I remember having my breath taken away by S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders when I was thirteen. It was the first book for teens that I had read that showed the dirty, hard, real world of being a teenager. I couldn’t wait to read more like it. I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird and really understanding, for the first time, racial injustice, even though I’d grown up surrounded by it. I remember reading Kurt Vonnegut in my twenties. I was captivated by his irreverent, satirical, cynical perspective, and in a matter of weeks I read almost everything he had written. A little later, I read Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs, the first book I’d read that was about my own generation (complete with email and McDonalds), and I realized that I was “old enough” to write a book. And I remember reading Bridget Jones’s Diary (when I was single, and well before anyone had imagined there might be soon be a “chick-lit” genre) and knowing for the first time that my own experience, just as it was, was important enough to write about.
An acquaintance of mine is doing her doctoral thesis (at the U of C) on the subject of life-changing books, which is what got me thinking along these lines today. She’s looking for people to fill out a survey and share their stories of books that changes their lives. (If you’re interested in taking part, click here.)
If I had to pick one most important book, though, out of all of that, I would say Sinclair Ross’s stories about the prairies taught me that cows and horses and droughts and hailstorms and prairie grass were important enough things to be put in a book. And I’m not sure–if I hadn’t read Ross when I was about twelve–if I would have ventured down this path of becoming a writer.
Whether or not you do Kris’s survey, I’d love to know: which book(s) changed your life?