The Books That Made Me Me – Katielase

I‘m not going to spend a lot of time on this intro.  Readers, you know Katielase.  She comments often, and has all sorts of perceptive things to say.  She also likes books.  Rather a lot.  These are the books that made her who she is.  You can tell a lot about a person by what they read, and this list is Katielase all over; it’s a brilliant read; insightful, funny, poignant.  You can buy everything she recommends in the AOW Book Store.  Over to you, Ms Even-More-Of-A-Bookworm-Than-Us:  
Since I was old enough to understand stories I have loved stories. There is audio evidence of me quoting a Thomas the Tank Engine book from memory at the age of 2, complete with unsuccessful attempt to say the words viaduct and surprised. Since I was old enough to read I have been unstoppable. Voracious. Insatiable. I cannot recall a single day in my life that I didn’t read a book, even if it was just one page before falling into bed. Books have been with me through everything I have achieved in my life, everything I have failed at, every challenge I have faced and every joy I have experienced. Every fear, every sorrow, every loss. Every hope and every dream I have ever had was hoped and dreamt and lived to a backdrop of stories.

So the books that made me me? In a way it is all of them. Every single book I have ever read. I love them all, even the rubbish ones. All the stories, the characters, the poetry, the escapism, the laughs, the tears. They are my closest friends, my never-failing support network, the loves of my life*. To work out which books made me, me, I have to identify what I think I am, and what books have meant to that person. I’m not sure I know who or what I am, but I know that to me books mean comfort, escape, love, adventure, dreams, philosophy and thought. These are the books that somehow changed or influenced me.

Shopper from The Literary Gift Company

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. All children should be able to climb trees believing that there might be new exciting worlds at the top, and hot buttered crumpets when they get down. I think it’s in the human rights agreement somewhere. Simply magical, and definitely instrumental in my lifelong love of both reading and crumpets.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis. A book that for me defines escapism, escaping a world of fear and war, for a world of adventure and magic, friendship, and love, and hope. Where you fight for what you believe in and find you are stronger and braver than you thought you were. This was the first time I realised that books could be powerfully emotional and testing. I will recollect my entire life my feelings on reading Aslan’s sacrifice. It was dark and violent and the crowing delighted rejoicing of evil in the pain and lowering of another made me feel physically sick. It still does actually**. I’m not sure I even cried, but I felt things I had never felt before. My heart cracked.

A Horse Called Wonder, by Joanna Campbell, not a life-changing book for most, but the first book I ever sat down and read, cover to cover, without looking up once (that wasn’t a picture book, obvs). The first time I learnt how you can read a story almost like a film inside your head, and live the triumphs and disasters of the characters as they become your closest friends for an hour, or five, or ten. The first time I experienced the kind of absorption into a fictional world where you lose all track of time or reality, where you look up and suddenly realise you’ve been reading for 4 hours straight, someone has been calling your name for the past 5 minutes and you’re absolutely desperate for the loo, and you don’t care about any of that because you’re two chapters from the end and you just cannot stop now.

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. When you are young you don’t know much about injustice, maybe you have a sense of things being wrong in the world but sometimes it takes a story to show you how wrong the world can be. This book showed me that outside of the make-believe worlds of dragons and lions and witches, there was horror and injustice and prejudice in the real world, and that if you see it you have to fight it.

A Winter Solstice, by Rosamunde Pilcher. My comfort book. Not literary or profound but I read this when life is difficult, when I feel like going forward is too hard, when I am plagued by doubts and fears and assailed by panic, I read this book, because while it is not deeply poetic or thought-provoking, or challenging, it reminds me that life can be wonderful, even whilst it is being really painful and awful. It makes me feel joy, not ecstatic or transient but deep and comfortable joy, the kind you get when you know you are home.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Does this need explanation? I don’t think I could ever get tired of reading P&P;, there is unending comfort in the pattern, the play of it all, the involvement in the story and the way that every time it happens I am still awash with delight at the end. It was the first ‘grown up’ book I ever read, and against a backdrop of Sweet Valley High, it stood out a mile, I stopped wanting to be blonde and perfect and started wanting to be smart and funny.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. If you read this book as a teenager, or indeed ever, and you don’t fall hopelessly in love with Mr Rochester then you have some explaining to do. Seriously. The romance of it, people. It makes my heart beat faster. This book taught me a lot about what love is, or can be (I picked up the rest from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast… love is giving someone a library, no?)

The Shack, by William P Young. I only read this book only last year and I think everyone, regardless of their religious or non-relgious beliefs should read it. It brought home to me what my confused agnostic tendencies were saying, which was if there is a God, they would not care about religious doctrine, they would care about love and hope and friendship and joy, they would cry with us when we are in pain, and they would hurt deep inside when we hurt one another. It’s also just a miraculously moving story of a man recovering from the most appalling trauma, it is a story of human courage and human belief.

A Grief Observed, by CS Lewis. I love CS Lewis, he’s already featured on this list twice and arguably I could also have included here The Problem of Pain and Surprised by Joy, but I sense that I am already going to have written the longest BTMMM post in history so I won’t. I read A Grief Observed after my Gramary died, and for that reason it was the most influential. Along with many of his works it deals with the challenge of believing in something essentially good when everything around you seems painful and tragic, when you’ve lost someone you love and you want to rage at the world for taking them from you. Above all it showed me that faith isn’t necessarily the easy option, that belief isn’t, and shouldn’t ever be, passive.

Horrible Science: Blood, Bones and Body Bits, by Nick Arnold. I wanted to include at least one book that inspired the other love of my life, science. It’s kind of hard to pinpoint, but I remember being utterly fascinated with the human body and how things works, and this book was certainly one of the first things to give me that. The whole series is just brilliant.

The Sunne in Splendor, by Sharon Penman. This is the first book G ever leant me, back when we were only online friends, he recommended it and since I was a poor and impoverished student he went one step further and very kindly posted me his copy. It was nothing but friendship then, but it lead to more chatting, more discussion, a lot more book lending, getting to know one another and, ultimately, falling in love. It is also an excellent book and got me into good historical fiction (about the only way I can learn history is if it’s woven around a story).

Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde. Book lovers, if you haven’t read the Thursday Next series, do so now. Right now. This isn’t the first one (you want The Eyre Affair, go on… get it now, come back and finish this when you’re done… are you back? Okay…), this is the first one where Thursday really enters the Book World and it’s just brilliant. A hilarious satirical homage on one hand, but on the other just an ode to the utter joy of books. This book represents everything I love about fiction. I just adore the idea behind it, largely because I hope it’s all real and one day I can actually go into the Book World (and um.. marry Mr Darcy…)

Human Traces, by Sebastian Faulks. I have to admit, I didn’t love Birdsong, and Charlotte Grey just pissed me off. This though, is fantastic. For me it is the best thing Faulks has ever written. It explores the boundaries of madness and humanity, it makes you wonder, makes you think and it makes you ask uncomfortable questions of yourself and the human race. It really changed my perspective on a lot of things, on mental illness, treatment and what makes us human.

Glittering Images, by Susan Howatch. I read this when I was in my teens, quite young really for what is definitely an adult book.  It  is about how we as adults deal with our flaws, how we hide them behind a public facade, and how they can destroy us and those around us if we don’t face and acknowledge them. It is hard to say how much any one book changes your life when you read as much as I have always done, but I spent my teenage years facing up to my own problems with panic and anxiety and this book was instrumental in helping me feel that it was a process I could get through, because it shows that everyone is flawed and that it is brave to confront those flaws in yourself. It won’t be easy and you will need support but you will be the better for doing it, and I was, and I am.

So there you go. I’m probably going to think of another 10 books I should have included the minute I send this, but I think, for now, it will do. I will end on this thought, from The Well of Lost Plots, another Jasper Fforde book, which sums up why I think reading is so magical, because every story is different to each person that reads it.

“Reading is arguably a far more creative and imaginative process than writing; when the reader creates emotion in their head, or the colours of the sky during the setting sun, or the smell of a warm summer’s breeze on their face, they should reserve as much praise for themselves as they do for the writer – perhaps more” 

*Um, sorry about that G. You’re second, if it helps.

**When the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe film came out, I sat down on the floor, behind the seat in front, pulled a woolly hat right down over my face and ears, pressed my fingers tightly in my ears and closed my eyes until my Mum told me it was over (I was 18 years old at the time, I’m fairly sure other cinema-goers thought I was on day release).

Categories: Books, Books That Made Me Me
13 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted February 21, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    I love this series, as much as AOP. This post reminds me, if I ever need reminding, how wonderful, varied & personal reading is. I'm now wishing I'd read The Shack having given it to charity a year after receiving it & not reading it. This is the year for my third re read of Jane Eyre & I'm looking forward to seeing what my emotions are 10 years on.
    Great writing, especially love your thoughts on trees & crumpets, wishing that's how I could be spending today.

  2. Posted February 21, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Utterly spankingly brilliant.

  3. Posted February 21, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    That was me, stupid phone.

  4. Posted February 21, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Amazing!! I loved the Faraway Tree to the extent where (as a child – maybe even now??) when I thought about it I would actually get a pang of longing for it to be real. This is my favourite AOW series, although it always makes me want to spend money so maybe it shouldn't be… Good job Katie, I always enjoy your writing and this is no exception!


  5. Zan
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Oh god. That's just doubled my 'books to read' list! Also – fantastic – another Thursday Next fan! I bought The Eyre Affair a few years ago on a blog recommendation funnily enough and was totally hooked. The series is my favourite 'go back to regularly' set of books and I love Book World and how cleverly the books are written. They're a joy to read everytime and I'm such a fanatic about them – when One of our Thursdays is Missing was released last year, Jasper Fforde was doing a book-signing in Manchester, but I couldn't make it… so bless him, my boyfriend went and got me a signed copy of the book – best present ever (geek alert!)

    And on a side note – when I was little, I read The Magic Faraway Tree so much it fell apart at the spine :-)

  6. Frances
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Brilliant list *adds books to Amazon basket* – I too had a copy of the Faraway Tree that fell apart from reading! I would have to say that the first in Jasper Fforde's new series (Shades of Grey) is arguably better than the Thursday ones (although I did have a small tantrum when I realised the next one isn't out until 2013 or something). I am going to buy the Susan Howatch one now – thank you!

  7. Posted February 21, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    MrsJoanHunterDunn, The Shack really is an amazing book, my Mum made me read if so she would have someone to talk about it with, it's a bit controversial I guess but thought provoking.

    Frances, I have been considering camping on Jasper Fforde's doorstep and refusing to move until he tells me what happens next in the Shades of Grey series. Authors need to consider the hazardous implications of cliff-hanger endings! On the plus side, new Thursday Next is out in July (sorry, bank balance).

    Penny, I used to climb trees and sit up there for ages waiting for a world to come around. Much like I used to sit in my parents old wardrobe for hours on enf, leaning casually on the back, just in case. I remain ever hopeful.

    Thank you all for lovely comments. Tres exciting. I apologise unreservedly to your bank balances.

    K x

  8. Posted February 21, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Beautifully written post. My reading list just keeps getting bigger, and it’s nearly all AOW recommended books.

    Katielase, I love that you mentioned Rosamunde Pilcher. I love her books, and it’s true, they are comforting. I’d just never thought of them as comfort books before.


  9. Posted February 21, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    'A Horse Called Wonder' is a childhood favourite of mine – I squealed with delight when I saw it on your list! Am off to buy a copy now x

  10. Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Oh, I loved the Magic Faraway Tree too, and it makes me so happy to see my little American cousins engrossed in it. It's amazing how something so quintessentially British and of-tis-time as Enid Blyton can still be loved by children all around the world today. The same little cousin, for Halloween, dressed up as Anne from the Famous Five. I'm pretty sure nobody on her street knew who she was (understandably).

    I'm also in the middle of reading A Grief Observed. I'm finding it quite emotional, so I'm taking my time, but it really is excellent.

    Wonderful post, and I love that quotation at the end.

  11. Posted February 21, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    …Katielase, now you've commented I feel I HAVE to confess that as a child I once spent an entire day in the (very large) house of a family friend tracking down every wardrobe and running into the back of it, butting my head into the backboard, because I KNEW if I hit it hard enough Narnia would be there. IT HAD TO BE. There were two younger children (daughter and son of said family friend) who I forced to join me in my task. I never saw them again, and I can only hope they have suffered no ill effects from cranial trauma in later life.


  12. Posted February 21, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Ah Penny, I love you!! My Mum told me you could only get to Narnia if you weren't TRYING to (presumably in the hope that I would stop ramming the back of her wardrobe), and so instead I sat in the wardrobe for hours, trying to trick it into thinking I was there for entirely different reasons and I didn't care about Narnia AT ALL. I suspect I even had loud conversations with my brother about how ENTIRELY UNEXPECTED it would be if we fell through the back of the wardrobe into a strange land. And how we were just wearing our coats because we felt like it.

    On a related note, I recently saw a young boy of approximately 8 years old running full pelt into the wall beneath the sign for Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross. He bounced off. And tried again. That's my kind of kid.

    K x

  13. Posted February 22, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Haha, Katie, I LOVE that story about the kid crashing into the wall at Kings Cross!! (it's the kind of thing I'd do!)

    Anyway, regarding your list, I absolutely agree with all the books you've listed which I've read -The Magic Faraway Tree, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Jane Eyre and OF COURSE Pride and Prejudice -the line 'There are few people whom I really love, and fewer still of whom I think well' is something of a motto for me!! And that in itself inspires me to read the rest of the books you've mentioned, I must shamefacedly admit that I was barely aware that CS Lewis had written other books than the Narnia ones and I am now going to hunt them down…

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