Monday, February 26, 2007

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

There are two kinds of people: those who know exactly which books changed their lives and those who do not know so they change the question. In The Book That Changed My Life, both groups are represented, and writers from both say remarkable things about books, reading, writing, and themselves.

Who would every guess that the Chinese author Da Chen would offer The Count of Monte Cristo as the book that led to his being a writer. The writer's village was very poor and the local communist council controlled reading very closely. When a ex-convict set up a rental library with stolen books, the title by Dumas was the first that Da Chen could rent with the penny he got for selling an empty toothpaste tube. I have put his memoirs Colors of the Mountain and Sounds of the River on my reading list.

Jack Prelutsky's story is similar to Da Chen's in that he chose the first book that he read, A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. Prelutsky grew up to write many books of poems for children, including A Pizza the Size of the Sun. That sounds like a book for me.

Anne Perry makes The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton sound like essential reading.

Richard Rhodes' case for reading Albert Schweitzer's Out of My Life and Thought and Hugh Lofting's Doctor Doolittle books interests me in his own A Hole in the World.

As I look over these statements and my other notes, I see a trend. I am mostly choosing the works by the contemporary writers over the books they themselves recommend.

The Book That Changed My Life was compiled and edited by Roxanne J Coady and Joy Johannessen of R. J. Julia Booksellers of Madison, Connecticut, who both add their own reading suggestions to the back of the book. Profits from the book go to Read to Grow, a nonprofit organization that gives books to babies and children in Connecticut. Buying and reading are in this case very positive acts.

The Book That Changed My Life. New York: Gotham Books, 2006. ISBN 1592402100

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