How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book. The book exists for us perchance which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones.1
When I was home with my newborn baby (after previously working full time), I began to crave something mentally enriching. I started reading compulsively, whatever I found at the library. I never felt full. And then I saw my husband reading East of Eden and so I picked it up too. I loved it. It was beautiful, it was sweeping and epic, it was thought-provoking, and yet it was still entertaining. I sought out other books like it, and I stumbled upon the world of book blogging. I wanted to share my thoughts on the epic novel with others, and so my reading circle widened as I opened up Rebecca Reads.
Reading East of Eden opened a new era in my reading. I found myself reading more classic novels, more nonfiction, and plenty of literary books, rather than the not-so-literary books I’d been consumed with before. (I’d enjoyed them, but as I said, I never felt satiated, even as I read a lot of books.) And of course, East of Eden and the subsequent events brought me into the world of book blogging which has broadened my personal sphere immensely.2
And then, shortly after that, I read The Old Man and the Sea, which for some reason reminded me of the childbirth I’d recently struggled through. As I read of the old man’s struggle with a giant fish, I couldn’t help (internally) rooting for him to make it. “You can do it!”
I felt, as a new mother, that my struggle was now a universal one. Reading Hemingway’s novella helped explain the miracle in my life: that of childbirth. It gave me confidence in myself as I reflected on that miracle.
What books have opened up new eras in your reading life?
What books have explained the miracles of your personal life or revealed new miracles to you?
- from “Reading at Walden” by Henry David Thoreau, quoted in Reading in Bed: Personal Essays on the Glories of Reading, edited by Steven Gilbar. There are some more controversial things in this essay too, but this quote really resonated with me. ↩
- That sounds so trite. What I mean is, you all rock. Thanks for reading. ↩
Jane Eyre for being the first classic I ever recommended to myself in 2010 — which spawned my current (obsession with) classic literature.
And Gone With the Wind for being the first classic I ever read, recommended by my mother when I was about seven (I read it when I was sixteen.) It spawned my exploration through, appreciation of, and fascination with history, writing, flappers, the American Civil War, Margaret Mitchell, and my own Atlanta history.
Jillian » aw, I really want to reread Jane Eyre now. I read that first when I was 13 and thought Rochester was SO OLD it was gross (he’s 30 or 35…) I eat my words now that I’m that OLD. And I can definitely see GWTW doing that. There is a lot of historical meat in that book.
I love this post. You are so right that books open up whole new worlds and pieces of us. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck sent me on my Nigerian reading project and made me focus on African lit in general, searching out new authors. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder got me reading Paul Farmer and reading more in international health and development and caring more about what goes on outside my country. I Am J by Cris Beam sent me on my learning more about GLBTQ issues and lit theme. I can’t imagine what my life would be without these books!
Amy » I just reread Things Fall Apart! A great book, not sure what I can possibly say about it….And I Adichie’s stories on the shelf to read. Haven’t heard of the others. But isn’t it great to see how books take us in different directions! I love it.
I love how you compared The Old Man & the Sea to childbirth.
christina » he he, yeah, that old man is just a pregnant lady in disguise…
Your transition from the “not-so-literary” to the classics reminds me a little of my own. My transition is sort of a convoluted domino effect but basically – reading popular fiction led to gothic fiction which then led to classic fiction. If I had to pinpoint one book that spawned it all, I’d say it was The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.
Nicki » Aw, THE THIRTEENTH TALE is a great example of a cross over book. I really liked it too.
WOW! East of Eden was my very first post college book and I always think of it as my entrance to reading in “the real world”. :O)
Pam (@iwriteinbooks) » whoo hoo! another EAST OF EDEN as a cross-era book!
Wonderful post! My list includes the poetry of Adrienne Rich, Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.
Stefanie » I’m with you Mrs Dallowy. I really must read Adrienne Rich, I remember you mention her a lot.