It’s Top Ten Tuesday again at the Broke and the Bookish, and this week’s topic is Top Ten Books I Was Forced to Read, whether by teachers, friends, other blogs, reviews, and so on. I considered splitting this to be five that I loved and five that I did not love, but then I realized that my “I didn’t love these” list would pretty much have been the required reading from my undergraduate WWI literature class, so I nixed that idea. The interesting thing is that a lot of the books I read as an adult are recommended to me in one way or another, whether by friends or family, so probably a good 70-80% of the books I read were “forced” upon me in some way. Which makes this list easy, but also means I’m using “forced” to read in a pretty loose way — pretty much any book that came with an emphatic recommendation by someone is fair game.
These are not in any particular order. Let’s begin:
1. Bitten, by Kelley Armstrong. This book came to me twice. The first time, I didn’t read it — my friend Amy gave me a beat-up paperback copy during one of her shelf purges, saying she thought I’d enjoy it. It sat on my shelf for ages. And then a few years later, my friend Candace told me about this book series that she absolutely loved called Women of the Otherworld, by Kelley Armstrong. The title of the book pinged me when she mentioned it. I was sure I had a copy. So I went looking, and there was the beat up old paperback that Amy had given me so many years earlier. I absolutely devoured it, and the seven books following it. There are more books than that in the series, but unfortunately the thing I like about the series — each book showcases a different woman in Armstrong’s world — became a hangup for me. I cannot stand the protagonist of book eight, so at book eight I remain stuck. But Elena, the protagonist of Bitten, remains one of my absolute favorites to read about. I’m actually entertaining a re-read of this entire series, to see if getting it all fresh in my mind would allow me to plow through book eight and keep going.
2. Rampant, by Diana Peterfreund. One day while I was neck-deep in required reading for my masters’ comps, my roommate Sarah stopped me as I was walking in the front door, shoved a book in my hands, and said, “You have to read this. Right now.” That book was Rampant, which has a deceptively silly-sounding premise: it’s about killer unicorns and the girls that fight them. And it’s good. I actually stopped my MA comps work and sat down and read the book from cover to cover in one evening without putting it down. It was awesome. It has a sequel, Ascendant, that I finally have a copy of, and is in my TBR pile, beneath about six million other books I’ve picked up in the last year or two. And while the series is currently on hold, Diana has emphatically said at multiple DragonCons that she is not done writing in that universe, so whenever she comes back to it, I will be happy to read more!
3. Native Son, by Richard Wright. This was required reading for one of my courses in Newcastle the year I studied abroad. This book is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It tackles race in America in the 1940s in such a brutally honest way. School assignments have never been the place where I have found literature that resonates with me because of the way you are forced to come in and out of the story to do your homework, but this book sat with me for a very, very long time after I read it. This book is a must-read for those of you who haven’t had the chance yet to read it.
4. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause. When Amy gave me her beat up old copy of Bitten, she also gave me a well-loved copy of Blood and Chocolate. Some of you may remember that there was a movie made of this book. That movie was terrible. That movie took this book and spat all over it. If you only ever saw the movie, you need to pick this book up and wash that mess from your mind (except the Hugh Dancy part. You can keep Hugh Dancy in your head if you want). This book I actually re-read as soon as I finished it, which is a very rare thing for me to do. Usually a book has to say “Harry Potter” on it for that to happen.
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling. Speaking of Harry Potter… so when Harry Potter started becoming really popular, I was already in high school. I was one of those people that dismissed it as a children’s book, something I was too old to read. And then one day when I was cleaning my room, I got a phone call from Amy (yep, the same one that gave me Bitten and Blood and Chocolate). She started reading to me. She was reading me Harry Potter over the phone, insisting that I listen to her, and that I was missing out. She was right. Years and years later, I can’t imagine a world where I’d never read these books. J.K. Rowling is an inspiration and a role model. I’m sure I would have been swept up in Pottermania eventually, considering the way it spread like wildfire, but I have Amy to thank for getting me in at the beginning of the storm and before all the spoilers got everywhere.
6. Heir to the Empire, by Timothy Zahn. This is Sarah’s fault. Sarah, for those who have never met her, is the biggest Star Wars fan on the planet (go ahead, challenge her, she will school you and I will enjoy watching it). When she found out that I had not read any of the Star Wars EU books (ok, I had read a couple, I do have seven of them on my shelf and I have read all seven of those), she flailed around like a madwoman (yes, she did, don’t let her tell you otherwise), and shoved some books at me. Those books were the Thrawn Trilogy, which begins, of course, with Heir to the Empire. Those books were amazing. Everyone who gives a crap about Star Wars should read those books.
7. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank. My mom gave me this one when she thought I was old enough to start reading about the Holocaust. The copy I have now is the same beat-up old hardcover copy that she gave me all those years ago. I don’t think I had to read it for school, that part I can’t remember, but the thing I know for a fact is that this book lit a fire deep within me that still burns strong and bright, and that fire is a deep desire to know and understand everything I can about WWII and the Holocaust. I majored in it. I have a masters degree in it. I will never, ever understand why the Nazis did the things they did. There’s no knowing the reason, because it’s rooted in hatred and insanity. But I now have a deep understanding and knowledge of the history surrounding it, and I hope that with learning and studying this, and sharing my knowledge of it with others, that I am helping in even a small way to keep such a tragedy from ever happening again. Anne’s diary did what her father hoped it would do, at least for this particular bookish historian.
8. A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin. When the HBO adaptation of this series was announced, I thought it sounded pretty cool, and I said so to a coworker of mine, Rob. He immediately told me to go out and get the book and read it before I watched anything. I didn’t listen to him — I watched nine episodes and promptly freaked out, as all other HBO watchers who hadn’t read the books did. Rob laughed at me, one of those “I told you so” laughs, and told me to go and freaking get the books before anything else like that happened. So I did. And I flew through them. Now I’m caught up, and I really glad I am, but also really grumpy about the wait times between new books by GRRM! Now I know what all those Robert Jordan fans were grumbling about.
9. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. This was another book my mom made me read. I remember when she gave me the copy I have now (which is really, really beat up), my first thought was, “Yessss! A HUGE BOOK!” You know all those people that grumble about reading something that’s “too long”? I was the kid that thought, “The bigger, the better.” It’s why The Stand was one of my first Stephen Kings, which… maybe should not have happened when it did, but hey. I turned out OK. In any case, I read this book when I was very small, and now when I look back I still have very negative feelings toward stupid Amy March, who burned Jo’s manuscripts and then later in life took her dating leftovers. Stupid Laurie. Stupid Amy. The funny thing is, I also liked Dr. Bhaer, so I don’t know why I get so grumpy with Laurie for farming through the March sisters until one stuck. Wait, no, that’s exactly my problem. Anyway, I think it’s time for an adult-perspective reread on this one, I’d be interested to see if my reactions to these characters is different now that I’m older. I bet I still cry for Meg, though.
10. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman. I hadn’t even heard of these books until I went to Newcastle to study abroad. The first semester, I packed way too light in the way of books and movies with which to entertain myself in my downtime, so I very quickly tired of reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix over and over again and asked my fellow study abroad students for recommendations. Both Sarah and our friend Amanda told me to read this book. One of them even loaned me their copy. I was halfway through the second book in the series, The Subtle Knife, on my way home from the program, and the poor little lady next to me had no idea what was wrong with me when I burst into upset, sobby tears at a very emotional part of the story. I’m a crier, but very few books have gotten sobs like those out of me (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the only other example I can come up with). This whole book series is amazing. They attempted to make movies out of them, but for fear of the religion-related content in the books offending viewers of one creed or another, they totally chickened out on adapting them properly. Here’s hoping that someday we get a faithful live action rendition of these books, or that they leave them alone for good. They are amazing, and deserve something better than the mess Hollywood gave us last time they tried.
Wow, that got long! I look forward to seeing everyone else’s top tens!