It's hard to pick and choose among the many books I read as a child. I've searched through my memory to identify three works I'm sure were main influences on my style and aesthetic.
The first would have to be the works of Edgar Allan Poe, particularly "The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Telltale Heart." The darkness of the plotting, the mystery, Poe's rich vocabulary, the disturbing effect of his macabre imagination...all of these seeped down into my heart. Gruesome and literate.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is the template for the entire field of romance, as far as I'm concerned. The plain heroine, brought up by people who wish her ill, sent to a brutal school where she experiences her first friendship, and finally hired by the mysterious Mr. Rochester to teach his ward, Jane is the prototype of a romantic protagonist without being at all "romantic" in character. Instead, she is full of common sense. She knows her place in the world, but she dares to step outside it for love: and she falls in love with the most unlikely and unsuitable man she's ever met, while she turns down the obvious and suitable offer from St. John Rivers. Then there's the whole mad-wife-in-the-attic as a classic obstacle to Jane's happiness, and the wedding that gets called off at the altar...how many books have followed that were variations on these themes?
Finally, I loved The Three Musketeers. If you've read the unexpurgated version, you'll know Alexandre Dumas' great adventure novel contains a lot of relationships that puzzled this innocent child of the '50s. But the deep friendship and camaraderie of the musketeers, their courage and élan, combined with their determined battle against their adversary (the malevolent and powerful Cardinal Richelieu) continue to be the epitome of adventure, in my mind. ￼
Charlaine Harris' latest book is Dead Reckoning (Ace, May 2011).
This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews June 2011 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.