When you inhale books the way I do (and always have), many fade into the background of your consciousness. I have ready MANY a book only once and forgotten many of them in the wake of a lucky few. In general, I don't re-read books... There are only so many hours in a day and days in a life; I need to keep moving forward, devouring new books, pushing through that TBR pile and the local library's extensive fiction collection. If I'm going to read it again, it's gotta be GOOD.
I recently discussed this with a friend, one who often re-reads her favorite books, and did some reflecting on the books I have read multiple times--and why. Why those books? And I realized something important. Not only did I like these books, but they changed me somehow. Some changed how I look at life, at myself, at reading, and at writing. There are books in this world that just find you. They get you, and you get them. It's a magical experience to find one of those literary gems. When I do, I want to live in those pages again and again.
And that's the thought train that led me to this blog post series: The 5 Books That Shaped Me. I use the term 'shaped' in the broad sense, since some have almost 'dropped a pin' in a certain place in my life, helping to shape the road map of who I am and where I've gotten so far in my life.
Without further ado, here's the first book:
Charlotte's Web, by E. B. White
If you know me, then you know the irony of this book's appearance on my list. I am absolutely, irredeemably afraid of spiders. My arachnophobia runs deep, my friends, and there's no amount of therapy that's going to help. Yet, this sweet, poignant book about a spider left an indelible mark on my childhood. How? Why?
In a way, maybe I am Wilbur, the little pig in desperate need of the love and acceptance of a true friend. He is the runt of the litter, rejected by Zuckerberg for being too small and useless. The farmer's daughter Fern falls in love with him and pleads for his life. But once he has been spared from death, even with Fern's love and friendship, he spends his days and nights alone in his pen, where the other animals are uninterested in him. Pigs are smelly and gross, right? And he's the only one of his kind, so he has no companion to snuggle with at night or keep him company when he's scared. Wilbur is the piggie embodiment of rejection, sadness, solitude, and anxiety. Young Stephanie could relate.
Enter Charlotte, the beautiful little spider who inexplicably loves Wilbur. She has the extrovert energy this little quadrupedal introvert needs. She declares them friends, promises to keep him company when he can't sleep at night, and gives him a reason to smile. All she asks in return is a quiet corner of his barn where she can spin her webs to catch her dinner and eat in peace, without the threat of being squished by anyone.
When Wilbur's life comes under threat again, and not even Fern can save him, Charlotte is the one who swings in with a plan. Overnight, she spins beautiful webs that help Wilbur in two ways: 1. getting him attention as some amazing freak-show of a pig who can write in spiderwebs and 2. boosting his confidence with positive, empowering words. Charlotte calls him Some Pig, Radiant, and Humble in her artwork. Although I am not "some pig," the feeling I got when I witnessed the love of one friend to another has stuck with me forever.
Perhaps this is the reason I am so free about expressing love and friendship for others. Perhaps this book is why I have unknowingly dedicated my writing to relationships, character growth, and self-discovery. And perhaps I found some strength in those webs too. It's hard to say exactly how this book affected me, because it's been a part of who I am for about 30 years.
I don't know where my original copy is, but I don't need it anymore. Charlotte and Wilbur live in my heart for free, forever.
Come back next week for Book 2!