The Book That Changed My Life
I fought being a writer for a long time and from every possible angle. I fought it with excuses and other aspirations, and on one occasion, nunchucks.
From the time I was five until I was thirteen, I was going to be a professional painter. My parents, kind people that they are, refrained from pointing out I had barely mastered the fine art of stick figures, and instead tried to nudge me towards more literary aspirations.
Kindly Parent 1: Yes, dear, your—bunny, is it?—is lovely, but your teacher seems to really like those poems we find you writing at 1 AM by nightlight. Maybe you could grow up to be a writer!
Kindly Parent 2: I did know that's a sunset and not a bowl of pasta, I was just testing you! But since you insist on reading us Harry Potter out-loud on every car trip, because we have to hear "this amazing part," do you think you might want to be an author some day?
By high school, I'd given up my dreams of becoming the next great impressionist and decided mine would be a life on the stage. I chose to ignore both my paralyzing stage fright and lack of any natural acting ability. My friends tried to point me toward writing, to no avail.
Well-meaning Friend 1: No totally, great audition, they definitely didn't notice that you were looking more at the ground then at them. But you know how last night we were going to run lines but you had to finish the last few chapters of Pride and Prejudice, and it wasn't even for a class...?
Well-meaning Friend 2: Your pitch was fine, but remember how I thought you were writing breath marks in the margins of the sheet music, but you were really writing flash fiction based on the lyrics?
And then, senior year my English teacher gave me a copy of A Good Man is Hard to Find By Flannery O'Connor. That night I sat down and I read. I didn't text, I didn't check Facebook, I didn't practice my diction or my jazz squares or my scales. I just read and I read. A Good Man is Hard to Find is collection of short stories, and every one is dark, and surprising, and beautifully written.
I had read a lot of books up until this point. Huge portions of my childhood and adolescence that might normally have been filled with physical activity or social interaction were spent with a book, normally in a secluded area so whoever wanted me to move or interact instead of finishing James and the Giant Peach for the fourth time couldn't find me. But O'Connor's prose didn't just make me want to go out and get everything she had ever written (which I did), it made me want to box up my character shoes and sheet music and start taking real steps to becoming a writer. And I did, and I'm still working on it. And whenever I get discouraged, I pick up A Good Man is Hard to Find again. It never stops being inspiring.
What books have changed your life?