The Book That Changed My Life


George Grant first introduced me to the idea of reading what influenced your favorite author.  What shaped his views, her style…what has contributed to his voice?  So a book like The Book That Changed My Life is right up my alley.  Except I had not even *heard* of about half of the authors.  Wow. 

The interviews with David McCullough and Katherine Paterson are worth the price of the book.  Of course, McCullough understands the topic: he read what John Adams read while preparing to write about him.  And Diane Osen, editor and interviewer, has my admiration by one fact alone: she has read all of Trollope

And all those writers with whom I am unfamiliar?  Here’s some of their stuff: 

The very act of storytelling, of arranging memory and invention according to the structure of narrative is, by definition, holy…I’m very at home in the Biblical tradition that talks about the Word of God as the central manifestation of the way in which God is int he world.  This is what I take to be the essence of biblical faith…In other words, my notion of narrative informs my faith, and my notion of faith informs my idea of what writing is for.      ~ James Carroll

I think technology drains us of convictions.  It is so powerful and so sophisticated that we tend to lose some of our self-confidence in an almost imperceptible way.”    ~ Don DeLillo

Music can prepare one for writing prose that is very metrical and cadenced and musical; as a matter of fact, the terms that we use for prosody in English come from music.  One creative area, I think, cross-fertilizes another.   ~ Charles Johnson

David McCullough is a historian I greatly admire.  His books stick with me years after I’ve read them. 

I’m writing for people like me.  If I can convey how interesting the past really was, how full of life those people really were, what they were up against and how it turned out for them, then, my feeling is others will want to read what I’ve written.  And there’s no need every to trick things up, to sugar this or that, or use dramatic devices to make it interesting.  ~ David McCullough

I was very interested in the books that shaped him.  Here is a partial listing:

A Stillness at Appomattox, Bruce Catton
Reveille in Washington, Margaret Leech
Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner  
My Antonia, Willa Cather
A Night to Remember, Walter Lord

Katherine Paterson is a children’s author whose works move me.  I have sobbed, visibly and vocally, through some chapters of her books.  And I was *thrilled* to discover that some of my most favoritest books ever are also hers. 

I remember one woman just going at me, and she said, What did your father think of such a book [Gilly Hopkins]? knowing that my father was a very conservative Presbyterian.  And I said, Well, of all my books The Great Gilly Hopkins is his favorite, but then he’s read the story of the prodigal son.  Which was a mean thing for me to say, but he did understand what the story was about.  It’s very sad to me that many Christians don’t understand it.  They think that a Christian book is nice.  They don’t understand that Christians deal with life-and-death, hell-and-heaven issues.  And sin is a very important part of what we have to say.  ~ Katherine Paterson

I’m including all the books that have changed Katherine Paterson’s writing life.  You can be assured that the Desai and Endo books are now on my Wish Lists.

Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton
Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset
Clear Light of Day, Anita Desai
Silence, Shusaku Endo
Emma, Jane Austen
Poems, Gerard Manley Hopkins


10 thoughts on “The Book That Changed My Life

  1. Carol,Thanks for your blog and for this post. These lists seem interesting. I would like to add that I have read two months ago the book of Wallace Stagner and I’ve found it beautiful, the best I’ve read this year. I’ve read also (long time ago) Silence and is a very powerful reading but a hard one.

  2. Fun topic…although for myself, I cant name just one book that changed my life.   Another interesting survey of this subject is by Roxanne Coady and contains chapters on the esteemed Billy Collins, novelist Anne Perry, and children’s author, Jack Prelutsky.Enjoyed your comments about Katherine Paterson… just read up on her at Wikipedia

  3. Wonderful post. I just saw a book in Borders called, “This I Believe -The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women,” Stud Terkel. Have you seen it? It might be an interesting read.

  4. @hopeinbrazil – Hi Hope!  You’ve been on my mind and in my prayers.@Alfonso –  Hi Alfonso!  It’s great to hear from you.  Wallace Stegner’s books have been on my shelf, but I haven’t yet read Angle of Repose.  Another online friend said it was the best book she had ever read.  Wallace Stegner taught another of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry.  I’d like to read Angle of Repose this year.@hiddenart – Did you write about Roxanne a few years back?  I’ll have to follow up on this tip, thanks.@dichossuaves – Hi Mary!  I haven’t seen that title, but I’ve read parts of Studs Terkel oral histories on WWII.  Terkel is from my home city of Chicago.

  5. I remember this post!  It’s fun to read it a few years later, eh?  I felt like you did about your book: I didn’t know many of the writers and wasn’t particularly interested in reading what they wrote, but I’m glad I did.  The title is a misnomer.  Never did an author choose just one book.  I think it functions to catch people’s attention.

  6. i am such a fan now of Katherine Paterson tho i can’t remember having heard of her before. The road to redemption can be a pretty ugly one. Awesome understanding of the process.

  7. @juleel – One of my true joys is to turn other people on to good writers.  Paterson is one of them.  Look in the children’s section of your library.  Thanks for letting me know that you liked what she said. 

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