I was shelving some books the other day and came across this title: The Book That Changed My Life: interviews with National Book Award winners and finalists. It contains interviews with various authors, talking about the books that have influenced their writing and their lives. It got me thinking – what books or stories have made a big impact on my own life?
There are three definite books that I can point to as changing my outlook and aspirations. Others have affected me in smaller, but still powerful ways.
The three biggies are:
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
This is a classic tale in which a man has nothing, gains everything, and ends up with nothing again. He goes in search of enlightenment with ascetics, but eventually becomes a rich trader. In this life, he indulges in wine, women, and the pursuit of ever more riches. He winds up losing everything and becomes a beggar. Finally he sits by the side of a stream, and just sits. And listens to the water. Sits and listens. After days, the water begins to speak to him. It basically tells him that everything is as it should be. My takeaway from this book is that everything that came before this moment – now – good and bad, better and worse, was necessary to make me who I am now. I cannot regret past things, but should by joyful that I had those moments that made me a more full and complete person. Life is rich with all kinds of experiences, and they are all important in making a whole, centered, perhaps ‘enlightened’ person.
In the Stacks: short stories about libraries and librarians edited by Michael Cart
I came across these short stories in a library one day, and was intrigued. I had thought about becoming a librarian when I was younger, but only pictured it happening in my later years. As I read these various stories, I began to picture myself as a librarian – reading these fictional tales made the idea more and more real. A few years later, I ended up going back to school to become a librarian. Things that happen now, as a librarian, still make me think about this book and the stories within.
Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham
I don’t have a very articulate reason for thinking of this book, but I do have a very visceral response when I think about it. The title, to me, refers to the ties we have to each other, whether created for ourselves or by ourselves. When I read this book, I was floored. It was so full of life, longing and the pursuit of oneself, that I couldn’t help but identify with it. The main character, Philip, also spends time studying art in Paris, which is something I hope I am doing right now, in an alternate universe.
These three books come to mind immediately when I think of ones that have had profound impact on my life. Others have had more minor influences or subtle effects.
A seemingly small, but possibly powerful change came recently, from If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Parker. Her book of short stories is all about human emotions – love and hurt, sadness and joy, fear and euphoria – and the people who are affected by them. Parker’s stories are powerful and very well-written. She explores human relationships from all angles, not flinching at our foibles nor laughing at our hopes.
In one story, a mother wakes her daughter up each morning by tickling the little girl gently, on the neck, on the cheek, the ear, her side… The girl pretends to be asleep until she can’t take it anymore and jumps up laughing, wide awake.
After reading this story, I decided to wake my own little one up in a fun way, instead of “Getupwehavetogetreadywe’regoingtobelate!!”. I’ve started waking her by tickling, singing, hugging and kissing her, trying to make the real world seem just as magical as the dream world. That little change in routine is small, but it is making mornings much, much nicer – for both of us.
I would love to hear of other life-changing tales… please share.