Right Book. Right Time.
I consume books like some people consume energy drinks. I've been reading since the second grade, and the only trouble I got into in elementary and middle school was for hiding "outside reading" behind my textbooks. Yes, that makes me a goody-goody, but only until high school. I assure you I got into my fair share of trouble then. Just ask my parents.
It's come to my attention that certain books come to me, almost as if by fate, at key moments in my life. The first instance that comes to mind was years ago, as I was spending Thanksgiving at my aunt's. In the room where I slept was a bookcase and since there was no TV (and this was before I owned a laptop) I browsed the shelves, looking for something to occupy my time. And there it was: Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood. I remember thinking to myself, "huh?" and pulling it out. That single action -- that book -- changed the course of my life. Sounds dramatic, but it's the truth. I was in an unhealthy relationship -- heck, all but one of my relationships had been unhealthy up 'til that point. I read the book in two days, and then reread it… and reread it… And of course I didn't change overnight -- that's not how real life works -- but it set the wheels in motion. It took several years, but I learned to be happy on my own.
But other books touched me before then. As a child, A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein were my staples. The elementary library didn't carry them, but the middle school did. Since my mother was a teacher I was privy to the dog-eared copies. and something about Silverstein's whimsical poems shaped me. I know without a doubt he's the reason I filled my third-grade year with writing poetry, and not surprisingly, third grade was also the year I first announced that I'd be a writer someday.
My senior year of high school, one of the few assigned books I actually read in Honors English was The Awakening by Kate Chopin. I'll confess, I decided to read it only because it was short, but Edna Pontellier crawled up inside me and and clung. At the time I couldn't tell you why I related to her on such an intimate level -- here was a woman who was trapped in an unhappy marriage, in a time when women had no options. Now I understand that I felt trapped in my own life, too. I was an 18-year-old with newly-divorced parents, living in a small town where I felt uncomfortably out of place. I recently visited Edna again for an American Lit assignment, and once again related, but on a new level this time. No, I'm not in unhappy circumstances -- but I understand (and accept) the fleeting longings I occasionally have to be carefree and able to run off and pursue my dreams.
gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson jump-started my own creative story, after weeks of tossing details and characters and plots around. Eat, Pray, Love made me reconsider spirituality when I'd thought I'd turned my back completely.
And the list goes on...
Sure, not all books give me huge life lessons; sometimes they just pick me up when I need a boost. After reading The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffeneggar and more recently, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, I just had that "Aaah. What a fabulous story" high for a few days. You know what I'm talking about? I do the same thing when I walk out after an extremely good movie.
And of course, most recently Bottle Tree by Jennifer Horne and Bossypants by Tina Fey, which I wrote about in earlier posts. Horne introduced me to contemporary, female, southern poetry. Fey lit a fire under my perfectionist ass, fueled me to write faster and stop agonizing and procrastinating over every minor detail.
Certain books come to me, almost as if by fate, at key moments in my life. What can I say? The book gods must love me. It's most certainly why I love them.
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What books have changed your life?