Books to Define an Era: The Leap Day Musings of a Bibliophile
Happy Leap Day, everyone! Today’s post is written by Lily D., age 16. Lily loves knitting, brain science, and the medieval flute, and shares her room with an extensive library, several musical instruments, and a hamster named Tesla. You can follow her online via her knitting and book review blog, Wildwool. Thank you, Lily, for sharing your era-defining reads (and superb writing skills) with us! –Becky O’Neil, currently reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
I have no memory of being unable to read. Even in my earliest recollections, Thomas the Tank Engine rolls across the page, pursued by Winnie the Pooh and a number of outsized vegetables. My universe continues to be populated, in large part, by fictional characters of all ages, species, and historical eras. While the number of books that I have read (or perhaps “devoured” would be a better word) probably numbers in the thousands, only a few have stuck out as volumes with era-forging power. On average, I find a book like this once every four years, coinciding (oddly enough) with leap years. Since today is Leap Day, I thought it would be appropriate to make a list of the three books that have caused me to dress in strange costumes, compose bad fan fiction, and drop allusions every which way.
1. The Hobbit
At age four, my father kick-started twelve solid years of fantasy readership with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. It took a year for him to read it aloud to me, a year of magical thinking and giant spiders. After The Hobbit, we moved on to The Lord of the Rings [a series which was recently nominated for the 2012 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list], but I always preferred Bilbo to Frodo, and it was to the Lonely Mountain, not Mordor, that I returned the most frequently over the next four years. To this day, I think of Mirkwood when I visit a state park and inspect hills in search of round green doors. But any role-play I invented after The Hobbit was nothing to what my fantasy life became after…
2. Harry Potter
Along with the rest of my generation, I became obsessed with the Harry Potter series [book 1 made the 1999 Top 10 Best Books for Young Adults list] around age eight, with my Hogwarts fever peaking four years later. (I distinctly remember receiving the fifth book in the mail and planting an enthusiastic kiss on the front cover.) I gasped when Quirrel removed his turban, squirmed as Ernie Macmillan shunned “Potter the parselmouth” and cheered when Hermione slapped Draco Malfoy. When September of my eleventh year came and went, I sighed–and went right back to reading.
But all good things must come to an end, and, soon enough, I was looking for a new author. I came across the Protector of the Small series [also nominated for this year's Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults] by chance on a visit to The Blue Marble, a favorite bookstore of mine. The saga of Keladry, the first openly female page, squire, and knight in well over a century in the Tortall universe, was compelling and new (to me at any rate). I followed Pierce’s many Tortall novels in reverse chronological order, from Keladry to Alanna. My fantasy self filed a change-of-address form and became a page. While The Hobbit and Harry Potter reverberated through my mental life, Tamora Pierce’s writing pushed into my physical world as well; staying motivated during workouts became much easier when I recalled the grueling physical training that her heroines endured.
The End (almost)
I’ve had four good years of Tamora Pierce novels. While I’ve loved every page and paragraph of them, it is now time for me to move on again. As I prepare to leave for college, I’ve found myself wondering what books I will take with me–and what new stories I will discover there.
For those of you in search of your next “leap cycle” author, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that nobody writes like Tolkien anymore. The good news is that other authors are carving out fresh material, and carving it well. Go forth and make an era.
- The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman
- The Beka Cooper trilogy by Tamora Pierce [book 1 was a 2007 Best Book for Young Adults]
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Yes, I know, it’s old, Russian, and over 800 pages. Just trust me and try it–you’ll be glad you did.)
Who else has felt that a book changed how you looked at the world, and yourself, during a certain era in your life? If a truly great book comes along every 4 years, what book stands out most for you since Leap Day 2008? Add your thoughts in the comments! Thanks again, Lily! -Becky