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The Four Books That Shaped Me



We all have things that shape us. Whether they're experiences, people, music, or movies- the things we surround ourselves with have a direct impact on our lives and personalities. For me, books have had biggest impact. Specifically, these four books/series. Not to be too dramatic, but if I hadn't read these, I don't think I would be the same person.


  1. Junie B. Jones (by: Barbara Park)

When I was younger, I hated to read. I loved stories and being read to, but I hated the physical act of reading so much that my parents had to bribe me with M&Ms to finish my homework. The Junie B. Jones books were some of the only (if not they only) books that I actually enjoyed reading.

Junie B. Jones is an early chapter book series written in the 1990s from the point of view of a rowdy kindergartener named (of course) Junie B. Jones. "The B stands for Beatrice, except [she] doesn't like Beatrice. [She] just likes B and that all." In short, I became Junie B.


I definitely wasn't' as rowdy as her (I don't think) but I started adopting her phrases such as "yeah, only" and ending statements with "probably." However, I also adopted some bad habits such as making a "huffy breath" and stamping my foot when I was angry. This book is also where I learned what it meant to roll your eyes. Junie B's teacher, Mrs., is constantly rolling her eyes at Junie B's antics, and I definitely picked up the habit. I may not do it as much as I used to, but I still catch myself rolling my eyes from time to time.


I re-read the entire series last year and still found them to be very enjoyable and humorous. I am now closer in age to Junie B's parents and Mrs. than I am to Junie B (which is a horrific thought I don't dwell on for too long) and found myself sympathizing with the adult characters. I especially felt for Mrs. Although she was almost the villain when I was younger, now I'm sorry she has to deal with Junie B everyday.


2. The Story of Walt Disney, Maker of Magical Worlds (by: Bernice Selden)

If you know me, you know I love Disney. If you know me well, you know I love Disney history; and this is the book that got me hooked. This was my first of many Walt Disney biographies. Baby's first Disney biography, if you will.


I read this for the first time in fourth grade and I was obsessed with it. Not only did I love reading it, but I just loved having it near me. On days where I would bring it to school, I would take it with me to recess. And I don't mean I would sit under a nice tree and read during my recess, I would fully run around and do the monkey bars and slide the slides; I just carried this book with me while I did all those things.


This book made me realize that there was a person behind all the movies I loved. That my beloved stories and characters were created by real people with lives and backstories of their own. It inspired me to not only read a plethora of books on Walt himself, but also about animation, the Walt Disney Studio, and some of the other animators. In a way, this was also the beginning of my slow blooming love for history and research.


3. The Princess Diaries (by: Meg Cabot)

I have to preface this section with this: these books are nothing like the movies. In the books, Princess Mia's father is alive and important, she lives in New York instead of San Francisco, she dates her best friend Lilly's brother Michael for years, and her "Grandmere," the Dowager Princess of Genovia, is not a sweet Julie Andrews but a scary old grump with tattooed eyeliner.


Glad we cleared that up. Now, here's how I discovered it.


In middle school, we had this thing called SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) that was basically Homeroom with training wheels. One day, I was not being sustainably silent nor was I reading, and I got in trouble. I don't know if I had forgotten my book that day or if I had brought one and was just not feeling it, but my teacher sent me down to the school library to get a new book. I was outraged of course, so I huffed down to the library ( a la Junie B. Jones) and walked along the first aisle until I saw a baby-blue spine. It said The Princess Diaries: Princess in the Spotlight, and I thought, "Hey! I know that movie! I'll get this because it'll be an easy read." So, I checked it out of the library (which, I'm fairly certain was the only thing I checked out of that library ever) and went back to SSR. After reading the book for a while I realized it was nothing like the movie...it was way better. And thus, the obsession began.


There are ten books in the original series and I read the second one first. It starts in Princess Mia's Freshman year of high school and ends her Senior year. So, as I read through them, I was roughly the same age as Mia and going through similar (but also not at all similar) things.

Um, I am Mia. We both tend to be the "mom" of the friend group because we spend our time being neurotic and thinking of possible dangers, we're both writers, we both love Princess Diana and Broadway musicals. I always agreed with her reactions to things and never thought she was overreacting (she was). It's gotten to the point where I'm not sure if I loved the books so much because I identified with Mia or if, because I read it at such a formative age, she rubbed off on me and I morphed into her? Either way, Mia and this series played a huge role in my high school life and my personality . Reading them now, she does come off a bit whiny and immature at times which may be bad news for enjoyable reading but good news for me, because it's proof that I have matured.


The series itself is wonderful. Because it spans many years of Mia's life, it covers a lot of different topics. It's one of those series that breaks my heart, but gives me a comforting hug at the same time? I don't know if that makes any sense.

It's written in a journalistic format and in real time. So, for instance, she may be mid-sentence and then be like, "hold on, the teacher's looking at me." Then on then next page you see that the heading says she's in detention.



4. The Great Gatsby (by: F. Scott Fitzgerald)


I think this book has had the biggest impact on my life. If it weren't for this book I would not have cared about literature nor would I have pursued and studied writing. Basically, my entire life course after high school would have been different without Gatsby.


We were assigned this book my junior year of high school and I was not thrilled. Before this we had been force-fed The Scarlet Letter and I was about to swear off books forever. I was home sick from school and decided to do my English homework which was reading one chapter of Gatsby. I read the entire thing. It helped that the movie had come out the year before and I could picture Leonardo DiCaprio and Toby Maguire while I read it, but it was so much more than that.


Gatsby has so many layers. On the one hand, it's an interesting story about murder and adultery in the 1920s, on the other hand it's a seductive wormhole of symbolism and conspiracy theories. A wormhole my English teacher loved to take us down. He would go on about the meaning behind a door being colored green. Was there evidence that Nick Carraway might be gay or bisexual? What does the billboard with the eyes really mean!? There were definitely times where I was like, "dude, can't a door just be green because Fitzgerald needed to pick a color?" but mostly I was fascinated that a book, any book, could be delved into so intensely. It taught me to think about storytelling and writing as a craft. Each word has a purpose and a rhythm and a mood. There was more to literature than just stories written on a page; they had levels. This same teacher was the one who recommended the college and program I ended up going to and I don't think I would have valued his opinion as much as I did if it weren't for this book and how he taught it.


I also really love my personal copy of Gatsby. I've kept the same one since my junior year, so it understandably looks pretty warn. But the yellowing pages are filled with glitter pen doodles, passages highlighted in pink, yellow and orange; and annotations from both high school and collage. It's cool to look back and see not only what my thoughts were at different times of my life but what different teachers/professors thought were important points in the book. It has become a record of my experience with not only Jay Gatsby, but literature as a whole.

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