Do you remember having those books you picked up as a child that have, in some way, defined your personality, your choices, your tastes and style? Books that have had a more far-reaching impact on you than you even realised? Books of which you remember the exact details of your first time reading them? I’ve listed 5 of mine here!
- Catherine Webb’s Mirror Dreams
Series: Mirror Dreams, Book 1 of 2
Every dream you’ve ever had, and every dream yet to come, exists in the Kingdoms of the Void. Every nightmare, too. Because there has to be balance; it’s the rules. But the Lords of Nightkeep aren’t big on rules; only Conquest, Fear, and Eternal Darkness for All. It takes a powerful wizard like Laenan Kite to keep them in check. But Kite has other worries, and Nightkeep is growing strong. Its Lords hunger for power. And they’ve turned their gaze towards earth.
I picked up this hidden gem of a book when I was around 10 or 11 years old and distinctly remember this because I was super surprised to learn that the author, Catherine Webb, wasn’t even that much older than me at that point, being about 13 years old at the time of publishing.
This wasn’t a book that I re-read as much as the others on this list, but yet, Laenan Kite and his universe of dreams embedded themselves firmly in my mind, influencing the characters I have since created myself. There was also something incredibly enigmatic and attractive about that name as well – Laenan Kite. At some point, I forgot everything about the book, including the title and the author, but that name has never faded in my memory once. I still have this book in generally pristine condition and plan to re-read it eventually.
- Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle
Series: Howl’s Moving Castle, Book 1 of 3
Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.
Do you ever have those particular books where you remember every single detail about how you bought it, and how you felt when you first read it? Howl’s Moving Castle was like that for me. I remember being in a bookshop, and being very attracted to all those swirling colours on the spine (my tendency for bright and vivid colour schemes showed young). I pulled it out and the handsome, blonde and sadly fictional wizard on the cover caught my heart. The synopsis won it for me, and I, in a rare moment of lucky foresight, decided to pick up Castle In The Air, the second book to this series, at the same time and so happily own the edition from the same publisher in the same style of covers.
Howl’s Moving Castle blew my young mind away. The world was like nothing I had ever been exposed to before, like a funnier, slightly darker (but not too dark) version of Enid Blyton. I loved every single moment of the book, and especially loved Howl, whom I perceived then to be an antihero (I have since learnt the true meaning of antiheroes, but Howl was my first exposure along that line). I also remember when I completed the book, after being bamboozled blow by blow with all the plot twists at the end, I closed the book and looked at the cover for a few seconds. Then I opened it and began re-reading it straight away. This book taught me what good plot twists were meant to feel like for the reader, and for most of my teenage years, I have made it a point to regularly re-read the book.
Needless to say, I was excited as hell when I found out that it was going to be made into an animated movie. Although I’ve always yearned for a live action one, but an animated one was not bad too. Furthermore, the Japanese Howl was to be voiced by Takuya Kimura, and the English one by Christian Bale, both actors that I have soft spots for. The movie was initially disappointing, but I’ve since watched it a few more times and have come to appreciate it on its own terms. It was disappointing because it didn’t quite adhere to the spirit of the book that Jones intended, but it’s still a pretty meaningful movie if you look at it on Miyazaki’s terms, appreciating the messages that he wanted to imbue it with. Howl’s Moving Castle as a book was more than enjoyable and has a firm solid place in my childhood consciousness, but the movie turned it into a work of art.
- J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
Series: Harry Potter, Books 7 of 7
I don’t even think I need to put the synopsis of this here. I had came across the first few Harry Potter books before in the bookstore as a kid but somehow never really got interested enough to buy it. I decided to borrow it from a friend when I was 10 years old going on 11 and was immediately hooked. It should come as no surprise that I remember my age of induction into the Harry Potter fandom – yes, I waited for my owl on my 11th birthday too.
When I began reading the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was just released. It was hugely popular already but I was still in time to ride the first few waves of when things really became viral. Memories of myself placing orders at the post office (I’m not sure why the post office took pre-orders for books, it has never happened again – Harry Potter was that viral) and queueing up at 6am to get the new release, then spending the next 20 hours doing nothing else but reading, reading, reading to devour it all. I urgently finished books on the day of release so I wouldn’t get spoiled by the Internet. Ah, good times.
- Jane Austen’s Emma
Emma is the culmination of Jane Austen’s genius, a sparkling comedy of love and marriage.
Emma Woodhouse is introduced to us as ‘handsome, clever and rich’ and, according to Jane Austen, a heroine ‘which no one but myself would like’. Yet such is Emma’s spirited wit that, despite her superior airs and egotism, few readers have failed to succumb to her charm.
The comedy turns on Emma’s self-appointed role as energetic match-maker for her sweet, silly friend Harriet. Emma herself, meanwhile, is confidently immune to the charms of the male sex. Her emotional coming of age is woven into what Ronald Blythe has called ‘the happiest of love stories, the most fiendishly difficult of detective stories and a matchless repository of English wit’.
I first picked this up because I had been enamoured by Pride and Prejudice and wanted to read more by Jane Austen in the hopes of finding more similar things. Emma did not disappoint. Or well, it did a little in the beginning, but after finishing it and reading it a few more times over, it became one of my favourite books of all time. I was around 13 or so when I first read it, and a little grossed out at the idea of Mr Knightley marrying Emma. I think I had been rooting for Frank Churchill, and had imagined Mr Knightley as old and bald. However, I was reconciled with the idea by how beautiful the plot of the book was (remember, I was a tween at this point) and further accepted it when I watched various movie adaptations and Mr Knightley always had a sexy older-man vibe. Anyway, it still continues to be my second favourite Austen novel, having since read the rest of her works. In fact, my niece is named Emma after her! (Unfortunately, she seems to be also inheriting her fictional namesake’s personality…)
- Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
Since its immediate success in 1813, Pride and Prejudice has remained one of the most popular novels in the English language. Jane Austen called this brilliant work “her own darling child” and its vivacious heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print.” The romantic clash between the opinionated Elizabeth and her proud beau, Mr. Darcy, is a splendid performance of civilized sparring. And Jane Austen’s radiant wit sparkles as her characters dance a delicate quadrille of flirtation and intrigue, making this book the most superb comedy of manners of Regency England.
Now, let’s be real. If I had only just discovered Pride and Prejudice at my current age and mindset, I probably wouldn’t have liked it all that much. It’d have been enjoyable but I’d probably have had problems with its depiction of women. But I first read it when I was around 11 or 12 years old as well and boy, oh boy, did it change my life. I still remember the abridged version that we were all made to buy back then in Primary 5, with a weirdly blended picture of Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle’s faces on the cover. I was extremely charmed by the plot, fascinated that this was the origin of this sort of romantic plot that would be used over and over again from then till now until it’s known as a cliché. I wasn’t so keen on either Colin Firth or Jennifer Ehle as the protagonists of the BBC mini-series, which I watched around that time as well, but I gradually grew to appreciate and love them in their roles. The 1995 version has since become the definitive adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for me.
I think it is safe to say that Pride and Prejudice, both the book and the mini-series, single-handedly sparked my interest in classic English literature and my appreciation of English history. Perhaps it wasn’t a conscious, direct association, but it certainly set in motion a chain of interests that have shaped me into who I am today, why I prefer certain styles of design over others, and why I have always wanted to go to England to enjoy its landscape and scenery. I have made it a point to read Pride and Prejudice at least once every year, and it is usually my go-to book whenever I want to try out a new platform – I just recently downloaded Audible and it was the first audiobook I bought on there, narrated by the lovely voice of Rosamund Pike. Also, I watch the BBC mini-series at least once a year too. It’s such a delight to constantly discover new things in the series to look at – for example, I never realized how much the actors keep on acting even when they’re in the fringes of the scene until at least 8 years after I discovered the mini-series, like the stink eye Mrs Bennet gives Darcy when he leads Elizabeth off the dance floor at the Netherfield ball.
And that concludes my list of the 5 books that have defined my childhood, and moulded me into who I am today. What are yours? Let me know in the comments below!