Can a Book Really Change Your Life?

Well, technically anything can change your life, from the high jump that secured your state track record and won your scholarship to the University where you met your wife and fixed your geographical location . . . to the speck of dust that flew in your eye and got under your contact while you were driving across the bridge that caused you to swerve and then over-correct and plunge over the guardrail into the river, ending it all.

But really . . . can a book change your life (always excluding books like, you know, the Bible)?

Changing might not be the best word, but I was interested in the results of a BuzzFeed post on the subject.  In answer to the question, “What children’s book changed your life?” readers a posted jacket images with a brief exposition on the book’s life-changing properties.  Some of these were quite specific: Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth (which I have never been able to finish) launched one reader’s lifelong interest in linguistics, leading to a college major.  Another has never killed a spider since Charlotte’s Web.  Meet Samatha (American Girl) taught proper table manners.  Other reported changes are more nebulous: “This is the first book I remember my mother reading to me and it reminds me of how much she loves me” (Goodnight Moon).  “These books taught me to value everything in life because nothing is forever” (A Series of Unfortunate Events).   “It taught me never to follow the crowd” (Sophie’s Ponytail).    Other books could have taught those same people the same lessons–as in romance, there’s no “one” for you,  but several “ones” who, in intense communion with you at a particular time and place, will change your life.

When I was about ten years old I read this book (The Silver Sword by Ian Serralier).  It was a Weekly  Reader Children’s Book Club selection silver-swordfor the month, and the copy in the picture is not the actual copy I read, though it looks that old and beat up.  (Found this one at a Good Will.)  It’s’ a great story that holds up well fifty-five years later, but I can’t say for sure that it taught me about courage and perseverance and sacrifice, although the story offers indelible models of all those virtues.  It probably did, but what I know for sure is that this book make a reader out of me.  That is, someone who doesn’t just read for pleasure and enlightenment, but for a particular kind of pleasure and enlightenment that can’t come any other way.  With this book I first experienced the sharp pang of discovery when a story wraps around your heart and shakes hands with itself–when something happens that’s so poignant and right and piercing, you know you’ve been changed.   To this day I can turn to the very page where it happened; I wrote about it here.  When you read such a passage, you know you’ll read it again–not to find out what happens, of course.  That particular secret is out, but the deeper secret of how it touched you can be discovered again.  And again.

Other books could have done that–and would have, since I was certain to become a reader.  But for me it was this one.


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