Driving into the City on Monday, I heard a snippet of a segment on NPR where they asked their listeners to discuss books that have influenced them. I made a mental note to look up the program online when I got to the office and had forgotten all about it by the time I’d crossed the GW bridge (now, of course, I can’t find the link). But, the subject stayed with me. As a result, I’ve been noodling about the influence of books for the last couple of days. Obviously, all of us bookworms have been swayed by literature—both high and low—but how, specifically? It’s rather obvious that books shape our intellectual growth but what about other areas of our lives? How much of our beliefs, tastes and dislikes, career paths and other big-ticket choices have been influenced by books?
I think every aspect of my life has been touched by books. For instance, I believe my view of politics and policy was shaped by those “You Were There” books about the American Revolution that I read in elementary school and all those biographies of three-letter presidents (FDR and JFK); my ideas of romance were an unholy mish mash of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Colette, Mary McCarthy and Jacqueline Susann; my career choice owes a lot to Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast; and my general take on the human condition far too impacted by the darkness of Russian novels and the sinister whimsy of Latin American greats like Borges and Garcia Marquez….
But, when I tried to think of one book that influenced me above all others, I couldn’t. It seems that, for me, literary influence is an aggregate of themes and ideas culled from, probably, every book I’ve ever read. Even in the most banal, tedious narratives I’ve been able to find a phrase or thought that influenced my thinking or my doing. And, that, to me, is what’s so amazing about literature.
So, what are the books that have influenced you? Is there one title (or many) that you can claim changed your life?