Five Books to Climb Into

I was a fanciful child, desperate for the romance and adventure that seemed far away from the suburban sprawl of Reno, Nevada, where I grew up. So when I read books, I read them hungrily, eating up the details of places and times distant from my own. If I loved a book, I'd imagine myself into the plot (as the brave, witty, preternaturally wise heroine, of course). There were some books that I would read over and over again, just to get myself back into them. It's that intense reading experience that I miss as an adult. Here's the list of books I wanted (and still do) to climb into:

1. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Okay, this brands me as an all-time geek, and not very original either, but I read this trilogy to pieces. The cover came off, the pages started to crumble, while I strode across Middle-earth as some magical combination of elf warrior and woman wizard.

2. The Dragon Riders of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey. Even geekier than Tolkien, this science-fiction series features fire-breathing dragons and their telepathic riders using flames to prevent "thread," a destructive spore, from consuming the planet. Literature, it ain't. But one night when I was around 12, I dreamt myself onto Pern and for the rest of the week tried to sleep in exactly the same way as I had during the dream. No luck, just some painful cricks in my neck.

3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis. In this, the third book in the Narnia series, Lucy and Edmund and their unpleasant cousin Eustace sail with Prince Caspian (now king) to the end of the Narnian world. The thing is, this time the children get into Narnia, not through a wardrobe, but through a picture of a ship that comes to life. I swear that my grandmother had a picture that perfectly matched the cover of my copy of the book. But try as I might, I could not get her ship to sail.

4. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Another book I read to pieces. I wanted to be clever and quick with a comeback like Elizabeth Bennett and wear Empire-waist dresses and dance at balls. Now, I think how terrible it must have been to have one's whole financial well-being hinge on marrying well, but such sober thoughts didn't cross my mind back then.

5. Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I wanted to live on Prince Edward Island, with its lush gardens and cozy cottages, so very different from the brown sagebrush hills that surrounded my town. I wanted to have the intense friendships, and inspire the intense feelings, that Anne did. And I wanted to ride in a wagon down the White Way of Delight, when all the blossoms were in bloom.

I bet I'm not the only one with an over-heated imagination. Which books did (or do) you want to climb into?

-- Rachel Hartigan Shea

By Christian Pelusi |  April 24, 2008; 6:24 AM ET Fiction , Rachel Hartigan Shea
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I'd add 'Bridge to Terabithia' to this list. I was engulfed when I read it, so much so that I wanted to find a forest near my house in which to disappear. Alas, there was no forest.

Posted by: Adubs | April 24, 2008 9:11 AM

My favorites - the Little House on the Prairie series, Little Women, and Willow. Anne of Green Gables was high on the list as well.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 24, 2008 10:10 AM

"A Little Princess." I wanted to be one of those little girls listening to Sara Crewe weave her stories. I wanted to go to sleep in a cold attic and wake up to find it refurbished like an Indian palace.

Posted by: KLeewrite | April 24, 2008 10:27 AM

Come to think of it, I want to climb into any book that gives me a real sense of time and place, just to live in that environment for a while. I felt like that with Zadie Smith's "White Teeth" and Alan Hollinghurst's "The Line of Beauty," both of which took place in 1980s London, albeit in different milieus. Also the turn-of-the-century New York of "The Age of Innocence", the mid-50s Saigon of "The Quiet American" and the post-WWII Vienna of "The Third Man."

Posted by: KLeewrite | April 24, 2008 10:58 AM

David Weber's Honor Harrington series (it is still being written, I think there are about a dozen or so books in the series).

It is sci-fi, so the series takes place in space, which I have always been drawn to. And it has a very strong woman heroine to identify with.

I wasn't sure I would like it, because it is VERY militaristic, but the writing is great and it pulls you right in!

Posted by: CJB | April 24, 2008 12:07 PM

Marion Zimmer Bradley, her Saga of the Renunciates trilogy. This is a subset of her Darkover work, which I also like, but the books about the free Amazons are my favorite.

It is about a secret guild of women that live alone and take care of themselves, defying the oppressive conditions for women on their planet.

I also liked escaping into MZB's The Mists of Avalon, which re-tells the tale of Arthur and Camelot from the point of view of all the women characters.

Posted by: CJB | April 24, 2008 12:15 PM

I have to go with Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. I still want to get into Zero Grav and enter the Battle Room. Every time as a kid I played laser tag I pretended that's what I was doing.

Close behind is the Sun Also Rises by Hemingway, just to climb into the bustle of Pamplona around it's fiesta. It's on my list of places to go to.

Posted by: DC Centurion's Shield | April 24, 2008 1:45 PM

I have read and love every one of the books on your list. Also love Susan Cooper's "The Dark is Rising" Series.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 24, 2008 2:32 PM

I almost put the Little House books on my list, too, and just reread the first of Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising books. (So maybe I haven't outgrown my adolescent reading!) But I think KLeewrite's point is excellent--it's the books that give us a real sense of time and place, whether it's real or imagined, that really capture us.

Posted by: Rachel Shea | April 24, 2008 5:52 PM

Tom Sawyer & Nesbit's The Railway Children

Posted by: Cameron Caswell | April 24, 2008 11:32 PM

The Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, and the Wolves of Willoughby Chase series by Joan Aiken (the first three books are the best: Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Blackhearts in Battersea, and Nightbirds on Nantucket).

Also the Rosemary Sutcliff books about the Roman Britain (The Eagle of the Ninth). And any mythology books I could get my hands on--mainly Greek and Viking mythology. (Hmm...guess that explains my Classics degree!)

Posted by: Sappho | April 25, 2008 9:34 AM

I loved The Wolves of Willoughby Chase! I didn't know that was a series. Must remember to look up the other two books.

Posted by: KLeewrite | April 25, 2008 10:07 AM

Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay. Never fails to suck me in completely, no matter how often I read it.

Posted by: Capitol Hill Reader | April 25, 2008 10:25 AM

Last week I was feeling out of sorts and wandered into the library and came out with Dragonriders of Pern which I read as a teen too. It did make me feel better to escape and most of the Pern books are similar.

When I travel on long trips I usually take a Dune book with me. Sufficiently long and complex to fill the dead time, familiar enough to comfort.

Posted by: m | April 26, 2008 9:41 PM

I loved all your choices (and like you, always took a look at pictures which might turn out to be like the one in Dawn Treader). Other books that provided a world of their own included the Betsy-Tacy books (oh, to live in Deep Valley), Janet Lambert's books with their description of army life (although the reality of war separating families and sweethearts was not ignored), Noel Streatfeild's Shoes books (I was sure I too could be discovered and star on the stage, despite being very uncoordinated), and two little known books by Elizabeth Marie Pope - The Sherwood Ring and The Perilous Gard.

Posted by: Constance | April 27, 2008 6:39 PM

KLeewrite posted: "I loved The Wolves of Willoughby Chase! I didn't know that was a series. Must remember to look up the other two books."

I think there's about 10 books in the series now. I read most of them last summer, although I think the quality falls off towards the end of the series. But still, Joan Aiken is a great talent.

Posted by: Sappho | April 28, 2008 9:15 AM

I forgot about the Betsy-Tacy books, some of which I also read as a child. That also brings to mind the All in the Family books, which I haven't read in about 25 years. However, I still remember the evocation of the Jewish (Lower?) East Side. I saw a couple of those books last fall at the JCC of Greater Washington's annual book fair, and I seriously considered buying them.

Posted by: KLeewrite | April 28, 2008 10:08 AM

I think it's "All of A Kind Family." I loved those books, too. Any book about a big, family from a different era did it for me. (Having two brothers just didn't do the trick -- I wanted a BIG family!) I was actually transported by my series books ... Bobbsey Twins (I wanted to be Nan), Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Laura Ingalls Wilder...

These days, I am enjoying reading Edith Nesbit's books to my 8-year-old daughter. We especially enjoyed the Treasure Seekers.

And as for me today, I like 19th century Brit Lit... Gaskell, Austen. And I don't mind confessing that I find a good Georgette Heyer to do the trick in terms of taking me to another time and place.

Posted by: MarylandMom | April 28, 2008 11:56 AM

That's it, All of a Kind Family. Thanks, MarylandMom!

Posted by: KLeewrite | April 28, 2008 1:45 PM

It makes me smile just to think of the Janet Lambert books which I read over and over again.
Also, "Heidi", and Lucy Boston's "Greene Knowe" series, the "Rose" books by Louisa May Alcott, and 'The Wind in the Willows" all were books I loved so.

Posted by: Gail | April 28, 2008 9:53 PM

I got lost in Ivan Doig's novels set in Montana.

The same goes for Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Arch Bishop. I reread it every few years.

Posted by: Elaine | April 29, 2008 1:17 AM

So many of my favorites are listed here and in the comments. Here are a few more books that pulled me in so deep I could not hear or see anything around me while reading (something my parents and teachers complained about constantly)
Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Mara, daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Greensleeves also by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
Jacob have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
Of Nightingales that Weep by Katherine Paterson
The Five Little Peppers and how they grew by Margaret Sidney
From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
The Red Fairy Book by Andrew Lang ( and all the other colors in the series)
my guilty reads as a kid Emilie Loring's Romance novels

As an adult, some books that pulled me in and have stayed with me are
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Les Jeux Sont Faits by Jean Paul Sartre
Persuasion by Jane Austen

Thanks for posting this blog entry--it has reminded me to go reread my favorites!

Posted by: montgomery village md mom | April 29, 2008 10:34 AM

You all are reminding me of my old favorites! I read the Witch of Blackbird Pond and the Island of Blue Dolphins many times, and just re-read Persuasian not too long ago.

I've often felt a little guilty for having such a strong urge toward escapism even as an adult, but then I comfort myself (falsely?) with the idea that maybe it's not escapism from the real world so much as an urge to explore other worlds. What do you think?

Posted by: Rachel Shea | April 29, 2008 10:57 AM

It's OK, if your choices are geeky, mine are too. I still love rereading The Lord of the Rings, all the Chronicles of Narnia, and Pride and Prejudice (which has one of the best first chapters in all of literature, I think). Other stories that "suck me in" include The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, the Fruits Basket manga series, and more recently, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

Posted by: Mary B. | April 29, 2008 11:32 AM

I tend to think a novel is an opportunity both to escape and to explore. We want to escape from whatever problems we have and whatever stresses we face in our lives and explore other people, their lives, their problems, and their environments. The right non-fiction book, written in just the right way, can offer a similar opportunity.

Posted by: KLeewrite | April 29, 2008 5:31 PM

I loved A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. I wanted to be smart and special like Meg.

Posted by: Van | May 1, 2008 3:54 PM

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