On literary life lessons and books that change your life

The other day Mighty Girl, Maggie Mason wrote about the eight books that changed her. Since I read the post I’ve been thinking about what books have changed me, the ones that shook my foundation or rocked my world.

It’s a tough question and I’ve been pondering it for a few days. My go to answer to this one is usually John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. I’ve written about this book about a hundred times. And really, there isn’t much more that I can say about it.

However, today when I was driving home from lunch as I was waiting to turn left a scene from a different Irving novel flashed through my head. In his book A Widow for One Year, Irving writes about a family who suffered the loss of two teenage sons in who died in a car accident. They died because they were stopped waiting to make a left turn, and were hit by a car from behind. This was more than a fender bender because when they were hit, they were bumped into oncoming traffic. Why? Because they had their wheels turned waiting to complete there turn. There dad had always told them not to do that, but did they listen, NO!

A Widow for One Year changed my life because I think of that every time I’m waiting to take that left. I never turn my wheels for fear of getting bumped into oncoming traffic.

This was not an earth-shattering, world-rocking change (at least not yet, if I ever get hit from behind while waiting to make a left, that might change). But it was a literary life lesson that has impacted me greatly. It’s like how I pay attention to the design of everything since reading The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd. Or how whenever I drink tropical-punch flavored anything I think of Peter Hatcher from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Only that didn’t really teach me anything except that I really like tropical-punch flavored anything like Peter.

But maybe those are the books that have the most impact on us. The ones that come up randomly in your life (like whenever I get a cold, I think of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye). The books that have become so much a part of you, that they have ingrained themselves in your subconscious and occasionally bits of them break off and float up into your consciousness randomly when you least expect it.

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