What’s wrong with my reading?

Recently, I’ve read several novel reviews that gushed about how the book had a powerful impact on the reader’s life. In a couple of cases, the reader said the reading experience actually changed their life. I can’t remember when that last happened to me. I want to know why.

Recently, I’ve read several novel reviews that gushed about how the book had a powerful impact on the reader’s life. In a couple of cases, the reader said the reading experience actually changed their life. I can’t remember when that last happened to me. I want to know why.

Pierre Auguste Renoir -- The Reader

I don’t think it’s necessarily my reading choices. I’ve read some of those same books said to be so powerful. They just didn’t have an overwhelming effect on me. Am I too cynical? Am I too dense? I know it’s not that I’m so perfect I couldn’t use a good life-changing experience.

Might it be that I’ve forgotten how to read in such a focused way that I’m open to receive that experience?

I have a pile of books to read and a backlog on my Kindle. Those dwindled a bit when I went back to reading as I ate lunch. Reading in little chunks that way is probably not the best way to experience a novel, though it might work for short stories, essays, or poetry. Then I started writing again. Now I eat lunch while I try to catch up on email or check in on Twitter. That means little or no reading.

What would happen if I took a few days off and did nothing but read? The first thing I’d have to do is fight the urge to put down the book and write. I know that every perfect word choice or gorgeous metaphor I read would have me chomping at the writing bit.

In previous posts, I’ve talked about filling up on reading before I can write. This time, I’m writing well, the words are flowing, yet I feel I’m missing something by not reading. Strange.

Maybe I need to disappear for a while and completely, absolutely, totally, deeply immerse myself in a life-changing book—if I can find one.

What was the last book that had an impact on you? Why?

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39 thoughts on “What’s wrong with my reading?

  1. I don’t think I can say I’ve ever read a life changing book, other than the really big one. 😉 But I do believe that when I was younger I read a few life-shaping books. Having read many works of dystopian literature as an impressionable young mind sponge, I’m sure that it had a lot to do with my current perspective of progress and technology.

    I have recently read a book that deeply affected me, The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The book didn’t cause me to change my life in any way, but it did open my eyes to some grim realities concerning global ecological collapse and the chance of survival in a social society that at present barely remains above barbaric at times. Seriously people, it was just a hockey game! JMHO – Don’t shoot the messenger. LOL

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    1. Yes, of course, T.A., the Bible and other religious literature has had a lasting impact on my life. I think everything we read has some effect on us and stays with us in ways we might not be aware of. Perhaps, if we’re in tune with ourselves, we read the books we’re meant to read. I think maybe that’s what I fear is my real reading problem. I just thought of that. Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

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  2. As others are saying, where each reader is in his/her life probably has more to do with the work’s impact than anything else–but I also think your sense of “reading” for a length of time or in short bursts plays a role in absorbing the book. As Charles Jones says, “Five years from now you will pretty much be the same as you are today except for two things: the books you read and the people you get close to.”

    A book that recently started me looking to be more thankful and appreciative in my life, even though going through a rough legal patch is One Thousand Gifts. I write about its impact in a blog entry: http://learnmoreeveryday.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/saying-thanks/

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    1. I agree, Patti. Reading is a personal experience. I like the Jones quote. I haven’t read One Thousand Gifts, but I read your post about it. It reminded me of when I read Dani Shapiro’s Devotions, which inspired a post on my blog. And though I’m a fiction writer, I have to say that I could name many more non-fiction books that moved me than fiction. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. I like a good fiction read like anybody, but stories that mean the most to me usually end up being non-fiction, especially memoirs. A few favorites are The Glass Castle, Traveling With Pomegranates, and my all-time fav. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. That one for sure makes you think, but not in the dense too difficult to read way. It’s a great read and makes you think!

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    1. I have the Henrietta Lacks book on my list, Jess. And after I looked up The Glass Castle, I added that too. I’m considering devoting one day a week to reading. Tea and reading. Heck, maybe tea, reading, and napping. A day OFF. 🙂

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  4. In terms of life-changing impact, the two that come immediately to mind are A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.

    Every book that I fall into has an impact in that it takes me into others’ lives, and alters my existence during that period of escape. Most recently it was The Raising by Laura Kasischke.

    A few days with nothing but reading would be heavenly!

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  5. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States has certainly changed my life and the way I view my country and its place in the world.

    Karen Armstrong’s A Spiral Staircase is another life-changing book for me.

    Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen is another.

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