I'm a real sucker for these kind of lists. I love book lists of all kinds and now here is one that will save my life. Hmm...only one problem. I've only read ten of the books on the list (among them One Fish, Two Fish, Read Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss) and have heard of only a few others. Certainly I should be dead by now if I haven't read or heard of 35 books on a list of 50 that will save my life. I was preparing the article for the round file when I glanced at the forward. It was written by my favorite YA author, John Green. The caption reads: "Reading not only transports you---it transforms you. Writer John Green examines the magical relationship between reader and book..."
Now that IS something I am interested in. I settle down to read his forward and the points he makes about that magical relationship between reader and book is what I want to highlight here.
John says that great books "literally" changed his life when he was a teenager. (I put the word literally in quotes because John is very picky about how that word is used, usually incorrectly. So I shall assume that great books really did change his life.) He said,
"I devoured those books partly because they gave me perspective. They allowed me to zoom out and see a wider world...Books are meaningless scratches on a page until the reader translates them into a story. We make stories real by reading them, and that empowerment was very gratifying to me as a mostly powerless adolescent."He goes on to say that reading is not lean-back entertainment. Readers become cocreators with the author. Children are obviously really good cocreators but so are teens.
"They are still connected to the childhood world of magic while being old enough to be interested in big ideas---what William Faulkner called the 'old verities...love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.' Through books teens grapple with the old verities, and they do so thoughtfully, unironically, and without embarrassment."I love that about books. I can hand a book to a student and that book can speak to him/her without judgement or malice. Books can evoke changes in us or offer help and advice.
As we age the "novel loses its novelty" but John Green reminds us that reading "can rip us free from the tyranny of adulthood." Right now I am rereading The Chronicles of Narnia with my daughter. For just a few minutes each night as I immerse myself in the magical land of Narnia and I am transformed and ripped free from all things adult. A good book does that if you are two or eighty-two! I am happy to report that the magic of stories is alive and well in my life and the lives of my family members. As John says about a special book in his life: "...the book tore me up and stitched me back together, different and better." See, a good book really can save your life.
Here is a very limited list of a few books that have transformed my life:
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle...my favorite book as a child. I read and reread it. It was sheer magic to me.
- Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns...this is the book that brought me back to books and opened up what to me what a good book should do.
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver...my parents were missionaries in Africa when I was young. They weren't like the missionaries in this book---my dad worked with college students and my mom ran a well-baby clinic and taught classes on how to use the available foods to make a healthy diet for children---but the whole idea of going somewhere else and holding up our lifestyle as better than the local one has always chaffed me. All of Kingsolver's books speak to the higher and better person in me and ask me to consider doing things differently.
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain...classics are classics for a reason. This book knocked my socks off and moved me from fearing the old classics to wanting to read them.
What books would you place on your list of books that "saved your life?"
You can find the list of 50 books here at Realsimple.