Apr 28, 2008

Books From Our Youth

by Joyce DiPastena

It isn’t often I write book reviews, other than the Amazon.com type, but I wrote a book review last week. The idea simply wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote it down. If you want to read the entire review, you can do so on my medieval research blog (click on my link under “Team Members’ Blogs” to the right). But I would like to share just the introduction and conclusion of my review here, and then pose a question to you all:

“I first read this novel (Walk With Peril) some 30+ years ago in junior high school, most likely because my sister was reading it. She’d checked it out from our local library. Judging from how much I had forgotten, much of it must have been over my head at the time, but I was struck enough with the characters that I remember going back to the library, checking it out for myself, and reading it a least a couple more times between junior high and when I graduated from high school.

“Oddly enough, I never paid any attention to the title or author. I just remembered that it had a light blue/gray binding (without a dust jacket) and I always knew which shelf to look on at the library to find it. Sadly, my carelessness meant that when I reflected on the book many years later, long after it no longer sat on that library shelf, I had no way of tracking it down to ever read it again.

“Then, this past March while visiting my sister in Salt Lake City, the subject of this long lost, but never quite forgotten, book surprisingly sprang up in a conversation between us. My sister remembered it, too, and while she had also forgotten the title, she at least remembered that the author’s name started with a J, '…something like Jackson or Johnson', she said.

“Oh, for the wonderful and blessed miracle of modern technology! I immediately jumped on her computer and Googled, ‘novels about Henry V by Jackson’, or something like that. And what should pop up almost immediately but the title: Walk With Peril. 'That’s it!' my sister exclaimed. We read a brief blurb together to confirm it was the same book, whipped over to Amazon.com, and I promptly ordered two used copies, one for me and one for her. Because, of course, the book had since gone long out of print.

“I just finished reading this splendid book again. I was afraid I might be disappointed, that the book might be somehow ‘less’ than I remembered from my youth. Instead, it was much, much more….

“This book read almost new to me. I was shocked by how little I actually remembered. But two very, very brief scenes had continued to hover in my memory all these years, and influenced my writing in ways known only to myself and to Heaven. (No, I promise I didn’t plagiarize!) The scenes—actually, they were more like mere moments in the book—had somehow melded in my mind as one, but on my recent re-reading, I discovered they were, indeed, two separate moments within two separate scenes. I’ll not tell you what they were, for what touched me may well not touch you, and each reader should have the joy of discovering favorite, influential scenes and moments of his or her own.”

And therein lies my question. Do you have a book from your youth with a character, scene, or moment that subsequently influenced in any way, subtle or large, your writing as an adult? If so, please share your stories with us here. I, for one, would love to hear them!


  1. What a poser of a question, Joyce! I can think of several books tht have stayed with me, but don't know if any affected my writing. Usually I read like the wind and forget just as fast, which is nice because I can reread a book a few years later and it's like it's totally new.
    A couple of books I read as a young woman have stayed with me, I think because of the sense of time and place that they evoked. One was Daphne DuMarier's House on the Strand and the other was Francis Parkinson Keyes' Came a Cavalier. I'd love to think I could do that--make a senior lady look back on something she read fifty years before.

  2. As was typical for my age, I loved the Bobbsey Twin and Cherry Ames books which were mysteries. And though my first and lasting love is anything historical, my "guilty" pleasure is a really great mystery. And oddly now that you mention it, my fellow writer and I tend to lean toward mystery when we write our short stories. You're right, it stays with you which I suppose is yet another lesson on being careful about what you put into it.

  3. I love questions that get me thinking like this. In fifth grade I discovered They Loved to Laugh by Kathryn Worth. I read it multiple times that year but haven't read it since. I also liked Mrs. Mike, I think by Nancy & Benedict Freeman. I don't know that either consciously affected my writing, but the characters have had lasting draw.

  4. Joyce, I loved your blog. There are so many dear books from my growing up years that it's hard to list them all, but one, that profoundly affect me was Dear and Glorious Physician by Taylor Caldwell that I must have read a dozen times. A contemporary book was Fascinating Womanhood- a best seller that asked a lot of a woman's identity. So, I chose medicine rather than what I saw at the time as too much compromise and I haven't regretted it.


Thank you for visiting. Feel free to comment on our blogger's posts.*

*We do not allow commercial links, however. If that's not clear, we mean "don't spam us with a link to your totally unrelated-to-writing site." We delete those comments.