Monday, February 22, 2010

Books Changed My Life

A number of years ago, in another incarnation, I was part of a team that ran a “Significant Book” contest. People would submit ballots that listed what they thought were the two most significant books in their lives. (We had to ask for two to deal with all the people whose response to any request for “a good book” is “The Good Book.”)

I was all for calling it the “Books that Changed Your Life” contest, because not only have I had the experience of having my life changed by encounters with certain books, but I wanted to make the point that books can be more than just entertainment. A book, when it’s literary art, has the power to change your life, as does all art. To alter your perception of things, allow you to see, to think about, the world and people in it in ways that you simply didn’t do before.

But we didn’t want to scare anyone away from our contest by being too intense, too arty. So, “significant book contest” it was. We asked a number of celebrities for their responses, just to prime the pump. A former mayor intrigued us all by identifying Black Beauty as his significant book.

The point is, few people had any difficulty identifying a significant book in their lives. Some, like the mayor, picked books they had read many years earlier but which had obviously stayed with them through everything. Few books turned up on more than one response (which is one answer to the frequent question “why does there have to be so many publishers, so many books?”) Books, really good books, really do have the power to change people’s lives. Are you open to be changed?

Of course, there have also been books that have changed my life in ways that weren’t necessarily for the better. But that’s a different story…