Sunday, October 11, 2009

When a book changes your life

This must be radio week on Books Under Skin. A friend told me about the Chicago Public Radio show This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass, which puts out a weekly podcast. And on this week’s podcast, Glass presents four people whose lives were changed by books.

“You don’t meet many people who tell you that a book changed their lives,” Glass says. “It’s an appealing notion I think, because it’s nice to think that our lives could be changed. Just by an idea, by the vision of the world that happens in a book, instead of what our lives are often changed by, you know, dumb luck, tragedies, coincidences.”

The one-hour podcast covers playwright and Hollywood producer Alexa Junge and her love for Moss Hart’s autobiography Act One, author David Sedaris’ encounter with a smutty novel, the unlikely obsession of a construction worker named Roger with all-books Louis and Clark, and writer Megan Daum’s love of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books.

The podcast covers so many lovely things about books and their ability to really change the way you think about certain things, whether the broad ideas (such as life or love) or more specific things (such as as historical event, your parents, yourself, or something else entirely).

Interestingly enough, though, each of the people interviewed for the show ended reading and rereading the books that changed their lives; one read just wasn’t enough for any of them, which makes me wonder if the first encounter just isn't enough for a book to really take hold of you.

Alexa Junge explains the force that drove her to reread Act One obsessively as a feeling of comfort, and really, camaraderie.

“It felt like I was recognizing an old friend. It felt like a familiarity of ‘Oh, I found a home. This guy wants the same home like I want’.”

And in a lot of ways that sums up why I reread books as often as I do: there is a sense of going home, of returning to old friends to relive old memories. And if a book does indeed change your life, for better or worse, returning to it over and over again just makes sense.

To listen to the This American Life podcast, click here.

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