31 Days of Reading Well: Day 26

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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?

Originally published in January 2010.

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

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2 thoughts on “31 Days of Reading Well: Day 26

  1. Oh, I've wanted to pick up The Book That Changed My Life but never have, so I'm glad you posted about it!

    I have lists of books that changed me, but a few that spring to mind are The Screwtape Letters, Poisonwood Bible, and A Woman of Independent Means.

    (I'm a huge Salinger fan, actually, but I do believe that you can miss your window with him. He has to be read at a certain time of life.)

  2. Your brief critiques of these books makes me think that you should host your own show on NPR. 🙂 The book that I can remember reading a while ago that had an impact upon me was called, "roll of Thunder Hear My Cry." Pretty good book. I should read for leisure more but I'm a grad student so I mostly read scientific articles. Blah!

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