little house on the prairie

Crossing the Streams: 10 Important Books

I was tagged in this thing on Facebook:

“I’ve been challenged to list 10 books that have stayed with me in some way and tag people to do the same. Rules: Don’t take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They don’t have to be the “right” books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way. Then tag 10 friends including me so I can see your list.”

I decided to tackle the request here instead so I could really get into it, so off we go…

1. Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson)

Bridge to Terabithia broke my heart. I don’t want to talk about it.

But yes you should read it if you have not already done so. And when you do, remember that it was written for children.

Sometimes pain can be cruel and beautiful.

2. Dune (Frank Herbert)

Dune ferret controls the spice

Dune ferret controls the spice.

In the beginning, there was Dune, and it was so stinkin’ good. And a bit talky. And super great. There are about 4 kajillion – give or take – books in the Dune series at this point and I’ve only read 7 or so of them so far, but I’m slowly acquiring them all on paperback so I can eventually read them  all* and admire them on my shelf and whisper sweet nothings to them when no one’s listening.

I actually had a pretty hard time getting into this book when I first tried reading it. I just couldn’t reorient myself into the right head space for it, and found myself re-re-reading the first handful of pages over and over again as I’d put the book down and forget what had happened in my previous failed attempts. But I’d watched the original movie version so many times before I tried reading the book (30 viewings? 40?) that I was committed to indulging in the rest of the story’s details, so I kept plugging away.

It wasn’t until I found the audio book version narrated by Scott Brick that I was finally able to break through that Getting Started barrier. Once he opened up the story to me however, I was hooked. I went on to listen to his narration of other books in the series, which I paired with readings from the hard copies I had immediately run out to acquire as soon as I’d finished the first book.

From the book:

“A world is supported by four things … the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the righteous and the valor of the brave. But all of these are as nothing … without a ruler who knows the art of ruling. Make that the science of your tradition!”
– a recollection of Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam by Paul Atreides

“Be prepared to appreciate what you meet.”
– Fremen proverb

*Even the ones The Nerds frown upon because they’re “not as good as the original.” I will enjoy my escape into this cool universe without you then hahaha!! *raspberries*

3. Earthseed (Pamela Sargent)

My fave version of the cover art for this book.

My fave version of the cover art for this book.

Earthseed is one of those “read it so many times I lost count” books for me, and if you have any way to put me in touch with Pamela Sargent so I can drag my friend Donna K. (who I think would love her work) along and buy her lunch and thank her and fill her up with questions and soak in her answers, let me know post haste!

I first read this book back in… I want to say it was during middle school? late grade school? It was a great “escape” book for me, sure, but it was also a total brain-rerouter. Between this book and Invitation to the Game (#5 on this list), almost everything about the way I daydreamed after reading this was completely flipped on end.

Not only was it set in space – in space! – but it featured young people being trusted with doing Big Things, something I hadn’t encountered much yet at this point. (Not to this degree, anyway.) And in another refreshing change of pace, the story was filled with people of color, and with women who got to be good and bad, who got to be tough, who got to save the day. It shook up everything for me. May I remain shaken.

You can download the first four chapters of the book for Kindle for free. You can also buy me Amazon gift cards so I can download the rest of the books and then come back later and gush about how cool they were.

Just, you know — so you know you have options…

4. House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski)

House of Leaves, 1st ed. cover art

House of Leaves, 1st ed. cover art

My friend Sarah recently reminded me of this exchange between the two of us immediately after I finished House of Leaves:

Sarah: You finished that book somewhere in New Mexico in the back of an RV. I walked back to the “bedroom” to find you laying face down on the bed. I said, “You okay?” and without looking at me you just picked the book up, held it up so I could see the cover, then put it back down. Then I backed away. It was also at that point that I knew I wanted to read it.

Me: I have no memory of that moment. I’m glad you do, though, because… yes. That sounds about right.

Sarah: You were laying in there long enough that our traveling companions began asking if you were all right. I told them you just needed some alone time.

This book will mess you up. So yes, by all means you should read it immediately.

From the book:

“To get a better idea try this: focus on these words, and whatever you do don’t let your eyes wander past the perimeter of this page. Now imagine just beyond your peripheral vision, maybe behind you, maybe to the side of you, maybe even in front of you, but right where you can’t see it, something is quietly closing in on you, so quiet in fact you can only hear it as silence. Find those pockets without sound. That’s where it is. Right at this moment. But don’t look. Keep your eyes here. Now take a deep breath. Go ahead, take an even deeper one. Only this time as you exhale try to imagine how fast it will happen, how hard it’s gonna hit you, how many times it will stab your jugular with its teeth or are they nails?, don’t worry, that particular detail doesn’t matter, because before you have time to process that you should be moving, you should be running, you should at the very least be flinging up your arms-you sure as hell should be getting rid of this book-you won’t have time to even scream.”
– p. 27

5. Invitation to the Game (Monica Hughes)

Invitation to the Game is the one book I’ve undoubtedly read more times than any other. It came into my life at just the right time (right around when I first encountered Earthseed, #3 on this list) and it spoke to all sorts of areas in my brain that were newly reaching out to be understood. I was only 10 or so at the time, but I wanted to be Lisse, the  book’s protagonist. I wanted to move to a warehouse in the city with my friends. I wanted to read every book in the library. I wanted to train my body to be able to run and climb; to be able to fight and to jump over walls. I wanted – wanted so badly – to one day play The Game.

I still do.

6. Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, The (C.S. Lewis)

I don’t recall when I first read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I only know that it’s been a known part of my personal universe since I was 7 or 8. I wish I could read it again for the first time – this book and the rest in the series – but maybe that’s what makes it so special in some ways; it wasn’t accompanied by a discovery experience so much as it was always a known quantity that I could rely on and daydream about.

7. Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Welcome to Super Awesome Nerd Girl Funtime Bookish Prairieland Vacation Mega Hotspot!

Welcome to Super Awesome Nerd Girl Funtime Bookish Prairieland Vacation Mega Hotspot!

My dad read Little House on the Prairie to me when I was 8. I have a picture of him reading it to me on the couch – him in his construction clothes, me sleepy in my pajamas. I wish I could find it. It so perfectly encapsulates my experience with that book, with growing up, with my parents…

Years later I went on a road trip with my mom, during which we visited the Ingalls homestead in DeSmet, SD. It was like the books had been turned into a ride where there’d never be any real speed, but there’d also never be any real long lines to wait in.

I made a rope and a corncob doll there and I was 8 all over again. 8, and every other age I’ve been when reading the entire series through from start to finish. Every time it’s quaint, and every time I love that little girl out on her prairies.

8. Maniac Magee (Jerry Spinelli)

My fourth grade teacher read Maniac Magee to us in class and it really stuck with me. (She also read us James and the Giant Peach, and The BFG, and introduced me to keeping a journal, and to writing stories, and to creating poetry, and to the idea of women having short hair in a cut other than The Mom Cut. Influential? To say the least.)

Maniac Magee marked one of the first times I read (or in this case, had read to me) a story that was centered on a kid, but in which everything wasn’t happiness and light. There was loss, and there was racism. There was pain, and there was death. But there was adventure, too, and friendship. There was learning and growing and exploring — and I loved it. Even though it wasn’t like the other books.

Especially because it wasn’t like the other books.

9. [Unnamed transformative fiction…

…that is among my favorite works of fiction and which was exciting and beautifully written and absolutely scared the crap out of me and should be adapted into a movie but never will be and it’s our collective loss that it won’t happen because wow… *shivers*]


10. Wrinkle In Time, A (Madeleine L’Engle)



I felt a bit as though I was getting away with something when I first read A Wrinkle in Time. I was 8 years old, and there was just so much happening in the story that I was sure it was intended for older readers than myself, and feared that when it was discovered I was “reading outside my age group” I’d get in trouble. Or worse – that the book would be taken away before I had a chance to finish it.

I was also a bit nervous about the cover art getting me in trouble…

I shouldn’t have been so nervous, of course. The Time Quintet is a classic of children’s literature – of literature in general – but I had no idea. I had just moved to a new country where I didn’t speak the language and had only just started making friends. I was cut off, isolated in the worlds of my books. I didn’t know where they stood in society at large, only where they ranked on my personal bookshelf.

This one ranked mighty high.

I went on to read the rest of the books in the series, and to incorporate L’Engle’s mythos into my own fantasy world-building. Tesseracts, kything, girls being heroes – this book had everything!

And now so did I.

Other super formative/influential books I didn’t think of until after I’d thought of the 10 listed above: The BFG, A Game of Thrones, Harry Potter (series), A Grief Observed, Where Is God When It Hurts?, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, A Tale of Time City

Got a list of your own? Consider yourself tagged and leave it in the comments below!