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How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen

How Reading Changed My Life

by Anna Quindlen

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For a such a slim volume, this book left me with many, many thoughts. I think it would make an excellent book club read because the issues it raises are many and conversations could go on for hours. TL;DR version: it's good and worth the read.

My personal feelings about this book jumped around like a yo-yo: at the beginning I was saying to myself "she's describing my childhood!" and in the next breath I was saying "Oh stop making sweeping generalisations about things you don't know!" and then back again to "yes, that's precisely the point!".

This slim volume consists of 70 pages of Quindlen's musings concerning reading and the importance of it to her life thus far (and so many of us).

She makes some generalisations about gender that I didn't agree with (why women read what they read vs. why men read what they read). My feelings (and I recognise they are just my own) are that she's trying to give meaning to something that doesn't need to have it. Knowing what MT gets out of reading Bosch and what I get out of reading Kate Daniels isn't going to give any great insights into my marriage. The important insight is that we share an enjoyment of reading.

Quindlen also touches upon the great upheaval concerning The Canon and the collective wig-out pretentious idiots around the world are having at the inclusion of female and culturally diverse authors. I found this part pretty amusing, because both camps are right and wrong but ultimately doing exactly what they should to move things forward. Do women and culturally diverse authors need to be part of The Canon? Yes. Are there people who want titles accepted as part of The Canon not for merit but because they are diverse, or financially successful? Yes. But this acrimonious tug-of-war is exactly what literature ultimately needs because the titles that survive the brouhaha are the ones that will actually deserve to be called great works of literature, regardless of color or gender. So while I think the fight is ultimately silly, I think it's ultimately vital too.

I was also amused by her attempt to argue the merits of reading for pleasure and entertainment; I agree with her - I wholeheartedly do, but her attempt to relate to everyman fails spectacularly. She uses her own guilty pleasure read as an example, to say that it's ok to read 'low brow' books. Her guilty pleasure? The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy, who by-the-by, won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1932. Now, if I was someone who suffered self-consciousness about what others thought of my reading choices, I don't think her Nobel prize winning guilty pleasure is going to make me feel vindicated or proud about my love for Deborah Harkness.

What I do think she nailed perfectly is the subjective mire of book banning and the importance of educational reading lists that focus more on instilling a love of literature and less on Important Books that contain Important Thoughts. She deftly handles the digital vs. print debate (spoiler: both will win) and she definitely, perfectly, describes the sheer joy of reading: for knowledge, for entertainment, for understanding, and for the places it can take you without ever leaving your chair. A worthy and thoughtful read. ( )
  murderbydeath | Oct 10, 2016 |
I suppose it's fitting that my 100th book of the year is a book that features short essays ruminating on reading. Anna Quindlen is the author of One True Thing and other fiction. In How Reading Changed My Life she talks about reading as a child, how central it was to her, and how much of a book lover she is. Book lover to book lover, it's a wonderful homey feeling to read and feel like she "gets" me. She touches on the way our culture tends to look askance at readers (put down your "stupid book" and come play!), and also divide itself into the highbrow critics and "lowbrow" reading while the book lovers stand somewhere in the middle in their own special subculture. ( )
  bell7 | Sep 16, 2016 |

3.5 stars

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”

I've been in such a mood to read books about books and love of reading. This short book has an author who always loved reading - the first part of the book was the best. After that it became a little flawed, but overall there are points in each chapter worth noting.

So far I'm in love with this author's writing style! It's interesting how she opens the book with not only her love of reading, but making points of being isolated from it, sharing others stories like Oprah Winfrey for the negative stigma, and how there is a cloud of literary snobbery over America for its duration. Fascinating thoughts that I kept nodding to and agreeing with while reading.

She focuses a lot on her childhood and how she preferred books over playing outside. She touches upon the isolation of a reader, something sometimes overlooked. It's not a straight rule all readers are strictly loner personality types, but it does sometimes go hand-in-hand. She focuses on this isolation and difference as a child and teenager growing up.

Did you experience any comments or negatives for being too much of a reader as a kid? I had a few run-ins with insensitive comments and misconceptions myself.

Her points about some people being driven to books and their isolated, soothing worlds could be because of troubles or pains they were experiencing. Needing to go outside themselves into safer worlds in between pages. I don't want to stereotype and say this is true for every child that is a heavy reader; I do know in my own case it is true.

Her next emphasis is on the dangers of literary criticism and the proper pedigrees of college, how so many get it wrong, not just to pretend to understand things they do not, but to shape their views according to the popular thoughts and beliefs of the institution. Ironically this is the opposite that should be done when considering literature, which dares to be different about controversial topics for its day and age.

"Not for nothing did the Nazis light up the night skies of their cities with the burning of books. Not for nothing were free white folks in America prohibited from teaching slaves to read, and slaves in South Carolina threatened with the loss of the first joint of their forefingers if they were caught looking at a book; books became the greatest purveyors of truth, and the truth shall make you free."

I didn't personally encounter any of this in college since I didn't live in campus or study literature, but I found it fascinating anyway. Her words about the dangers of professional critics and how so many get it bent was interesting and something I agree with. She's definitely against snobby.

The second half loses some cohesiveness - it strangely scatters random thoughts, which brought it down a star.

She ends the book with some short top ten reading lists. I have high respect for her as a reader and want to check out some of her fiction as soon as I can. Not sure how much I'll like her work, but I know she is what I consider a "true reader to heart"

Overall I dug the parts that were biographical (find other readers experiences reading fascinating - yes, I'm a dork.) I also dug the reading and book history she put in that I wasn't aware of, as well as her unconventional notes on snobbery and isolation (very true stuff, loved those sections.)

( )
  ErinPaperbackstash | Jun 14, 2016 |
I'm not sure about this book. On the one hand I found things in it I could relate to: the love for reading from a young age, needing more books than there were present in the house (I borrowed from our neighbour), the Reader's Digest books that found their way into our home at a certain point in time. And the one book that made a life time impression. (For me there were 2, the first 'adult' ones I read when my mum thought I was old enough to read them (I think I was about 14): A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford and The Proud Breed by Celeste de Blasis, both were Dutch editions, since my English was not good enough to read in English at that age.

But the huge disappointment for me was, that through the content of the book's chapters I was not able to filter how reading changed the author's life.

When I read a title like that, I expect a 'before' compared to an 'after'. Be it before I could read and after, or before book X and after, some kind of comparison.
What I found was more or less a shortened history of print, literature and how certain (kinds of) books were received and treated by society or groups of people. And that generalisation I did not expect at all.

Concerning the lists at the end of the book: as far as I can tell, they are quite English language literature orientated. For someone to write a book about reading and changing of lives, I would have expected a more world wide range of books to recommend, books to save from a fire etc.

All in all quite a disappointing read for me. ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Aug 22, 2015 |
Before sending this to an interested fellow bookcrosser, I flipped through the pages as a way of saying goodbye. I ended up reading the whole book again! Initially, this book was required reading for a college seminar course about "how we read." It was the best course of my life for many reasons, but this book was one of probably 20 books I was reading in a 3-month period. So I'm sure I got more out of it this second time.
It's wonderful! Inspiring! Quindlen is an outstanding writer who makes any topic enjoyable to read about. In this book, she discusses the politics of books, the stupidity of labeling some books "low-brow" as if they're not worthy of reading, and makes a good case for the value of such books. This book is about how reading (especially lowbrow books) can inspire students to become writers and how reading can, as the title states, change your life! Any reader will relate to the truthful musings of this established writer and you will have a deeper appreciation for your books and yourself as a reader after reading this. :) ( )
  engpunk77 | Aug 14, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345422783, Paperback)

A recurring theme throughout Anna Quindlen's How Reading Changed My Life is the comforting premise that readers are never alone. "There was waking, and there was sleeping. And then there were books," she writes, "a kind of parallel universe in which anything might happen and frequently did, a universe in which I might be a newcomer but never really a stranger. My real, true world." Later, she quotes editor Hazel Rochman: "Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but, most important, it finds homes for us everywhere." Indeed, Quindlen's essays are full of the names of "friends," real or fictional--Anne of Green Gables and Heidi; Anthony Trollope and Jane Austen, to name just a few--who have comforted, inspired, educated, and delighted her throughout her life. In four short essays Quindlen shares her thoughts on the act of reading itself ("It is like the rubbing of two sticks together to make a fire, the act of reading, an improbable pedestrian task that leads to heat and light"); analyzes the difference between how men and women read ("there are very few books in which male characters, much less boys, are portrayed as devoted readers"); and cheerfully defends middlebrow literature:
Most of those so-called middlebrow readers would have readily admitted that the Iliad set a standard that could not be matched by What Makes Sammy Run? or Exodus. But any reader with common sense would also understand intuitively, immediately, that such comparisons are false, that the uses of reading are vast and variegated and that some of them are not addressed by Homer.
The Canon, censorship, and the future of publishing, not to mention that of reading itself, are all subjects Quindlen addresses with intelligence and optimism in a book that may not change your life, but will no doubt remind you of other books that did. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:58 -0400)

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and bestselling author Anna Quindlen uses the mastery of the medium in which she works to send an utterly compelling message as she explores the importance of books in her life and their vital role in society. THE LIBRARY OF CONTEMPORARY THOUGHT is a groundbreaking series where America's finest writers and most brilliant minds tackle today's most provocative, fascinating, and relevant issues. Striking and daring, creative and important, these original voices on matters political, social, economic, and cultural, will enlighten, comfort, entertain, enrage, and ignite healthy debate across the country.… (more)

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