Have you ever wondered why it is that some books stay with us long after we close their covers?
How the mere mention of a book title can transport us back to a distant time in our lives, make us smile wistfully and ask ourselves,
“Now what was it about that book again?”
Book lovers know that long, engrossing conversations about books are like food for our soul, they nourish us and feed our voracious appetite for even more books, and more reading.
Personally, there’s nothing that gets my attention faster than seeing a blog post on the subjects of books.
And while hearing about plots are nice. And reviews are helpful.
Do you know what I really want to hear when you tell me about your favorite books?
I want gut reactions. I want passion. I want messy, unedited feelings.
I want to know if this book got under your skin and why.
I want to know the first words that appear on the tip of your tongue when you think about this book, even if it’s only a hint of something, like that moment you recognize a face in a crowd but you can’t remember their name.
It’s that lingering sensation after you finish a book. That’s what I want to explore with you.
I’ve been wanting to write a post about books that have changed my life ever since we moved and I found myself rummaging through boxes of books I’ve collected over years. Funny how simply running your hand over a book can evoke old feelings. It reminds me of this quote by Maya Angelou:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Well I think books can have a similar affect on us, we might not be able to retrieve specific details years later, but we remember how they made us feel.
Do you agree?
Because today I’m sharing a few books that changed the trajectory of my life. Books that jolted me out of an emotional stuckness I didn’t realize I was in and therefore, changed me from the inside out. Although you probably realize this, like most transformative events timing is everything.
When I look at my selections, I realize that so much of their power came from the shifting ground beneath my feet during the time I stumbled on them; I was young, vulnerable and at a crossroads in my life. Although I didn’t realize it at the time.
These books lovingly introduced me to a place inside myself I was only beginning to know.
1. The Octopus; by Frank Norris
I remember sitting in a office, squeezed between a cheap wooden desk and a gray metal bookshelf crammed with files and textbooks. My history professor was a small, wiry guy with a gray speckled beard and dark, bushy eyebrows who wore jeans and white collared shirts. I was there to get my midterm grade that was based solely on a 40 minute oral presentation and I still remember him staring intently at me over his glasses before he asked me this question.
“So. Do you know what a sleeper hit is?”
I shook my head, unsure how this question had anything to do with my recent performance in class.
“A sleeper hit is well, you know Woody Allen’s movie, Annie Hall? That’s a sleeper. It’s actually taken the critics by surprise….have you seen it yet?”
He waited until I shook my head.
“.. I’m telling you this because well…that’s you. And I have to tell you.” He nodded toward me as he lit up his pipe. “I sure didn’t see you coming.”
And this is the moment I’ll never forgot.
He looked at me and said, “You are what I’d call a sleeper. A hidden gem. That—by-the-way, was the best oral presentation I’ve seen in a long time.”
And today, decades later when I think about The Octopus, Frank Norris’s literary masterpiece I think of being captivated by history and layers of family relationships, and how later I would became a therapist whose work was to listen to family histories and deal with complex dynamics.
When I think of The Octopus I remember speaking in front of a classroom and feeling gloriously alive.
When I think of The Octopus I think about a spring day in a windowless office surrounded by old textbooks and the musky scent of pipe smoke.
When I think of The Octopus, I remember what it feels like to be a nineteen year old girl. And the scary feeling of drifting and the joy of being found.
This was the period when I was trudging along in a local community college, buoyed only by the comforting sense of identity I got as student; I had no one on either side of my family who had ever gone to college. I slipped in and out of the academic world the way a visitor steps into an alternative universe. And before this meeting, I’d had no adult who gave me a second glance.
You are a sleeper, he’d said. A hidden gem. And these words became my lifeboat during a rudderless period in my life.
Sometimes it only takes a passing comment to awaken something inside us. A few well- chosen words that offer us something tangible to hold on to until we find our bearings.
Have you ever felt yourself adrift in your life?
Was there a person who saw something special about you at a crucial time?
to be continued: Book 2: Drama of a Gifted Child; Alice Miller