Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Life-changing books

The Guardian asked twenty-eight British writers to name the book that changed their life. Given my new-found admiration for her, I was badly disappointed by Zoë Heller’s reply: “[T]he only book I can think of that effected a large and immediately felt change was My Secret Life, the Sex Diary of a Victorian Gentleman (author unknown).” The other answers range from the predictable (Catcher in the Rye) to the dubious (example withheld to protect the pretentious).

The book that changed my life was Allen Drury’s Preserve and Protect (1968), the fourth title in a series of political novels that began with the Pulitzer Prize-winning Advise and Consent (1959). I devoured Advise and Consent and then read my way frantically through its two sequels; I did not admit to myself till much later how terrible they were. Preserve and Protect was the worst of the bunch; each title was a falling off from the one before. It was, however, the first new-release hardback that I ever rushed to a bookstore to purchase for myself—a bad habit that I have indulged ever since.

5 comments:

R. T. said...

While many reflect on books that affected them as children, adolescents, or young adults, it happens that sometimes a book comes along belatedly and changes one's life in unexpected ways. In my case, in fact, the book was Flannery O'Connor's WISE BLOOD, a novel that I discovered as a late-life, post-military retirement graduate student; beyond all of the other ways the novel influenced me (some of those are detailed at my blog), O'Connor's depiction of Hazel Motes' odyssey was the single-most important catalyst for my decision to teach literature at the university level. I was certain at that moment that I wanted to meaningfully share my passion for literature with others, especially as that passion had been so powerfully concentrated in my reading of WISE BLOOD. So, I now approach the teaching of literature with the notion that perhaps some student will experience something similar in his or her life. That student's reading experience will not necessarily lead him or her to a teaching career, but it might lead the student to previously unimagined perspectives, opportunities, and challenges. That, in fact, is one of the powers of literature.

Rebecca V. O'Neal said...

I decided to write after reading essays from Jeanette Winterson's Art Objects at 16.

Almost 6 years later, I remember few of the book's details, but its effects obviously remain.

The paperback is on my shelf waiting for a thorough(, more mature?) rereading.

Nige said...

R.T. - I've just started reading O'Connor and am reeling from the encounter - see Reading Flannery O'Connor posted on Nigeness yesterday. Yr comments wld be very welcome - and anyone else's. I've just read The Artificial Nigger, which I found simply breath-taking. I'm taking her slowly...

Chrees said...

I can think of one book that was life-changing in that it helped confirm what I wanted to do as a career. I was in my mid-20s, hating my job, trying to figure out a plan to find something I enjoyed. Then I started leafing through "Security Analysis" by Benjamin Graham and David Dodd...and I found what I wanted to do. Fortunately I didn't choose anything in the securities field, but anything and everything financial-related intrigued me. Not quite the answer the "Guardian" would have been looking for, but they did only ask writers.

(Something that made me laugh--for those that saw the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, "Security Analysis" is the book that was held up as "the bible" when he starts as an intern at Dean Witter.)

NigelBeale said...

I wont say that it necessarily changed my life, but Zoe's choice certainly added to it: like gasoline on an already raging adolescent fire it was...