The Book That Changed My Life, edited by Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannesson

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Note: I occasionally accept review copies from the publisher. Posts written from review copies are labeled. All opinions are my own. Posts may contain affiliate links. I may receive compensation for any purchased items.

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.

Reviewed on January 8, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • Although I agree completely that every book I have ever read makes some change in your life, I would have to say that the one that come to mind right now is C.S. Lewis’s “The Last Battle,” the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia.  While I loved then entire series and learned from each of the books, the last chapter of that book is probably my favorite chapter of any book I have ever read.  I won’t spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t read it – I will just say READ IT!  (Read the whole series, for that matter)  

    I hadn’t heard of The Book that Changed My Life and think it sounds like a great book to read – especially for those of us who love reading.   Count me in for the giveaway!

  • What a cool book, and I loved hearing about Beloved’s effect on you. 🙂  I’ll have to think about a life-changing book of my own.

  • Kim, I really can’t think of any poems by Billy Collins that I’ve read. I guess I should go do so, since he was poet laureate and all…

    ak, I too loved Narnia!

    Jessica, great minds think a like, I guess!

    Amanda, yep, not surprised, given what you said on my post the other day!

    Eva, it is fun!

  • That books sounds so interesting. I can’t think of what book changed my life, although I did write my college application essay about Green Eggs and Ham, which was the first book I read on my own. 
    Please enter me!

  • It didn’t change my life, but rather my (eventual) death: Stiff by Mary Roach!  I just never realized all the options I had for actually being useful  to humanity after I’m gone.  I’m hoping for crash test dummy!!!

    Great givewaway – thanks in advance for entering me!

  • I read your review yesterday and hours later at Borders, I found The Book That Changed My Life on sale! It was the last copy and I hurried and bought it. Thank you for recommending such a great book! I started reading it last night and hope to finish it tonight. What a great read! Thanks again!

  • I don’t read essay books too often but this sounds like something I would enjoy so I would love a chance to win it.
    I LOVE vampires and read about them often, so I have Anne Rice to thank for that. I guess Interview With the Vampire helped change my life or at least helped shape my reading habits.

  • Ladytink, it’s pretty light essays; more like “mini-memoirs” by famous authors. So it may be just right for you.

    Rose City Reader, thanks for the award! I’m honored!

    As for the linking, I have this plugin that lets people click on the “link” icon to add a link. It sounded like a good idea to me. But it makes self-typed html code not work. It’s starting to drive me nuts because I think most people know how to add an “a href” link themselves these days. I get more wrong links than right links most of the time! In fact, I’m going to go disable it right now…

  • I love that quote by Billy Collins. It is incredibly true. Everything we read changes our lives, whether it changes our opinion on something, or reinforces what we already feel and think. This sounds like a good book. I’m always interested in what books/music are a big influence on others. I’ll have to check this book out soon. Thanks for the great review!

  • I don’t know if it’s too late, but I would love a chance to win this. I’ll have to think more about a book that changed my life.

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