I blogged a few weeks ago about Lin Oliver’s Forty Years of SCBWI Wisdom presentation at the Florida conference. I’ve been pondering some of her points, and one of them has really stuck with me:
Develop Your Own Canon Of Literature
She talked about how writers may read gajillions of books in their lifetime, but certain ones that touch a person so deeply that they come back to it repeatedly, even many years later. This collection becomes the author’s own personal canon (defined as the authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scripture, or a sanctioned body of related works.)
I’ve been thinking about why identifying your own canon is important, and I’ve come up with a few ideas.
1. Your personal canon shows you where you came from. Most of the books on my list, I read as a kid. They spoke to me on a new level and made me think of things I’d never considered before. These books molded me as a person.
2. Your personal canon reveals what you value as a writer. Examining my favorite books made me see what I respect from a writing standpoint. These books molded me as an author.
To illustrate, I’m listing 5 of the books from my personal canon of literature. They’re not in order. They’re definitely not comprehensive. They’re just some of the books that impacted me so deeply that I bought them young and continue to re-read them as an adult.
- Alas Babylon. As a young teen in the early 80’s, reading about the aftermath of a nuclear war was a little scary. And therefore, exciting. But more than that, I was intrigued by the social dynamics–how some people pulled together while others fell apart when faced with the end of the world. Almost all of my stories have some kind of survival element. This book has a lot to do with that.
- Watership Down. Another survival story. But also an example of pristine characterization and voice.
- The Little House on the Prairie series. Something about the simplicity of the times and the resourcefulness of the people speak to me in these books. I’m inspired to think that stories so simply written, and so pure, can capture a child’s attention. These were the first historical fiction books I read; they’re undoubtedly responsible for my love of the genre.
- Anything by Robin McKinley. Her world-building is freaking amazing. I vividly remember one sweltering summer laying on a couch under the window a/c unit and reading The Blue Sword for the first time. I recently bought the digital version because the last time I tried to read my paperback, it fell apart.
- The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I also remember exactly where I was when I first read The Hobbit–in front of the fireplace on a rare cold night in Florida. For the longest time, I re-read the Lord of the Rings trilogy every year. All three books. Middle Earth was like a real place to me. I wanted a vacation home in The Shire. My love of reading and writing fantasy was definitely born in Tolkien’s world.