“We can only pick three?” my new screenwriting students wail as they study my “get to know you” questionnaire. Question number one is “what are your three favorite films?”
I reply, “Pick three favorites plus the one movie you wish you had written.”
“What does that mean?”
“The one film that so embodies everything you’d like to express as a writer that you wish it had come out of your own head.”
This causes even more consternation. “But but but…I have so many favorite films!” claims one student.
“I can’t possibly narrow it down to three!” says another.
“Mine change all the time!” adds someone else.
Last but not least, “What if I don’t know what I want to write?”
“I know, I know,” I say, trying to allay their worries that they might answer the question incorrectly. “Our ideas about what we think a great film is change all the time. Just tell me what you’re feeling today, what you’re feeling right this very second.”
I have this same conversation every time I start a new class of students. They get so concerned about having to narrow their favorites down to three or four, and who can blame them? If you love film, there are bound to be lots of them you love, each one for very different, very special reasons. Same thing if you love music or books or plays or video games.
So when I found myself making a ridiculously long list of my favorite books, a list way too extensive for publishing on this website, I knew I was going to have to set some limits. But how? Just go with what I was thinking right at that moment? Make a Top Ten list of all-time favorites? Or should I restrict it to certain categories such as favorite YA novels or books by Southern writers? Or maybe I could focus on the books I most loved in high school?
None of those categories seemed quite right, quite appropriate. I started feeling a lot of sympathy for my students and scratched my head again. And again.
Finally inspiration dawned! I pushed my laptop to the side, leapt out of my comfy Pottery Barn chair and roamed around my living room pulling off the shelves the books that I have touched the most. By “touched the most”, I mean read, reread, underlined, highlighted, respected, cried over, laughed at, been inspired by, wished I had written. Establishing that standard totally changed the playing field for me. Suddenly I realized that as many books as I love, there are a few true stand-outs – eleven to be exact – that have been there for me over the years in ways that far surpass enjoyment and entertainment. Not only have I touched these books the most, they have touched me the most.
Here they are, in chronological order of their appearance in my life:
1. A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
2. The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart
3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
5. Handling Sin by Michael Malone
6. Smithereens by Susan Taylor Chehak
7. London A to Z
8. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
9. Flush by Carl Hiaasen
10. Don’t Forget to Write: 54 Enthralling and Effective Writing Lessons for Students 6-18 by the good folks at 826 National, edited by Jenny Traig
11. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
What is so special about each of these books that they fall into the “Books I’ve Touched the Most/Have Touched Me the Most” category? Check back over the next weeks and I’ll tell you! I’ll blog about each and every one of them, presenting my favorite lines and explaining what attracts me to each and why they hold such prominent places on my bookshelf.