Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
A little over a week ago, I shared the forty books that helped shape my womanity. In this post, I will share the forty books that contributed to the birth of GatheringBooks, as well some titles that I discovered through our reading themes. While a great part of this post would most likely consist of middle grade/YA series, there are a few adult novels. I am saving the picturebooks, comics, and graphic novels for Part 3 of my post.
I am gradually realizing as I am drafting this post that Part 1 seemed more like the books that shaped me before I became a mother – while Parts 2 and 3 are the books that found me while pregnant, or after I gave birth. Motherhood is, indeed, life-changing.
(1) Little House in the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I read the first two or three books in this series aloud to my toddler. While I knew that she did not understand anything that I said, she listened attentively, enjoyed the cadence of the language, and the books put her right to sleep. I devoured the entire series, thereafter.
(2) Anne of Green Gables Series by L. M. Montgomery
I think it was right after I finished reading Laura Ingalls Wilder that I moved on to Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. I told myself – at the time that I was buying and collecting these books -that they were for my daughter who was a toddler. She never really warmed up to these titles (she’s 14 now), but I did bring these books with me from the Philippines to Singapore nearly eight years ago now. That is how precious these books are to me.
(3) The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
I think it’s fairly obvious that I am a book series kind of bibliophile. I am not easily satisfied with just your regular one-off type of books. I also recalled that GatheringBooks – the original book club that I formed while I was in the Philippines – discussed the entire series during one of our meetings at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf – our coffeeshop of choice back then.
(4) Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
I read the Harry Potter books while I was pregnant. I think I attributed the many tears I shed over Dumbledore’s passing and the death of Sirius Black to hormones. I also recalled doing three-way landline conversations with my girlfriends (no smart phones at the time) just unpacking the many layers of the series, and discussing the characters (is Neville really the chosen one?) and Harry’s many loves (it should be Hermione not Cho Chang, is Harry blind?). This proved to me how reading need not be a solitary experience. I didn’t care that the final three hardbound books cost me an entire week’s meal for our household, I just had to purchase them.
(5) The Giver Trilogy by Lois Lowry: The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger
This was another book series that GatheringBooks the book club discussed while I was still in the Philippines. While we only talked about The Giver, I have always felt that there was something deeply disturbing but also ultimately enriching about the series – which was at the time, a trilogy. Son was not yet published at that time.
(6) A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
These books were my guilty pleasure. I recalled reading the series at night with such relish that it seemed positively sinful. The combination of comedy and tragedy (it seemed almost absurd) and so much smarts for children so young and unfortunate – worked so well for me. The play with words was also quite brilliant, I thought, as Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler, for you) dropped very difficult words only to use them ingeniously in well-considered sentences in certain scenes in the book.
(7) A Wrinkle In Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle: A Wrinkle In Time, A Wind In The Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, An Acceptable Time
Another series that we discussed in my book club back in the Philippines. I can see now how these books very gradually but deliberately planted the seeds of what would ultimately become this website in my mind. Very few people also know that this is actually a quintet – most are only familiar with A Wrinkle In Time. I also enjoyed Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light and went on to collect the Austin Family Chronicles (which I have yet to read).
(8) The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud: The Amulet Of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, Ptolemy’s Gate
These books were extremely expensive at the time – they were hardbound, and there seemed to be no paperback versions in sight. It was a former student of mine who loaned me his entire collection, allowing me to relish Stroud’s biting wit and gift of storytelling.
(9) Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass
I bought this book when we moved here in Singapore in 2008. I am not sure if it was the movie that prompted me to purchase this 3-in-1 novel, but I recalled reading it before watching the film. Pullman’s Dark Materials changed the way I viewed middle grade/ young adult books. His world-building was so intricate, so vast, and so detailed without sacrificing character and voice. I hope to re-read the series soon.
(10) The Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funke: Inkheart, Inkspell, Inkdeath
This is the ultimate book-about-books. When we moved here to Singapore, I recalled mourning the boxes of books I left behind. I comforted myself by binge-buying so many new titles, this one included. I liked how massive this trilogy was, I admired its heft, and the first few lines in the books captured my attention with a man standing outside in the rain, shrouded in darkness. Another book that I hope to re-read.
(11) Septimus Heap Series by Angie Sage: Magyk, Flyte, Physic, Queste, Syren, Darke, Fyre
I believe this was another series that I bought here in Singapore – the last few titles I managed to snag during book sales. I’ve only read the first four books in the series. I know that I will have to re-read everything before I bite into the last three titles. I needed fantasy books to lose myself in after Harry Potter.
(12) The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander: The Book Of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle Of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, The High King
When I was reading this series that I simply could not get enough of, I remember thinking why a film adaptation of the books has not been made yet. It lends itself to that kind of production with its scale, the many twists, and the fascinating characters that would have been so perfect in a movie. Up to now, I am still waiting for that to happen.
(13) Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Nolan, The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg, The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
I gravitated towards these novels during the time that I was finishing my dissertation – and I was so deeply immersed in the world of giftedness, talent, and creativity. These three novels celebrate those themes with characters who were square pegs in round holes, unable to fit in because they thought and felt differently.
(14) The Mysterious Benedict Society Series by Trenton Lee Stewart: The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Prisoner’s Dilemma, The Perilous Journey, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict
These series again highlight my seeming gravitational pull towards gifted characters in books. Even then, I always found a way to reconcile my two passions together: psychology of gifted learners and literature. Much of it has to do with the fact that I also used bibliotherapy in counseling gifted children before moving to Singapore. I have yet to read the prequel The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, though.
(15) On Love Letters and Stories Within Stories: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, Daughter Of Fortune by Isabel Allende, Shadow Of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
These were the first few books I reviewed for GatheringBooks – back when we were writing our reviews in a Multiply account – anyone still remember that now-defunct social media? All three novels can be perceived, to some degree, to be convoluted books about books – they all demonstrate the power of words on a page, the timeless beauty of love letters, and the danger of revealing one’s soul in one too many phrases.
(16) The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest
When the series became such a huge hit (pre-movie adaptation, that is), I knew I had to join the book party. It reminded me of the books I read during my early 20s when I was so enamoured with mystery/thriller novels. These books, though, were slightly different: matter-of-fact violence, Europe, and strong female protagonists: I was hooked.
(17) The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay
I read this series when I already moved here in Singapore. I marveled at how something so exquisite could have such ugly packaging/book covers. Until now, I still think that the covers could use a make-over. These were novels that kept me up late into the night, as I tried to divine Katniss’ fate.
(18) The Abarat Series by Clive Barker: Abarat, Days Of Magic Nights Of War, Absolute Midnight
While I read Abarat Book One while I was in the Philippines, it was here in Singapore that I found (and read) the illustrated version of the story. Candy Quackenbush remains alive to me to this day. I have yet to read Book Three and am avidly waiting for the last book in the series to come out. Maybe this year?
(19) David Almond and Dave McKean: Slog’s Dad, The Savage; David Almond’s Novels: Skellig, My Name Is Mina
Skellig was a book I discovered in one of the thrift shops in the Philippines, while I found My Name Is Mina in the public libraries here – the latter I ended up discussing with my book club for young readers at the Jurong West Public Library. I bought The Savage in one of the book sales here in Singapore (borrowed Slog’s Dad from the library) – and was changed by the darkness found within. The combination of Almond and McKean seem alchemical almost – as both creators have tasted the dark, tease the afterlife in so many lyrical phrases, and illuminate shadows with such staggering brilliance that one is unable to tell dark from light.
(20) Artemis Fowl Series by Eoin Colfer: Artemis Fowl, The Arctic Incident, The Eternity Code, The Opal Deception, The Lost Colony, The Time Paradox
While I discovered Artemis Fowl while I was still in the Philippines, it was here in Singapore when I began collecting all the novels in the series. How can one go wrong with a criminal genius mastermind (at age 13 at that), elves, and amazing adventures? While I think I’ve read all the books in the series, I could be wrong. This is again, an example, of my fascination with gifted teenaged characters.
(21) Brian Selznick: The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck
These genre-breaking novels of Selznick solidified my passion for children’s literature. The way he creates books for children is proof that this genre is deserving of so much academic attention, and how much it has evolved over the years. The man is too brilliant for his own good.
(22) Children’s Classics: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer, The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay, The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber and Marc Simont, The 13 Clocks by James Thurber and Marc Simont
It was during the NYRB reading week that GatheringBooks joined back in 2010 that I discovered these children’s classics. I could not stop laughing out loud as I read The Magic Pudding which probably convinced a lot of people in the streets that I was not all right in the head. I had the same experience with James Thurber’s novels that showed me how irrepressibly fun children’s books can be. I was late into the Phantom Tollbooth party so I thought I better make up for it by reading the annotated version – and so with Leonard Marcus as my guide, my understanding and enjoyment of this classic has deepened considerably.
(23) Patrick Ness: The Chaos Walking Trilogy (The Knife Of Never Letting Go, The Ask And The Answer, Monsters Of Men), A Monster Calls
I received all these Patrick Ness books for review. At the time, I didn’t know much about them yet. Chaos Walking Trilogy continues to remain, in my book, as one of the really well-considered YA dystopian novels of all time. In A Monster Calls, Ness is able to strip raw one’s inner layers with such skill and truth that one staggers from the subtlety in which he is able to weave pain into narrative, fear and anger into the simple power of storytelling. These are novels I continue to push people to read.
(24) Nick Bantock: Griffin and Sabine Trilogy (Griffin and Sabine, Sabine’s Notebook, The Golden Mean); Morning Star Trilogy (The Gryphon, Alexandria, The Morning Star)
These books mean the world to me. They found me at the exact time when I am ready for them. Bantock’s vision is so staggering, I continue to reel to this day at the fusion of postcards and art, muses and men’s whims, and the fearlessness of love defied.
(25) A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk
I have always wanted to read more literature set in the Middle East. These books found me at varied points in my life. Hosseini, I believe, was during my Pre-Singapore days. Reading Lolita in Tehran was a book recommended to me by my mentor after I shared with her my experience teaching teachers in Bahrain back in 2009. Istanbul is a fairly recent-read when I visited the city to conduct a two-day teacher training in that beautiful city.
(26) Roald Dahl: The Vicar of Nibbleswicke, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach
I discovered Roald Dahl as an adult – when Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was adapted into a film by Tim Burton. I started collecting Dahl and Blake’s books when my daughter was young. We also had a Dahl and Magical reading theme in GatheringBooks five years ago (2011) so that we have an excuse to read his books more closely. While I was amused and piqued by how Dahl took delight (resembling that of manic glee, almost) in bad people’s comeuppance in his stories as evidenced in Charlie and Revolting Rhymes, it was The Vicar of Nibbleswicke which kept me in stitches, laughing out loud until tears spill from my eyes. If you haven’t read this one yet, I suggest you find it.
(27) Margarita Engle: The Surrender Tree, Hurricane Dancers, The Lightning Dreamer
Back in 2012, GatheringBooks had a Poetry-Filled Yuletide Cheer reading theme where we read and reviewed quite a lot of novels-in-verse and poetry books. This was when I discovered Margarita Engle’s historical verse novels that made me appreciate just how infinitely huge our world is – while at the same time showing how deeply interconnected we all are – as I see parallels and divergences between the historical figures she gave voice to and the ones I knew growing up in the Philippines. Margarita possesses that immensely rare gift of reaching out to the past, breathing life into forgotten narratives, resurrecting discarded stories, and making people care about them.
(28) Edward Gorey: Amphigorey Series
Edward Gorey is one of the stranger figures in children’s literature who fascinated me to no end. While his books are arguably not really targeted for children’s delectation, I know quite a few children who enjoyed the delightfully-moribund The Gashlycrumb Tinies. While I have yet to read the three books in this series, his collection of tales show how the bizarre, the oddball, the intelligently-nonsensical have a secure place in children’s lit – apart from cute bunnies, happy bears, and pink dresses.
(29) Walter Moers: The City Of Dreaming Books, The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear, Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures
I discovered Walter Moers when we had our books-about-books reading theme back in 2013. I immediately fell in love with the literary dinosaur named Optimus Yarnspinner in The City Of Dreaming Books – and immediately reserved all of Walter Moers’ books that I can find in our public libraries. This German author not only knows how to weave an unapologetically-epigrammatic tale that uses words for mudslings, pillow fights, and so much verbal fencing among creatures hatched in his strange mind – he also illustrates these immensely-thick novels! You haven’t really lived fully as a bibliophile if you haven’t read at least one of Moers’ novels.
(30) Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The October Country
Bradbury was also a recent discovery of mine – during our books-about-books reading theme three years ago – further evidence of how GatheringBooks has changed the way I look at the world and introduced me to authors who would inevitably remain a constant in my literary life. It was Fahrenheit 451 that first reeled me in – I followed it through with Something Wicked This Way Comes and read all his other novels or short stories that I can get my hands on like a woman drowning. Very few authors produce such a visceral response within me – making my heart race wildly, such that when I look up from the book, gasping for air, I see a different world altogether. That is what Bradbury does to me.
(31) The Books Of A Song Of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin: A Game Of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast For Crows, A Dance With Dragons
While I am deeply appalled by George R. R. Martin’s lack of professionalism when it comes to meeting writerly-deadlines (and the fact that he gets away with it practically unscathed), I am equally enamoured by his wizardry with words. Each time I read one of his books, I feel like leaning in to listen closely for fear of missing out on a single phrase, even though I am reading his words with my eyes. It’s like you can hear him in your head, telling a story by the campfire, and all you need to really do is listen. Listen close.
(32) Twice Blessed by Ninotchka Rosca, Tala Mundi by Tita Agcaoili Lacambra Ayala
We featured Madam Ninotchka Rosca for our Girl Power reading theme back in 2012. I was lucky to find Twice Blessed in our public library here in Singapore and was awed by the tangled and tortuous tale-within-tale that interlace politics, history, and individual meanderings into such a complex narrative that evoke histrionic vengeance, defiant lust, and relentless pursuit of reprisal among characters who are beyond redemption. You have to read it to experience it. Tala Mundi is a feast for the senses, my soul’s ambrosia, as Madam Tita’s poems simultaneously soothe and unsettle, comfort and distress one’s being.
(33) Biography and Memoirs: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis, Just Kids by Patti Smith
I hold a special affinity for biographies and memoirs – especially when there is a slightly-surreal component to it as found in The Dreamer, or such stark, glaring truths in, what I call, an artist’s manifesto seen in Just Kids, or imbued with lyrical soul as found in Brown Girl Dreaming. All these award-winning stories I discovered through reviews that I wrote for GatheringBooks.
(34) Asian Voices: Revolution Is Not A Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine, Tall Story by Candy Gourlay
When Ying Chang Compestine visited Singapore in 2014, I was invited to conduct an interview with her at The Arts House. To prepare myself, I read Revolution Is Not A Dinner Party and was profoundly moved by a young girl (Ling)’s tale that closely resembled Ying’s experience in China during the Chinese Revolution. Tall Story is the first award-winning Filipino-European novel that truly left an indelible mark on me – a book for anyone looking for home and seeking their place in the world.
(35) Adult Novels from Singapore and the Philippines
I read these two novels for my two book clubs here in Singapore. It makes me feel immensely proud that we have so many exquisite stories coming from this part of the world. It is disappointing though how so many people from other parts of the world do not have access to these stories that situate place as character in the novel, and provide a vivid glimpse of what it is like to be a woman, a priest, a lover in Singapore and the Philippines.
(36) More Fantasy Series: The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, The Fairyland Series by Catherynne M. Valente
These are a few of the fantasy series that I discovered through GatheringBooks – as they were all sent to me for review. Some titles I initially struggled with, but most of them I loved and lodged their way into my consciousness. These are fantasy books that I will continue to unreservedly recommend to avid readers.
(37) Coming of Age: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan, A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Every year, we try as much as we can to feature diverse and multicultural reading themes here at GatheringBooks – from Rainbow Colours of Literature to Voices of the Silenced just to mention a few. These are only some of the novels that affirmed my belief that love is not bound by gender, colour, nor place. It simply is – and provides one with the secrets of the universe and a separate peace.
(38) Giving Space to the Disenfranchised and the Outsiders: The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
These are only among the three novels that made me laugh and weep uncontrollably (deep, heaving sobs), and highlighted the remarkable resilience of the human spirit that is able to remain golden despite life’s bleak realities.
(39) Female Poets: Mary Oliver, Naomi Shihab Nye, Alice Walker, Carol Ann Duffy, Sarah Kay
We are regular participants of Poetry Friday, a Kidlitosphere meme, enabling us to discover poets that we would otherwise have not known. These are only among the five poets whose slivers of realities, and impressions on life and love heightened my sensitivity to the world and every crushing image and song it has to offer.
(40) Poetry and Teaching: Teaching With Fire – Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach, Teaching With heart – Poetry that Speaks to the Courage To Teach, Leading from Within – Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead edited by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner
I have read two out of the three book series edited by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner (Teaching With Fire and Teaching with Heart) and it showed me just how my passion for poetry fuels what I do as a teacher educator. I find that I am a better academic, a better psychologist, a better person because of all these books that taught me life’s joys, and allowed me to experience a variety of emotions that provided texture to my soul, and a different cadence to my being.