Category Archives: classics

The Book That Changed My Life

Anne Rice, whose latest addition to her ghoulish repertoire is Prince Lestat: The Vampire Chronicles, responded in an interview that “the book that changed {her} life” was Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  Pip was her favorite character, and inspired her “lifelong struggle to be a writer…”

A quick google search yielded a book with the title – The Book That Changed My life: 77 Writers Celebrate the Books That Matter Most to Them.  “For Doris Kearns Goodwin it was Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, which inspired her to enter a field, history writing, traditionally reserved for men.”  And the National Book Foundation, home of the National Book Award, has “The Book That Changed My Life Project,” a website linking authors to a life-altering read; for Stephen King, it was  The Lord of the Flies.

Although the question seems to be straight out of a Sunday supplement magazine, it had me thinking.  I have enough trouble remembering the books I have just read – a major reason for this site.  You could find me in a bookstore anytime, book in one hand, iPhone in the other, searching my site for the title that sounds vaguely familiar.  But one book from childhood is a still a favorite memory – although I’m not sure it9780385015837_p0_v1_s260x420 changed my life – D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. Beautifully illustrated and full of adventure, I remember going back to reread the stories of my favorite heroes and heroines.  It’s been awhile and this might be a good time to lose myself in it again.

Do you remember a book from childhood that may have “changed your life”?

An Old Classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden was one of my favorite books – the The Secret Garden Inga Mooreone I remember rereading over and over. Best known for her children’s books including Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Little Princess, Hodgson was also a prolific writer of adult books. When I recently read a review of Hodgson’s 1896 book, The Shuttle, and found I could download it for free, I finally found a way out of my reading slump.

shuttle_1205Because The Shuttle focused on the lives of two sisters who would have lived in Hodgson’s time, I was anxious to know more about the author herself, a woman who like some of her contemporaries (Louisa May Alcott) actually supported herself by writing. Just as Little Lord Fauntleroy had shades of her two young sons whom she kept in long curls, Hodgson’s shuttling between America and England, and her second husband’s reliance on her income may have influenced this book.

Although the text is long and the plot complicated, like other Hodgson books, the story combines history with romance and adventure. Rosy marries an Englishman (the villain), who needs her fortune to shore up his aristocratic life and Betty is the sharp younger sister who is determined to outsmart all those Victorian men who would keep her from her potential.  Twelve years after newly wed Rosy left for England, a grown-up and self-possessed Betty sails to find her sister at the run-down mansion, struggling to survive with her hunched back son, while her erstwhile husband is off spending her fortune on himself.

Despite long descriptive passages of the countryside, the drama held my attention, with the strong female heroine fighting against the surly despicable villain, while restoring the village, the English garden, and her frail sister.   The tall beefy red-headed lord of the neighboring manor helped too. Like watching an old black and white movie, reading The Shuttle was a treat and a comfort.

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Literary Maine

Overwhelmed by the beauty of the foliage as I drive through Maine, I’ve decided Brunswick is my favorite place, maybe because it’s a college town. Although Longfellow wrote his first published poem at twelve years old, Bowdoin College was where he studied Latin and Greek, and became familiar with the rhyme scheme he later used in “Evangeline,” the sad tale of lovers torn apart when the British banished the French Acadians (now known as the Cajuns) from Nova Scotia. It seemed like a good idea to download the poem (free online) to reread it while here.

Brunswick also claims Harriet Beecher Stowe who lived in a house near campus with her professor husband for only two years before moving to Andover in Massachusetts. During his tenure at Bowdoin, Harriet wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” to supplement his low salary. Their house has changed through the years and the college now uses it as a dorm. I’ve never read this famous book (I do remember the play rendition in the movie “The King and I”). Have you read it?

Of course I’ve been seeking and finding bookstores: the Bowdoin College Bookstore, The Gulf of Maine in Brunswick, and Sherman’s – Maine’s oldest bookstore – in Bar Harbor. And the weather is great for reading.

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Conwy, Wales – Literary Hotspot

Charlotte Bronte in Wales? Although Wales is better known for Welsh writer Dylan Thomas (“A Child’s Christmas In Wales”), Charlotte Bronte, author of “Jane Eyre,” spent the first night of her honeymoon in Conwy, Wales. Charlotte and her husband, then continued on to Ireland for their honeymoon. Charlotte was dead before they could return to celebrate their first anniversary.

Conwy claims another literary reference from Ellis Peters’s “Chronicles of Brother Cadfael.” The Benedictine crime solver was born in 1080 in Conwy, in North Wales. Cadfael joined the cloister after living a full life as a crusader, and spends his days gardening, creating medicines for the abbey hospital, and solving murders through a series of twenty books. I’ve downloaded the first book- “A Morbid Taste for Bones” to read while I travel through this land of medieval castles and the legends of King Arthur.

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Can You Ever Really Know an Author?

With J. K. Rowling’s latest contribution to crime fiction – The Silkworm – headlining the New York Times Book Review, Adam Kirsch’s essay in “Bookends” in the same section – When We Read Fiction, How Relevant is the Author’s Biography?  questions whether knowing the author’s life (and previous work) affects our reception of new work – is it

 “a mere distraction from what really matters, the work?”

Although he does not cite Rowling, focusing instead on Jane Austen and Shakespeare, the one with a life clearly available for scrutiny, the other not so much, my expectations of a new book by J.K. Rowling are probably higher because of Harry Potter.  And, like Rick Nelson, who faced a jeering audience when he failed to perform their old favorite songs, Rowling’s foray into adult crime has left me wanting to return to wizards and magic. To be fair, I have only read the first in the detective series, and maybe the second is better.

IMG_0348Shakespeare, on the other hand, will always be a favorite, and I agree with Kirsch:

…the unknowability of Shakespeare  is a key ingredient in his greatness… {he} stays one step ahead of  us, always knowing more about life and human nature than we do…”

Soon I will be getting reacquainted with the Bard at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City through Twelfth Nigh, Measure for Measure, and Comedy of Errors, and I know my high expectations will be met.  Jane Austen will be there too in an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.  Maybe we can all have tea together.