There are a whole bunch of things people ask me pretty regularly that I have absolutely no way to respond to. I usually pull something out of my ass for conversation’s sake, but when I actually sit down and think about it, I can’t come to a conclusion. I’ll post these every so often and give you my thoughts on tricky questions.
A class I was in posed the question: “What book has had an impact on your life?” Well, first of all, what the hell does “impact” imply? That this book was somehow life-altering? Because I honestly cannot think of a book where once I closed the back cover, I immediately began living my life in a new way. Sure, there are books I love, books I cherish, books that hold memories, books that I’ve learned from, etc.; but books that have impacted me? Well, gee, I think that’s a pretty big task for a singular book to have. Granted, I’m not saying that it isn’t possible for people to have books that have completely altered their lives or their perception of the world, but I don’t think I have found my book soul mate, as it were, quite yet.
So, when I do get asked this question, I obviously try to generally come up with some sort of answer that doesn’t make me sound obnoxious or illiterate. Here is my list:
- “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. First of all, it’s Shakespeare, and you can never go wrong with Shakespeare. When you say that some work by Shakespeare is your favorite, however, you often run the risk of sounding condescending in your attempt to sound cultured. Thus, the explanation is everything. “Hamlet,” for me, was a turning point in my academic career. I first read it senior year of high school. Up until that point, whenever I had read Shakespeare, I had basically no idea what was going on. I didn’t get the humor, I didn’t understand half the words, and I generally just didn’t really like it. When we finally got around to reading “Hamlet,” my mind had somehow shifted, and I finally understood. “Hamlet” was the first time I actually got what was going on in one of dear Willy’s plays, and it felt like the moment I turned into a young adult – no longer just a confused adolescent. Now, I have read “Hamlet” multiple times and still like to read it (I think it’s because I feel like I know a little bit more than everyone else when I do). As a reader and a lover of (most) literature, the first time you finally understand Shakespeare’s language and humor (even in a tragedy) is a big moment. I guess you could even call it life-altering, if you really wanted to.
- Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. First semester of college, in my Intro to English class, we read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (also by Foer). I loved it. After a semester of reading 16th century and 19th century works, Foer’s novel was light and refreshing and deep and everything a good novel should be. Now, the reason that novel isn’t on my list is because chances are, if I was not assigned it in class, I would never have read it. So, the summer after freshman year, I decided it was time to read some actually good books, not just the trash I normally read, as I decide to do every summer. That summer, my list began with more Foer. I just couldn’t get enough. I went to my local second-hand bookstore and picked up Everything is Illuminated. Let me just tell you, the cover does not even begin to cover the amazing story inside. The thing I love best about this book is that I honestly did not love it while I was reading it. I had to push myself to sit down and read it instead of watching Say Yes to the Dress or something equally as pointless. It was totally worth it. It took me longer to read than most books, but when I got to the end of it, not only was I proud of myself, but I finally saw what all the hype was about. At the end, when everything was finally illuminated, I was truly able to appreciate the beauty of the novel.
- Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. It was senior year of high school. I was bogged down with (what I thought at the time was) a lot of reading for class. I didn’t have time for books for fun. Then I cracked open Gruen’s novel. Immediately, I was completely consumed by the story, the characters, and the world Gruen created. While this probably isn’t the best work of fiction I have ever read, it made me fall back in love with reading. It reminded me that reading could be pleasurable, and that when you find a good book, there is literally nothing you would rather do than sit and read it. That was what was most amazing about Water for Elephants. If you’ve only ever seen the movie and think that’s good enough, it’s not. Go read it. It’s an absolute pleasure.
- Harry Potter 1-7, by J.K. Rowling. All of them. I don’t even know what to say about these books. They mean the world to me. I can’t count the number of times I have read each one, but I still try to read them at least once a year. They never get old. If you haven’t read Harry Potter, chances are we can’t be friends.
- The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot. Okay, you may ask why these books make my list, but the answer is pretty simple. Mia tells it like it is. She doesn’t pretend to be someone she’s not. She is essentially writing the same way I am – diary form, about her daily life (which is slightly more entertaining than mine, given the whole princess thing), and yet it is still interesting. As far as books for preteen girls go, these make the top of my list. Also, Anne Hathaway plays Mia in the not-very-accurate movie versions of these novels, and that’s just wonderful.