The Books that Built The Blogger with Melanie from Grab The Lapels

I’m delighted to have Melanie from Grab the Lapels on the blog today talking about the books that have shaped her reading and her blogging. Grab the Lapels is a fantastic site, focusing on works by women writers and featuring a great Meet The Writer series and some really in depth, knowledgeable reviews. It’s also always great to have a fellow Sweet Valley High fan on the blog! So, it’s over to Melanie…

There are three books I’ve read that I can really remember changing me in a deep way.

Early on, it was Sweet Valley Twins and Friends: Ghost in the Bell Tower (Super Chiller), a book by Francine Pascal—or one of her ghostwriters. There are hundreds of books about the twins. Before there was Team Jacob and Team Edward, there was Team Elizabeth and Team Jessica.

Were you more like studious Elizabeth, who had superb grades, one close friend, one “steady,” liked to read, and worked for the school newspaper? Or were you more like Jessica, who was rebellious, loved popularity and cheerleading, was daring and compelling, and had a new boyfriend every week? It was easy to change your team because the author never painted a clear “good twin.” In Ghost in the Bell Tower, a book for middle-school aged girls, the twins discovered a young man living in, yes, the bell tower, and investigated. Jessica was hysterical; Elizabeth was logical. My love of ghost stories deepened due to this book, and it made me think more about character traits in fiction.


In grad school, I read Girl Imagined by Chance by Lance Olsen. It was a mix of memoir, fiction, art history, and social science. Basically, the author’s wife in real life (and as a character in the book) does not want to have children, but her family on the other side of the United States practically demand it. So she downloads pictures off the internet and slowly imagines a baby girl to life. How long can they keep it up? Why are the Olsens doing this? How do photography and death affect our feelings about family and representations of family?

Melanie with Girl Imagined by Chance author Lance Olsen


Girl Imagined by Chance is considered experimental fiction because it does not follow a straight-up traditional narrative style, and it was the first book that showed me novels can do a lot of things at once in different ways, which affected my own writing (especially in my MFA program) for years to come.

Finally, The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley changed the way I felt about civil rights, the media, religion, ideas, and who tells us what the “truth” is.


In schools in the U.S., we learn about Martin Luther King, Jr., his “I Have a Dream” speech, and the Letter from Birmingham Jail. The Civil Rights Movement is tidy according to public education. What we miss is the sheer violence, constant strategy planning, and utter fear felt by white and black communities alike. We’re also not told that MLK frequently cheated on his wife, sent children to get beat up (so it would get media attention), and the college students who worked for him while he stood back for much of it. Malcolm X boldly claims that black people should have their own state and separate from white communities because trying to integrate is demeaning, short-sighted, and a failure for several good reasons. His autobiography carefully lays out his history and motivations for his stance on black communities and white devils, and when he’s presented with new evidence throughout his life, he changes his mind—something I rarely see in politics these days, as changing one’s mind is seen as a weakness. Since my first reading, I’ve taught Malcolm X’s book for six semesters at different colleges. It’s a book that taught me to challenge what I think I know and read more to get a better perspective on history.

Many thanks to Melanie for taking part and for a fascinating choice of books. I read a lot of Sweet Valley High as a young teenager and was always an Elizabeth, although I secretly wished I was a Jessica…

I’m completely intrigued by Girl Imagined by Chance and it’s definitely one I’d look out for in the library.

Check back in next week when Elena from Books and Reviews shares her defining reads.

The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

32 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Lovely to learn a bit more about Melanie! The Malcolm X book sounds fascinating – I vaguely remember him being assassinated and all the Black Power stuff but I was way too young to really understand it at the time. I shall look out for that one – it’s rather tragic to think that it’s still just as relevant today…

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This is such a great idea, Cathy. I was thinking first that we would mostly be defined by our age – as some children’s books were published in many countries at the same time. But Melanie’s choices are also very American. I don’t think we’ve ever had the Sweet Valley Twins books in Spain, and I just learnt about them from a contemporary book.

    Thanks for sharing, Melanie!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Okay, I didn’t know that about MLK. Now I’m sad. And I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read Malcolm X.
    And now I want to read Girl Imagined By Chance – what an interesting premise!

    I will take this opportunity to say that I love the way Melanie thinks about the books she reads. And I love the pictures included with the books. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • The autobiography is highly compelling. If you can, read some of Malcolm X’s speeches afterwards, especially “The Ballot or the Bullet.” Notice how he always has a plan for his ideas, whereas MLK typically had a feeling (or a dream). Also, Girl Imagined By Chance is a challenging book; I found that it requires some googling at times if you want to get all the artist references, but it’s worth it. In the picture of me with the woman, that’s Lance Olsen’s wife, the woman in the book who does not want children and invents a baby.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Lovely to see Melanie here! I think most avid adult readers were heavily influenced by (pre)teen reading like the Sweet Valley High series, or perhaps the Babysitters’ Club, or the Harry Potter books. That’s why I have so much respect for those who write books for young readers. And as for The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I couldn’t agree more about its influence. It certainly gives the reader a vital perspective on the US and its history.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’d never heard of the Sweet Valley High series until – oddly – I happened on a podcast about children’s literature from an Australian university. So clearly it wasnt just an American phenomena but it was certainly one that passed me by completely.
    That Malcolm X book sounds interesting – all I know about him comes from a few films and the museum of civil rights in Memphis both of which only scratched the surface.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I, too, consumed Sweet Valley High in high school (secondary school where I am) and, I’ve never admitted this because it sounds so trite but when I was writing my teen/young adult book Musical Youth, a part of me wanted for its teen readers the same kind of relationship with the books – almost like companion pieces with characters coming of age as you do through the high school years. I read Malcolm X in university – don’t remember if it was before or after I saw the movie but both were definitely profound experiences – and a reminder that, yes, these were complex and flawed and courageous human beings doing transformative things in dangerous times. Never heard of Girl Imagined by Chance…I am both intrigued and slightly spooked. Will be adding to my to-read list.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Great choices Melanie. Being a different gender and generation I grew up on Richmal Crompton’s William books. Interesting new (to me) perspective on MLK, the liberal establishment prefer their radicals to be not too radical.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I was completely smitten with Sweet Valley High books – the High School ones, though, not the Twins, for some reason. Maybe they were more “exotic and dangerous” because they were in high school and I was 10 years old! 🙂 I really enjoyed reading this post. I wonder if we remember and talk about MLK differently than Malcolm X because he seems “safer” to white people? I have been meaning to read Malcolm’s biography for ages. I really need to.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I think MLK is easy to spruce up. He’s a sound bite of the movement. I mean, how many people don’t know that Emmett Till was so mutilated that his mother purposely chose an open casket? How many people don’t know that Bull Connor, the famous Alabama police chief, sprayed peaceful black protesters with fire hoses and let police dogs attack… and claimed that he wanted to get white folks close enough to WATCH?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Cathy– this is my first stop over at your blog (thanks for introducing us, Melanie!), and I *adore* this series! What a brilliant way to get to know other bloggers! We all have the books which build, shaped, and formed our love for books. This series totally nails it.

    Melanie — thank you for this post! I love the diverse collection of books you’ve mentioned here. We’ve talked about how our views of civil rights have changed based on exposure to the different books we’ve read. I haven’t read Malcolm X’s Autobiography, but now I know I must. I’m so glad to add it to my TBR!

    Liked by 1 person

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