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"Top 5 Books & Movies That Influenced Me"
By Lorraine Zago Rosenthal
People often ask about what prompted me to become a writer, and I always tell them that it was more of an inherent desire than an outside influence. Like most writers, I’ve spent most of my life carrying around the characters and stories that pop into my mind out of nowhere, and feeling a burning desire to get all of it on paper. For me, writing is more of a need than a choice. However, there have been many things along the way that have influenced my writing—books and films that intrigue, engage, and impress me, that have strong emotional resonance, and that I truly admire.
I’ve been impacted by novelists as well as screenwriters. There are many books and movies that have touched me in some way—I could go on forever, but then you’d get bored and stop reading—so I’ll narrow it down to:
1. Everything written by Judy Blume
I don’t think there’s a grown female out there who didn’t devour all of Blume’s books as a child or young adult. Her novels are something we all have in common—like losing our first tooth or suffering through a bad haircut. She was one of the first writers who drew me in with her honest, realistic, relevant storylines, her engaging writing style, and her ability to connect with young girls. Blume was a ray of sunshine in the library and bookstore way back when there was no such thing as an overflowing YA section. I’ve never met a woman who didn’t ♥ Judy.
2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Picture this: I was a sophomore in high school, and I had to read Wuthering Heights during spring break. This was long before the YA historical fiction boom, and when I opened the novel and found that the story began in 1801—well, you can only imagine my horror.
But I started turning the pages. And before I knew it, I was completely pulled into this story about a guy and a girl who are crazy about each other but don’t end up together, and whose choices cause immeasurable pain and tragically alter lives—especially those of their children. The skill of this novel is that Brontë shows Heathcliff before he turns into a bitter, evil, revenge-seeking S.O.B. As a reader, I was with him while he was young and vulnerable and abused. I experienced his anguish when he lost the person he treasured most. So even when he was doing the wrong thing, I never hated him enough to close the book. The ending was so powerful that when I was done reading, I couldn’t stop thinking about what those people had gone through and what became of them. And that’s precisely why the novel is brilliant.
3. Scent of a Woman
You may recall that I mentioned emotional resonance. I didn’t mention that I adore Al Pacino, but doesn’t everyone? His performance as Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in this film—and the writing that created his character and story—are filled with complexity and feeling. The entire film is unforgettable, especially the Thanksgiving confrontation between Frank and his nephew, who calls Frank out for being a ne’er-do-well who is responsible for his own blindness. Frank might be a gruff, crass, and highly flawed man, but there’s also a kind and wounded side to him. So it’s impossible not to hate his nephew and to cheer when Frank nearly strangles him. Of course, there’s also the storyline about Charlie, who’s in danger of being unjustly expelled from a prep school—and I’m always intrigued by stories featuring teens. Go figure.
4. Running on Empty
Written by Naomi Foner (who is Jake Gyllenhaal’s mother), Running on Empty tells the story of a married couple that is on the run from the FBI due to an inadvertent crime during the early 1970s, and how living underground has affected their children—especially their oldest son, played by the gone-too-soon and outrageously talented River Phoenix. He’s a high school senior who’s on the verge of starting his life and making his own decisions, which involve leaving his parents behind. The writing and acting in this film and the interactions between its characters are subtle yet dynamic, as well as heart-wrenching and real.
5. The Virgin Suicides
This film is based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides. Lots of good movies are based on novels, aren’t they? There’s so much I love about this film—the dreaminess, the fixation the neighborhood boys have on the Lisbon girls, the amazing transformation of Grosse Pointe from ordinary to mystical, the teen angst and stifling repression that drives the sisters to end their lives, and the haunting Playground Love theme song. One of my favorite scenes is when Trip Fontaine struts down the hall to Heart’s Magic Man as he soaks up the lustful gazes of his female classmates. That scene is so true-to-life, because there’s a guy like Trip in every class—the one who can charm his way out of anything.