Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Reading and the Writing Life

The Book That Changed My Life: Interviews with National Book Award Winners and Finalists (Modern Library Paperbacks)The Book That Changed My Life: 
Interviews with National Book Award Winners and Finalists 
by Neil Baldwin

"we live well through insight, we do well through insight, we behave well through insight.  By the same token, as a writer you have to serve art truly; you ought never go for the cheap shot.  You have always to do the best possible work you can, to make the work as honest and free of cant as you can make it.  You have to be the best artist you possibly can be." - Robert Stone

Fifteen authors interviewed about the book, or in many cases books, that changed their lives. And not just any authors, but authors who had won or been nominated for awards for their work, important authors that dedicated readers might find interesting to read, if only to find out if they disagree with those critics who bestowed the awards.  These life-changing books range from children's favorites to popular fiction to classics: the Canon. The stories told in the interviews share in common the love of reading and its meaning for people who have become creators of books themselves. But what does it mean for a book to change your life? Did it influence you in some important way? And, if so, how and when and why? That is part of the import of the interviews, but most of wonder of this collection of interviews arises from the reading of books and its importance for these authors. There is a hint of the mystery of the act creation (as Arthur Koestler put it in the title of a marvelous book about creativity) and the wonder that reading can have any influence at all.

My interest in this book comes from that same space: wonder at what reading has meant in my life, and why and how. In my case the why is simply the question why, but each author must answer for him or her self. The parts of this book that impressed me were the moments of remembered childhood and the books that were important then in the beginning, formative years. Whether it was Diane Johnson reading Henry James or Philip Levine reading Dostoevsky, it is fascinating to read their stories about what books meant for them. The "matrix of relationships" is complex and, as I said, no two are alike, but it is reassuring to find, here and there, an author who read a book that you did and was influenced in some small way. Creativity begins there in part and love of learning and the road to Wisdom as well.

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4 comments:

Parrish Lantern said...

Sounds interesting, especially as we all have those books that set us on the journey to where we are now, sometimes they remain with you & sometimes you've gone beyond them and no longer can see what you once did and yet the fondness stays even if the appreciation dwindles

Brian Joseph said...

I have always found it interesting to hear what one author has to say about another author and this book is I think, a form of that.

This was a great idea for a book. It looks like Neil Baldwin has several intriguing titles out.

James said...

Parrish,
Thanks for identifying two types of formative books.
I certainly remember both from my youth - those that remain I continue to read and reread.

James said...

Brian,
Yes, the interviews contained fascinating comments that informed the reader about both the writers themselves and the books they read.