Monday, December 20, 2010

Books that have changed me

A friend asked what books had changed me.  The word 'change' is the key word.  I've loved books all my life. This began for me as a child, both my parents being readers and me encouraged to read at an early age by their behaviour and desire.  I was also blessed with a highly intelligent brother who read as well. Being the younger brother I looked up to these 'role model's' and read.  The first "Book" in our family was the Bible though and reading for the sake of reading the Bible was encouraged in our community.  Dad read mostly scientific and technical books whereas Mom read the occasional novel.  My closest Aunt, Aunt Sally, was a constant reader of most anything she could get her hands on.  I grew up in Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Free Press which was delivered to our door daily was read by all.  It was a source of all the finest reading. Newspapers were especially appreciated in our home and magazines like the Upper Room were present as well.
As a child I remember the weekly visits with my mother, brother and myself to the Fort Gary Public Library.  Much later I'd have a library that filled a room.  At that time in my life, my late 20's, I took it as such a compliment that my friends considered me an "intellectual".  I had studied Milton at university and learned that he was considered the last of the renaissance men who could know 'all' the world's knowledge having the most extant library of his day. I couldn't know all the works of the world like Milton but I do remember as a child I made a point of reading all the science fiction books in the Fort Gary Library.
So the first book probably 'changed' me would be the Bible.  After that it was no doubt the "Hardy Boys".  And somewhere around then Poul Anderson caught a hold of me.  Then I specifically remember Ian Flemming's 007 series being read as they came off the presses.
I remember Shakespeare from school but don't know that studying Shakespeare in high school had much influence on me though years later King Lear would have a profound impact. I studied Shakespeare in Honors English and was immensely moved by the depth of learning that I'd simply not known about as a high school student.
But Cervantes really impressed me. I was bicycling across Europe and kept meeting Europeans my age who were simply more learned than me. Their educations had encouraged a breadth and depth of reading that was so foreign to me.  I was college age and kept meeting Europeans that spoke several languages and had read English classics in the original.  So I set about 'improving' myself.
I remember reading Don Quiote because it was a 'big book' and by that time in my life, early 20, I'd not read anything more than a hundred pages.  So here was this huge book that I read ploddingly through. I actually enjoyed it and learned to love it.  What a brilliant book.  Now having read this massive tomb I concluded that no book was too big for me. And yes I'm still charging windmills and still see Dulcinea everywhere.
Somerset Maugham is the next great in my development.  His short stories and his classic novels some made into plays impacted powerfully on me. I loved his tales of travel.  I related to him telling stories of his love life and his school days.  It was like having an uncle who talked to me and told me the truth about life on the big stage.
I had this Everyday Library book with a list of classics and made a point to read one of each of the famous authors listed. It was as a result of that that I read the Russians, fell in love with Tolstoy and Doysteyefsky.  Later I'd study Brothers Karamasov at university and love it even more than that first time I read it.
Herman Hesse captured me with his mystical interests, Demian, Journey to the East.
Then came that whole collection of existentialisms, the Castle and the Trial.  Of course, Franny and Zoey.
Meanwhile I'd read dozens or a hundred books to everyone I remember 'changing' me.  I was always reading a book a week at least with textbook reading taking longer but there was invariably some books that kept me up all night and others that just haunted me, their ideas lasting long after the last page had been read.

1 comment:

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