on becoming a writer, the prequel

Some colleagues at my school put together an exhibit called "The First Time: The Book(s) That Turned You On To Reading". They asked students and faculty to name a book that that began their lifelong love of reading.

I didn't submit anything, mostly because I was too busy, but also because I could never choose one book. It will not surprise you to learn that I read constantly when I was a child, and preferred reading to almost anything else kids could do. I don't know what book started me reading, because I can't remember life before reading.

Here, I'm stealing appropriating re-purposing their idea, and thinking of a few books that meant the world to me as a young person, books that I loved and believed in the way only a young reader can. These books did more than make me reader: they made me want to write.

The first has to be Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck, the book that opened my mind to my two greatest passions, or compulsions, or curses: writing and travel. I guess if I had chosen one book for the exhibit, this would have been it, although I was already a confirmed reader before picking it up.

Number two, which I could list first in many respects, is The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, the book I spent sixth grade with, whose characters felt so real to me that I fantasized about living their lives, yet were so wonderfully foreign and exotic.

It was trying to write like S. E. Hinton that caused me to write for young adults, although I didn't understand I was writing YA until a writing teacher characterized my stories that way. I was in university when I learned S. E. Hinton was a woman. She wrote The Outsiders when she was 17 years old. That Is Not Fair.

Third on the list is A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle, who I wrote about when she died a few years ago. I read this book so many times, I could practically recite it from memory. Certain mental images from the story remain in my mind to this day.

Next must be Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. "It is not often that someone comes along who is both a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both." This is my pick for greatest children's book ever, and one of the greatest books in English, period.

As I think about this, I have to stop at four. I can name dozens more books that I read as a child and young adult, books I loved and would recommend to young readers. But I can't credit any of them with the kind of impact I'm thinking of here. So Beverly Cleary and Laura Ingalls Wilder, Judy Blume and Paul Zindel, Eloise and the From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Black Stallion and Julie of the Wolves, and so many more, I thank you and I love you all.

Your list? Doesn't have to be children's books. Maybe you discovered your love of reading as an adult, or through a magazine, or by hunting down a book after loving the movie. Name your top three, or five, or one.

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