Wednesday, January 23, 2013

When Books Could Change Your Life

This article discusses how books read at a certain age--around 12--seem to have a bigger impact on you than anything you read later. Yes and no for me. The books I read at that age touched my heart but maybe not my head. It was the books I read about 4-5 years later that really impacted my thinking. Are "Cry me A River" books more important in the long run. I am not sure. Certainly THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK would be in either category. Same with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and THE MAN IN THE GREY FLANNEL SUIT.

Some of the books that had a big impact on me would include The True Believer (Hoffer), the works of Colin Turnbull, The Lonely Crowd (Riesman), The Feminine Mystique (Friedan), The Second Sex, (de Beauvoir) The Silent Spring (Carson), In the Shadow of Man (Goodall) (a few years later), Catch 22 (Heller) The Greening of America. the works of Kurt Vonnegut and some of Bradbury.

I am sad when I think how rarely I read books like this today. The age of sociological studies seems gone.

What books had a pivotal influence on you as a kid and later? 


Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

Fascinating question and hard to answer because it's hard for me to separate books that affected me deeply from books that "changed" me/my life. Some influential/revelatory books, from all ages, include:
White Fang
Italian Folktales (ed. by Italo Calvino), along with Grimm, Andersen, and the Blue/Green/etc. Fairy Books
Matilda (Roald Dahl)
Just Above My Head (Baldwin)
Dandelion Wine/ The October Country/ The Martian Chronicles
The Color Purple
The Voyage Out
Gaudy Night
Jane Eyre
The Politics of Women's Biology (Ruth Hubbard)
The Edge of the Sea and A Sense of Wonder (both Rachel Carson)
Biological Exuberance
He, She, and It (Marge Piercy)
The Fifth Elephant (Terry Pratchett)

Anonymous said...

Jackie says reading When Worlds Collide at that age fueled her life long love of Banks"end of the world" books.

A year later she got points in school for being the only one in her class to know what a proxy was. She learned it from reading The Carpetbaggers. So Harold Robbins was educational...

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Olivia-so strange to hear from you when I just woke from having a dream about you. We were waiting for your plane to arrive at an airport!
And great list!
That's a good point, Jeff. Good early reading experiences may send us after a certain genre or sort of book. I think THE FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS began my love of family sagas (which would include Brontes and Austin).

Walker Martin said...

With me it was reading the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs at the age of 9 and 10. Prior to that, I was reading only comic books and watching TV. Reading the Mars and Tarzan novels convinced me that there was a whole world of books to be discovered.

60 years later, I now have a house full of books and spend my days happily reading. In fact the reason I took early retirement was because I didn't want to waste my time working. I'd rather read a good book.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

The books of Frank G. Slaughter, A.J. Cronin, Lloyd C. Douglas, Somerset Maugham, and George Bernard Shaw, which I read (and still do) in school and college, inspired me to take up writing as a career. It's a different matter that I have never written anything. Writing for a newspaper is not the same thing.

Dana King said...

My love of reading was formed around the age mentioned, and probably my devotion to crime fiction. (I read heavily in the Hardy Boys / Sherlock Holmes / Chip Hilton school then, along with some old baseball books my father had read when he was that age.) The individual books that have shaped me, both as a reader and as a person, were read much later, in my twenties and on.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think the first series I ever read straight through was Nancy Drew. But it took me until my twenties to come back for crime stories. I was very influenced by books offered from the Book of the Month Club and Literary Guild, in my teens.

Graham Powell said...

Reading THE BIG SLEEP at about 17 had a big impact on me. I'd read some adult crime fiction before then, but that was the first book that really affected me emotionally. ALL THE KING'S MEN in college had much the same impact.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Well the first "mysteries" I read were all the classic age cozy writers. And then I moved on to more hard-boiled stuff (MacDonald, Freeling, Highsmith) but it was a long, long time before I read any of them more noirish writers like Chandler, Cain. And many I still haven't gotten to.

Deb said...

Evan Hunter's Mothers and Daughters was the first "adult" book I read when I was about 11 or 12. Adult in theme ( there was some moderately explicit sex, but I was more surprised by a female character casually mentioning her period), but also in technique with lots of flashbacks. This was the book that established my lifelong enjoyment if books that have a slowly-uncovered "shocking revelation."

Unknown said...

When I was young (10-16), my family was not at all interested in books (other than the Bible), and my reading options were limited. But I remember generally my frequent visits to the library's bookmobile (although I do not recall what kinds of books I was checking out and reading), and I remember specifically the generosity of a neighborhood friend who loaned me his copies of the Landmark books--a wonderful series of history and biography titles. Almost naturally, when I went away to college, I became a history major. However, Vietnam era military service intervened, and college was postponed. When I returned to college after my early military years, I remember vividly my encounters with the stories and novels of Flannery O'Connor. Her writing moved me in remarkable ways. Ultimately--perhaps because of those encounters--I pursued graduate work in English/literature, and I still include O'Connor's works in curricula when I teach LIT classes. I suppose--in not so subtle ways--my passion for O'Connor's works is either an ironic or not-so-subtle reaction to the only book in my childhood home.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I doubt there is anyone who had read O'Connor who does not come away moved. And I remember that Landmark series very well. They knew how long a biography should be.
My family were not readers either although my mother became one later in life.

J F Norris said...

When I was a kid I tended to read kids books. I was never as advanced as many of the people here appear to have been. The first real adult book I remember reading was THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. I must've been 11 or 12 since I read it only after I saw the movie whenit first came out. First time I read about sex in a work of fiction, too. I was shocked at how the book differed so drastically from the action packed disaster movie I loved so much.

When in high school Jane Eyre and Tess of the Durbervilles were two of my favorites and led to my seeking out all things Gothic and Sensational from the Victoiran period. ALso, I think those types of books led me to decide to study literature in college. A short story called "The Way up to Heaven" by Roald Dahl was the first real piece of writing that inspired my to try my hand at fiction. I wrote a short story (very similar in plot) that won a $5 first prize in our high school literary magazine. I'd say those three works are probably the most deeply influential works of fiction I have ever read.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting what you said about series Patti.We moved to Brooklyn when I was 10. We lived in a two family house and while exploring the basement I discovered our landlord's kids had a beautiful illustrated set of all the Oz books. I borrowed them and read them all.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

Even as a kid I wanted to read books of the movies I'd seen and liked. Some were novelizations but I also read books like Lew Wallace's Ben-Hur.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Although I never read the OZ books, my kids read every one of them I still have a bunch.
Tess and Jane were big for me also. And Jude The Obscure, the most depressing book ever written. But great.

Cap'n Bob said...

I believe "The Man in the Gray Flannel Shirt" was the short story. It was expanded into THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT.

After I read ATLAS SHRUGGED I marched up to my boss, told him I was a man of abilty and needed a raise. I got it, too.

pattinase (abbott) said...

HA! On both counts.

Anonymous said...

Patti - The Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes series and a few years after that Agatha Christie's novels were both instrumental in shaping the way I think. They also were a little of what inspired me to write.

Charles Gramlich said...

Between 12 and 15 was probably that age for me. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Louis L'Amour, Ray Bradbury, John D. MacDonald. Their books are the ones that captured me, and that stick with me in many ways today. Of course, I have been strongly influenced by books throughout my life so 12 to 15 wasn't the only time, but it seems particularly important where my own writing is concerned.

Anonymous said...

It seems like this question could be asked about any form of media (it's usually asked of music). There's something about adolescence, isn't there?