“Why read otherwise?”

The opportunity to single out a book that ‘changed my life,’” says Billy Collins, “makes me realize that no book leaves us unchanged, for better or worse. Why read otherwise?

Subtitled “71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books that Matter Most to Them,” The Book that Changed my Life, brain-child of bookstore owner Roxanne J. Coady collects testimonials from the writers who frequent her shop about the books that, well, changed their life. Little impacts, or irrevocably sea-changes, and all-around book love.

Every book I read changes me in some way, which is the very reason I read, and why books matter. But not every book has changed my life; not every book has that power, not every author that skill.” — Lisa Scottoline

The anecdotes range from the practical to the humorous, the casual to the profound. For some reason, your Senator John McCain is in these pages, and there’s this really touching anecdote of how he came to love For Whom the Bell Tolls. Da Chen’s tender-and-brave story, for example, about growing up in Communist China had me sniffling a little—a village who copied out books because there was never the certainty of keeping a volume, people crowding around the best storyteller, an ex-convict as the librarian, the same tough guy who fell apart when officers burned all his books.

I don’t know all the writers within these pages, nor all the books. But there’s that easy-to-recognize love of the written word. Ah, this peculiar kindredness—the love of books drawing people together. [Yes, I draft this with rum in my belly.]

And, of course, I had a notebook handy to write down some of the books mentioned within these pages. Reading Begets Reading: Ida, by Gertrude Stein; The End of the Road, by John Barth; The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker. And I’ve been reminded that I ought to go back to Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus. And it might interest you to know that Anne Perry’s pice on The Man Who Was Thursday had me getting a copy. Oh, hell.

I bought The Book that Changed My Life (PhP300) years ago. In the bargain bin of NBS-Katipunan. No, seriously, years ago. I think I was still in college, huh.

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8 comments

  1. I love Billy Collins, and love that quote. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I’m re-reading Sisyphus right now! It really, oddly, gives me fuzzy feelings.

    1. No joke, but that Philosophy class where Camus was required reading? Daym, that excerpt saved my life. Figures.

  3. I read this about two years ago. I think Billy Collins’ response was the best. Best written, most “yes! I Agree!” inducing.

  4. Books about people’s favourite books are always a win. It’s like looking into other people’s bookshelves.

  5. Uriel J. Garcia · · Reply

    I have to read that book. I didn’t Sen. John McCain liked Hemingway.

  6. […] The Book that Changed My Life, ed by Roxanne J. Coady. […]

  7. […] Reading: I bought this book because Anne Perry, whom I haven’t really read, pointed me to it in her essay in The Book that Changed My Life. After Chesterton, I jumped to Justin Taylor’s first novel, The Gospel of Anarchy. Because […]

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