Stay With Me

Stay With Me

Okay, so if you’re on Facebook (and I’m going to take a wild guess and assume that the majority of you are on Facebook but, even if you’re not, are active on enough social media and read enough blogs to have come across this anyway), you’ll likely have seen a reading meme going around. Ten books that have stayed with you. I did it, because I’m a sucker for all things involving books. And then Chuck Wendig did it on his blog and actually explained why those ten books stayed with him, so I figured, what the hell, I’ll do it like that too.

List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They do not have to be the “right” books or great works of literature, just the ones that have affected you in some way.

It’s kind of an interesting question. I mean, what are we talking here? Because it’s not favourites. It could be books that stayed with us because for weeks we couldn’t get the grossness out of our mind, or it could be books that ended up defining all our life choices from that point forwards. You know, it could be a positive thing, but it could easily be a negative thing, and there are a lot of books that have stuck with me simply because I hated them.

Still. That seems like a negative way of approaching this, so I won’t talk about those.

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you’ll notice that not all of these books are the same as the ones I listed in my status. Some are. Others aren’t. That’s because at different moments, depending on how I feel right then, different books stand out to me as having had a lasting impact. Practically everything I read ends up staying with me in some way, shape, or form, so it just depends what comes to mind at the time.

In no particular order, let’s take a look.

1. The New Policeman (Kate Thompson)

This is basically a no-brainer if you’ve known me for any number of years, but to cut a long story short, this was the book that first triggered my interested in all things Celtic. It’s the reason I started playing folk music. It’s the reason I was a competitive Irish dancer for eighteen months. It’s the reason I’m going to study Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic for the next three years. And it had a pretty major impact on the subject matter of my early novels, too. Last year I met Kate Thompson, and it was pretty damn cool.

Those are my feet.
Those are my feet on Irish dance.

2. Tithe (Holly Black)

Oh look, more fairies. There might be a theme here. But seriously, this book was super important to me. It’s the first book I ever read that had a gay character, which is fairly astonishing given that I read a lot of books and this one didn’t happen until I was twelve or thirteen. Shame on you, publishing industry. Moreover, it’s the reason I went into my first encounter with Star Trek fully under the impression that Spock and Kirk were canonically a couple. Thanks Holly. Thanks for that one.

3. Nation (Terry Pratchett)

I read this book from the library around about the time that my grandma died, and I remember its themes of grief and mourning resonating really strongly with me. There are lines from that book that I still remember, even while I’ve forgotten the majority of the plot and I can’t remember the characters’ names. Lines that sometimes come into my head when I’m trying to express a concept that doesn’t quite work, filling in the gaps.

4. The Luminous Life Of Lilly Aphrodite (Beatrice Colin)

See, this is a weird one. Because the first time I read it, this book stayed with me. When I finished it I was in shock and had to sit staring at the book for a while to process how it ended. And for a good couple of years, if you asked me about that book, I would have blathered on about the ending. It influenced how I approach tragedy and loss, and how to write sudden twists that leave the reader horrified and heartbroken. But then I bought a copy for myself and reread it and, I don’t know, maybe because I knew what was coming, it didn’t have the same impact. It was still a good book, but the thing that had really stuck with me was taken away from it. It’s a book that’s better the first time.

5. The Dream Thieves (Maggie Stiefvater)

I could talk about Ballad. How it influenced my choices of musical instruments, how I can quote extensive passages from memory, how it first triggered my interest in Hamlet. But that book stuck with me because of how many times I read it. Whereas The Dream Thieves hit me the first time like a punch in the stomach and it never let me go. I read it at a time when I was really struggling, mentally, and when I was having a lot of nightmares and nervous breakdowns and other such fun things. Ronan’s narrative arc of learning not to fear his own brain but to use it, because it was his greatest strength, was everything I needed at the time. It was like Maggie had stood in front of me and said, “Hey, Miriam, you’re gonna be okay. Don’t be scared.” And I needed that.

6. The Dream Life Of Sukhanov (Olga Grushin)

Talking of books that taught me not to fear mental breakdowns in quite the same way, this book was equally important and I read it at a similar time in my life. But actually, this one’s on the list because of how it uses language. Several times while reading this (and I read it multiple times, because I wrote a 2500-word coursework essay on it) I had to stop and just reconsider how the English language could be used to shape feelings and emotions. It was mind-blowing.

7. The Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien)

It kind of wouldn’t work for me to write one of these lists without some LotR. See, the thing about Tolkien is that I first read these books when I was eight and for two years, I was obsessed. I went as Merry on World Book Day in 2004. And as Aragorn in 2005.  (I started cross-dressing pretty young. The trend has continued: the majority of my cosplays have been male characters.) Stuck with me? I’d say so. For years, Tolkien was my ultimate. My everything. A lot of my early writing was total LotR fan fic (or just plagiarism, at times), and I got away with it because my year four teacher hadn’t read Tolkien.

So yeah. Books that stuck with me? Can’t really top this one. These three. Whatever.

In the absence of photographs of eight-year-old me as Merry, have seventeen-year-old me as Grantaire.
In the absence of photographs of eight-year-old me as Merry, have seventeen-year-old me as Grantaire.

8. Ptolemy’s Gate (Jonathan Stroud)

Really, the whole Bartimaeus Trilogy strongly influenced my writing, but book three taught me a lot about how to end a series in a completely heartbreaking manner without it being dissatisfying or a cop out like the traditional “everybody dies” sort of narrative. I needed this lesson. I used to loathe happy endings, but I didn’t know how to write decent tragic ones either. Ptolemy’s Gate provided the pinnacle of tragic self-sacrifice, love, the greater good, all those wonderful things, to the point where several years after first reading it, it still makes me sad to think about it. And also it’s a really brilliant book, and the ‘voice’ is 100% spot on.

9. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)

It’s a popular book. And for me, it fulfilled a role a little like that of The Dream Life Of Sukhanov: it opened my eyes to the possibilities of literature. This time it was less within the prose and more in the structure and general concept of the novel. The use of Death as a narrator (which I found fascinating because hey, I’ve always been morbid). Again, it was a lesson in tragic endings, and how there are things so much worse than everybody dying. (One person living is much more awful.) That book got inside my head and stayed there. I’ve only read it about twice, unlike most of the books on this list, but I still remember almost everything that happened. Because it stuck.

10. Good Omens (Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman)

I always describe this to people as the “funniest book about the apocalypse” I’ve ever read, and that’s a fair description. Other things this book is: an example of why you should always write for the sheer joy of writing it and not because you think it’s marketable (they had no clue if it would get published, and now look); a fairly stunning examination of humanity in all its glories and failures; a really quotable and entertaining book; and the one thing I tend to throw at people and inform that they need to read it to be my friend. Also, it’s going to be a radio adaptation, and I’m really excited.

What are you ten books? Leave me a comment, or link me to a post of your own. I’d be interested to see why different books stick with different people — characters, endings, or just what they meant at the time! :)

6 thoughts on “Stay With Me

  1. I love Good Omens. ^-^ And The Dream Thieves. AND THE BOOK THIEF. The others I haven’t really read…but I do love this list! I did it on FB but expanding it on the blog is an awesome idea. It’s one thing to say “yes it did” instead of “this is why it did”. Except all I feel like doing is crashing my head against the keyboard when I talk about The Book Thief. I can’t even explain why it affected me so much. BUT IT DID. I knew what would happen…I still cried at the end.

    1. Well since we seem to have relatively similar taste in books, maybe I could take this chance to recommend the others to you? Especially the Bartimaeus Trilogy. Sassy, heartbreaking characters, awesome world building, magic.

  2. I am not on Facebook, so I had no idea what you were talking about— but it’s pretty self-explanatory. I like your list, and have appreciated several of those books. Several of them didn’t resonate as strongly for me because I wasn’t going through the same emotional state at the time (emotional state does affect memories quite strongly, especially with entertainment), but I remember others because they were just awesome. Ptolemy’s Gate, for instance, I agree with completely. It was the perfect ending, with a perfect level of UGH WHY, for a pretty good trilogy. As for The Dream Thieves, I enjoyed it, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as The Raven Boys. It was well-written, but it didn’t stick with me as much.

    Excellent list.

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