Lauren’s Go-To Reads: Old Standbys

“So,” the interviewer starts, holding his iPhone near my face. “What books have most influenced your writing?”

“Yes, tell us,” says Adam Grant, my research hero. I haven’t figured out yet why he’s here. “Which authors acted as mentors in your youth?”

“Interesting question, Adam.” I grab the iPhone and speak directly into it “Follow-up question: Will I be mentioned in your next book?”

Adam smiles enigmatically but doesn’t answer the question.

Feeling left out, the nameless interviewer clears his throat.

“All right, chill. As it happens, I made a list of books that have influenced me.”

Fascinating.” Adam scribbles something on his notepad. From here, it looks like, “Scrap interview – call Malcolm G,” but I’ve never been good at reading upside-down.

“This seems like a long intro to a post,” the interviewer grumbles.

“NO ONE ASKED YOU.”

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

I used to hide these books in my backpack or under my desk; all the covers are bright pink or purple and feature sparkly tiaras, hearts, and other feminine items. People didn’t expect me to read books this girly and I felt I had an image to uphold.
Well, no longer! These books are hilarious.
One of my dreams is to adapt this series for television, replacing Mia’s sassy inner monologue with Gilmore Girls-esque conversations.
I read the first Princess Diaries book fifteen years ago and I’m still caught off guard by Mia’s little quips, references, and asides.
I’ve read this series so many times I have the books memorized. After I moved to Seattle, I blitzed through this series in a week (not counting the novellas and the questionable sequel.) They’re quick and fluffy and perfect. Forget Harry Potter; this is my favorite series.

The Ruby Oliver Quartet by E. Lockhart

While The Princess Diaries are mostly fluff, the Ruby Oliver books manage to be funny while covering heavier material. I like plenty about these books: lists, footnotes, a Seattle setting… I wish I could write light-hearted material; these books match my actual style. Ruby, the main character, is as sad as she is hilarious, traits both she and I find hard to separate.
I see a lot of myself in Ruby’s experiences. She makes lists to combat anxiety, a skill I use to manage my own freakouts. She discusses grief and mental illness in her own terms, finding coping mechanisms in surprising places (e.g., hair metal therapy, baked goods, the weird leper everyone at school shuns.) She navigates shifting friendships and confusing romance in an unstable environment, discovering her own strengths and weaknesses in the process.
I dig it. I dig E. Lockhart. If only I owned these in paperback.

Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya

I know I talk about this series a lot, but I can’t help it. When I read Fruits Basket, I cry. Nonstop. Every time. After the series went out of print, I tracked down all 23 volumes (yes, I KNOW there are shiny new omnibuses on sale now. It was a different time, okay?) I care about EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Of the dozens of characters. Even more astounding: everyone gets character development! EVERYONE.
Every reread offers a chance to empathize with someone new. For instance, I hated Yuki until I acknowledged we share perfectionistic, people-pleasing personalities. Seeing those same traits in Tohru, while horrifying, made for an even more relatable read. Kyo Sohma, though, is my forever favorite. I freaking love that cat, with all his rage and self-loathing and fear of rejection.
I am pretty upset I didn’t think of the manga’s framing device first (a curse involving the Chinese zodiac!? THAT’S GENIUS), but…you know…
…not enough to stop reading.

Victorian Romance: Emma by Kaoru Mori

…I am fully aware this is weird.
Even weirder: I’ve only read this series twice.
Weirdest of all: by the time I found this series at a tiny library in Arlington Virginia, it had gone out of print and its anime adaptation never made it to the States. I shouldn’t be this invested in an obscure historical romance set in Victorian London, but the love story…oh, the love story.
WHY CAN’T THEY JUST BE TOGETHER?
Cheering on a shy, bespectacled brunette as she battles society’s barriers to her happy ending might be wish fulfillment…
…actually, that explains a lot.
Whatever. The art is beautiful, and the series has since been rereleased (OF COURSE) in a set of five omnibuses. FIVE. Someone could read that in a DAY. It’s not a sprawling, mystical epic; it’s a sweet, compact love story and I LOVE IT.

Yotsuba by Kiyohiko Azuma

I don’t own this series…yet. But I will. One volume at a time.
I don’t have much to say about it, other than my friend Alexis and I holed up in her room one summer to read this series and laughed our heads off. It’s a refreshing slice-of-life about the adventures of a five-year-old girl, a nice break from the emotional trauma to which I normally subject myself.

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

I hate Ron Weasley. I find my enjoyment of this series ruined by the alternate character interpretations and canon additions; to reread this series is to open the world’s most opinionated can of worms.
And yet…
J. K. Rowling nailed it when she said, “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” Opening a Harry Potter book takes me back to the excited, fantasy-loving six-year-old I was when I read the first book. Nothing else transports me in quite the same way.

P.S. Longer Letter Later/Snail Mail No More by Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger

Meet the root cause of my obsession with epistolary novels. In it, seventh graders Elizabeth and Tara*Starr write each other letters after Tara’s family moves to Ohio.
HOW this book was written fascinates me: authors Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger wrote the book letter by letter without knowing where the plot would go. It’s the best improv novel I’ve ever read.
As a kid, I was struck by how real the friendship felt. Elizabeth and Tara delve into Elizabeth’s father’s spending addiction and later alcoholism. They discuss jealousy, moving on, and feeling out of place, all of which I frequently felt throughout elementary school into junior high and high school (and, who am I kidding, college.)
I tried writing an improv novel with a friend several years ago. Even though that project blew up in my face, I want so badly to craft a story with someone else that we haven’t plotted out in advance. This book shows it can be done.

Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe

I realized recently that this is my favorite book AND the one I most wish I had written. It best represents what I want to accomplish with its quick-moving plot, light-hearted tone, and hilarious dialogue. I can’t believe a book I found at a Borders Bookstore fourteen years ago still makes me laugh until I cry. I can’t believe I remember all the dialogue and in-jokes. I can’t believe Michele Jaffe accurately portrayed a difficult father-daughter relationship without making it sad – HOW? HOW DID SHE DO IT? I started my own attempt at a wacky mystery last January. I’ve worked on it in fits and starts since then, most days wondering if I’ll ever finish. Thank God for Bad Kitty, reminding me daily of what I want to accomplish.

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