The Books that Shaped Me

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Dick and JaneI fell in love with reading from an early age. I can still remember begging my mom for a quarter so I could buy my first books from a neighbor’s garage sale. The books were fabulous stories featuring those timeless heroes, Dick and Jane. And don’t forget their faithful canine companion, Spot. I was four at the time and thanks to my Sesame Street education, I taught myself how to read those books long before kindergarten began. The written word held mysteries and adventures, and I couldn’t wait to enter that world.

My fascination with books grew along with me. The books listed below represent a loose timeline of my reading life. The titles vary from children’s literature to young adult to mainstream fiction to general market romance to Christian romance. As you can tell, from day one, I preferred historical titles. Some things are just in the blood. Ha!

This was the first book I read that proved I could “see” the story unfolding without needing illustrations. A whole new world opened up with this one.
This is where my love of spunky heroines began. I read this series in Jr. High, and not too long ago, passed my copies on to my daughter.
I adored Laura Ingalls. I read all the books in the original series and watched every TV episode created.
I adored Laura Ingalls. I read all the books in the original series and watched every TV episode created.












My first introduction to romance. I lost count of how many of these YA books I read in my early teens.
My first introduction to romance. I lost count of how many of these YA books I read in my early teens.
This was my first truly epic historical saga. The book was around 1000 pages, and I read every word. Not sure I could stick to one like that today.
My introducation to Christian fiction. Still one of the best Christan romances out there.
My introducation to Christian fiction. Still one of the best Christan romances out there.












My favorite general market romance of all time.
My favorite historical romance of all time.
My favorite classic of all time.
My favorite classic of all time.
My favorite western romance of all time.
My favorite western romance of all time.
My favorite Christian romance of all time.
My favorite Christian romance of all time.










 What books shaped your reading habits?

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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at:

38 thoughts on “The Books that Shaped Me”

  1. Karen, what a great list of books!!! I agree with all your choices. The two I don’t see that shaped me were The Lilies of the Fields and Island of the Blue Dolphins. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. 😉

  2. I love thinking back on the books that shaped me. I know that this is an odd thing to say but luckily I had every childhood disease that came along (chicken pox, measles, whooping cough, scarlet fever etc–and no TV)which meant I had plenty of time to read!

    All the books you listed Karen are on my list plus Little Women (I pretended I was Jo the writer). The first historical novel I read was Gone with the Wind and at age 12 couldn’t figure out what Scarlett saw in Ashley. I also loved Heidi, Hans Brinker, Wind in the Willows and A Tale of Two Cities. When I wasn’t sick I stayed up all night reading with a flashlight under the covers. Since I couldn’t stay awake in school the doctor tested me for a blood disease.

  3. I grew up on Caddie Woodlawn (Carol Ryrie Brink), the Grandma’s Attic short stories and subsequent novels (Arleta Richardson), The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare), and Laura Ingalls, Louisa May Alcott, etc.

    It took a long time before I liked boys (in books or out of them), but The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Orczy) wooed me over as my first true love – so clever, so dashing, so handsome! [sigh]

  4. Renee – Great additions. After I came up with these titles others kept pushing their way to the front of my brain and demanding that I add them as well, but I just couldn’t fit them all in.

    The Black Stallion series. The Wagons West series by Dana Fuller Ross. Pretty much everything Julia Quinn has written. The list could go on and on.

  5. Margaret – LOL! I love that you found the blessing in having all those awful childhood maladies. No wonder you have such a fabulous sense of humor. You can see the fun in any situation. Love it!!! And how hysterical that the doctor was so concerned with your fatigue in school never realizing it was caused by sleep deprivation caused by over-exposure to great books. 🙂

  6. Rachael – I keep meaning to read the Scarlet Pimpernel. I’ve heard creat things about it. One of these days I’m going to sit down and read that classic. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Oh goodness, Karen, what memories you’ve just stirred. I love Christy…I have never forgotten when Fairlight died…one of those emotional scenes that will live with me forever. I just got Caddie Woodlawn on my kindle, and hope to carve out some time to re read it soon. Great post today!

  8. Hi, Tanya. Did you ever watch the TV scow Christy that was on several years ago? I think it was only in production for a couple years, but I adored that show. You should check it out if you get a chance.

  9. Thanks, Cheryl. Ann Shirley is one of my favorite heroines of all time. So spunky yet so tenderhearted and kind. I read that series and watched all those movies as well. Then I shared them all with my daughter. She loves them, too! Yay!

  10. I grew up on fairy-tales & fantasy,mainly,but also the classics of children’s literature…a few are:The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Boxcar children mysteries,the Mandie mysteries, The Ordinary Princess,..Mara Daughter of the Nile, Anne series,Christy, Narnia,Eight Cousins & Rose In Bloom, Little Men,Persuasion,LOTr,..George MacDonald…some biographies..and believe me, MUCH more.;)..I was home-schooled all the way through and I have a good foundation in classical literature, I think. Oftentimes I would borrow the book(s) that my Mom was reading and finish them before she even missed them. Now she borrows mine..;) My life is/was shaped by most all that I read. Indeed, because whilst growing up I really had no friends but books, tis true. Recent lifeshapers are: Tahn, Sister’s Choice, Shakespeare,She Walks In Beauty, A Tailor-Made Bride, Agatha Christie..among the many others..:)

  11. I have a lot of these books in common with you! Anne of Green Gables and Little House would have to be my favorites…including the shows/movies. I liked Laura and Anne’s spunky personalities. Sweet Valley, Christy, The Babysitter’s club, The Mandie series and all things Louisa M.A. Were all apart of my reading world. These books and authors led to Jane Austen and Gilbert Morris ….still among my favorite authors today.

    I have to be honest and say I LOVE your books. I devour them and cannot wait for the next. Every time I finish one…I think it is my favorite….until I read the next! I would love for your books to be series…always leaves me wanting more!

  12. Johnette – How fun that we have so many books in common in our reading history. Love it! And thank you so much for your kind comments about my books. You are one of my favorite readers! 🙂

  13. Sweet Valley! Gosh I hadn’t seen those in a while. =)
    For me, Redeeming Love of course. To Win Her Heart (and you know I’m not just saying that. =) Shane by Jack Schaeffer. For the Sins of My Father by Albert DeMeo (non-fiction), The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Down Our Way (This children’s book my Dad used to read to me when I was really little. I’m blessed to still have it.)

  14. Nancy – Great titles. I’ve never read The Picture of Dorian Gray, but ever since watching The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen I’ve wanted to. One of these days I’m going to have to set aside enough time to do that.

  15. Hi Karen — Great list of books you have there. I remember one of the earliest books I read was Island of the Blue Dolphins. I want to read it again as an adult to see if my memories and sentiments hold true. Also loved Little Women. Then as a late teen I began reading romance with Kathryn Woodwiss.

  16. Hey, Charlene. You’re the second one to mention The Island of the Blue Dolphins. How did I miss that one growing up? It must be great for both you and Renee to recall it so fondly. I may have to give that one a try, too.

  17. I read the Little Women and Little Men books. Also some of the Nancy Drew books while growing up. Usually any book we could get was passed around to the six of us kids. My whole family are book lovers.

  18. Hi, Donna. Thanks for reminding me about Nancy Drew. I read those and the Hardy Boys and tons of Encyclopedia Brown. THat must have been my mystery stage. My daughter has read several Nancy Drew books as well and even had a Nancy Drew party one year for her birthday after the movie came out a few years ago. We made a treasure hunt where the girls had to follow clues to find the treasure where they all got to take a Nancy Drew book home as a party favor. It was fun!

  19. Oh my, Karen, so many books, so little time. 🙂 As mentioned, the Little House on the Prairie series and Anne of Green Gables. But then in college a friend introduced me to Julie Garwood and The Gift and I was hooked on romances. Liz Curtis Higgs’ Thorn in My Heart series is a blessing and taught me how important it is to drag your readers into a story during the happy times and even when it hurts. There are so many others the Fillies included who inspire me and provide hours of escape. 🙂

  20. Kirsten – I first found Julie Garwood in a used bookstore when I was in college. I fell in love with her books and ate up every historical I could get my hands on. I was so sad when she moved to contemporary suspense several years ago. But every few years I re-read something of hers from my keeper shelf and fall in love again.

  21. I remember Dick and Jane and even then thought they were silly. Once I learned to read there was no stopping me. Besides some Golden books, I remember Dixie Beldon because they were mine to keep. We usually went to the library. Later on it was Nancy Drew and then a bit of everything. I always enjoyed scary books too. Kathleen Woodiwiss got me hooked on romance and then Julie Garwood. Before that I would get the thickest books I could find and I remember the Far Pavillions and Taylor Caldwell and James Michener were two favorites. And Stephen King and oh so many more!

  22. Tess of the D’ubervilles. I just love the emotions in that book.

    I also second Redeeming Love. I think I have read that book 10 times in my 32 years of life.

  23. catslady – what is it about super thick books that draws us a young readers? I was the same way. I think it made me feel like more of a grown up to read that monster. Now I avoid books if they are over 400 pages. Crazy.

  24. I see many books I enjoyed here. The Julie Garwood releases with the fabric and jeweled broach-style covers were the first romances I read and are still favorites. THE PRIZE was the first of hers I read. Like you, I got every one of her historicals and was disappointed when she switched to contemporary suspense. Still good books, but not the same. I have reread the historicals many times.

    Unfortunately, there weren’t many books at our house when I was growing up. I borrowed the Nancy Drew books from an Aunt who lived nearby. She had what at the time was a complete set. I lived at the library on Saturdays but read mostly history, science, and archeology books. I read The Hardy Boys and other mysteries in the school library. In high school, I found Mary O’Hara’s MY FRIEND FLICKA, THUNDERHEAD, and GREEN GRASS OF WYOMING.
    In American History, we had to read an historical novel. I picked LYDIA BAILEY
    by Kenneth Roberts. That opened the door to my love of real historical fiction.

    I discovered Far Pavilions and James A. Michener’s THE SOURCE in the book locker I had at my Peace Corps assignment. Someone recommended CHRISTY shortly after I got married. I wanted to name our first daughter after one of the characters. The nurse wouldn’t let us because the full name would be too long.

    I have the complete LITTLE HOUSE and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES series on my shelves upstairs, along with JANE EYRE and some DICK AND JANE books. I have all the books I never got a chance to read when I was growing up, because I didn’t know about them.

    One of the best parts of working at a library was being able to put great books on the shelves and talk to patrons about good books, old and new, to read. I just wish I had found out about the children’s books when I was a child. There are so many wonderful books out there and so little time to read them all.

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

  25. Wow! All of you guys have great books on your lists. For me, there was Anne Shirley, of course…thanks to the most incredible school librarian who introduced us. Before I met Anne, I had many adventures with Laura Ingalls Wilder, Nancy Drew, Caddie Woodlawn, and Encyclopedia Brown; but I believe my favorite was Trixie Belden. I think I liked the challenge that longer books provided…could I actually read all 750+ pages?

    Currently, I mostly read mysteries (Anne Perry, Emily Brightwell, Jenn McKinlay, etc.) and Christian fiction (Karen Witemeyer–of course!, Dee Henderson, Lori Wick, etc.) Often, I thank God for Janette Oke…before her, I didn’t even know Christian fiction/romance existed.

    And…I can’t forget fantasy…exploring beyond the Shire with Bilbo Baggins or wishing I could knock the Turkish Delight from Edmund Pevensey’s hand…

    Good thing the kitchen’s cleaned up…think I’ll go read a bit before bed. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

  26. I too learned to read from Dick and Jane and have found it a helpful reading tool for my sped students.

    I loved all of the books that you listed and read them all at one time or another.

    I grew up in a small town with a Carnigie(sp) Library. No matter where you lived in town it was only several blocks away and even as a young child I was allowed to go alone to check out books (daily).

    My sisters remember me reading all kinds of books to them but all of our favorites were about Snip, Snap Snur, and their female counterparts Ricka, Dicka, and Flika. They were sets of triplets who had many adventures!

    I also read many books that told of the childhood of many famous people.

    I have always loved to read!

  27. I learned to read with Dick and Jane, enjoyed Little Women so much that it remains my favorite. I got several selections from your list that I will track down. I am now enjoying The Little House on the Prairie Series on the Insp. Channel. Brings back memories of my daughter reading the books. So thank you for sharing.

  28. Patricia B – I LOVE that you found a way to get books in your hands even though it wasn’t easy. And your passion for books continues now as your share that love with others. Hurrah for all librarians!!!

    I lived out of town as a kid, so we would make Saturday trips to the small-town library and I would always check out the maximum I was allowed. I think it was ten books. I would proudly take my huge stack home then sit in my room and devour them. My mom complained of me being so antisocial, but she rarely forced me to leave my books behind.

    Now my own daughter is a rabid book consumer, only she reads 3-4 at the same time. Ack!! That would drive me crazy. One set of characters at a time, please. But at least the tradition continues. We visited the library just last night. So many books, so little time. Sigh.

  29. Heather – Hope you enjoyed a good book before bed last night. 🙂 If you enjoy romantic suspense, (not sure if your love of mysterys stretches to suspense or not) give Dani Pettrey a try. I almost never read contemporary stories, but after meeting Dani at a conference I decided to give her books a try. They are FABULOUS! Great action, beautiful Alaskan settings, and manly heroes that set your heart to fluttering. I bet you would like them.

  30. Connie – Thanks for sharing. I never met those intrepid triplets. What a shame. I love that you would read to your sisters. And that they would sit still and let you. Ha!

    I have three kids. My oldest is a girl who devours books. My middle child is a boy who is a good reader but would rather play video games in his spare time. My youngest, also a boy, struggles with reading and considers it a chore. I have had to bend over backward to try to show him that reading can be fun. He loves humor, so I have invested in books I never thought would grace my family’s shelves. Classic titles like: Dr. Proctor’s Fart Powder, SweetFarts, Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger, and Captain Underpants. (I know – I’m hanging my head.) Our favorite by far, though, was slightly classier. Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading. It’s all about a boy who hates to read and goes to great lengths to avoid it. Genius. My son ate it up and asked for more. When he showed the title to his school reading teacher, she grabbed the book from him and bopped him on the head in mock offense. Ha! I’m just thrilled to find something that proves to him that reading can be fun.

  31. Judith – I catch myself watching those Little House reruns, too. I never tire of them. Little Women in a great story. I own the movie version of that as well. How could I not adore a historical story about a female writer? 🙂

  32. I was brought up with a mother who loved to read. She read to me I think in the womb. I learned books by heart and wouldn’t let them try to change it. I learned to read with Dick and Jane only I didn’t have Sesame Street to help me learn so 1st grade was where I learned. As soon as I had the ability I took off. I looked forward to library day in school and read so many books. One group of books I haven’t seen here are the Bobsey Twins. I read all of those I could find. Easy young reader and introduced me to mysteries. I enjoyed David Copperfield somewhere around 3rd or 4th grade. I did read The Scarlet Pimpernel somewhere around then too. My mother and grandmother read Grace Livingston Hill,Emile Loring, and Harlequin romances. I had many illnesses when I was young too (measles, mumps 2xs, chicken pox 2xs mono, and I don’t know how many others)(my first perfect attendance came when I was a senior in high school)so books were my friends too. I finally got to the point that I couldn’t read Harlequin romances because I felt I had read the same thing before.My mom also introduced me to Agatha Christie and Louis L’Amour. I read many romance and mystery books and I’m still doing it today. I loved your books too. I thought Stealing the Preacher was very good. I watched Little House with my folks too. I never read her books. My loss. Keep writing those good books.

  33. Great additions, Connie! I love that you come from a long line of reading women. My mom wasn’t a big reader, but I hope that my daughter and I will pass the trend down to future generations. What really fills my heart with joy is hearing from my grandma (my mom’s mom) who is in her 90s. I send her a copy of every book I write and she just eats them up. She has only an 8th grade education and until my books I’d never known her to read a novel of any sort. But when she tells me that she was late putting dinner on the table because she got so caught up in my story, my heart just sings. Readers or non-readers, books still have an impact.

  34. Since you are considerably younger than I am, I am surprised at how many of our books are the same. I would have to add the Nancy Drew books, and one my all time favorites, Heidi.

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