"How Reading Changed My Life"

How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen

This is a short book (or perhaps a lengthy essay - my copy has 70 pages followed by a few more of books lists) in a series called "Library Of Contemporary Thought" The note at the back said it was a monthly series that "tackles today's most provocative, fascinating, and relevant issues, giving top opinion makers a forum to explore topics that matter urgently to themselves and their readers."

Other books available in this series include:
News Is A Verb: Journalism At The End Of The 20th Century by John Feinstein
Team Rodent: How Disney Devours The World by Carl Hiaasen
Against All Enemies-Gulf War Syndrome:The War Between America's Ailing Veterans and Their Government by Seymour M. Hersh
No Island Of Sanity, Paula Jones v. Bill Clinton: The Supreme Court On Trial by Vincent Bugliosi
Interactive Excellence: Defining And Developing New Standards For The Twenty first Century by Edwin Schlossberg.

My copy was printed in 1998 so it's very likely there are more titles available by now if you're interested. I think I'd like to try Team Rodent if I can find a copy.

Ms. Quindlen talks about growing up an avid reader and annoying her siblings because she always preferred reading to whatever they wanted her to do. They would refer to what she was reading as "that stupid book". I heard that phrase from my siblings many times during my growing up years as well. My mother would tell people that I was "somewhere with my head stuck in a book again". It was what I wanted to do more than anything else and I'll bet I read a large percentage of what our small local library had to offer.

The author says "I lived within the covers of books and those books were more real to me than any other thing in my life." Then she says "Perhaps only a truly discontented child can become as seduced by books as I was. Perhaps restlessness is a necessary corollary of devoted literacy." That would make a great topic for discussion so I'm saving it for future use.

As for me, yes I was a restless child and I could travel, run away from home, hide out and become invisible between the covers of a book. I was an addict from the day I opened the cover of a brand new Bobsey Twins book, held the book up to my face and found out what happiness smells like. That smell, the hard shiny cover, and the weight of it in my hands took me captive and have never let me go!

Ms. Quindlen has some very good points to make about how we read and how we judge books and even other readers. Referring to a university she says "The despotism of the educated was in full flower: there was a right way to read and a wrong way, and the wrong way was worse than wrong-it was middlebrow, that code word for those who valued the enjoyable, the riveting, the moving, and the involving as well as the eternal.....But any reader with common sense would also understand intuitively, immediately, that such comparisons are false, that the uses of reading are vast and variegated and that some of them are not addressed by Homer."  Amen to that!

She speaks of literary critics who have "clung to the notion that selling well meant pandering, and talent was in inverse proportion to readership" That's a sentiment I read and hear often. The word "popular" isn't flattering when it refers to books. There's a school of thought that holds any book that appeals to the masses to be unworthy, but as the author puts it: "...reading has as many functions as the human body, and ...not all of them are cerebral. One is mere entertainment, the pleasurable whiling away of time".

She goes on to talk about the connection with other human beings that occurs when we are reading and asks "if readers use words and stories as much, or more, to lessen human isolation as to expand human knowledge, is that somehow unworthy, invalid, and unimportant?" I think that's the first time I've ever wanted to stand up and cheer for an author. She is so right! There are endless kinds of books and endless kinds of people. Surely reading a book for one reason doesn't make the reader either inferior or superior to those who read for other reasons. If I read Thomas Hardy in the morning, can I not read Dan Brown in the afternoon and still be as valid a reader? This is not a trick question. Literary snobbery is as delusional and reasonless as any other kind of snobbery.

Ok then. Another rant concluded. I must try not to make a habit of this.

Just one more thing about the book. At the end there are eleven lists (I love book lists) that I found to be a good source for new titles:

1. Ten big thick wonderful books that could take you a whole summer to read (but
aren't beach books)
2. 10 Nonfiction books that help us understand the world
3. 10 Books that will help a teenager feel more human
4. The 10 books I would save in a fire
5. 10 books for a girl who is full of beans (or ought to be)
6. 10 mystery novels I'd most like to find in a summer rental
7. 10 books recommended by a really good elementary school librarian
8. 10 good book-club selections
9. 10 modern novels that made me proud to be a writer
10. 10 of the books my exceptionally well read friend Ben say he's taken the most
11. 10 books I just love to read, and always will

I'll quit now before I end up quoting the entire book.

Next Book: The House Of Mirth by Edith Wharton


Nora said...

Ooooh, I love book lists :).
Great review :) I think it would take me all day to add so many quotes :P

Amy said...

Wow, I LOVE the idea of this book! I am scurrying over to add it to my wishlist right away. I'm really looking forward to your discussion on this quote: "Perhaps only a truly discontented child can become as seduced by books as I was. Perhaps restlessness is a necessary corollary of devoted literacy." (which I LOVE btw!)

Donna said...

Don't stop. Keep going. I don't know how long it will be before I find this book; but I WILL find it. Thanks for reviewing it.

Kate Evangelista said...

YA Book Giveaway at: http://kateevangelistarandr.blogspot.com/

Only Me said...

This sounds like a book I would like to read...thanks for sharing

Sarah Joyce said...

This sounds like an amazing and inspiring book. Thanks for the review.


B said...

this sounds fantastic!

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