Not long ago, I came across an article in “Reader’s Digest” that asked: What book changed your life? My reaction: How could you pick just one?
I mean, really, one life-changing book?
Should I go with a favorite childhood fantasy? Or maybe that book from high school English that opened my eyes to “real literature?” Or perhaps that controversial novel in college that fueled so many spirited debates?
Should I go with a classic novel? Or something more modern? Commercial fiction or serious literature?
So, what book changed my life? Which one didn’t? After all, aren’t we the sum of every occurrence, every influence, and every person we encounter, at least in some small way or another?
Of course, anybody who knows me at all would probably assume I’d pick the “Harry Potter” series by author J.K. Rowling. They would not be wrong – “Harry Potter” is certainly a candidate for life-changing books.
After all, Harry’s story is unique in many ways – it inspired a generation of kids to read; it brought people together, regardless of age, religion, gender, ethnicity, or race; and it provided a safe place to talk about very serious issues.
I read the “Harry Potter” books at a time when I experienced a lot of personal loss, and reading about Harry losing his godfather, for instance, made talking about my own loved ones a little easier.
Also, I grew up with those characters. As Harry, Ron, and Hermione entered adulthood, so did I.
Plus, it’s just an amazing story that had me laughing, crying, and shouting (both in anger and in triumph) with each turn of the page.
However, like I said earlier, we are more than just one experience or influence. We are the culmination of so much and for that reason it seems wrong to pick only one life-changing book.
But I might be able to pick a few:
• “Looking for Alaska” by John Green – Like the “Harry Potter” books, this novel is a great vessel for dealing with loss and the many questions that come after it. The final message: “Thomas Edison’s last words were ‘It’s very beautiful over there.’ I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.’”
• “Anthem” by Ayn Rand – This book is one where the reader has to be a bit of a filter. While I don’t agree with all of Rand’s philosophies, I read this book at a time when being yourself is like being a two-headed alien from Mars – you know, high school. The message of individuality really helped me through those turbulent years.
• “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson – As the first chapter book I ever read, this endearing story deserves a place on this list.
• “The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World” by Marti Olsen Laney – While I’m not much of a nonfiction person, I highly recommend this book to any introvert. It helps you embrace your quiet nature. But above all it explains that being introverted isn’t wrong: it’s just how you operate.
• “Across the Universe” by Beth Revis – After spending countless college classes learning how to analyze novels, this book helped me remember how to just enjoy reading. It’s a fantastic sci-fi story, with just enough political and social undertones to keep your mind buzzing long after you put it down.
• “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman – I just love it. It’s creepy, it’s fun, and it teaches us to do that simple but often difficult thing: appreciate what we have.
• “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak – One of the most beautifully written novels I’ve ever read. Zusak uses words the way a potter uses clay. This is another book that stays with you, even days after you’ve finished it.
Of course, books are just one of the many inspirations that touch our lives, helping us to grow and change, to wonder and explore. We tell stories, not so much for entertainment, but as one of many ways to reach each other, to engage in discussions, and to entice our wildest dreams.
Books have always had that lure over me. For some people that passion is found in movies, for others in sports.
But isn’t it great to live in a world where we can be invigorated by so many things, and where we can find passion in something as simple as words on a page?
As director Joss Whedon once said:
“Passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have? … If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we’d be truly dead.”
Reach Sarah Allen at 937-393-3456, ext. 1680, or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.