Magic Carpets

Whenever I think of books, I think at once of flying magic carpets. It’s an image that was first put into my head many years ago by the old Girl Scouts USA handbook.  One of the proficiency badges girls could earn was called “Magic Carpet”. To earn it required reading a number of different books, making “book reports” to troop members, or even organizing a troop “book party” where all girls could share their favorites.

Jasmine on Carpet

Books are very much like magic carpets. They do have the power to lift us up, to carry us away, to send us off on grand adventures. s. The “magic carpets” of my childhood took me to many different places.  The characters I met became as dear to me as the friends and family I saw each day. My love of reading quickly led to a love of writing, and I was telling stories of my own from a very young age. I was fascinated by words and their ability to create an experience on the page that would become real for the reader.

Even now, I can quickly recall many of my favorite short stories, even if I can’t remember their titles. My favorite was a tale of a Russian village with a broken bell. The men of the village were sent to buy a new bell, and, of course, met with numerous disasters along the way, finally returning home with a bell much too large for the little tower.

As an older child, I loved the story of “The Countess and the Impossible“, also known as “The Tale of the Five Dollar Lawn”.

I remember reading “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson for the first time and being shocked to realize what was happening.

Wonderful memories, indeed. I read short stories, I read books, I read poetry, and I read plays. I began a love affair with words that has never ended.

Today, as an author, I’m frequently asked what my favorite books are and what books have most influenced me in my writing.  In either case, I always go back to those “magic carpet rides” of my youth. Even though I don’t write children’s stories, I still feel that the books I treasured as a child are the ones that played the greatest role in shaping my writing. I learned something from each story I read, and I like to think I apply those lessons to my own fiction.

Recently while browsing through the “author guidelines” at Goodreads, I came across the suggestion of starting a bookshelf for “Influences”. In other words, a virtual collection which would answer these two frequent questions:

  • What were your favorite books as a child?
  • What books have most influenced you?

I’m in the process of gathering up my virtual books and filling my shelves, and as I select each book, I’m taking a moment to explore its personal meaning in my life and how it’s affected my stories. Some of the books are ones you’d likely find on any little girl’s bookshelf; others, maybe not.

Here are a few of the many books that have influenced me:

Heidi by Johanna  Spyri taught me that not all people are kind. It also taught me the importance of hope.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain helped me realize the value of knowledge. It also opened my eyes to fun possibilities in writing. We don’t have to deal strictly with the here-and-now. We can invent improbable things and make them believable.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell showed me that good stories don’t have to follow traditional rules. Through the power of words, we can share experiences not only with other human beings, but with other creatures, as well.

Lad, A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune topped my “favorites” list for a very long time. Reading it made me realize that words could touch a reader’s heart and soul. I cried when I read the book. Were I to read it today, I’d probably cry again.

Treasure Island by  Robert Louis Stevenson is the book I credit most whenever I’m asked about stories that have inspired me. I can’t say how many times I’ve read this book. I try to read it again at least once each year. No matter how many times I pick it up, it never grows old. As I curl up and begin to read, I’m caught up at once in the story, listening for those frightening sounds of the blind beggar, and imagining how exciting it would be to sail on a pirate ship. From this classic, I learned that good stories contain action — and lots of it.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens was another favorite. Dickens was a master at characterization. His writing always dares me to let my own characters be outrageous.

The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe taught me that many good ideas can come from the lives of real people and actual events.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville made me realize how important the opening lines of a story can be. It showed that the words we write can linger in a reader’s mind for a long, long time to come. Call me Ishmael is one of the most-recognized opening lines of any work of fiction.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas rounds out my list of “Top 10” influential books. This classic tale helped me understand the importance of back story and motivation. Things happen for a reason in fiction.

There are many classics I’ve yet to read — such as Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Each year I promise myself I’ll do it, but although I once made a start on it, I’ve yet to finish it. Too many other things going on in life.

There are also classics I didn’t like. Dracula by Bram Stoker was an interesting read, but not one I truly enjoyed. Nor did I care much for Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift or A Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne. I suppose this is reflected in the fact that I don’t read or write paranormal stories, nor am I a fan of fantasy or science fiction.

What I find most rewarding in looking back over these titles is the fact that each of these wonderful classics is available through Project Gutenberg. If you’re not familiar with the site, do yourself a favor and visit. You’ll find over 42,000 books available free of charge. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Now that I’ve shared my favorites as well as a few not-so-favorites, I’d love to hear from  you. I’ll leave you with those same questions I hear so often:

  • What were your favorite books as a child?
  • What books have most influenced you?

I’ll leave you, too, with this thought:

We’re never too old to ride magic carpets. Happy traveling!