Friday, April 3, 2009

The Book that Changed my Life

The Book that Changed My Life
© 2006 editors Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannessen
197 pages

Last week while ending a walk about town, I stopped in my university library to refill my water bottle and investigate On the Road to see if it was worth reading. While strolling through, I happened to see The Book that Changed my Life on display. Its title amused me to the point of picking it up, and I settled down to read it at various intervals throughout the week. The book consists of seventy-one essays by authors on the book (or sometimes, "books") that changed their life in some way. Most of the essays are short -- a page and a half seems to be average -- and all were fairly easy reading. The books covered are mostly literature, with some exceptions -- The Guns of August, for instance, which inspired Doris Kearns Goodwin to become a historian even though it was a field -- was and still is, perhaps -- dominated by men. Some essayists shared books in common -- J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby were both mentioned multiple times. The essayists' motivation for choosing one book or another varied. For some, it introduced them to reading for pleasure: for others, their books gave them new insights. One person wrote on the effect that the Sears Catalouge had on him as a child. Of the essayists, I only recognized two -- Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain. (One of Lieberman's picks was "The Bible", but he gives it little more than lip service, as would be expected.) The book was an enjoyable read, and will be of interest to "readers": I was able to find a few suggestions for further reading.

Just a few of the titles I wrote down:
  • Out of my Life and Thought, Albert Schweitzer
  • Letters to a Young Poet, Ranier Maria Rilke
  • The Snake Has All the Lines, Jean Kerr
  • The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker (this was mentioned twice)
  • The Reason Why, Cecil Woodham-Smith
  • An Introduction to Contemporary History, Geoffry Barraclough

It seems appropriate, after reading this book, to consider the question of the book or books that have changed my life. There are many that have changed my thinking -- Neil Postman immediately comes to mind -- and some that have entertained me beyond measure (John Grisham's The Rainmaker), but when I turn my mind to the question but don't think about it, Paul Zindel's The Pigman* comes to mind. Zindel was the first author I ever read who wrote about "strange" things, and his The Pigman was the first book about serious issues I ever read. As a child, the book seemed to be very "adult", and I remembering it being perhaps the first book to move me to tears, to have a memorable response other than basic enjoyment. This is a book that lingers in my memory. Because of it I read everything my high school library had by Zindel, including The Pigman's Legacy and The Pigman and Me.

* Ordinarily I'd link you to the Wikipedia page, but the page in this instance is abysmally done and I won't be responsible for whatever impression it gives about the book.

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