Elizabeth Kristoff’s “Books That Shaped You” At Ages 5-10-15-20

Annie KennedyBooks, Inside WITS

Inspired by Pitchfork’s 5-10-15-20 feature, we asked the WITS staff to talk about the books that shaped them as they grew up. From Kindergarten favorites to the novels that got us through college, we’re excited to take this walk down memory lane, five years at a time.

5 – Charlotte Doyle’s Freddie’s Spaghetti

The first book I ever read was Freddie’s Spaghetti by Charlotte Doyle. I remember sitting alongside my big sister in our very pink childhood bedroom, reading aloud to our stuffed animals. Reading with my sister brought me such pride, realizing I could not only do something she already knew how to do, but to also make her laugh as I told the story. Just like the book’s titular character and his first taste of spaghetti, once I learned how much I enjoyed reading, I couldn’t get enough.

10 – Ben Bova’s Flight of Exiles

When I encountered Flight of Exiles by Ben Bova, it did not have a book jacket. The book was solid orange with the title written in thick black type – no pictures, no blurb, no hint of what it was about. I chose the book based on title alone. Published in 1972, Flight of Exiles tells the story of a group of scientists – who happen to be childhood friends and are in a love triangle – trying to save humanity by colonizing the outer regions of space. Though I don’t remember much about the story itself, I remember the thrill of reading science fiction for the first time. This book shifted my perspective on what a story could be and how an author can stretch our imaginations and explore a whole new realm of both possibility and fantasy.

15 – William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Sophomore year of high school English requirements made me resent reading altogether. Ever the contrarian, instead of reading the class assignment of Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, I rebelled and read the Bard’s significantly darker work, Hamlet. On my own. For fun. When I wasn’t at school. I would even bring my copy to English class and set it on my desk to demonstrate how my Shakespeare knowledge extended far beyond fairies and love spells (SPOILER ALERT: no one noticed). The only benefit of all this precociousness was that I became enthralled by the play’s grim, brooding madness. There are so many moments to relish, both comedic and tense and tragic. I’m fascinated by all the interpretations of Hamlet’s character and conflict and always find something new to observe.

20 – Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

I earned my BFA in Dramaturgy and Theatre Criticism from The Theatre School at DePaul University. One of my professors introduced this book to me during my sophomore year, and it has inspired me ever since. My copy is marked up with notes, affirmations, questions, and creative to-do lists. Time and time again, I come back to Creative Habit as a way of refreshing my creative spirit and to help me find new ways to incorporate imaginative thinking in every aspect of my life