Women are sharing the books they were most obsessed with as kids on social media, and it’s magic.
The problem with naming the three books I was most obsessed with as a child is having to stop at just three.
In the great, scripted lore of my family – the anecdotes shared at birthday parties and meet-the-parents teas and first days of school – there’s one story about my childhood that seems to hint at predestination. My first word was read. Before I said mum or dad, before I demanded food or drink, I wanted to read.
Well, I say that, but really read was a stand-in for whatever I needed at that particularly needy time in my life. Food, water, cuddles, comfort, sleep, my hourly ablutions requiring attending to and also, occasionally, a book read to me. For a long time read was my one word, and I used it well.
It’s a good story, right? Especially when you think about how I turned out, a bookish writer never knowingly found without a novel rattling around in my handbag. That I read before I ran isn’t a surprise to anyone who knows me. Which is why I love the viral thread doing the rounds of Twitter that asks people to share their three favourite books as a kid to learn a little something about themselves.
Reading these lists is like a window back into your childhood. You might have forgotten how much you loved Bridge to Terabithia or Charlotte’s Web. You might remember that first time you read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess and sobbed when Sara Crewe is reunited with her father. You might be transported back to the moment you sat curled up in bed turning page after page on The Wizard of Earthsea.
For Samantha Shannon, bestselling author of dystopian novel The Bone Season, the three books she couldn’t stop thinking about as a child were Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider, Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman and Sabriel by Garth Nix.
When I saw her picks I was instantly a kid again, seeing myself in Inkheart’s resourceful Meggie, who learns that her missing mother might be trapped inside a strange, dusty book her father has been restoring, or as Sabriel, the teenage necromancer with surprising powers in Garth Nix’s parallel universe Abhorsen series. I had forgotten all about those books but just seeing their titles sent me hurtling back to the first time I pulled Abhorsen off the shelves at my local library.
I was obsessed with so many books when I was a child. It started with the picture books – The Tiger Who Came To Tea, Goodnight Moon, Possum Magic – and then ballooned from there. When I was seven I dressed up as Laura from Little House on the Prairie for a birthday party and took my brand new baby brother, spruced up in a smocked frock, as Laura’s little sister Carrie.
On a trip to America I discovered Nancy Drew, an obsession that lasted for several years. There were classics like The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, The Secret Garden, Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, too.
And then came the fantasy phase: Everything Emily Rodda wrote, from the Deltora Quest series to Rowan of Rin, Harry Potter – of course – Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I pored over Cornelia Funke and Malorie Blackman and Dianna Wynne Jones and William Nicholson’s The Wind Singer series. I couldn’t believe that Christopher Paolini had written Eragon when he was a teenager.
I know I’ve just unspooled a list of dozens of books, so this has been kind of a cheat, but if I had to name just three they would be thus: The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix and the Sally Lockhart books by Philip Pullman.
What can I learn about myself from those choices? The Sally Lockhart choice hints at my current obsession with crime fiction, particularly those that feature enterprising female characters getting sh*t done. In fact, all three books have nuanced, intelligent, capable women at their centre, a precursor to the types of heroines I fell in love with as an adult, from Anne Eliot to Elena Ferrante’s Lenu Greco. The Goose Girl is pure romance, frothy and fairytale-light, and taught me the largely problematic lesson that, all around me, there might be princes hiding in sheep’s clothing.
Saint Nora Ephron, Our Lady of Wisdom, wrote it best in her film You’ve Got Mail: “When you read a book as a child it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”
These books shape you and your personality, they mould your tastes, they usher you down specific paths, they drench you in knowledge and they open you up to possibilities.
Which ones were your favourites?