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Guest Post: Top Ten Books That Have Influenced A.J. Walkley

Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Top Ten Books That Have Influenced Me 
by A.J. Walkley

I’ve put together a list of books that have been meaningful to me as a writer, reader and overall person from my childhood through today. Without further adieu and in no particular order:

1. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

This book is the reason why I ended up applying to be a health volunteer in the Peace Corps, heading to Malawi, Africa upon my graduation from college. I’ve loved Kingsolver ever since reading The Bean Trees as a 7th grader for her style and character development. I also love the structure of this book, each chapter featuring a different character’s point-of-view. The amount of research that went into Poisonwood is evident, Kingsolver taking readers back to 1959 when the Belgian Congo was attempting to attain independence from Belgium. I have been inspired by her and this book specifically to put just as much research into my own work.

2. Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult (among others)

Picoult is another of my favorite authors who employs the separate POVs per chapter, allowing each of her characters the chance to voice their take on the situations at hand. While I’ve chosen Keeping Faith for the purpose of this list, mostly for making me think about religion in a way I hadn’t before, I should really have each of her books here. The way Picoult tackles difficult scenarios is something I love to read about and employ in my own writing.

3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

I remember being drawn in by the intricate plot L’Engle weaves in this sci-fi tale, wondering back in my early teen years when I first opened its pages how anyone could come up with anything so involved. I won’t give away its plot here, but will say that if you haven’t read A Wrinkle in Time yet, you’re in for a treat. In fact, it’s about time I re-read this one.

4. I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb

The majority of books that have come to mean a lot to me are rich in characterization and thought-provoking circumstances – and this book is no different. Like all of Lamb’s books, I Know This Much Is True is jam-packed with many plot paths, all of them connected to the development of his protagonist and surrounding characters. Thank goodness this is a lengthy novel, because even when all was said and done, I still didn’t want it to end.

5. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

I received this book as a gift upon graduation from high school from my favorite English teacher – my first introduction to Irving. To say the man can write is an understatement. I felt for his characters and came to think of them as people I had known my entire life. You haven’t read if you haven’t read a John Irving novel.

6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Perhaps an obvious choice, but one I can’t leave off this list nevertheless. Growing up with a criminal defense attorney as a father, I related very personally to Harper Lee’s classic. Just as I am drawn to aforementioned authors for the difficult plots they tackle, this book is no different, especially for taking on race relations at a very specific, fraught moment in history. This is a must-read for everyone, outside of a classroom at that.

7. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

This book took me a helluva long time to get through, but I was very glad when I made it to the end. Not only was it an accomplishment to make it through this 1,069-page tome, but the subject matter was fairly right-wing and Capitalistic in nature – subjects I have stayed away from due to my own liberal leanings. I was taken out of my political comfort zone by Rand and learned a lot in the process.

8. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I’m sure this is another title on a lot of authors’ “influential lists,” but mine as well. I loved this tale of a dystopian future where books were outlawed because it is against all I personally believe in. Censorship may not be as absolute in our reality as it is in Bradbury’s fictional portrayal, but there is still plenty of it in various parts of the world today. This is a reminder of the many reasons why it is such a dangerous practice. I’m sure it hits close to home to many a writer.

9. The Giver by Lois Lowry

Yet another sort of dystopian story masked in what may first some across as a sort of utopia, The Giver was highly influential to me as a young reader. Once again, Lowry’s ability to imagine such a world in this book was amazing to me as a 6th grader. What would you do if the perfect world you had always known shrouded you from the truth? Maybe the world we currently live in does just that in some ways. This novel speaks to many a “What if?” question, which is only one of the many facets I love about it.

10. They Cage the Animals at Night by Michael Jennings Burch

I had to include at least one non-fiction work on this list and They Cage the Animals at Night is one of the most significant I’ve ever read for multiple reasons. Another title I came across in middle school, I remember crying forcefully as I read Burch’s account of the abuse he suffered moving from orphanage to foster home as a young boy. I also vividly recall meeting the author himself at the end of a school assembly at which he spoke about his life and his book. I couldn’t help the tears that sprang to my eyes in his presence. He gave me a hug and assured me he was stronger for having endured all he had, that he was okay. Michael Jennings Burch was one of the first authors I’d ever met in person (save for Steven Kellogg in elementary school) and I was incredibly moved by the impact this man had with his words, as well as by sharing his own life story with the masses.

To say this list was difficult to narrow down to 10 is a massive understatement! In many ways, every book I’ve read has influenced me in some way, shape or form – even the terrible ones. Reading is a gift and I send a heartfelt “Thank you!” out to all of the authors out there who have dared to put their pens to paper and produced some of the great works of art that I’ve come across to date, and will continue to consume for the rest of my life.

Born in Bridgeport, CT, 27-year-old A.J. Walkley has been writing for nearly 20 years of her life. A reporter, freelance writer and novelist, Walkley spent time as a health volunteer in Malawi, Africa, with the U.S. Peace Corps after earning her BA in Literature in 2007.

Walkley’s second novel, Choice, was published by iUniverse in 2009.

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