What book changed your life?
Hm, I thought long and hard when I saw your question. A few immediately came to mind and I dismissed them, either for being too common or too obvious. Then it came to me:
“On Beyond Zebra” by Dr. Seuss.
The idea that language could be playful, could be a toy you could have fun with, that you could make up letters, and words and animals to represent them, was so liberating, it changed my relationship to language forever.
Well, it was either that, or “The Sneetches and Other Stories.”
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail by Hunter Thompson. Read it at an impressionable age and through sheer luck. Had read All The President’s Men, was looking for more Watergate-related stuff, and stumbled upon Thompson at the Iberia Parish Public Library…
Two, that I read when I was about 20. “The Gospel According to Zen” and Dante’s “Inferno.” Both gave me life-changing outlooks on the nature of human existence. I would second Michael’s inclusion of “Fear and Loathing,” but I actually read that serialized in Rolling Stone, so I don’t think it counts even though it awoke within me the liberalism that shapes my thinking to this day.
When I was in maybe 10th grade, my Health teacher gave me a book called ‘Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am’. I honestly don’t remember much about the book content, but it did change my life. I had written a paper that talked about depression and suicide as a health issue. I think she was concerned about that and she told me I could talk to her about anything. That was a huge thing because I realized that maybe someone gave a shit about me. Her and my English teacher became like a mini support system to me that I maintained for years after I graduated.
Probably Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, when I was seven. Not so much for the book itself, but that it helped make the transition from stuff for kids to the world of adult fiction. I’d seen the movie several times, and was just hungry for more. Told my mother I wanted the book. So, she got me the Classics Illustrated comic book. Unh, uh, I wanted the real book.
I’ll bet I read it three or four times that summer. And I still think about the political and moral implications Verne only touched on–that Nemo was fighting against his home country, was using his genius for the revenge of serious wrongs against him, that the inventor of the most advanced technology of the time could also be a person so appalled by the hypocrisies of “civilized” society that he was willing to wage war against it. Heady stuff for just a kid.
Huckleberry Finn. Even at the young age (12?) at which I first read it, the idea that Huck was willing to consign his immortal soul to Hell rather than turn his friend Jim in left an indelible impression on me.
I’ve read many books that entertained me, made me think, swept me off to places only my imagination could take me. But changed my life? I had to think about that one…
I guess the book that changed my life is And the Band Played On. I’ve never been good at suppressing my outrage at the injustices in life; and, as a woman, I’ve usually been made to feel like my anger is a horrible, scary thing. The book taught me that there are outrageous things going on in the world, and the institutions charged with looking out for our welfare can be deeply corrupt. The book made me realize that anger and outrage are not only okay, they’re absolutely necessary. It also validated the bad feeling I always had about Reagan; how so many people were bamboozled by his “well, gosh” persona is still a mystery to me.
Burr by Gore Vidal. It made me interested in history and in snarky prose.
In junior high: To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Princess Bride. Both read for pleasure, not assigned.
The first answer that popped into my head was “every book I’ve ever read changed my life”. Now that I’ve had a few hours to ponder the question (helps take my mind off the packing), I’d have to say the three books that influenced me most are “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “Farenheit 451” and “1984”.
The First Book of Norse Mythology. (First Books were a kids series; there had to be a couple of hundred of them. I don’t know if they’re still around.)
That was the book I picked in our first visit to the school library in first grade (lot of firsts here), and I was so enthralled by Thor and Loki and Freya and the rest that I got in trouble (for the first time) for ignoring the teacher. It opened up all kinds of worlds.
Erica Jong’s “How to Save Your Own Life.” I can still recall the spine of the paperback — that gauzy photo of the woman with her eyes closed and her mouth slightly parted — tempting me from the highest height of my mom’s bookshelf. I stood on my mom’s vanity bench to get to the base shelf and wobbled on my tiptoes to reach the book. I learned a whole lot more about sex than I did in “What’s Happening To Me?” — I encountered my first lesbian, my first orgy, my first incredibly detailed sex scene encumbered with a whole lot of contradictory emotions — and I especially took away just how complex relationships could be. Which sort of prepared me for my own. Sort of.
Also, when I finally got around to reading “Tropic of Cancer” some years later, I realized, oh, THIS is who Kurt Hammer was supposed to be …
“The Story of a Bad Boy” by Thomas Bailey Aldrich. I read it when I was 12. It gave me a lifelong love of history and historical narratives, an avvocation that wound up getting me my best job ever.
“Jazz Country” by Nat Hentoff. It’s a kid’s book (what they call “young adult” today) I was 9 when I read it and it made me realize people did things besides work in a factory.
It made me realize it was OK to play music, even cool. I didn’t have to be a jock, or a soldier or a businessman.
Bel Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase. I read this while in high school, and both epistolary structure and the view of education from the other side, as it were, really opened me up to the concept of the world being what we make of it.
Had to think on this quite a while. Similar to what Cybscrub says, there are so many.
There are the obvious choices such as philosophy/theology(both my own religion and that of others) that challenged me to look at things in different ways.
But looking back over my life I’d have to say the dreaded Czerny piano exercises. The obvious experience that working hard leads to accomplishment isn’t the reason. Even though it is true that he set the background for music to be influential for the rest of my life (and in some periods, almost a last dying grasp for meaning).
Rather, I had a piano teacher who worked hard to encourage me. Looking back, I can see where he saw some of the problems I was having and tried to help out. I wasn’t the best pupil even though I took piano from him for 10 years. Deep down, I missed several items needed for talent in the area plus my diligence in practicing was erratic. He deserved a much better pupil.
It sounds totally clichéd, but for me, it’s completely true: “The Catcher in the Rye.”
not sure a book can do that, but maybe i gotta say my 1903 F encyclopedia britannica. fiction is just not the same anymore. or fun to read. or was it my 1st civil war diary?
Comments are closed.