My Favorite Book

by Lisa Graff

I was a freshman in college the year that Holes* came out, and I picked it up at the bookstore sort of on a lark. I was not supposed to be reading children's books--I was a biology major at the time, with little use (or so I thought) for children's books. But the description on the back of the book sounded pretty great, and I'd always really (semi-secretly) loved reading middle-grade novels, oftentimes more so than books written for people my age. I'd even (also semi-secretly) tried to write a few of my own. Just for fun, of course. Because I was a biology major. And pre-med.

I bought the book.

Needless to say, I was blown away. As far as I was concerned, Holes had everything. It had compelling, complicated characters and a twisty, fantastical story. It had multiple plot lines that wove together in ways I never saw coming, and an ending that (I'll admit it) made me cry. But the thing that really, truly blew me away about the book was that it had just come out that year. This seems like a ridiculous realization to me now, but at the time I almost couldn't believe it. Because all the middle-grade books I'd read and loved and re-read--Charlotte's Web, Matilda, the Baby-Sitters Club books--they'd been written years and years ago. And it had somehow never occurred to me that honest-to-goodness brilliant children's books were still be written. That this could be, like, someone's job. Someone right now. As I said, sort of an obvious observation. But I'll take my epiphanies where I can get them.

It took me about a year to realize I hated all my biology classes. And it took me a few more to realize that I really, really loved to write. But eventually I did. Eventually I figured out that what I really wanted to be doing with my everyday time was sitting at a desk, trying to write something that might one fraction as good as Holes. And now, over ten years later, I get to. It's pretty awesome.

Now here's my question for you: What was a book that changed your life plans, or made you see the world a little differently?

*Several years ago, when I was working at an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, I got to meet Louis Sachar. My boss at the time, Frances Foster (who edited Holes and who is generally all-around awesome and whom I really cannot say enough fabulous things about), knew that Holes was my favorite book and that I desperately wanted to meet Louis Sachar, so she very sweetly introduced me. I think I squeaked out a "Hmphfl-gah," and then forgot how to speak. It was VERY impressive.


  1. What a great post! Very thought-provoking.

    I discovered Sarah Dessen and Chris Crutcher at about the same time, and the combination was probably what convinced me that I really, truly wanted to write for teens. Oddly enough, each of them gave me a different reason: "Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes" started a conversation I desperately wanted in on, while "That Summer" (which I read after a years-long speculative-fiction spree) reminded me how powerful a realistic, beautifully-told story could be, and made me want to try my hand at it.

  2. A few years ago, probably from all the aloud reading I do with my kids, I discovered I love middle grade reads (and decided I would write it too!). And while there isn't just one book I can name that led to this, I can name a genre within MG - and it's historical fiction. Love it to the depths of my heart.

  3. I love your epiphany about people alive today writing books, so why can't I? It's a powerful realization.

    The first time my reluctant-reader son used the word "good" and the word "book" in the same sentence was after reading HOLES. At 23, he's still not much of a reader, but I'm grateful to Louis Sachar for giving him that experience--and I continue to hope that he'll find another book that provokes that response.

  4. Oh, Lisa. I so love HOLES too. Just reread it recently and it has stood up to the test of time. :)

  5. I love this post...And I love that you had the guts to admit that Bio wasn't for you. Takes guts to change your direction in life...


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