proper way to conclude this blog series. Of course I feel like I left out so many books but I don’t think that they really matter in the grand scheme of things. Clearly my interests varied at different points in my life and as different topics were brought to my attention.

Now that I have written blogs about why I write ( and why I read what I read, I feel that I am continuing to explore who I am and what I care about on a deeper level. I feel that this work is similar to the blog I wrote describing the people who have changed my life for the better ( Each story, each person’s life has passed something along to me that I will pass along to those in my future. I am a work in process just like everyone else.

These books, all told, have impacted my life, my connection to others, and led me to who I am now. A book has the power to change the way you think and behave. As a writer I can think of no higher compliment and I can only aspire to have a work of mine receive this high level of achievement one day. 

For More Information on These Books:


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