10 Books That Shaped Me

I generally try to avoid all of those email and Facebook chain letters. I’m always flattered when someone includes me in a group of friends whom she thinks would be inspired or uplifted by the message  but try to dodge them all the same. I feel bad, but what can I do?

But now I’ve been asked by two girlfriends the Top 10 books that have inspired me over the many years I’ve roamed this planet — like the dinosaur that I am — and I am having a hard time resisting the urge to share. I mean, what narcissist who reads a lot wouldn’t want to bore you with the books that have made her tick?

So, Denise Swanzey and Staci Seltzer, thanks for letting me remember the books that have helped shape the weird person, weirder mom and navel-gazing writer that I’ve become.



1. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.: Judy Blume

Boobs, periods, boys: They were mysteries back when I first read the book in fifth grade and they continue to stump me almost 40 years later. Perhaps it’s time for a re-reading.







2. To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee

The only good thing that came from leaving my tiny Catholic grammar school after my parents’ divorce and moving an hour south was getting to read this book in the public school I attended in 8th grade. Up to that point, the only stuff I’d read for school came out of a box on a giant glossy card (ugh that discouraging SRA Reading Program). I couldn’t believe my good fortune that I got to read an actual novel for English class (because it was English and not Language Arts back then).





3. Childhood is Hell: Matt Groening

Long before The Simpsons debuted on The Tracey Ullman Show, I adored Groening’s subversive “Life is Hell” cartoons in The Village Voice and stumbled across this collection while browsing a midtown Manhattan bookstore during my lunch hour from my low-level job as a glorified secretary at a women’s magazine. I spent the afternoon doubled over in my cubicle covertly reading about the “16 Types of Dads” (Fun Dad, Fear Dad, Lord Dad) and “Your Pal the TV Set” (“Is TV the coolest invention ever? Well, DUH.”). It’s now become one of my 11-year-old’s faves and that makes me feel like I’ve succeeded as a parent.




4. Bossypants: Tina Fey

I’ve read it twice and listened to it countless times during car trips up and down the Eastern Seaboard. My teenaged daughters adore it and I even let my little guy listen to it and am convinced the strong feminist ideas mixed with Fey’s deadpan humor totally override her liberal use of the “f” word. I think he’ll be a better man for it and will know how to use the term “motherfucker” in the right context. Score.





5. The Middle Place: Kelly Corrigan

My college girlfriend Honeypot — aka The Senator — sent me a copy of Corrigan’s first book long before I knew I wanted to be Corrigan. Her memoir about the place we find ourselves in mid-life between our parents and our children, with a little cancer thrown in, showed me that there was a place for people who wrote like I did.







6. The Twilight Series:

I gobbled up the first three books in about a week and mostly during a trip I took out west with my three sisters. I even had to stop at a bookstore near my sister’s home in Marin County to pick up book #2 and found myself often referencing vampires and their proclivities throughout the trip. And somehow, the series in a weird way made me want to end my marriage and find a dude that would take care of me like Edward. I am still accepting applications for that position.




7. The Honeymoon’s Over: True Stories of Love, Marriage and Divorce: Original essays by 21 writers

I read and re-read this collection of essays during the turbulent final years of my marriage and they helped me feel a little less alone. The writers showed me that there could be life on the other side, and you could even write about it.







8. I Feel Bad About My Neck: Nora Ephron

Funny. Self-deprecating. Shrewd.

Shards of brilliance: “Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.” 

And: When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”

I mean, what’s not to love?






9. Wild: Cheryl Strayed

I read Strayed’s memoir about going off and finding herself while I was sailing around the Greek islands and, well, finding myself. Enough said.








10. Eat, Pray, Love: Elizabeth Gilbert

Okay, obviously I’ve got a thing for chicks going off and finding themselves. But, as chronicled in detail here, listening to Gilbert read her memoir for a few weeks this spring really helped set the stage for a lot that happened in the heart department this summer. I highly recommend it.

6 thoughts on “10 Books That Shaped Me

  1. Your list is amazing as I knew it would. Sparked a desire to read some that I haven’t. I knew this nomination was well worth it! Thank you for posting!

  2. I was with you all the way until #10. Elizabeth Gilbert struck me as over-the-top neurotic, and I’m going to stop there because we are all entitled to our opinions.
    As for Judy Blume, “Are You There God…” was enjoyed every weekend throughout 7th and 8th grade when my parents thought I was sleeping in.

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