Monday, October 5, 2009

The Book That Changed Your Life

This American Life's show Sunday was about books that changed, in various ways, four specific readers. David Sedaris scarred himself and his siblings with a pornographic and incestuous text, someone else was in love with Little House on the Prairie books, another woman fell in love with a long dead author and ended up following a similar life trajectory for a bit, and a man who wasn't David Sedaris amassed the largest private collection of books on the Lewis & Clark expedition. It got me to thinking about whether or not a book has ever really and truly changed my life. I read. A lot. I read a lot of different authors and on a lot of different subjects. I go through fiction and non fiction phases. Currently, I'm in an 'article' phase. But even though I've consumed a large amount of books in my life and have read my favorites more than a dozen times - easily - each, I was still left wondering if I actually have a book that changed my life. I'm still not entirely sure. I have a poem that reaffirmed my natural enthusiasm in Longfellow's Psalm of Life. I have an autobiography I return to time and time again when I need a pick-me-up or a all-families-are profoundly-crazy assurance in My Life and Hard Times. I have favorite books, and books that I enjoy. But I was at a loss for a book that actually changed my life.

And yet, there is one. It is A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L'Engle. I haven't collected all of the books L'Engle has written. I'm not, nor have I ever been, obsessed with L'Engle as a person. It did not scar me, and I have never visited her childhood home. I don't want to move to her town. But A Wrinkle In Time was my constant companion from 4th grade to around 8th grade. I carried it every day in my backpack, I pulled it out during lunch, during class, during recess. Its very presence was comforting.

For a while, I had A Wrinkle In Time completely memorized. I loved it that much. Being the completely oblivious atheist I was (and am), I somehow failed to pick up on all the many religious themes contained within the book. All I knew was that Meg Murray, with her temper and her smarts and her worries she wasn't beautiful enough or smart enough, felt so incredibly real. She came alive, leapt off the page and went to save her brother from the evil of a brain with no heart through love alone. She wasn't me; she didn't have my interests or my particular worries. But she was someone I could relate to. I loved Meg Murray. I absolutely adored Charles Wallace. I liked Calvin. And I was mesmerized by the ideas about space and travel, about our world potentially becoming a Dark Planet, a planet shadowed but fighting in the name of and for the sake of Goodness. A Wrinkle In Time filled me with a sense of hope. I still, from time to time, go back to it. It doesn't bring me the exact same feeling of wonderment anymore, but it I can still see exactly why I loved it so much. I can't explain exactly how it changed me; I don't have a before and after picture waiting to be developed. It obviously didn't convert me to Christianity or anything as world-altering as that. But out of all the books I read and loved, it is the one I don't think I would give up.

And I wouldn't give it up because I can't imagine me without it. I can't imagine what I would be like if I didn't have Meg Murray and her powerful temper and incredible love in my life. I don't know what I would be missing if I didn't know about a tesseract. I may have become a great mathematician if I didn't get into that argument in 6th grade about a square being a two-dimensional object like Mrs. Whatsit said and not, as my math teacher was insisting, a one-dimensional one.

A Wrinkle In Time is the book that changed my life.


Rebekah said...

I enjoyed that podcast too, although I could probably name several books that have changed my life, each in various and sometimes subtle ways.
But I am with you on A Wrinkle in Time. Although my mom had read it to me previously as a bedtime story (and the Christian implications were not lost on us in my childhood home), I read it myself in about 7th grade. And it will always stick with me exactly where I was and who was there with me as I finished the book, because I was so deeply entranced by it and gobbling up the book reading as intensely as I've ever done anything, that when I finished the last word on the last page, I actually gasped as I slammed the pages shut. I've never experienced anything like that reading another book.

petpluto said...

I could probably name several books that have changed my life, each in various and sometimes subtle ways.

You know, I kind of hope I have a couple, but (and maybe it is because they changed my life) I'm having a really hard time coming up with them!

For a while there, The Fountainhead was on the list; and then I found out my interpretation of that whole "selfishness" philosophy was kind of off... I don't really know if that counts in that case.