Books That Have Changed My Life

caitlin books changed life

I taught myself to read when I was three. I was sitting on my mother’s lap and she had drawn pictures of these stick figures with captions underneath explaining what these poorly drawn people were doing—like, “run” or “sit” or “stand”—and she made me figure out what the words said. Then she gave me a book her first grade class was reading from and made me read as many words as I could.

I couldn’t stop reading after that.

When I was eight, I had read everything on my level, so I started borrowing books from my mother, but we don’t have the same taste. That was when I discovered Little Women (Louisa May Alcott) and I realized how different I was from the other girls my age; while they were worrying about cooties and playing with Barbie dolls, I dreamed of wearing stockings and frocks, of cooking in woodstoves and painting canvases at the lake. I fantasized of a closely-knit sisterhood—not having any sisters myself—and of playing similar games the March sisters created.

Growing up in small town Texas, there wasn’t a whole lot to do besides literally running around outside barefoot or playing with the pogo stick in the driveway. I spent most of my time living vicariously through the characters I was reading about, which is why I chose my books very carefully. I remember reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith) and becoming obsessed with saving tin cans and aluminum foil to turn in for penny candy—my parents weren’t too fond of that stage. I read and re-read Black Beauty (Anna Sewell) countless times wishing I had a horse to care for and to fight for, but all I had were two mangy dogs, and they didn’t like it when I tried to ride them.

I read a lot of classics because the world seemed so intriguing and unlike anything I had ever experienced. They were the best stories to live through. They made modern novels seem so dull and uninviting that it took me years to find a contemporary author that I even liked.

And that’s when I met Harry Potter.

It seems juvenile for me to say that the Harry Potter series has influenced me, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. Rowling’s deep, intricate plotline and specific creative details provided such a rich world I continually find myself wishing I studied at Hogwarts and had a seven piece red-headed family I was best friends with. In childhood, it affected the lens through which I viewed my everyday life; everything started becoming a story. In adulthood, it has inspired me to be just as creative, thoughtful, and insightful in my own writing style and the way in which I weave together the many narratives I have growing in my own head; from my first short stories, to elementary school contests, to my college thesis.

I’ve always been drawn to strong characters, ones with unique voices and equally unique stories to tell. The Diary of Anne Frank doesn’t seem a book an eleven-year old would take an interest in, but after reading I became fascinated with Frank’s unique life and equally unique way of telling her story. So much so that I became enthralled with the history of war and the intricacies of politics and the stories of soldiers, like in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

It’s not the books that change me. It’s the characters. And to say that only a handful have really shaped the way I think and perceive the world around me doesn’t do justice to the many personalities I’ve come in contact with. Much like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, each character I’ve come across is as interesting and stimulating as the next; each led me down a different path of discovery of new places, new creatures, and new ways to think about things. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for them, and I wouldn’t give them up for anything.

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