The most important books we’ll ever read

Earlier this month I rated a book with 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. When the review auto-posted to Facebook, a friend expressed surprise at the low rating.

I was quick to reply that a 3-star ratings indicate an average book I enjoyed. The philosophy of my rating system is:

  • 5 stars: The book shaped me as a person, changed my outlook or perspective on issue, or expanded my personal philosophy.
  • 4 stars: This is a book I love and want to read more than once.
  • 3 stars: A book I thoroughly enjoyed, although I likely won’t read it a second time. The 3-star tier is my broadest and encompasses a wide range.
  • 2 stars: I didn’t enjoy the book, but it has enough literary/artistic merit to give it more than a 1-star rating.
  • 1 star: I loathed the book and it lacked any redeeming social, literary, or artistic value.

The Facebook conversation about my recent 3-star rating made me wonder, which books had I marked 5 stars on Goodreads? A wave of literary nostalgia washed over me, and I sauntered over to Goodreads to review my shelves.

Only one book has a 1-star review. (For the curious, that would be “Twilight,” by Stephenie Meyer.) There are five 2-star reviews, 27 3-star reviews, 10 4-star reviews, and 18 5-star reviews.

The numbers surprised me. I had expected my 5-star reviews to be the second-lowest number (with 1-star reviews being the lowest). Instead, they’re the second highest.

There is an obvious trend in my 5-star book picks, though.

All are books I read in grade school, junior high, and high school. (Only two were novels read in high school; the other 16 are from my middle school years.)

If this is put in the context of my rating system (that 5-star books are the ones that shaped me as a person, changed my outlook or perspective on issue, or expanded my personal philosophy), then the implication is:

The most formative books in my life were the ones I read in childhood.

That makes sense. In childhood, we are sponges for life experiences. We absorb the emotions and experiences of book characters and internalize those lessons. Through literature, we develop empathy. Seeds of ideas and self-philosophies are planted.

Stories can have an impact at any stage in life, but in the formative years they are especially powerful.

THE LAST OF THE REALLY GREAT WHANGDOODLES and BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA  made me believe in power of imagination. THE GOLDEN COMPASS was one of the earliest books to challenge me morally and religiously — decisions had consequences, and children were not exempt from those consequences. DEALING WITH DRAGONS turned the Disney princess stereotype on its head when I was introduced to Cimorene, who needed no prince to save her.

These are the books that inspired a love of reading, charged my imagination, and offered role models.

The books we read as children are among the most important books we’ll read in our lives.

This is why I take book selections seriously for each birthday and gift-giving holiday. I want to give books that make children want to read more. I want to give books that spark imagination, that make children think, and that challenge them in some small way (be it vocabulary, new ideas, etc).

Sarah’s ninth birthday is coming, and I have spent weeks honing in on the perfect book for her. (For the curious: my choice is Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK.)

The importance and influence of childhood reading reinforces my commitment to writing kid lit. One day, I hope it will be one of my books that sticks with a child through the school years and into adulthood.

(5-star ratings on Goodreads)

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1 Response to The most important books we’ll ever read

  1. trinitygrau says:

    I totally agree with you when you said that the books we read as children are the most important books we’ll ever read. Childhood is what shapes people and so the books you read shape you.

    Liked by 1 person

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