Following the lead of Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, I'm not putting these in any order whatsoever. Or rather, the order is the order in which they popped into my mind.
Too Late to Die Young by Harriet McBryde Johnson
Introduced me to disability studies. Invited me to see the world differently--to begin to consider disability as an embraceable form of human diversity (a soundbyte I now use far too often, but I do like it). She's a fantastic author--Southern and often funny and polite, but more often in your face and unapologetic.
Life as We Know It by Michael Berube
This was a book I read after Maybelle was born, a narrative of Michael's life with his son, Jamie, intertwined with an analysis of what Down syndrome means--how we understand it, its history, the fucked-up ways we've stigmatized it, and how we might change that. It was the first book I read after her birth that invited me to become an activist on this issue.
The Narrative of Sojourner and the Book of Life by Sojourner Truth
Oh, Sojourner Truth--you've been such an inspiration for me. So tough, offering different and powerful identities, working to change your world in multiple ways--when you were essentially as marginalized and oppressed as you could be. Powerful and clever activist, religious leader, hilarious speaker who got listeners laughing as a way to challenge how they understood the world. These books helped shape my dissertation.
Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison
Another grad school book that popped my mind open in new ways, helping me to understand the activist possibilities of my own scholarship differently.
The Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
(cheating to put a whole series, I know, but this did change my world when I was a kid. And I've got two more series, below).
Thank you, Uncle Dave, for sending me this series when I was a kid. I read it multiple times, in part because these were the books I read when I was lying in bed, having panic attacks, unable to sleep. The fantasy was encouraging. The characters gave me hope.
The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Leguin
(especially the first three, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore)
Claire turned me on to this series, which I read multiple times while I was recovering from brain tumor surgery. It's a very different kind of fantasy than the Narnia series. This one is slow, thoughtful, and sad. It resonated with me as I reimagined my life as a person with a brain tumor, seizures, and an intellectual disability.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
Meg Murry is imperfect and struggling, anxious, unsure of her place in the world, but willing to tap into her courage when her beloved brother is in danger. When I read this as a kid, she reminded me of someone... And Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which were wise, powerful, offering guidance but not solving the challenges the Murry kids faced. I reread this as an adult and found it just as moving.
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Okay, perhaps more cheating since I'm including so many books from my childhood. But I think it's fair to say that this was a book that turned me on to the importance of my life as a girl. Hey, menstruation: something I found (and find) fascinating!
Backlash by Susan Faludi
This book turned me on to feminism. My first year in college it definitely changed my world. I read it and thought, "Oh my god, this is what I have to do! I have to challenge this! I can't believe that the world isn't as fair as I thought it was!" And from that point on, all of my writing and research, and a large amount of my casual conversation, was about feminism, gender, and changing the world.
I think this is a long enough list for now. Incomplete, of course, but a fun thought experiment. And it's giving me a warm feeling to revisit these books, to try to articulate why they've had such an effect on me. Some I've reread many times. Others I haven't read in years, but each one pops out in my mind, books that say, "YES!", that helped/help me to understand and expand myself.