Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Books That Made Me

A little while ago Waterstones started collecting stories from people about the book(s) that made them. Whether it shaped them as a person, gave them the courage to change their career, or made them passionate about feminism, cultural difference etc. I have really enjoyed reading these stories and I spent ages trying to think about which one book I could say transformed my life in one way or another. But I came up empty. There are so many books which, at different points in my life, have changed me and made me a better, stronger person, that it becomes hard to actually pinpoint the 'one'. In a moment of introspection, it finally occurred to me that the book that transformed my life is the book the made me a reader, and that there are actually two such books. So here's my story.

Heidi by Joanna Spyri

Heidi was written in 1880 by Swiss author Joanna Spyri. It is a hugely well-known and well-loved children's story and I can truly vouch for its value. It wasn't until a couple of years ago when my sister and I took a trip to Switzerland that I even remembered reading it (hey, I've read many many books since then). I'm so pleased to have restored it to its rightful place in my memory.

I read Heidi when I was in primary school. I have memories of reading it with one of my teachers as an individual reading project of sorts. The whys and wherefores otherwise escape me, but I have a quite vivid memory of coming across the word 'quench' and asking what it meant. I was directed to a dictionary, and I can still remember exactly what the word means (many words elude me even after I've looked them up and tried to remember) and that I learnt it at that moment.

Perhaps it was having that secret knowledge that I knew a 'grown-up' word that none of my friends knew which first sparked my passion for reading. Even now it is still the words that fascinate me as much as the story and the characterisation.

I have two beautiful editions of Heidi. The Puffin paperback I read and a lovely illustrated hardback edition given to me by a family member. I can pretty much trace my love of bookish aesthetics to this point.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

As you can tell from my very battered copy, this was my absolute favourite book when I was young. I still love it now and even have it in my iBooks for those moments when I need a nostalgic blast from the past.

The Velveteen Rabbit is a short story about a toy rabbit who is transformed into a real rabbit by the love of his owner. It is full of talking animals (so that's where my obsession started - from here to The Wind in the Willows), and various life lessons about love, friendship and bravery. I think it is a book that can be enjoyed at any age as it truly is a beautiful read.

I was always a serious bunny lover as a kid and even made up a fantasy land full of anthropomorphised bunnies which I used as characters in stories (ah, the childish imagination). I suspect this story started me off.

I have considered myself a reader for as long as I can remember. I fit all those bookish child stereotypes to an absolute t, but I seem to have failed to give credit where it's due. I didn't become a reader overnight, it wasn't something that was just there - it was sparked by two wonderful children's books. I was lucky to grow up in a household where books were important, but I think it still takes a particular story to really make you a reader. That's where these two come in. I do wonder how my life would have panned out without books - would I still have such an overactive imagination, or such a desire to learn new things, to travel and explore? I'm not sure, but I can safely say that Heidi and The Velveteen Rabbit both had a huge effect on my life. I may never have written stories about bunnies without reading Williams's story and if I'd never written those stories, maybe I would never have realised how much joy writing brings me. It's a huge case of 'what ifs' but I'm still going to say it's all down to these two books.

Do you have a book that made you a reader?



  1. I sometimes hesitate to join the topic of children's lit because it seems like the English-language peeps all read pretty much the same things and can relate and discuss those, whereas my books when I was little were often with Soviet influences and I doubt if it interests people enough.

    But generally speaking, the books I read as a kid influenced me a lot, and I had many of those I read at least ten times over and over. I loved (and still do!) my childhood books dearly and have brought 10 or so here to Helsinki from back home, to read over and over. I can't pinpoint one specific book though - as much as I remember myself, I have always been reading :)

  2. This is hard! I think the books that made me a reader are collectively the books I read with my parents (or were read to me) as a child. Then, as I got older, I would say two different things influenced me -- the fact that my mom, grandma, and aunts were always reading, so it seemed like a very "grown-up" thing to do and I wanted to keep doing it after the reading together stage. The books I most remember reading on my own were mostly series -- Nancy Drew & The Babysitters Club are the two I think I read the most of. So grateful to have a love of reading cultivated from such a young age -- I really can't imagine my life without reading in it :)


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