This year the Paperback Pigeon turns, yep, you guessed it – 40. Now fortunately this old bird isn’t phased by the actual number – in fact there isn’t a year I’d give up as in each I have learned, loved, cried, laughed, lost, and together they make me, well me! And, as the PBP, you can imagine how influential books have been over these past four decades. So to mark this momentous milestone I am going to post 40 books over 40 years in 40 days. Beginning with my earliest literary influences I will post a book for each year of my life. Each of these stories spoke to me, changed me, challenged me and contributed to my life story. Follow along, and perhaps create a list of your own!
Year 1 – Each Peach Pear Plum This is my first memory of really loving a book. I’m not sure if it was the rhyming text, the interactive look-n-find aspect, or the old school nursery rhymes, but this surpasses all the other “classic” baby books for me and evokes memories of the first time I realized I completely loved a book.
Year 2 –No Bath Tonight This was a delightful favorite as a child, about a little boy who doesn’t want a bath, but his grandmother tricks him by promising to read his bathwater like you would tea leaves. This one made me feel part of the “trick”. The first of many books that would evoke a sense of belonging to a secret club.
Year 3 –“Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze!” Parental influence on young readers can not be underrated. Luckily my mother subscribed to “Children’s Choice Bookclub” and this favorite selection always made me laugh. Never discount the power of literature to bring joy and happiness into your life.
Year 4 – “ Watch Out for the Chicken Feet in Your Soup Many of Tomie de Paola’s family stories struck a chord with me, as I grew up with my Italian-American grandparents as an integral part of my childhood. This book made me appreciate the unique wonder of an Italian grandmother cooking with love – and how lucky I was to have mine feeding me until I felt I’d burst!
Year 5 – Miss Nelson Is Missing! Like most 5 year olds, this is the year I started Kindergarten- and the year Miss Nelson went missing. For those of us new to the “school” club, who didn’t quite realize what was in store for us over the next 12+ years of formal schooling, it was exciting to read a story about a place so new and wondrous…and with a surprise twist at the end!
Year 6- Horton Hears A Who! For many more than my 40 years beginning readers have been influenced and inspired by this author. His books build literary confidence with whimsy that thinly disguises their moral heart. Every children’s booklist should have at least one Seuss…this is my choice.
Year 7 – Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings Growing as a reader means diversifying across genres – adding poetry was easy with this classic that is still a favorite to this day.
Year 8 –The Secret of the Old Clock This is the year where I tackled “A Nancy Drew A Day”. I devoured this series, and was irate when I discovered the integrity of the classic stories had been compromised as the publishers “updated” the tales to make them more modern. This prompted a letter to the publisher from an 8-year-old Nancy Drew “purist” who wanted her heroine to wear driving gloves and summer suits.
Year 9 –Little House on the Prairie Books often inspire television shows and movies, but sometimes the reverse is true. Syndicated re-runs of Little House inspired me to pick up this series, and I discovered a beloved classic.
Year 10 – Ballet Shoes My childhood love of ballet let me to this classic series, originally published in 1937.
Year 11 – A Wrinkle in Time Looking back on the books that influenced me as a reader this is a big one, but not for the reason you’d expect. This classic, Newbery winner, came highly recommended. And I hated it. It was torturous. However, it taught me that I won’t like every book, and that’s okay. Not every book is meant for every reader, and luckily there are enough wonderful choices out there that you can put one book down and pick up another.
Year 12 – Caroline It’s no secret that I love Historical Fiction. My discovery of the genre (long before the American Girl stories) began with Sunfire Young Adult Romances. These formulaic, chaste, love stories targeted all the highlights of American History and are now out-of-print. This was my favorite, and the broken binding on my copy is proof of how many times I read it!
Year 13 – Across Five Aprils There’s been plenty required reading on my educational journey (its the curse of a History and Lit major). Often assigned books were a chore, but occasionally they became treasured favorites. This was the first of these books for me. Perhaps it was that I was ready to understand that there are two sides to every story or simply the draw of historical fiction. Likely it was the influence of a remarkable teacher, Mrs. Clifton, with whom I still correspond, who made sure this book wove its way into my soul.
Year 14- Forever Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s you’d be hard pressed to find a girl who wasn’t influenced by Judy Blume. Nearly everything she wrote made an impression, as she spoke candidly, without condescension, to a generation of young women about what really mattered to them. Forever navigates the challenges of teen romance by looking at first love and real love, and I gave this one multiple readings as a young teen.
Year 15 – As the Waltz Was Ending Emmy wants is to be a ballet dancer with the Vienna State Opera, but when Austria is annexed by the Nazis her world is turned upside down. History, ballet, memoir- this had all the makings of a favorite. The unique perspective and haunting first person narrative made a lasting impact.
Year 16 –The Killer Angels Required reading for my favorite HS class – AP US History. Follow up the reading with a class trip to Gettysburg and you’ve got some awesome teenager/history nerd fun! Yep, nothing like seeing the book come to life at the National Park Service Cyclorama!
Year 17 – Pride and Prejudice It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune… will provide unrealistic romantic expectations for generations of young readers. And although it’s not actually my favorite Austen (I reserve that honor for Persuasion), it was my first. Mr. Darcy stole my heart – and Lizzy Bennett was an inspired heroine ahead of her time.
Year 18 –On the Road College was an opportunity to investigate whole new areas of literature in the classroom, and in my free time. I tackled some great reads, and some less than spectacular novels (yep, I was a Lit major who read the Cliffs notes for Moby Dick). This modern classic was a definite diversion from my usual book choices, but as a relatively carefree college kid it struck a chord, and perhaps inspired the travel hungry wanderer in me to become the Paperback Pigeon.
Year 19 – Lady Chatterley’s Lover Another required reading that stayed with me long after the semester was over. History, love story, social commentary – it had it all. Oh, and it was a banned book – this definitely influenced my interest in literary freedom.
Year 20 –Outlander Half-way and we come to one of my all-time absolute favorite novels ever. I first “read” this book on tape (yes, tape -and if you must know it was on a bright yellow walkman sport). Davina Porter’s narration was mesmerizing! Over the years I have worn my paperback copy thin and recommended it to anyone I know looking for a powerfully, expertly & exquisitely written book. But I can still hear the voices in my head when I leaf through the pages. Not only did this book introduce me to Jamie & Claire, and Diana Gabaldon’s incredible series, but it converted me to a “listener” of books, which I hadn’t been for almost 15 years.
Year 21 – Magic Tree House This was the summer I nannied for 3 adorable little boys in NW DC. I got to stay in the city for the summer with my friends, intern at a great museum in the ed dept, and discover this gem of a series. I had the chance to be the reader – to a 5 year old who loved Jack & Annie and their amazing adventures – and I became a Magic Treehouse fan! It became a go-to series for my kids and now my preschool students!
Year 22-Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story Prior to a road trip to Savannah I picked up this book which hauntingly, eerily and memorably brought the city, and it’s inhabitants, to life. It was the start of my personal quest to connect literature to my travels.
Year 23 – The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy To Steal The World’s Greatest Works Of Art At my first professional conference (I’m a grown-up!!) I had the honor of hearing amazing authors share their process and journey – Isabel Allende, Jane Goodall and Hector Feliciano were inspiring. But is was Feliciano’s non-fiction book that combined history and museums, art and theft – long before the Monuments Men – that connected with me. I still cherish my signed copy.
Year 24 –Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone An 11 year old boy, a letter, magic. Hagrid, Ron, Dumbledore. Diagon Alley, Platform 9 & 3/4, Hogwarts. Everyone should discover Harry Potter. Simple as that. Done. Oh, and… “There are all kinds of courage. It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom.” Gets me every time.
Year 25 –The Pilot’s Wife Remember what I said about certain books having a specific influence based on when in your life you read them? This was one of those. A newlywed, just starting out in married life, I found this book devastating. The betrayal, putting together the pieces, discovering your life is a lie – all of it was just so intense.
Year 26 – The Complete Book of Baby Names I may have read lots of novels during this year, but I referred to this book on a daily basis for nearly 7 months. And I’m happy to say that I think it steered us in the right direction!
Year 27 – Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody, Book 1) As a new mom with little to no time to pleasure read, and a tendency to nod off after only a page or two, I slowly made my way through Elizabeth Peters brilliant Amelia Peabody series. These delightful mysteries got me through that first year!
Year 28 – The Da Vinci Code I jumped on the bandwagon and enjoyed this thriller, and its sequel. The history, the edge of your seat intensity, and the controversy led to a fun ride.
Year 29 – And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II Another baby and even less time to read. However, this is the year I discovered the HBO Miniseries Band of Brothers. And when I get interested in a topic I tend to devour everything I can about it – so, in addition to the nonfiction miniseries inspiration by Stephen E. Ambrose, I read approximately 15 books about the European theater in WWII this year. This one stands out as the most memorable.
Year 30 – Luncheon of the Boating Party Returning to my roots! Nothing I love more than looking into a work of art and imagining the story hiding in its history. Susan Vreeland expertly crafts a tale of relationships and passions that resulted in one of the most famous works of art from the Impressionist Auguste Renoir.
Year 31 – The Secret History of the Pink Carnation A third baby means a series that provided a light-hearted escape from reality, in the rare moments this tired mama had a chance to flip through the pages of a book that didn’t highlight a Very Hungry Caterpillar or a Cat In The Hat.
Year 32 – The Glass Castle: A Memoir Super huge Mom-guilt about leaving my girls for a long weekend to attend the wedding of a dear college friend. But I read this on the plane ride to San Francisco and was absolutely amazed by the strength and resilience of the author. Oh, and by the time I reached the last page I absolved myself of any guilt and decided maybe I was doing ok as a mom after all.
Year 33 – My Father’s Dragon Our beloved children’s librarian recommended this as a bedtime read aloud for Shakespeare. We were finally ready to try a novel and this book changed the way our family looked at reading – from “your books” and “my books” to “our books”. It was the beginning of what I hope will be a life-long sharing of literature. I’ve read it to each of the girls individually, and listened to it countless times on car trips. Each time it warms my heart.
Year 34 – City of Light I’ve never loved where I live. Western NY seemed boring compared to the history of Boston, the bustle of NYC or the political drama of DC. But this historical fiction novel brought to life an era in which my area of the world had relevance and importance. This book reminded me that everywhere has a story. I’ll never look at the Falls the same way again.
Year 35 – Firefly Lane My bookclub picked this novel and we had the amazing opportunity to talk with the author. The story of Tully and Kate touched us so much that we formed The Fireflies – a 23 woman team that walked 39.3 miles in NYC for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer that October. We held fundraisers, made t-shirts, became closer, and discovered that together we were able to do almost anything – including raising over $50,000
Year 36 – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society This epistolary novel was a delightful discovery and quickly made a stamp on my heart. I’ve read it on my nook, but prefer the paperback that I can flip through. Although the audiobook is a wonderful listen, with different narrators for each character. Overall an all time favorite.
Year 37 – The Rose Garden This was like discovering an author that was writing just for me. Although this was the first book of Susanna Kearsley’s that I read, I’ve loved them all.
Year 38 – Beautiful Ruins: A Novel It isn’t often that I pick up a brand new book. I wait for the paperback or for it to be available at the library. But the moment I read the review of this one in my extremely high-brow book reviews (I read them religiously every 7 days in Entertainment Weekly) I knew this was a must read. Travel, history and complex relationships – it was worth the investment!
Year 39 – A Discovery of Witches Browsing the Hudson News as we waited for a cross-country flight Shakespeare asked to read this. I told her that I’d have to pre-read first – the verdict? Nope, not appropriate for her. Which taught me I still have to keep an eye on her book choices. But I also learned that you are never too old to develop a serious fictional crush.
Year 40 – Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman This is the book I pick for my milestone year. It is the inspiration to take chances and discover the world. The title is the mantra for how I hope to live the next 40 years. When I host my dinner party for 3 people, living or dead, Alice Steinbach will have a place at the table. It is affirmation that self discovery happens at any age, and you are never too old to have an adventure. So here I go…off to live Without Reservations.