On twitter a popular hashtag lately has been #booksthatchangedmyworld. It got me thinking. After all, I’ve read a lot of books. But what single book had the most impact on my life?
There’s that first Pier’s Anthony book my high school English teacher gave me when he took away my romance novel and told me that is I was going to read “trash” that I should read “good trash.” That book launched me into the world of Fantasy and SciFi. It also made me nervous about reading romance and to this day I feel like a “traitor to the cause” just by walking into the romance section at my local bookstore.
“The Firebrand” was the first Marion Zimmer Bradley book I ever read, and those books had a huge impact on me in college.
But the earliest series I remember being obsessed with, one that influenced me as a reader, a writer, an entrepreneur, and a person were Ann M. Martin’s “The Baby-sitter Club” books, beginning with #1--“Kristy’s Great Idea.” Actually, since selling my book I've been wanting to email her and thank her.
I remember begging my mother to buy them for me at a school book fair. They’d just come out and there were only three books out. It was one of my very first "real" chapter books and I felt like such a big girl reading them--even if the librarian thought they were "too long" for me.
I devoured all of them and then continued to drag my mom to the book store, or the book section of Kmart, to buy them for me. I joined the fan club and had an exclusive BSC wipe-board. I did reports on her and wrote her letters. My friends and I started a baby-sitter club and had “kid kits” (though we never had the luck Kristy and the gang did). Those books brought me on so many adventures (I always liked the specials best when they went on trips). I read BSC books for years and years, only stopping when I became older than the characters. Those books taught me to enjoy reading—something I continue to do.
After I stopped reading them, they still continued to influence me. By then I was an avid baby-sitter, and I learned a lot from those books. In high school I hardly needed an after school job – I baby-sat enough to cover everything from school trips to presents for my mom.
When I was about fifteen, I remember Ann M. Martin doing a signing at Changing Hands Bookstore, in Tempe, AZ. Even though I’d traded in most of my BSC books, I’d kept #1. I put that old, well-read, well-loved book in my bike basket and biked to the bookstore and stood in an incredibly long line. I was probably the oldest person in line (parents didn’t count, lol).
By the time it was my turn, I was so flustered and in awe that I was actually going to meet her that I could barely form a coherent sentence. “I…I want to be a writer, too,” I sputtered shyly as she signed my book. I remember that she looked very, very tired.
She gave me two pieces of advice that I will always remember. One was to join the young authors club at my high school (we didn’t have one at my high school.) The other was to keep writing and to write as much as possible.
I did. I had plenty of writing lessons to learn along the way, especially that ever important one “you must finish what you write,” but I kept writing.
Guess what? I’m a writer now.
Thank you, Ann M. Martin, for giving me that great advice half a lifetime ago. For writing such an amazing series that captivated girls for over two decades, turning them into readers, writers, and young business women. You made reading cool and baby-sitting a distinquished profession (at least to us).
To you, I was probably just another girl in a very long line, but to me, that was a pivotal moment in my writing career. After all, this was pre #askanagent, the internet was really just starting to boom. I had a few books on writing, but this actual advice from an author—the first one I’d ever met. It was advice I'd take to heart--and still adhere to.
I still have that signed copy of BSC #1 on my bookshelf at my mom’s house. Next time I visit her, I’m going to bring it back with me. You see, I have a little girl now and she’s nearly the age I was when I started reading the Baby-sitter’s Club.