This is a book lover’s book if ever there was one. Author Bethanne Patrick has gathered 100 diverse contributors – authors, actors, politicians, artists, musicians – to tell her about the one book that has most impacted their lives.
We love books like this. Like belonging to a book club, reading carefully curated selections can open us up to books that we might never have previously considered – or even heard of. Take Silence by Japanese writer Shusaku Endo: whether you’re familiar with this book or not, after reading Patrick’s description of a book “considered by many to be one of the best novels the twentieth century”, you may just be tempted to track it down.
Other books selected we are all familiar with, but it’s a welcome reminder of how great these books are. You don’t need to read Books that Changed My Life in one sitting (although you might be tempted once you get started); this is a book to dip in and out of occasionally when seeking inspiration on what to read next. One day you might choose to skip Diana Abu-Jaber’s revelation that Edgar Allen Poe changed her life, to find out why Grimm’s fairy tales affected Margaret Atwood so profoundly.
Some of the stories manage to be deeply moving. We loved hearing author Gina Barreca on why she fell in love with Fay Weldon’s writing and how she subsequently developed a relationship with the author after contacting her – Weldon even gave Barreca away at her wedding. Or the story of how the New Yorker writer Susan Orlean was gripped by William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury on a family holiday. Years later when she first dated her future husband, she thought she had nothing in common with him – it’s when they discovered their mutual love of Faulkner that the sparks began to fly!
Some contributions will inspire you to go back and rediscover your old favourites – Louis Bayard on Dickens’ David Copperfield for example, or Jess Walter on One Hundred Years of Solitude. Others will make you want to pick up that book you know you should have read, but haven’t got around to yet. More than anything, they will make you want to read more and will trigger plenty of ideas.
Wisely, Patrick keeps each story short and succinct – most are no more than a couple of pages and this gives her room to feature so many contributors, including Jodi Piccoult, Sofia Coppola, Karin Slaughter, Gillian Flynn, Sarah Waters, Alexander McCall Smith and all their different selections. The responses are equally diverse too, with some contributors reporting Road-to-Damascus-type conversions and others, such as Monty Python Eric Idle, unable to name just one book that changed his life – “My life is not changed by a single book,” he says. “My life is changed by books. On a daily basis.”
For others, the life changing nature of their chosen book isn’t necessarily a positive one. Iranian American writer Porochista Khakpour feels that her feverish reading of the “so intense, so dark” Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys brought on a nervous breakdown from which she took years to recover. She has now re-read the book in parts and it has influenced her own writing but still she is wary of it. “I know that’s silly, but the book was so powerful for me, I fear it.”
Testament then to the power of the written word. This is a beautiful, inspirational book, a great gift idea for a book lover or one to treasure on your shelf forever and pick up when you’re seeking inspiration on what to read next. Who knows? It may even change your life.