Books are the quietest and most constant of friends

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The Books That Changed Them

I recently read The Book That Changed My Life. No, really. That’s the title! It’s an excellent collection of essays from writers ranging from Anne Lamott to John McCain to Frank McCourt. All share a book (or few books, for those who are like me and can’t make up their minds) that changed them.

The Book That Changed My Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books That Matter Most to Them

It’s been sitting on my shelf for probably two years. I stocked up on books when I started using PaperBackSwap and as a result have spent the last year trying not to acquire any new books while I read the 200+ that I have. But now that I’ve read it, I’m sad I waited so long. As someone who loves chatting about books more than most things in life, reading this was like sitting down with a group of good friends and finding out their very favorite books of all time.

(Although I’m not sure I trust anyone whose life was changed by Catcher in the Rye. I just don’t get it, I guess.)

The Books That Changed My Life

I can’t pick one. Are you surprised? I would guess not if you’ve read any of my posts about books. But I can narrow them down to two: one that changed my reading and one that changed my writing.

I’ve waxed poetic about A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving before (see this post). I first read it for a creative writing class in high school–by far the best gift I received from that particular teacher. I had never been presented with a novel so intricate, one that was so incredibly thought-out.

A Prayer for Owen Meany (Modern Library)

I don’t know if Irving writes with such a detailed outline that he knows each and every event that will happen (Bird by Bird refutes that this actually happens, but I still wonder!), or that he goes back and tinkers with precision once he has determined his characters’ paths, but either way this book has such a sophisticated road to the end it takes my breath away. Above all else, it caused me to think about what I am writing and not just blab on in train-of-thought–although we all know I do that some too.

The book that changed my reading is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I was in a 200 level English class entitled Great Novels with the lovely Susan Heroy. I was flip-flopping around about my major, having discovered that I would need more than a summer study abroad to obtain an International Studies major and not really wanting to go that route. Opening Garcia’s masterpiece led me on a wild goose chase. I scribbled in the book. I asked questions of my professor. I was fascinated by his use of mysticism, smells, colors.

Shortly after I closed the text, I decided to declare a major in English despite not having one class toward the major. I wanted to read more books like One Hundred Years of Solitude. I wanted to spend my time talking about them and writing about them with the hopes that one day I would write my own.

So I did.

Maybe some day I’ll finish that book I’m writing.

Is there a book that’s changed your life?

*title of this post is from a quote attributed to Charles W. Eliot

See the books the authors recommended: Part I and Part II.

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5 thoughts on “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends

  1. The Diary of Anne Frank. Yeah it was on the 8th grade reading list, but not matter how many times I read it, I find something different about it every time. Plus, it makes me really believe that "No matter what people are still good at heart."

  2. I think a turning point in my life was after I read Home Enlightenment by Annie B. Bond. I had wanted to make some healthier and cleaner choices and the book helped me tremendously, plus it was the first book I read about natural cleaning and home items. My younger sister said that I was like a switch: living my life one way and then all of a sudden "preaching" to my family the next, lol.

  3. I'm not sure if I have a book that changed my life. I have to give that some more thought tonight. I just had to comment on your picks–I love them! I'm always so happy to find another person who loves to read and talk about books.

    I read A Prayer for Owen Meany about four years ago when a co-worker declared it "the best book I ever read." I adored that book, but remember being annoyed with the lengthy anti-war sections. I think it would have been even better without it.

    Also loved One Hundred Years of Solitude. We read it as a book club pick last year. I was one of only two out of the group that liked it.

  4. Oh, Jessie, you and I are going to be good friends, I can tell already. John Irving is one of my all-time favorite authors and "A Prayer for Owen Meany" was my first and still one of my very favorites of his. I also love "A Widow for One Year," and have you read his newest? It's still on my list . . .

    I also love "100 Years of Solitude," "Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides, "Song of Solomon" by Toni Morrison and "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck. Those are probably some of my top faves. I try to re-read them every few years and always wished I had re-read them earlier because I love them so much!

    As an avid reader, I'm loving this post!


  5. I don't know about a book that changed my life, but I love anything that John Irving has written too. I think I have read all of his. Wally Lamb is a very interesting author. He is a bit crass, but he is like Irving in that I wonder if he knew the ending before he started the beginning of his books b/c of all the details. That type of imagination is amazing to me.

    Finally, the three book series by Francine Rivers, I think it was a Voice in the Wind. I am terrible at remembering titles, but I LOVE that series. Alana's name was almost Hadasseh because of those books. If I ever have another child, that might be her first or middle name. 🙂

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