Earlier this month the MWPA shared Vulture’s list of “28 Authors on the Books That Changed Their Lives.” We asked MWPA members to share books that changed their lives. Below are the more than twenty responses we received.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
When a book shows you a world you’ve known in private—the infinite play and exquisite violence found in a wood near a creek—you hold onto it. You read it aloud to your babies, your fourth grade class, yourself, until the glue of the spine becomes brittle and betrays.
Bertrand Russell’s Best
Edited by Robert E. Egne
As a recent high school graduate I doubt I knew what philosophy was, let alone who Bertrand Russell was; plucked from a book rack in a variety store, still cherished fifty years later. “If you wish to be happy yourself, you must resign yourself to seeing others also happy.” Good stuff.
KATHERINE HALL PAGE
The first book growing up that transported me to the world the author had created—the texture of the curtains that hid Jane, the smell of Lowood’s burned porridge, Mr. Rochester’s anguished face.
I will never forget reading Tom Joad’s “I’ll be there” speech in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Daniel Silva’s Moscow Rules transformed how I approach thriller writing, but Dave Barry’s Bad Habits nurtured the snark in me, which has carried me through good times and bad.
WILLIAM D. BUSHNELL
Sailing Alone Around the World
Joshua Slocum was the first person to sail alone around the world, 1895-1898, and his book, originally published in 1900, is the true life embodiment of man’s curiosity, resourcefulness, courage, and determination to boldly face adventure, challenge, and adversity, all qualities I’ve always admired and tried to live up to.
Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her
Dream of a Common Language
Bold, profound, rising out of the depths, wounded and ecstatic, both of these books, published in the early ’80s, were pivotal to claiming my voice as a woman.
Men of Art
I was electrified at age fifteen in 1952 when I read Men of Art by Thomas Craven, which I had checked out from the public library in Rumford, Maine, as I read of the great modern painters who had brought revolution to the arts. When I began to write, literary invention became natural for me because of the possibilities that Men of Art had presented to me at an early age. This very book is now in my collection.
Neruda’s Memoirs taught me that prose writing can be as beautiful as poetic
writing. He exemplifies that writing and activism can compliment each other. Neruda saved many Spaniards in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War by getting them to Chile.
Somebody Else’s Shoes
A little girl in New England discovers that a family from Portugal has moved to her village and the children will be coming to her school. The girl, while waiting for the shoe repair man to finish with her grandmother’s shoes, begins trying on shoes left to be repaired. Each time she tries a pair she becomes that person, wherever they were and whatever they were doing, thinking or feeling. I never saw things the same way after reading this book.
The Grapes of Wrath
While many books have had a profound effect on me, I think I must choose The Grapes of Wrath as the most influential. It is not only a completely engrossing story about an American family at a particular point in time rendered in gorgeously crafted sentences, it further taught me that writing can be a form of protest, that writing can be a contribution to social justice as well as to art, and that realization changed me as a writer.
It humanized ballplayers; it made me laugh; it had hundreds of stories, ranging from one sentence to a season-long arc. Finally, it showed me that no matter how much of an iconoclast you were, no matter how different you were from your peers, you could still find like-minded friends.
The Bhagavad Gita
I read this as a teen. It said that women must not be allowed to read the Gita because they are stupid and it would be dangerous to them. I left Hinduism for Christianity and then left religion for keeps soon afterwards.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
This book, which I read the summer after my sophomore year in prep school—along with J.M. Synge’s Riders to the Sea and Dylan Thomas’s Collected Poems allowed me to believe that you could dare to write what you felt, what moved in you.
The Dharma Bums
Growing up in Belfast (Maine) in the 50s and 60s, I had a limited sense of the possibilities of life. Reading The Dharma Bums in 1967 opened up the future in new and unimaginable ways. I wanted to be the lead character Japhy Ryder. I discovered that Kerouac’s model for the character was a poet named Gary Snyder. I wrote asking if I could be Snyder’s apprentice and when he said yes, I hitchhiked to California to live at his home. My life blossomed.
The World According to Garp
Fresh out of college and living in New York, I discovered GARP in the parlor bookcase of a boarding house. Irving’s humor and playfulness spoke to me. There’s magic in finding a writer whose voice closely resembles your own. It’s like falling in love—you feel like you’re finally home.
FREDERICK (FRED) LOWE
Henning Mankell, tr. Laurie Thompson
The story of an old man’s reconciliation with himself, with a woman he once betrayed, and with the daughter he did not know he had—not necessarily in that order. For me, it was an elegiac reminder that life is forever a surprise, and that grace is unearned.
Of Human Bondage
When I was fresh out of high school, stationed in Sicily with the Navy, I joined a book club that sent me 3 free novels. One of them was Of Human Bondage. I was a reluctant reader up til that time, but this novel started a love for literature that has lasted for over fifty years. Needless to say, it changed my life in profound ways. The most important perhaps is that I have become a lifelong writer as a result.
The Biography of a Grizzly
My mother read aloud this book to me when I was about ten. The life of Wahb, an ursine resident of northern Wyoming, was filled with empathy. I trace my appreciation of the natural world to this “biography” of a bear.
Autobiography of a Yogi
I was twelve when I read this book about yoga, meditation, and service to others. The first time I practiced yoga I experienced Samadhi (bliss.) It’s taken me to India and my deepest mind. Yogananda’s words have created the foundation for my life. Still searching for that bliss again!
JUDITH CHURCH TYDINGS
Sweet Mystery: A Book of Remembering
Judith Hillman Paterson
Sweet Mystery by Judith Paterson, then Journalism Professor at University of Maryland, precipitated my return to grad school there, completing a PhD at age 74 with a dissertation on aging, having worked with Elisabeth Ogilvie and Kate Barnes among others.
Anne of Green Gables
60 years ago, Anne of Green Gables affirmed my gift of imagination and my place in a family filled with amazement at the wonders of nature and people around us. I still see the world and write about it as if Anne were at my side—though a healthy cynicism enriches the wonder.
KARL K. NORTON
Coming of Age in New Jersey: College and American Culture
This book vindicated me as a college teacher. I finally realized that the majority of American undergraduates study too little to learn much from their courses.