How Reading Changed My Life Paperback – Aug 25 1998
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A recurring theme throughout Anna Quindlen's How Reading Changed My Life is the comforting premise that readers are never alone. "There was waking, and there was sleeping. And then there were books," she writes, "a kind of parallel universe in which anything might happen and frequently did, a universe in which I might be a newcomer but never really a stranger. My real, true world." Later, she quotes editor Hazel Rochman: "Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but, most important, it finds homes for us everywhere." Indeed, Quindlen's essays are full of the names of "friends," real or fictional--Anne of Green Gables and Heidi; Anthony Trollope and Jane Austen, to name just a few--who have comforted, inspired, educated, and delighted her throughout her life. In four short essays Quindlen shares her thoughts on the act of reading itself ("It is like the rubbing of two sticks together to make a fire, the act of reading, an improbable pedestrian task that leads to heat and light"); analyzes the difference between how men and women read ("there are very few books in which male characters, much less boys, are portrayed as devoted readers"); and cheerfully defends middlebrow literature:
Most of those so-called middlebrow readers would have readily admitted that the Iliad set a standard that could not be matched by What Makes Sammy Run? or Exodus. But any reader with common sense would also understand intuitively, immediately, that such comparisons are false, that the uses of reading are vast and variegated and that some of them are not addressed by Homer.The Canon, censorship, and the future of publishing, not to mention that of reading itself, are all subjects Quindlen addresses with intelligence and optimism in a book that may not change your life, but will no doubt remind you of other books that did. --Alix Wilber
From Publishers Weekly
In this pithy celebration of the power and joys of reading, Quindlen emphasizes that books are not simply a means of imparting knowledge, but also a way to strengthen emotional connectedness, to lessen isolation, to explore alternate realities and to challenge the established order. To these ends much of the book forms a plea for intellectual freedom as well as a personal paean to reading. Quindlen (One True Thing) recalls her own early love affair with reading; writes with unabashed fervor of books that shaped her psychosexual maturation (John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga, Mary McCarthy's The Group); and discusses the books that made her a liberal committed to fighting social injustice (Dickens, the Bible). She compares reading books to intimate friendship?both activities enable us to deconstruct the underpinnings of interpersonal problems and relationships. Her analysis of the limitations of the computer screen is another rebuttal of those who predict the imminent demise of the book. In order to further inspire potential readers, she includes her own admittedly "arbitrary and capricious" reading lists? "The 10 books I would save in a fire," "10 modern novels that made me proud to be a writer," "10 books that will help a teenager feel more human" and various other categories. But most of all, like the columns she used to write for the New York Times, this essay is tart, smart, full of quirky insights, lapidary and a pleasure to read. (Sept.) FYI: This is the latest in Ballantine's Library of Contemporary Thought.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Quindlen notes, "While we pay lip service to the virtues of reading, the truth is that there is in our culture something that suspects those who read too much, whatever reading too much means, of being lazy, aimless dreamers [...]." These, and many other insights in this book, really resonated with me. Throughout the book, Quindlen celebrates what she calls a "lively subculture" of truly serious readers.
Quindlen reflects on differences in men's and women's reading practices, on book groups, on skirmishes over "The Canon" of great books, on banned books, and on other topics. She tells how reading helped her keep her sanity during the "year of disarray" after the birth of her second child, and recalls how she fell in love with John Galsworthy's "Forsyte Saga." Ultimately, she explains why she believes that new technologies will not make old-fashioned books (versus online books) obsolete.
HRCML is full of wonderful passages, such as a remembered epiphany over D.H. Lawrence. This short book concludes with a few reading lists: "10 Nonfiction Books That Help Us Understand the World," "The 10 Books I Would Save in a Fire (If I Could Save Only 10)," etc. If you are a serious reader, I predict that, like me, you will recognize a kindred spirit in these pages, and will rejoice.
Quindlen further expands her commentary about reading that deals with a number of issues. She looks at the impact of the computer on the future of books, comments on Americans belief that reading is good only if it is functional, shares with us the never ending issue of book banning and the academic controversy surrounding the literary canon.
Reading holds a very important place in Quindlen's life but the greatest weakness of this work is that she doesn't tell us how reading itself changed her life. Certainly books opened a new world for her but how did this unveiling move her as a writer and a person? You never find out. She provides for us lists of her favorate ten books for various occasions. Reading lists are very personal but I find it strange that her canon is predominently white and male especially when she speaks out against literary lists that are monocultural. Apparently she doesn't practice what she preaches.
Overall her insights give you an appreciation of the written word and the delight books can give to its readers. People should not only take reading seriously but also enjoy the best and worst of what books have to offer. Quindlen does an excellent job in inspiring you to keep an open mind and to keep on reading.
Through her personal anecdotes, Quindlen relates shared experiences: of having a professor sneer at a book she loved (I had the same thing happen with Michener -- a wonderful author who has never been taken seriously by the literati); of the first book that made her look at the world in a new way (for me it was The Hobbit); of being the only kid in the neighborhood who'd rather be reading than playing kick-the-can (oh, yes!); of the joy of sharing good books with others.
The author includes 11 top-ten lists (e.g. Books That Will Help a Teenager Feel More Human, Books I Would Save in a Fire).
Quindlen's work in general, and 'How Reading Changed My Life' in particular, is the stuff at the soul of [...] a joyful community of readers. As she says, "Reading has always been my home, my sustenance, my great invincible companion". There are so many gems; [...], you will probably enjoy this little book.
Most recent customer reviews
It is impossible not to feel the kinship that this book provides. The title, for one thing, is spot on. Read morePublished on Nov. 20 2003 by Manola Sommerfeld
This book is a wonderful way for readers to understand themselves, if they don't already. Quindlen shows that we're NOT weird because we read, we're NOT escapists who can't handle... Read morePublished on Jan. 4 2003 by A. Wolverton
It was beautiful to read a piece of work about - reading itself. Numerous times I recognised the same passion for books that I feel as well, but could never put on a paper as... Read morePublished on Oct. 24 2001 by Ornela
For this reader, who is currently wading through Henry Miller's dense, challenging THE BOOKS IN MY LIFE, the short HOW READING CHANGED MY LIFE is more the comfortable touchstone... Read morePublished on June 13 2001 by C. Ebeling
This brief book, basically an extended essay, focuses on how reading shapes a person from childhood on. Quindlen's familiar, articulate style makes the book a joy to read. Read morePublished on Aug. 17 2000 by Krista
This book should be in every American public library. It should appeal to every librarian, teacher, student, parent and book lover. Read morePublished on July 2 2000 by Patricia Lavins
It was her physical description of books which first captured me, the smell, heft,and appearance of books. Read morePublished on May 13 2000 by Mary G. Longorio
I think my review inadvertently used the wrong author's name. Sorry, it was Ms. QuindlanPublished on July 25 1999
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