The Books That Built the Blogger with Laila from Big Reading Life

After a brief hiatus while I recovered from Reading Ireland Month, The Books that Built the Blogger is back, this time with the lovely Laila from Big Reading Life who is one of the most cheerful, supportive and enthusiastic bloggers I know.

Here are her choices for the books that have made her the blogger she is today.

It’s so much fun to think about the ways in which my reading life has changed over time. One of the things I love so much about becoming a book blogger is the way it has made me reflect on my own capacity for change. I have loved stretching my reading muscles in new ways as I discover new-to-me authors and genres. I am certainly a more adventurous reader than I was even two years ago. However, much like my love of watermelon and Reese’s Cups, there are certain tastes that I formed as a young reader that have remained consistent.

I have always loved the mystery genre, from the time I began reading David Adler’s Cam Jansen series, Marjorie Sharmat’s Nate the Great, and of course, Nancy Drew. But the book that stands out for me as the most influential in my love of the genre is The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. I read it at about nine years of age, and still have my paperback copy on my bedside bookshelf as we speak. I loved the huge, quirky cast of characters, the omniscient narrator (who let me know that some of these people were not what they seemed,) and the giant puzzle at the center of the story. It was creepy and filled with surprises, liars, and secrets. Every character seemed to have a hidden agenda, and some were rather hateful people. Paired off by unlikely twosomes in the contest, they had to work together to solve the riddle. I’ve reread this as an adult and it still holds up. I can’t wait to read this with my son when he’s a bit older.

Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik series is another lifelong favorite, and influential to my reading tastes. Anastasia was a girl after my own heart, precocious, dramatic, and always making lists. Like me, she also had dark hair, glasses, and an unusual name. I loved reading about her bohemian-ish parents, a literature professor and an artist, and her hilarious little brother, Sam. I think that my love of stories with realistic, quirky families can be traced to these books. The Krupniks remind me of the messy, complicated families at the centers of books by two of my favorite authors, Anne Tyler and Carol Shields. Recently I’ve been rereading the Anastasia series and, while I identify now with her parents, I still find them as charming and lough-out-loud funny as ever. They are a still delicious comfort read for me in these turbulent times.

Since becoming a book blogger I have made a more concerted effort to step outside of my reading comfort zone, and one of my favorite experiences in that effort was the book A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. I spent two weeks lugging that thing around, wrestling with the Jamaican patois, trying to keep all nine thousand characters straight in my head. I fell utterly in love with it, most unexpectedly. I hadn’t even known that Bob Marley was the victim of an assassination plot in 1976, much less that I could empathize with and care for characters who were such a motley assortment of mostly bad people – Jamaican mob dons, drug dealers, killers. James’s skill in rendering these people as whole and complicated, with each separate voice fully distinct, totally blew me away. Initially I felt proud of myself for sticking with a book that was challenging, and after I finished I felt bereft, because I missed the vivid, raw, brave writing. I had a book hangover for weeks afterward. Writing about it now, I’m itching to pick it back up again and enter that world.

When Cathy asked me if I’d like to participate in her book-blogger feature, I initially panicked a bit. How could I choose just a few books to represent the reader and blogger I’ve become? But I realized that I am still very much a reader and blogger in progress, and as I sample new authors and styles, my tastes are still coalescing. I find that thrilling – who knows what kinds of books I’ll be reading in five years, or ten, or twenty? I will always consider my realistic family sagas and mysteries “home base,” but I am eager to venture further afield.

Thanks to Laila for those great choices. I think venturing further afield in our reading is great advice for anyone, I’ve certainly discovered some great authors in the last few years that I wouldn’t have come across had I not stepped outside my comfort zone.

Are there any books or genres you’ve come to love when you’ve gone outside your usual taste?