“The man that I named the Giver passed along to the boy knowledge, history, memories, color, pain, laughter, love, and truth. Every time you place a book in the hands of a child, you do the same thing. It is very risky. But each time a child opens a book, he pushes open the gate that separates him from Elsewhere. It gives him choices. It gives him freedom. Those are magnificent, wonderfully unsafe things.”
So said Lois Lowry in her 1994 Newbery acceptance speech for her transcendent young adult dystopian novel, The Giver. A luminary of modern literature and two-time Newbery Award winner, Lowry has never been one to shy away from touchy subjects, tackling everything from racism to grief to authoritarian regimes in a career spanning genres and generations. Though her books vary in content and style, they all carry the same central theme – the power and importance of human connection.
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1937, Lowry’s father was an army dentist whose work moved the family around the world in her formative years. After embarking on a freelance journalism career in the ’70s, she published her debut book, A Summer to Die, at the age of 40. A poignant story of life, loss and resilience, it paralleled her personal experience with her sister’s terminal illness.
Lowry has continued to delve into difficult topics in an expansive body of work ever since, from the historical Holocaust novel Number the Stars to the contested, coming-of-age Anastasia Krupnik series. In 1993, she published The Giver to tremendous critical and commercial acclaim. A seminal work exploring memory, religion and societal control, it’s become a fixture of American middle school core curriculum, while also frequenting banned and challenged book lists.
In a 2017 interview with the CBC, in celebration of the re-issue of her memoir Looking Back, Lowry shared some of the literature that shaped her life. From Margaret Atwood’s clarion call for women’s liberation to the evocative Letters of E.B. White, dive into her recommendations below, and check out the bookshelves of other literary greats here.
Lois Lowry’s Reading List
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
“I have often described The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings as the book that changed my understanding of literature, that moved me from whimsical children’s tales to realistic and lyrical fiction. It was published as an adult book but my mother put it into my hands when I was nine.” -LL
“I was 26 when The Group by Mary McCarthy was published. It seemed quite relevant to my own life, depicting as it did a group of recent Vassar graduates and their frustrations with lives centered on husbands and children. Their struggles for independence became my own.” -LL
“This dystopian novel was set in Cambridge, Massachusetts — or what Cambridge had become after a revolution and under a new Christian-based government — and having lived myself in Cambridge there was a particular fascination for me. Again, the theme of women’s roles was an important one for me at that time in my life. I was in my 40s when I read this and my own life was shifting.” -LL
“I am still attracted to the stream-of-consciousness style introduced to me by Virginia Woolf. At the time I read To the Lighthouse, I was a graduate student studying both literature and photography, and I could see the connection between these two arts in this study of shifting perceptions.” -LL
The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies
“These three interwoven novels, of which the first is my favourite, introduced me to complex and shifting narrative, and reminded me – reminds me still — of the interconnectedness of things.” -LL
Letters of E.B. White by E.B. White
“I re-read these often, dipping in at random. As a resident myself of Maine, I appreciate the reminder in these gentle and articulate letters that there were days — not all that long ago — when the word ‘like’ was a verb, not an interjection, and that down the road a piece there was a gentle man who liked pigs and liked language and handled them both with great delicacy.” -LL
(via CBC; photo by Matt McKee)
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