To my surprise, I greatly enjoyed reading The Book that Changed My Life, edited by Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannesson.
The Book that Changed My Life is a collection of essays by writers, and since I don’t often read modern fiction, I didn’t expect to recognize many of the authors highlighted, much less did I expect such a variety of classics and modern classics highlighted as favorites. Yet, both fiction and nonfiction authors share the books that influenced their life, from Julius Caesar to Mary Higgins Clark.
I loved the short insights into others’ lives. It reminded me of the blogging world: we all have different upbringings, different histories, and different lives, and so we all are influenced by books in different ways. I appreciated most what Billy Collins said (in what I thought was the best essay of the book):
The opportunity to single out a book that “changed my life” makes me realize that no book leaves us unchanged, for better or worse. Why read otherwise? Even to be bored is to be changed. (page 51)
This is how I feel about reading. I love the experience, even when the books bore me!
In the end, I added five books to my “To Reread” pile (because some deserve rereading again and again) and 23 to my “to be read” pile (seven or eight were unofficially already on my list because of various awards). Did I really need that? *Sigh.*
The Book that Changed My Life
Beloved by Toni Morrison
I must have been 14 or 15 when my mother, an English post-grad student, shared Beloved with me. Reading Beloved changed my life. After reading Beloved, I was convinced that I didn’t need (or want) young adult novels anymore.
For the first time, the characters in a book I read were confusing and complex. The plot was intricate — and it all meant something so grand that I couldn’t put it into words. It was painfully violent to read, and yet I wanted to keep reading. I loved the characters and cried for Beloved and for Sethe. I related somehow to Sethe’s pain. The cruelty of slavery seemed real to me in a way that nothing in a novel had ever seemed.
This is not a story to pass on.
I wanted to keep this powerful novel to myself. Reading it, I wanted to absorb it all at once. And yet, I couldn’t. I needed to talk about it, dissect it, and read it again and again. And I have.
It’s now been four or five years since I discussed Beloved in a college setting and wrote [pretty poorly written] essays about it. It’s been so long since I’ve reread it that I have a hard time recalling specific plot details. And yet, I know that it was Beloved that changed the course of my reading away from the easy, young adult fiction and toward reading that sometimes feels like a “difficult pleasure.” I loved the fact that reading Beloved was difficult! It showed me a new way to read. And that, by extension, is a new way to live.
Now I feel I must reread it.